Earlier this week I reviewed David Gaughran’s book, Let’s Get Visible: How to Get Noticed And Sell More Books. Recently I completed my first novel and I’m getting ready to self-publish it soon. Last year I read David’s book, Let’s Get Digital, and enjoyed his take on self-publishing and why people should. Both of his books have helped me tremendously. They are honest, straightforward, and insightful. Neither makes promises of getting rich quick. After reading Let’s Get Visible, I contacted David to see if he would be willing to answer some questions. He graciously accepted. Without further ado, help me welcome David Gaughran.
How did you come to the decision to self-publish?
Like many self-publishers, I tried the traditional route and didn’t get anywhere. That was a soul-crushing experience – especially after an agent contacted me saying he loved my book and wished to represent me, then never returned any of my calls!
I considered walking away from the business altogether. I had started another book, but had lost all my mojo. Around this time, Barry Eisler hit the headlines by walking away from a $500,000 offer and announced he was self-publishing instead. That really grabbed my attention and I took another look at self-publishing. What really gave me the courage to make the leap, though, was the incredible amount of people I discovered on KindleBoards who had never been traditionally published, but were now paying bills and making a living from writing for the very first time.
What is the most important lesson you learned about the self-publishing business?
Don’t waste any time chasing traditional exposure. It’s a big part of the typical writer fantasy: seeing your name in the papers or being interviewed about your work. But you know what? It doesn’t sell books. At least, it doesn’t sell e-books. It might have some minor effect on print sales – but you won’t see the full effect of that unless you have nationwide print distribution.
I’ve been lucky enough to have appeared in some pretty big media venues and it has barely moved the sales needle – even a feature in a weekend paper in the UK with a circulation of millions barely had an effect. Talking with other writers, this is pretty normal. Traditional media doesn’t sell e-books. Appearing on a small blog will have a much greater effect.
Self-publishers have a huge opportunity here. Large publishers are still pretty clueless when it comes to marketing e-books. If you are smart about marketing, you can really make inroads. We’re up against billion dollar companies and we’re eating their lunch!
What advice do you have for writers who are just venturing into self-publishing?
I think it was Seth Godin who said that the best marketing is designed into a product. For self-publishers this means having a great story, professional editing, clean formatting, a striking cover (that speaks to your genre), an enticing blurb, a killer opening, and a price that won’t make anyone hesitate.
These aren’t sufficient conditions for success (or even necessary in some cases), but having a professional package will greatly increase your chances of making it. Conversely, if you don’t have those basics in place you are making it much difficult for yourself.
It makes your book more attractive to prospective purchasers, but it also makes your book more shareable too – something which gets talked about less. Think about it. If you read a good book and it has a really crappy cover, you are kind of embarrassed to encourage others to read it and you have to preface your recommendation with multiple caveats, which never sounds good.
Too many beginners skimp on editing or covers, and then waste money trying to market that book afterwards. You need to have the basics in place first or that marketing won’t be effective.
That aside, it’s essential to get out there and network with other self-publishers. There are multiple Facebook groups and forums like KindleBoards where self-publishers share data, promo venues, and best practices. It also means you won’t get suckered into scammy operations like Author Solutions.
Your books, Let’s Get Digital, and now Let’s Get Visible, are selling well. In the Writing category on Amazon they are #1 and #2 respectively. What do you think contributes to your success?
I use Amazon affiliate codes wherever I can, so I usually have a pretty good idea of what percentage of sales I’m driving directly, and what comes from elsewhere. People naturally assume that my blog drives a lot of sales. Here’s a secret: it doesn’t. Most months, the overwhelming majority of my sales come from people discovering my book one way or another on Amazon.
I’m of the opinion that author platforms don’t really sell books, not in the ongoing sense that people think. However, they can really launch books –the difference is crucial.
Hitting #1 and #2 in Writing was part of the launch plan, a strategy detailed in Let’s Get Visible called Spreading The Love. The theory behind it is that Amazon will push down a book resulting from a one-off sales spike just as quickly as it rose. But if you spread the love a little over three or four days, and hold at a consistent (lower) sales level for that time, Amazon will start recommending your book to its customers – doing the work for you.
Given your success in self-publishing and your blog, how do you find time to write?
Some people look at my blog and see I have two books out now for writers and think it was all some grand masterplan – which couldn’t be further from the truth. Digital was an accident of sorts. I had been blogging about all the various steps involved in self-publishing (as I was doing them for the first time myself) and my blog readers asked if I would put the advice together in a PDF for them to download when I was done. When I started compiling that, I figured that if I was going to write a book on the topic, I might as well do it properly. But I never thought it would make the impact it did, or sell like it did.
Visible wasn’t planned either. For the last year, I had been trying to figure out the various algorithms that feed into Amazon’s giant recommendation engine – both to tweak my own marketing plans and to satisfy an intellectual curiosity. I had some vague notions of including any findings in an updated version of Let’s Get Digital, but it soon became clear that the topic was too complex for a mere addendum. Around the same time, NaNoWriMo was starting, so I just went for it – although I didn’t actually finish the book until May!
I’m a slow writer, but I’m working hard on improving my productivity. Writing blogs, or tweeting, or marketing my books doesn’t take up too much time. The big time sinks are hanging out online shooting the breeze with other writers, or realizing that you have just spent the last three hours in the black hole that is Wikipedia when you were supposed to be checking one quick fact for your WIP.
If blogging and marketing really were the main things holding writers back from producing more work, then we would see traditionally published authors being a lot more productive, but we don’t. It’s just that nobody wants to say that their book was delayed because they were looking at pictures of cats on Facebook.
You write fiction and non-fiction. Do you have a preference?
I find non-fiction easier (and quicker) but fiction is much more fulfilling. Maybe because it’s more challenging. The brain is funny like that.
More seriously though, the kind of non-fiction I write is rewarding because the books aim to solve a specific problem or impart a specific piece of knowledge to help the reader towards a goal. I get emails from people when they self-publish their first, and they are so happy! And then that makes me happy because I remember sending off those same emails to the self-publishers who helped me when I was taking my first steps. It serves as a reminder that the greatest strength of this community is its openness and willingness to help others.
Ultimately, though, fiction is where my heart is. It constantly amazes me that writers can invent entire worlds, populate them exclusively with creatures of their imagination, and then have those marionettes act out a story which teaches us something about love, hate, anger or regret. I guess reading a story is the biggest thrill of all: that of endless possibility.
I would like to thank David for his time and for his wonderful answers. If any of you are considering self-publishing or are self-published and you haven’t read either of these books I encourage you to do so. Also, stop by his blog and say hi. He is always extremely friendly and helpful.
David Gaughran is an Irish writer, living in London, who spends most of his time travelling the world, collecting stories. He runs the publishing blog Let’s Get Digital, and his work has been featured in the Huffington Post, The Sunday Times, and the Irish Times.