Before I start the interview, a little background to give a sense of how fast things are moving. I published my first collection of short stories on Kindle on April 15 2011 and a historical novel a few days later. The months since then have been the steepest learning curve of my life. You might think that learning curves are arduous and frustrating. Not a bit of it. This one has been amazing and exhilarating. What has made it less arduous and less frustrating is finding people who are not only extremely knowledgeable but generous-spirited enough to share their knowledge and experience.
For me, foremost of these is David Gaughran. I don’t know how I found him, (presumably across a crowded internet) but I’m grateful that I did. I am delighted to have this opportunity to interview him for my blog.
Martin Lake: You’ve just published ‘Let’s Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should’, on Kindle and other e-readers, primarily from Smashwords. When I read it yesterday I realised that you decided to self- publish your books as recently as April 3 2011. You began to share your experiences immediately on your blog.
What made you decide to do this?
David Gaughran: The short answer is Barry Eisler & Amanda Hocking. Even though their moves were – on the surface – in opposition to each other, I saw both as a validation of self-publishing. I was stuck in bed with a rotten flu for a week, and read everything I could. Then I decided to self-publish some shorts to see if I enjoyed the experience, and blog about it along the way. Of course, like a lot of self-publishers, I had been trying to crack the system for quite some time without any success. So, while it was quite a sudden epiphany in some ways, my mind was already reaching around for another solution.
Martin: You’ve collected together all of your blog posts (and more) in your book ‘Let’s Get Digital.’
How do you find the information? How do you keep informed of what is current?
Dave: I read widely. I’ve been reading Joe Konrath’s blog and Dean Wesley Smith’s blog for quite some time. I recommend every writer to read the last three or four years of their blogs. It’s an education. But there are so many other great blogs out there: Michael Hicks, Passive Guy, and Michael Stackpole are among the first ones I check. On top of that, I read all the trade publishing stuff: Publisher’s Weekly, Ebook Newser, GalleyCat, The Bookseller, as well as some agents’ and editors’ blogs.
Martin: Were you surprised by the quick success of your blog and to what do you attribute this?
Dave: Very much so. In my first month (April), I got 3,500 views, which I thought would take a few months to build. But a few months later, I’m getting 20,000 a month (and still growing very fast). I think there were a few key things leading to the rapid growth.
I was talking about a very hot topic – self-publishing really broke out into the mainstream in the last few months – e-books (briefly) became the #1 format, there were lots of bookstore closures, John Locke sold a million e-books, and JK Rowling decided to self-publish the Harry Potter e-books. It seemed like there was a bigger story each week, and I just had to ride that wave.
If anyone is looking for tips I would say: #1 Blog as often as you can. The more you blog, the more traffic you get. #2 Pick something you are really, truly passionate about. #3 Don’t speak at your readers – they can switch on the TV for that – speak with them. Pose questions. Invite comments. Get a discussion going.
Martin: What made you decide to offer ‘Let’s Get Digital’ as a free copy as well as charging for it?
Dave: Initially, I was just posting the steps as I went through them (editing, design, pricing etc.). I had the idea from the start of just collating them into a free PDF for anyone to download after – simply as a reference. All the information was out there, it was just scattered across lots of different sites. I wanted to make it easier for the next guy. That’s all.
However, I also started posting about the revolutionary change that was taking place in publishing. It became very clear to me very quickly that e-book dominance was inevitable, and that anyone who thought that publishers and bookstores were just going through a bad patch, or that e-books were a passing fad, were ignoring the change that was unfolding in front of them.
If you break it down to the essentials, the main reason you give a trade publisher such a huge percentage of your royalties is for distribution. They can get you in bookstores all across the country. That’s next-to-impossible on your own. But now their stranglehold on distribution has been broken.
People aren’t shopping in bookstores as much. They’re shopping online, they’re switching to e-books. And self-publishers can match the distributive reach of publishers in those two areas simply by publishing with a handful of companies.
I started blogging about all that stuff, and people really responded to it. The next logical step was to take all of that and put it into one coherent argument. Explaining why people should self-publish, as well as how.
As such, it became a much bigger project. I wanted to stay true to the original idea, but I also wanted to cover my costs. Charging for the e-reader version and giving the PDF away for free was a nice balance.
Some people were worried that the free version would cannibalize the sales of the paid version. But I wasn’t that worried, and in any event, I knew there would be promotional benefits to having a free book out there, which could circulate widely.
Tomorrow: I continue with my interview with David. We discuss his approach to pricing fiction, the people who have helped him, the frustrations of self-publishing, his top 3 hints for indie writers and a look at his future novel.