PREPARING FOR A MIRACLE by Linda Gillard

According to the Washington Post there’s an “e-book goldrush” taking place. http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/novel-rejected-theres-an-e-book-gold-rush/2011/04/09/AFZdqb9F_story.html Much to my surprise, I find I’m one of the prospecting authors who’s found gold.

Linda Gillard

You probably won’t have heard of me, but I’m a respectably-selling, award-winning, mid-list author of contemporary women’s fiction. Three years ago I was dropped by my publisher. “Disappointing sales” was the reason given. I was in good company. A lot of mid-list authors were dropped as the recession bit deep. Editors wanted début novels, genre fiction and books by celebrities – all of which are easier to promote than “the latest rattling good yarn by X”. (That sort of marketing can only used when the author in question sells in Grisham and Picoult quantities.)

After two years of my agent’s best efforts, we still hadn’t found a publisher for my fourth novel, HOUSE OF SILENCE. http://www.amazon.co.uk/HOUSE-OF-SILENCE-ebook/dp/B004USSPN2/ref=pd_sim_kinc_2 Many editors liked the book, but said it would be hard to market as it belonged to no clear genre. They had a point. HOUSE OF SILENCE is a country house mystery/family drama/gothic rom-com/love story. Or to put it another way, COLD COMFORT FARM meets REBECCA.

It was so frustrating. I had a considerable following and my loyal fans had been asking for a new novel for three years. 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 was preparing for a miracle. But even though I had a ready-made market for my new novel, no one wanted to publish it.

Then came the e-book revolution. Self-publishing on Kindle was the answer to a disgruntled author’s prayer. I wasn’t desperate to see my name on a paper book cover or on a shelf in Waterstones. (Been there, done that and the T-shirt had shrunk in the wash.) I didn’t even care if I made money, as long as I broke even. No, this was about letting a book find its readers, who I felt sure would love my complex plot and quirky characters as much as I did.

My agent took some persuading, but eventually I published HOUSE OF SILENCE myself as a Kindle e-book. It sells for £1.90/$2.99 and believe it or not, even at that price I make more per download than I did from my paperbacks. Readers think authors are giving e-books away at humiliatingly low prices, or they suspect books that cheap can’t possibly be any good, but the appalling irony is, authors are making more money e-publishing – much more! When one of my £7.99 paperbacks sold in Waterstones, I used to get about 50p, much less if it sold on Amazon. Selling HOUSE OF SILENCE as a Kindle e-book, I get a 70% royalty.

This is why some established authors are moving away from mainstream to e-publishing, like disenchanted US author Barry Eisler http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2011-03-24/barry-eisler-explains-self-publishing-decision/#  who turned down a $500,000 book deal to self-publish his next thriller as an e-book. Eisler believes he can make more money in the long term by e-publishing, but he also wanted artistic control.

I sympathise. Total artistic control of HOUSE OF SILENCE has been a heady experience for me. Two out of three of my previous novels were, in my opinion, sunk by unappealing covers, so this time I paid a professional designer to produce a cover to my specifications. No headless women. No supermodel legs. No illegible fonts. Just a cover that made a clear statement about the content of the book. (A spooky old country house under a lowering sky. An oldie, but a goodie.) Because I’d lashed out on a professional cover, I needed to sell 100 copies to make a profit. I hoped to sell 10 copies a month, maybe 10 a week if the book really took off.

I went into profit on Day 2. Then I sold 10,000 downloads in less than four months. (No publisher could guarantee the sale of 10,000 copies of any book by an unknown like me.)  Amazon acknowledged my success at the end of last year when they selected it as an Editor’s Pick Best of 2011 in the Indie Author category. I’ve now sold 18,000 and it’s looking as if I’ll sell 20,000 downloads of HOUSE OF SILENCE in its first year.

So what did I do right? And could anyone do it?

It certainly isn’t difficult to e-publish. You only have to look at a few sample chapters on Amazon to realise that publishing an e-book is a lot simpler than writing one. There’s no denying there’s a lot of dross out there, but it’s not difficult to make sure your e-book shines like a good deed in a naughty world, provided it’s well written, properly edited and has a quality cover (which must work as a thumbnail.)

Pricing indie e-books is tricky. Despite the “2 for £5” depredations of supermarkets, some traditional readers are suspicious of cheap books, but indie e-book authors have to compete with a lot of free books and they’re not all unpunctuated porn. Some are by Dickens, the Brontës and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Many Amazon e-book reviews refer to price/value for money and some e-book readers are feeding a book-a-day habit. Asking them to pay £2.99 is asking quite a lot.

So I’m happy to clear £1 from an e-book sale. That’s more than Amazon’s share. My paperbacks used to make much more money for the retailer and publisher than they made for me, so Kindle seems like a good deal to me.

So to my surprise, the much-rejected HOUSE OF SILENCE has been a great success. Who knows why a book succeeds, but my cover, price and synopsis must have played their part. Readers told me the “blurb” ticked a lot of boxes. Some said they bought HoS on the strength of the “COLD COMFORT FARM meets REBECCA” tag line. (So much for “unmarketable”.)

My case wasn’t typical. I already had a modest following. I knew my readers and knew what they liked. I thought they’d like HOUSE OF SILENCE and I knew how to market it. The novel’s odd mix of genres didn’t mean it was uncommercial, simply that it was tricky to market. But with an e-book, the author markets directly to readers, who just want a good story. Publishers have to market to retailers who have completely different criteria based on unrealistic sales expectations and an often misplaced faith in famous names.

My healthy e-book sales are the culmination of six years’ interaction with readers on the internet. Since I was first published, I’ve engaged in blog and forum discussions, I’ve been conscientious about keeping in touch with readers and frank about my publishing difficulties. I’ve used my Facebook author page and website www.lindagillard.co.uk to keep fans informed. It all paid off. On e-publication day, we had an impromptu launch party for HOUSE OF SILENCE on Facebook. My lovely, loyal readers bought the book, Tweeted and blogged, so it was selling in a matter of hours.

I’ve since e-published two out-of-print backlist novels, EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY http://www.amazon.co.uk/EMOTIONAL-GEOLOGY-ebook/dp/B0055T357G/ref=pd_sim_kinc_2 and A LIFETIME BURNING http://www.amazon.co.uk/A-LIFETIME-BURNING-ebook/dp/B006VOL2WE/ref=pd_sim_kinc_1 and another new one, UNTYING THE KNOT http://www.amazon.co.uk/UNTYING-THE-KNOT-ebook/dp/B005JTAMQO/ref=pd_sim_kinc_3 . They’re all selling well, so it’s hard to see why I would go back to traditional publishing now, apart from an emotional attachment to paper books. (My agent thought we’d need a hard copy to secure foreign sales, but we’ve already sold translation rights to two indie e-books.)

UNTYING THE KNOT got the same response from editors as HOUSE OF SILENCE: they loved the book, but because of the genre mix, thought it would be tough to market. Tough for them maybe, but not for me. I listen to my readers. I am a reader. We share a passion for intelligent, well-written stories about believable, fascinating characters. It’s a genre that never goes out of fashion – and if that’s hard to market, then there’s something seriously wrong with print publishers.

If you ask me, they’ve lost the plot.

What do you think?

 

16 comments… add one

  • lornafergusson April 5, 2012, 9:53 am

    Excellent and uplifting post, Linda, encouraging me as I prepare to republish The Chase!

    Reply
  • harrypepper April 5, 2012, 4:06 pm

    Linda,

    If your books are written with anything like the clarity, honesty, and economy of this article, I can see why you have a following. It was a very informative and gratifying read.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Bill Marantz

    BTW I just noticed that I am described as “harrypepper” and damned if I can remember why.

    Reply
  • Jen Blood (@JenBlood) April 7, 2012, 4:55 am

    Wonderful post — informative and inspiring, and certainly something for new indies like myself to aspire to! I’m headed to Amazon now to check out your books, and am very much looking forward to reading them!

    Reply
  • chrislon April 7, 2012, 10:44 am

    Well said, Linda, great post. I agree with everything you say and I think the ebook revolution is fantastic. I’m so pleased you’re doing well and I don’t think I need to wish it continues for the future because I’m sure it will. You are an inspiration to all Indies.

    Reply
  • chrislon April 7, 2012, 10:46 am

    I did a response but I don’t see it, so I hope it appears.

    Reply
    • Tahlia Newland April 8, 2012, 1:28 am

      Sorry Chrislon, I have to approve the comment the first time you post on the site, and I have only just got to it. After this your comments should come up straight away.

      Reply
  • chrislon April 7, 2012, 10:47 am

    Oh, it obviously hasn’t. I just wanted to say how much I liked this post and that you are an inspiration to all Indies.

    Reply
  • Linda Gillard April 12, 2012, 7:40 am

    Thanks everyone for leaving comments on my post. Very glad you found it helpful.

    Since writing this guest blog I’ve taken the momentous step of asking my agent to withdraw the manuscript that was doing the rounds with publishers. I thought about all the money I wouldn’t be making for months while I waited for editors to get back to me… I thought about all the people who wouldn’t be reading a book until 2013 (or 2014!) that I could get out there in a matter of months… My agent and I had already agreed that no publisher was likely to make me an offer that could compete with what I could earn for myself, so now I’m indy for good – and a great feeling it is too! :-)

    So I’ll be genre-jumping again in September, bringing out a supernatural love story on Kindle: THE GLASS GUARDIAN. Changing genres radically is something I would never have been allowed to do in traditional publishing. (It makes you harder to market.) So once again, I (and my readers) will be able to benefit from the complete artistic freedom that indy-publishing confers.

    Reply
    • Tahlia Newland April 12, 2012, 7:55 am

      If the novella I’m putting out in June goes well, then that’s a choice I’m going to have to make too. I’m so sick of waiting for my agent to find a publisher.

      Reply
      • Linda Gillard April 12, 2012, 8:17 am

        Go for it, Tahlia! If you still want a traditional publisher, they can always pick up your indy book. There’s evidence that the best-selling indy authors are getting offers.

        I also think we’re fast approaching the time when people won’t be able to stigmatise indy-publishing. (I think readers are way ahead of publishers here and sites like this one are helping to blaze the trail.) Readers now realise a lot of e-published books are of high quality but were too quirky/risky/short/long to appeal to book retailers or they were out of print and are now being given a new lease of life.

        Next week I shall be at the London Book Fair for the launch of the Alliance of Independent Authors.
        http://allianceindependentauthors.org/
        This new professional body should ensure that indy authors will – eventually – be taken seriously.

        Reply
  • chrislon April 12, 2012, 10:39 am

    I made that decision some time ago. I’m no longer chasing agents and publishers, cap in hand, and you’ve no idea how the pressure lifted off me. I can write what I want, publish what I want, and if I don’t make a fortune, who cares, my work is out there and being read. So I’m certain you’ll be happy with your decision, Linda. I wish you lots of luck with the genre change.

    Reply
    • Tahlia Newland April 13, 2012, 12:52 am

      Yeah, I would never have considered submitting my novella ‘Give me a Break’ to a publisher, it’s too short and too different, but it’s great to be able to actually publish it – due out in the 1st June. If my agent hasn’t scored anyone for ‘Lethal Inheritance’ by the end of July, I’m pretty sure I’m going to go indie with it too.

      Reply
      • chrislon April 13, 2012, 10:23 am

        Like a lot of Indies I’ve done the traditional publisher route, and believe me, Indie is far better and I’m not even considering traditional publishers now. Good luck with your books, Tahlia.

        Reply
        • Tahlia Newland April 14, 2012, 10:07 pm

          Yesterday, I was telling one of my daughter’s friends about the publishing industry, going over all the ins and outs of it, and at the end, I said – I’ve just convinced myself to publish my novel myself. I decided to give my agent till the end of July.

          Reply
          • Linda Gillard April 14, 2012, 10:19 pm

            Yay! Go Tahlia!! :-)

          • chrislon April 15, 2012, 8:52 am

            You won’t regret it. Go for it.

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