To celebrate the publication of my novella, Christmas with Mr Darcy, I’m hosting a special ‘Indie Month’ on my blog where bestselling authors will tell you about their latest book and share the secrets of their indie success.
Today, I’m delighted to welcome bestselling author Linda Gillard – writer of one of my favourite novels, Emotional Geology.
Tell us about your latest indie book
My sixth novel, THE GLASS GUARDIAN is an old-fashioned ghost story with a large neglected house and a vulnerable heroine. A family bereavement has left Ruth lumbered with a large old house on the Isle of Skye, in need of refurbishment. It has a sad history, a beautiful garden and spectacular views. It’s where Ruth spent many happy summers as an only child. But Tigh na Linne also has a resident ghost.
What made you decide to go indie?
I was an award-winning, mid-list author of contemporary women’s fiction when I was dropped by my publisher. (“Disappointing sales” was the reason given.) After two years my agent still hadn’t found a publisher for my fourth and fifth novels. Editors liked the books, but said they’d be hard to market as they belonged to no clear genre.
While looking for a new publisher, I kept myself in the public eye by chatting on book forums, writing guest blogs and setting up an author page on Facebook. I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to get back in the game, but I was preparing for a miracle. Then it came. The e-book revolution.
I published my fourth novel, HOUSE OF SILENCE on Kindle. I sold 10,000 downloads in less than four months. Amazon acknowledged my success when they selected HOUSE OF SILENCE as a “Top Ten Editor’s Pick Best of 2011” in the Indie Author category. I’ve since published four more novels on Kindle – two new and two backlist – and they’re all selling.
Do you design your covers yourself and write your own blurb etc?
I write my own blurbs and do all my own publicity. Nicola Coffield, a friend who’s a professional designer does my covers but we work together closely. I find a suitable photo from a website like iStock or Getty Images, then I ask Nicky what she can do with it. I give her lots of input about the mood of the book and what I want the cover to say, then she sends me different covers. There’s lots of discussion and tweaking until we get something we’re both happy with.
I’m thrilled with the covers for all my indie ebooks. They work well as thumbnails, which is mostly how they’re seen. Nicky’s even managed to create a “brand” look. It’s not cheap doing covers this way but I really think it’s worth it. Readers aren’t going to take you seriously without an attractive and professional-looking cover.
What are the pros and cons of going indie?
I believe I can earn more for myself in the long term than a publisher can earn for me. I’m already earning a decent living from my indie ebooks – something I wasn’t able to do when I was traditionally published. But the main Pros for me are creative freedom and artistic control. I can write what I want to write in the way I want to write it. Two out of three of my paperback novels were, in my opinion, sunk by unappealing covers. I had a title foisted on me which I hated. I was asked to simplify storylines and make female characters more likeable.
For years I was told by editors that my books didn’t belong to any genre and were therefore hard to market, but this hasn’t been a problem for me as an indie author. I don’t think mixing genres is a problem for readers, it’s a problem for retailers. Readers like mixed-genre books and I now market directly to readers.
You have to do all your own publicity and marketing and that eats into writing time of course. I view my indie writing career as a full time job now and I don’t really see being my own publicist as a con. I like knowing what’s been done and what hasn’t! I had two traditional publishers and I wasn’t always kept informed of what they were doing for me (which never seemed to be very much.) It all stopped after a few months anyway when they moved on to the next new publication.
At the moment bloggers seem a bit reluctant to review ebooks, so it’s harder to get reviews if you don’t have a paperback as well as an ebook. I always offer to gift ebooks to bloggers, but I think they’re mostly bibliophiles who like to own a hard copy. The trouble with downloaded ebooks is they can sit forgotten on an e-reader.
Do you think Twitter and Facebook really help in getting word out there?
I think they both get the word out there, but if you mean do they sell books, I don’t see much evidence that Twitter actually sells books, so I don’t bother with it. I do have a Facebook author page and I know that sells books because people post to say they’ve clicked and bought a book.
I think my FB page has had a lot to do with why my ebooks have been successful. By keeping fans informed about the launch it’s possible to get them to click and buy on the day the ebook is published, which means the book will get ranked and make a splash. I’d certainly recommend any indie author to set up an author page on FB. And do make it interesting! Relentless self-promotion is just boring. Readers want to get to know you as a person and a writer. They also like to help support your career so tell them how they can do that.
How do you publicize your books?
Mainly through my Facebook author page, on discussion forums like Kindle Users’ Forum, Read it Swap it, Book Club Forum and BookCrossing. I have Google Alerts set up and I respond to most reviews. Sometimes I’ll get into a dialogue about the book in the comments. I guest-blogged about this for the Alliance of Independent Authors.
I don’t Tweet and I don’t have a personal blog, but I write a lot of guest blogs and do interviews with bloggers. I tend to push issues rather than the books themselves and I tailor the post to suit the blog’s readers, so for Talli Roland’s light-hearted romance blog, I wrote about the problems I encountered writing sex scenes for my paranormal normal, THE GLASS GUARDIAN in which the hero’s a ghost.
But when I was interviewed for the Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival, I mostly talked about mental health issues. Four of my novels deal with those issues so the interview gave me the opportunity to talk about my books.
Something I’ve never done is make my books free. I give books to bloggers, BookCrossers, sometimes to readers I meet, but I’ll never price them as free. I think free has peaked anyway. Everyone has more books on their Kindles than they’ll ever have time to read and you seem to get more troll 1-star reviews if you make your book free. I prefer to keep my review star average high. That makes Amazon take notice, then they start to promote you.
But I don’t think I actually do a great deal of book promotion. My readers do it for me! I think Amazon does a lot too, though I can’t say I understand their methods. Positive word of mouth is what sells books. Publicising them lets readers know about your books, but it doesn’t actually sell them.
Would you accept a traditional publishing deal now?
I don’t think so. If a publisher could convince me they could earn more for me long-term than I earn for myself, I’d maybe consider it. But I don’t think I could relinquish creative control now, especially as I’ve made a success of books that editors rejected as “unmarketable”. I wouldn’t want to go back to earning very little for myself while the retailer and publisher take the lion’s share. That never seemed fair, even before Amazon started offering a 70% royalty.
What advice would you give to writers thinking of going indie?
Promote by stealth. Nothing turns readers off more quickly than relentless self-promotion. They hate it because it’s selfish and boring. Instead of promoting your books, cultivate relationships with readers. Rightly or wrongly, readers assume interesting people write interesting books. If readers become interested in you as a person, they’ll be open to the idea that they might enjoy your work.
So engage with readers on blogs, in discussion forums, on Facebook and Twitter. In the course of chatting, tell people about your books – just a little to whet their appetite. (This is where it’s handy to have a USP, a killer synopsis or tagline.) Then if they show interest, tell them more.
Be sincere. Readers aren’t stupid. If you engage with them solely for the purpose of self-promotion, they’ll pick up on this and resent being used. Not only will you not have sold a book, you’ll have created a bad impression. Readers don’t want authors cold-calling, they want new friends. The trick is to convince them that their new friend also writes good books!
Put in the hours. If you don’t like promoting yourself and your work, don’t become an indie author. Achieving online visibility is your biggest challenge and there are few short cuts to this. Resign yourself to putting in a great deal of time seeking out potential readers, cultivating bloggers, joining in online discussion forums (not just about books.) Don’t regard it as a chore, see it as an opportunity to make new friends with shared interests. Even if you don’t make a sale, you might make a friend.
Thank you so much, Linda, for your inspirational story and your insight into indie publishing.