Author David Gaughran is a successful indie author with three books out: Transfection, If You Go Into the Woods, and Let’s Get Digital: How To Self-Publish And Why You Should. Soon, David will have a fourth title available! If you’ve ever been interested in self-publishing, David is one of those authors to pay attention to.
Thanks so much for coming here today, David.
When did you decide to become an indie author?
April 4th this year. 18 months querying agents was enough. I had one experience over Christmas of a New York agent who loved my book and wanted to represent me, but then inexplicably cut off all communication. I still don’t know what happened there, but at that point, I was sure my writing was good enough, and equally sure that I didn’t want to put up with that kind of behaviour any more.
I decided to start with some short stories, and only pulled my novel from the three agents that were still considering it a month or so later when I realized that I could make more money on my own anyway.
Can you tell us a little about your journey to publication?
Well, aside from the agent hunt, once I decided to go out on my own, it was fast. I got my first short story up within a month, my second later that month. I then wrote and released Let’s Get Digital in 2 months, and now I’m attempting to get my novel out in another month or two (it still needs a little work), and there should be more short stories up in the meantime.
It’s a pretty fast pace, but self-publishing is extremely motivating. Just knowing that I can publish what I want, when I want, at the price i set has greatly increased my productivity. It’s awakened some latent workaholic in me that I never knew existed!
What biggest change would you say the publishing world has taken lately? Any predictions?
The two biggest changes – e-books and the internet – have been around for a while, but their disruptive power was largely untapped until a killer device came along (the Kindle), and Amazon opened up the digital distribution network to anyone.
That final change was huge. Until then, publishers essentially monopolized the distribution system. Self-publishing wasn’t really viable as it was next-to-impossible to get your books into stores. That doesn’t really matter anymore, and those four changes combined have changed the publishing industry forever. The business has always been in the throes of some major change or other, but for the first time, these changes have handed power back to the writers. It’s revolutionary.
Predictions are a mug’s game, but it’s safe to say that the e-book market will dramatically expand, bookstores will continue to struggle, print books will become even more expensive to produce as the market restricts, and writers will abandon traditional publishing for the freedom and higher royalty rates of self-publishing. Publishers are at a crossroads. They need to embrace the future or they will be in serious trouble. This means fairer contracts, higher royalties, releasing digital first, lower prices, and learning how to market to readers rather than bookstores.
Some small publishers – and Amazon’s imprints – are there already, and they, along with self-publishing will continue to peel off writers from the larger players unless they change their whole approach. I presume they will, it’s the only way for them to survive, but they still seem to be moving in the other direction.
What is the hardest part about writing/being an indie author?
You need continual vigilance to protect your writing time from the thousand little things that can eat into it. There is a strange part of the indie writer’s brain that makes us feel guilty for writing – that we should be promoting instead – when the truest form of promotion is new work. Even when I think I have it licked, I can slide into that again. You need to constantly remind yourself: write, write, write.
Who inspired you to write this book?
There are lots of books out there on self-publishing. However, I think most of them focus on the “how” rather than the “why”, and I think now more than ever there are a bunch of writers sitting on the fence, unsure if they should make the leap, or just wait for things to settle down. I don’t think things will ever really settle down into the kind of order we had before, and sitting on the sidelines is going to achieve nothing. I wanted to make the case for self-publishing, as well as explaining the practical steps involved in producing something that looks as good, if not better, than anything coming from New York.
I only started self-publishing in April, and I have three titles out already, with another two to follow shortly. You might think that is a shallow pool of experience to draw on to write a book on the subject, but the whole point of Let’s Get Digital is: anyone can do this. You don’t need years of experience. If you are smart enough to write a good book, you are smart enough to learn what it takes to publish your work to a professional level in a very short space of time – once you have the right attitude.
I think I also have a slightly different take on things like editing, covers, and formatting. I think it’s safe to say that I spend more on editing than the average indie writer does. One of the arguments I try and make in the book is that indies should consider editing an investment rather than a cost. The same goes for covers. Hire a designer. You won’t regret it. These are the only two areas where you have to spend money – everything else you can do yourself and it will only cost you time.
The message that I continually hammer home in the book is that if you want to have any chance of success, you must adopt a professional attitude. Readers don’t care if you are indie or not. Your book will be judged against the best books coming from New York and London, not other indies. Let those be your yardstick, and the sales should follow. There are no guarantees, but if you have no editing, a poor cover, and sloppy formatting, you are giving yourself no chance at all.
Why did you decide to write in this genre?
This was a one-off. I’m a fiction writer – shorts and novels. This all came from my blog.
I decided from the start to blog about the experiences of an unknown, unpublished writer experimenting with self-publishing. I had no idea how it would go, but I promised my readers from the start that I would share all my sales numbers, all my tips, and all my mistakes.
As I was going through each of the steps, editing, covers, formatting, there seemed to be interest among my blog-readers in putting it all together as a PDF when I was done, especially when I had a great start with my sales. However, once I realized that would essentially be a “book” with my name on it, I knew I also had to approach it in a professional manner and write the best guide to self-publishing that I possibly could. Early on, I realized it was essential to cover things like why we shouldn’t fear piracy (so much), how the business has changed forever, why self-publishing is viable now, why the dominance of e-books is inevitable, agents moving into publishing, why it’s a great time to be a writer – all that stuff.
The next step was to include the success stories. The media only tend to report the same names, Hocking, Konrath, and Locke, but it was learning about all the other self-publishers like Bob Mayer, J Carson Black, Victorine Lieske, and Mark Edwards that were doing very well indeed that really convinced me to make the leap. I got 33 contributions from bestselling indie writers in the end, and I think they round off the book very well.
In essence, I’m still a beginner, but I think that gives me a different perspective. I was able to write the book that I knew a beginner needed – the book I would have loved to have had when I started – and the reviews have reflected that, which is great. But, I think my sales from my first few months, and the professional way I present my books back up the advice too.
Can you tell us a little about your next project?
The next one is my real baby. It’s the first novel I wrote, but it’s special to me for all sorts of reasons. I guess it’s the kind of book I really love to read: a big, sweeping fast-paced historical adventure with a huge cast of characters that start off in various exotic locations around the world, leaving the reader to wonder how the story is going to bring them together. I love books like that!
It’s called A Storm Hits Valparaíso, and it stars San Martín and his army of thieves, rogues, mercenaries, slaves, and prostitutes as they fight to free Argentina from the Spanish Empire. It’s by far the most ambitious project I have ever undertaken, and was the most difficult to write. There was a huge amount of research, but just the logistics of dealing with seven main characters, and a whole host of minor ones, presents endless difficulties. It’s done, it’s been written for some time actually, but I just want to go over it one more time and make it the best possible story that I can. I’m hoping to release it in October, and I can’t wait. I’m very excited about it!