Linda Gillard Interview about the switch to Kindle and writing her award winning books
I stumbled across Linda by accident, I found a book called Star Gazing and decided to take a gamble. Linda’s writing style draws you into the books so quickly, if ice cracks, you can feel it, when she describes food cooking, it’s as though you can smell it. The world of publishing is changing hugely and Linda herself, has recently switched to self publication on the Amazon Kindle. Read on for Linda’s thoughts and reasons about this and to find out more about what inspires her to write.
LINDA GILLARD – Q & A
How did you feel about ebooks when they first came out? If you didn’t like them, what changed your mind about them?
As a reader, I wasn’t all that interested. I was running out of shelf space for books, but I thought I’d hate reading on a screen (especially as I spend my working life reading words on a screen.) But once I’d decided to publish an ebook I bought a Kindle because I thought I ought to understand how they worked. Much to my surprise, I found I not only enjoyed reading on a Kindle (it’s not back-lit, so it’s not like reading on a screen), I read faster. (I think that’s because larger fonts are kinder to my eyes.)
The other thing I loved was being able to download samples. That facility has made me more selective about what I buy, but more adventurous in what I try. I’ve stepped outside my genre comfort zone because ebooks are so cheap and you can sample them at your leisure.
Briefly describe the process of self publishing?
My publisher dropped me after my third novel, STAR GAZING. I wasn’t alone. Publishers reacted to the recession by dropping their mid-list authors to focus on big earners and first time novelists (whose books are easier to promote.) My agent tried to sell my next two books to other publishers, but she had no success. Editors liked them, but said they’d be hard to market because they belonged to no clear genre. (Which was true.)
But I had a substantial following and fans kept emailing me, asking when the next novel would be out. It was heart-breaking! So as my agent had given up trying to sell it, I decided to indie-publish one of my rejected novels on Kindle.
I e-published HOUSE OF SILENCE for my fans, but it quickly took off and became a Kindle bestseller. It’s sold 16,000 downloads in nine months and was chosen by Amazon as one of their Top Ten “Best of 2011” in the Indie Author category. So I’ve found a whole new readership and now have a guaranteed market for anything I e-publish.
What are the pros and cons in your opinion?
The pros… I love having complete artistic control (and the success of HOUSE OF SILENCE suggests I know what I’m doing.) I don’t have to sign up for a 2- or 3-book contract and there are no deadlines. I can now write what I want, when I want, how I want, without being told to dumb the book down or change a character’s behaviour. I can also choose a cover I like. (Two of my three paperbacks were saddled with unappealing covers.)
I’m making much more money with ebooks. Even though I’m only charging £1.80 for my most expensive ebook, I’m making more per download than I did out of the sale of a full-price paperback. (Most of the cover price of a tree book goes to the retailer and publisher. The author’s share is tiny.)
My ebooks won’t go out of print after a couple of years and will continue to earn for the foreseeable future. This is one of the reasons some successful authors are going indie. With traditional publishing most books have a shelf-life of a few years at most. Ebooks earn for ever.
The cons… Obviously the main disadvantage to indie e-publishing is you don’t have a hard copy of your book, which means you don’t get to do author events in book shops or libraries, so there are fewer opportunities to meet readers. A lot of people don’t have an e-reader, so they can’t read your books unless they’re prepared to read on a PC, phone or other device. So I’ve lost some of my readers and had a few disgruntled emails, complaining that my new novels are only available as ebooks. I’ve had to explain it’s the only cost-effective way I can make them available.
You have to do all your own publicity, but my experience is, even when you have a publisher, you’re still expected to promote your books and organize publicity for them. (Most authors moan that their publishers do very little to market their books once the launch is over.) Publishers have to market books to retailers (which increasingly means supermarkets), but I can market directly to readers and I know what they like. So although I now have sole responsibility for publicity, it’s easier. I’m not trying to persuade minor book festivals to give me a slot; I’m trying to persuade readers to take a chance on a new author for less than £1.
Until recently I would have said one disadvantage is that, as an indie author, you’re unlikely to sell translation rights to your ebooks (a significant source of income), but my agent has just sold two of my indie ebooks to Turkey, so that’s another barrier down!
How do you self promote?
I’ve spent a lot of time promoting my books – time I’d obviously rather spend writing. You have to find a balance.
I have an extensive website and I’ve also found my Facebook author page really useful. It leads to interaction with readers, which gets people talking. I can’t be bothered to Tweet and I don’t have a blog, but I guest on other people’s blogs all the time and I’ve joined in discussions on many book forums. Participating in those takes time, but it’s fun and good for building up a following. Readers who are active on one book forum tend to be active on several and the best way to sell a book is not a recommendation from the author, but an enthusiastic recommendation from a reader.
But over the years I’ve come to the conclusion that 90% of what you do as self-promotion is a waste of time: sending out press releases no one reads, doing library talks or bookshop signings attended by a handful of people. But about 10% of what you do is really valuable, you just don’t know which 10%! For example, I got chatting (as an author) with someone on the Read It, Swap It forum and she turned out to be a moderator for the Outlander (Diana Gabaldon) Book Club forum and she invited me to join in as a participating author in their Book of the Month discussion. One thing often leads to another, but you just can’t predict it.
What would your advice be for a total novice thinking about self publishing on Kindle?
It isn’t difficult to e-publish but if you’re a new author or not confident with social networking, it will be harder to make a success of it.
Developing a following and creating a buzz are essential. My healthy ebook sales were the culmination of six years’ interaction with readers on the internet. When it came to publication day for HOUSE OF SILENCE, we had an impromptu launch party on Facebook. My lovely, loyal readers bought the ebook, Tweeted, and blogged, so it was selling in a matter of hours.
But the vast majority of self-published ebooks don’t sell. A striking cover will give you an advantage and it must work as a thumbnail. It must also give an indication of genre and look professional. I paid a professional to design all of mine and consider it money well spent.
Price is crucial. Remember, you’re competing with a lot of free books, so look at what’s selling in your genre and note the price of the competition. There’s no point in charging more – you just won’t sell. You can always put your price up if you start to sell in quantity. That looks better than taking it down! Three of my e-books are less than 90p. I don’t know how an unknown thinks s/he can put a book on at £2.99 and expect it to sell.
You need an enticing synopsis on your product page and it mustn’t be too long. When I e-published, I knew an odd mix of genres didn’t mean my novel was uncommercial, simply tricky to market, so I went with the genre mix and created tag lines for my ebooks that told readers what they were getting. This seems to have worked! Many people told me they clicked on HOUSE OF SILENCE because I described it as “Rebecca meets Cold Comfort Farm” – two very popular books. I describe UNTYING THE KNOT as “Four Weddings and a Funeral meets The Hurt Locker” which gives you an idea of the roller coaster read it is.
Do you think you will ever go back to the more traditional methods of publishing?
Well, I’m open to offers! But author advances have been cut and publishers are struggling to survive. They can’t afford to be generous, nor do they have the publicity budget to promote relative unknowns. (For some reason publicity budgets are mostly spent on authors who already sell, not new or mid-list authors.)
It would be nice to have a hard copy of my ebooks, but I’m not desperate to get books out there with my name on. Been there, done that. Getting the stories out to as many readers as possible is what I want to achieve now and I think ebooks are the best way to do it. I can be fairly sure that a new ebook will sell thousands in a year. No publisher could guarantee that, so it’s hard to see what they could offer me now.
You have written quite a number of books now, how do you get your inspiration?
My ideas for books always start with a character – usually people who have questions attached to them…
Why did a woman run away from her old life to live alone on a bleak Hebridean island? (EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY)
What sort of man chooses bomb disposal as a career? And what sort of boy becomes that man? (UNTYING THE KNOT)
What would it be like to be blind? And how do you date? (STAR GAZING)
HOUSE OF SILENCE began with a story my mother told me about my grandmother. It lodged in my brain for years until eventually I decided to explore it and work out an alternative scenario.
I hate synopses and I don’t write them unless an editor insists. I think they’re counter-creative. Usually when I start, I don’t know how a book will end. (I didn’t know until quite late on which guy the girl would end up with in HOUSE OF SILENCE.)
I just start with a situation and I write to find out what happens! I think if I knew the story in any great detail, I probably wouldn’t bother to write it. I’d get bored.
Briefly describe your writing process?
It depends what stage I’m at with the book. In the early stages I might just sit and scrawl 5-10 pages of very rough draft. (I draft in pencil on lined A4. I can write straight onto the screen but I think I write better – or perhaps I mean think better – in longhand.) Then I’ll feel a bit tired and do something else, but I’ll still be thinking about the book. Later I’ll spend hours typing that up, printing it out, editing it, then printing it out again, then editing again… and so on. Sometimes I wonder if there’s a word of my original draft left!
By the time I’m two-thirds of the way through a novel, I’ll be putting in very long days at my desk because I need to enter the world of the book and stay there.
If I feel as if I don’t want to write a particular scene, I just don’t. (If I don’t want to write it, no one’s going to want to read it.) You don’t have to tell the entire story. I think books that tell you everything, in sequence, are like watching paint dry. I try to follow Elmore Leonard’s advice to writers: “Leave out the boring bits.”
Any last advice for any budding writers out there?
Writing professionally is hard work, emotionally, mentally and physically and the financial rewards are generally pitiful. Being constantly rejected is depressing. You put on weight sitting at a PC all day and in winter you get cold, regardless of the number of layers you wear. Novelist Robertson Davies said, “There is no point in sitting down to write a book unless you feel that you must write that book, or else go mad, or die.” That’s the only reason to do it. Because you have to.
If you’re determined to write, decide what you’re going to give up to make time to write. I gave up housework and watching TV. (Am I the only person in the UK who’s never seen BIG BROTHER or STRICTLY?…)You could get up an hour earlier. That’s how many people get a book written.
You must write for writing’s sake. Don’t expect publication or financial reward. Statistically speaking, you’re unlikely to get either. When you feel angry about your unsolicited manuscript being rejected, just remember, nobody asked you to submit it.
Don’t think of becoming a professional writer unless you actually like the idea of spending part of your working day promoting your work in a decidedly un-British way. That’s what authors have to do now, so park your modesty at the door, believe in your product and sell it.
HOUSE OF SILENCE
Kindle bestseller & Editor’s Pick for Kindle’s Best of 2011
A LIFETIME BURNING
New on Kindle
STAR GAZING (Piatkus paperback & Kindle e-book)
Shortlisted in 2009 for Romantic Novel of the Year & the Robin Jenkins Literary Award
Winner of Favourite Romantic Novel 1960-2010
The links below will take you directly to the amazon kindle store for each book where you can read the rave reviews that each book has been given.
Thank you to Linda for a really insightful interview and long may her success as an author continue. I for one cannot wait to read her next offering.