Selling Well Is The Best Revenge by Linda Gillard

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Linda Gillard explains that Selling Well Is The Best Revenge


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Summary: We fell in love with Linda Gillard when we read Star Gazing. Sue described it as intelligent women's fiction and since then we've searched out and read her back catalogue, but we were getting worried that there wasn't another book for us to read! Then Linda told us that she was publishing House of Silence as an ebook and she was publishing it herself. And she's agreed to explain why.
Date: 6 April 2011

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External links: Author's website

We fell in love with Linda Gillard when we read Star Gazing. Sue described it as intelligent women's fiction and since then we've searched out and read her back catalogue, but we were getting worried that there wasn't another book for us to read! Then Linda told us that she was publishing House of Silence as an ebook and she was publishing it herself. And she's agreed to explain why.

Selling Well is the Best Revenge

To paraphrase PG Wodehouse, It's never difficult to distinguish between an author with a grievance and a ray of sunshine.

Two years ago I was dropped by my publisher. I was in good company. A lot of mid-list authors – some well-known names – were dropped as the recession bit deep. It seemed all editors wanted was 'stunning début novels', genre fiction and books by celebs. So-called 'respectable sellers' like me were told our sales were disappointing and we were quietly dropped. Though I didn't go that quietly. My third novel STAR GAZING was subsequently short-listed for three book awards and won one of them. (I think I hold the record for The Most Short-listed Author Without a Publisher.)

You'd think awards and short-listings would have made it easier for me to find a new publisher. Er, no. Publishers are ruled by the bottom line. Unless a book award stimulates big sales, it doesn't count for much. It's easier and cheaper to launch 'stunning' début authors, offering in some cases risible advances or even no advance at all. (Some authors are now being offered just a share of the profits.)

After two years of my agent's best efforts, we hadn't found a publisher for my fourth novel, HOUSE OF SILENCE. Editors said the book would be hard to market because it belonged to no clear genre. Well, they had a point. HOUSE OF SILENCE is a country house mystery/family drama/rom-com/love story. Or to put it another way, COLD COMFORT FARM meets REBECCA.

What's that? You're salivating already? Your clicking finger is itchy?… I must now explain a fundamental difference between authors and publishers. (Brace yourselves. You might find the next bit upsetting.) Authors are trying to sell their books to readers. Publishers are trying to sell their books to retailers. Increasingly, this means Tesco. Readers and Tesco have very different artistic criteria. (Thank God.)

So I was out in the cold very depressed. It was so frustrating. I had a considerable, worldwide following and my loyal fans had been asking – nay, gagging - for a new novel for three years. Meanwhile I'd kept myself in the public eye by writing guest blogs, chatting on book forums and – ahem – winning the odd book award. I had a ready-made market for a new book, but no editor wanted to publish it.

To be fair, a couple of editors really loved HoS, but they couldn't get their marketing team on board. One enthusiastic editor backed off when she discovered my next book wasn't the same. She was dismayed to discover I wrote one-offs, which are – you guessed it! – hard to market. (Versatility is apparently a publisher's nightmare. In what other field of creative endeavour is that true?)

And then the e-book revolution happened. Kindle was the answer to a grumpy author's prayer. I didn't care if I made money, so long as I broke even. I wasn't desperate to see my name on a book cover or on a shelf in Waterstones. (Been there, done that.) No, this was about letting a book find its readers, who I just knew would love the story and characters.

So, with my agent's approval, I decided to publish HOUSE OF SILENCE myself on Amazon for Kindle. Believe it or not, selling the e-book at £1.90, I'll still make more per copy sold than I did from my paperbacks. I used to get about 50p if a £7.99 pb sold in Waterstones, much less if it sold on Amazon. With HOUSE OF SILENCE I'll get 70% of the pre-VAT Amazon price. I only need to sell 100 to go into profit. (I paid a professional designer to do a cover to – oh joy! – my specifications. So there are no headless people. No supermodel legs. No illegible fonts. Just a cover that makes a very clear statement about the content of the book. Spooky old mansion under a lowering sky. An oldie, but a goodie.)

Readers think authors are giving e-books away at silly prices, but the appalling irony is, we're actually making more money this way! That's why some established authors are moving away from mainstream to e-publishing. They can make more money and have artistic control. So authors are rejoicing. The revolution is here!

Personally, I have nothing to fear from the e-publishing revolution. I'll acquire new readers with HOUSE OF SILENCE and they'll turn to my out-of-print back-list, so I'll publish two more e-books, EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY and A LIFETIME BURNING on Kindle later this year. If editors don't want my fifth novel (finished) or my sixth (work-in-progress), then I'll put them on Kindle. There are plenty of people waiting to read them. (Though not Tesco, obviously.)

I know a lot of my readers would prefer a paper book – to be honest, so would I - so I'm looking into print-on-demand to see whether it could be economic to produce 'limited edition' paperbacks for readers who don't have access to e-books or who want to own 'a proper book'. Those won't come cheap, so it all depends how much readers are prepared to pay to own a paper book.

Some fear e-publishing heralds the death of paper books, but I think there could be a backlash. I suspect the Folio Society will do very nicely out of the e-publishing boom. We've seen fountain pens and letter writing make a big comeback. Music on vinyl has become popular again. I'm sure readers will continue to collect special, well-produced books for their shelves, while amassing e-books on their Kindles. It isn't either/or. We can have both.

The way I see it, I can't lose and have everything to gain. And to paraphrase that old saying, "Selling well is the best revenge."

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Lucy Johnson McDowall said:

Hi there,

Your article answered a question burning in my brain after downloading a couple of under £1 reads to my new kindle: how the heck can an author make any money from that sale?

I use my Kindle for commercial fiction and my physical bookshelf for literature, commercial fiction I would keep rather than take the charity shop when I'm done, and quality non fiction which makes me look good when on display (grin). Books for me have an aesthetic value as well, and I want my child to grow up naturally exposed to books, so I cant see myself going entirely ebook.

Can I ask how you manage to solve the thorny problem of editing and marketing? It seems that print authors who have established a following will find the move to self publishing easier.

Linda Gillard repled:

Hi Lucy

Thanks for your response. I will never go entirely e-book either. Since HOUSE OF SILENCE became an e-book bestseller (I sold 5000 in the first 2 months and I'm currently selling about 100 a day) I've spent some of my earnings on joining the Folio Book Society and buying some beautiful hardback books. I think you'll see the logic of that. ;-)

re editing and marketing... Disclaimer: I'm no expert. Publishing fiction is my only area of expertise and what I am about to say applies to Amazon and Kindle e-books only.

Editing is not a problem for me because I've always edited myself before my manuscripts went to the publisher's editor. (In any case I was a journalist long before I was a novelist.) Editorial skills can be learned online or from books, but you can also pay people to do editing and proof-reading for you. At an informal level, any teacher or person who writes professionally - even a keen amateur - will be able to give your manuscript the once-over and advise about things like grammar and spelling. (Don't forget the spell-check on your PC, though that won't pick up all errors.) I'd recommend joining a writers' group and sharing your book with them. Someone will pick up inconsistencies of plot & character, punctuation & grammar errors, etc.

Having said that, there are a depressing number of e-books out there which have clearly not been through this process and it doesn't seem to have bothered readers. (Well, not many. I think the most damning thing I've seen in e-book reviews on Amazon has been comments along the lines of "This read like a teenage What I did in the Holidays essay."

Marketing is a much bigger problem. I've done well with HOUSE OF SILENCE because I already had a loyal fan base and a good relationship with bloggers and review websites like Bookbag. I also have a website (essential these days), a Facebook author page (very useful) and I knew how to market myself and my e-book on the internet. (I learned to do that with my earlier books because publishers do very little to promote books and nothing at all after the first 3 months. Publishers now expect minor authors to do most of the marketing themselves, so in this respect e-publishing is no different.) But again, there are loads of e-books selling in quantity because they are free, very cheap or because they belong to genres for which there is a massive market, eg paranormal & soft-core porn. If you want to sell your e-book and you are unknown or little known, you have to make it very cheap or, better still, free. If you don't, you won't make it into the Amazon rankings. That means not only will readers not know about your e-book, Amazon won't promote it. (Amazon promotes what sells - that's the only criterion - and they are very good at selling.)

Once you are selling, you could then charge a modest amount for your book. With Kindle e-books you can respond to sales figures and put prices up or down. Plenty of people do that but obviously it looks better if you put prices up than if you put them down.

Unless you are prepared to put a lot of effort into marketing your e-book, don't expect to sell. You can skimp on editing, you can give your book a lousy cover, it can be amateurishly written and it still might sell. If you don't market your book, it cannot sell because no one will ever know it exists.

I hope this is helpful. Good luck if you are planning to e-publish!

Best wishes