A Q&A with the switch-hitting fiction/nonfiction author & marketing expert
Best of Indie reached out to David Gaughran, a well-known veteran in indie publishing circles, for our inaugural Indie Author Spotlight feature. David is the author of the new book Strangers To Superfans: A Marketing Guide to the Reader Journey as well as other noteworthy titles you can see on his Amazon author page.
Cheaper books, and more of them! Five years ago, there were 1 million books in the Kindle Store, now there are 7 million – books by a much wider variety of voices, telling different kinds of stories, that are available at prices anyone can afford and that can be ordered online 24/7. I’d say things are looking pretty good for readers. Speaking personally, just being able to sample books before purchasing means I hit way less duds these days.
The walls between writers and readers are disappearing, which is wonderful. It’s easy to forget how different things were just a sort time ago. When I was writing my first novel — A Storm Hits Valparaiso — 10 years ago, I found a wonderful little history book that helped me immensely with research, but which also threw out a very puzzling claim that undermined my view of a historical figure who was a central character in my story. I attempted to contact the writer for clarification, but also to express my thanks for writing such an amazing book. I wrote to his publisher and his agent but couldn’t get in touch with him. I was trying to send fan mail to a writer, but they actually wouldn’t let me!
Things are very different today and it’s easy to email or tweet or Facebook message anyone from a president to a pauper, and writers should embrace that change. I put my email address in the back of all my books and love getting messages from readers. And I certainly listen to what they have to say. For example, there is a secondary character in my last book, Liberty Boy, that was incredibly popular with readers who would like a story from her perspective, and that’s something I’m now planning to do … eventually.
Having an open line of communication with your readers is a wonderful thing that benefits everyone. Readers get to build more of a connection with the person who wrote the stories. Writers get to build a more passionate audience for their work. It’s great.
— author David Gaughran
I think it already is. Certainly it is for me. And when I go to conferences and speak to younger writers, most of them seem to have gone straight to self-publishing without even considering the traditional route. This makes me very happy. Writers are realizing (along with readers) that they are the most important part of this chain, and that they have all the power — if they choose to exercise it. Even if they don’t! More choice also empowers the authors still choosing to go with traditional publishers by being a kind of “silent bidder” in every auction, an unspoken threat, if you like, keeping everyone more honest. And that’s badly needed!
This is why I don’t find the sound of a publishing deal appealing. When I publish my own work, I get to decide everything, and I like having that level of control. I spend a lot of time thinking about things like the cover design, and what approach might help me reach more readers. I love finishing the last draft of a book and sending it off to my editor, knowing that I’ll be able to publish that story in a couple of weeks. With a publisher I’d be looking at a wait of 18 months or more.
Price is another huge one. I tend to price my books at $4.99, which feels fair to me and within reach of most readers. But I also run regular sales at 99 cents and do free promotions now and then to give everyone a chance to buy and to encourage new readers to try my work. I love having that freedom. If an author friend is running a promotion, or if I want to give a box of books to a library, I don’t have to ask anyone’s permission. It would be hard to relinquish all that power.
Indie authors are very responsive to shifting demand and changing tastes, we’ve seen that with space opera, Westerns, military sci-fi, grimdark fantasy, LitRPG, and all 50 shades of romance. Part of that is the vastly reduced production time I mentioned earlier, but also because we are much closer to readers, and talk to them all the time. Publishers don’t’ have that advantage. They are kind of scared of readers and don’t know how to talk with them — and don’t really have that open channel that self-publishers have. Historically, their customers were bookstores, not readers, so they don’t really speak their language, either.
I was at a conference a few years ago and heard the (respected) head of one of the biggest sci-fi/fantasy independent publishers in the UK declare that space opera was “dead.” I told him that a friend of mine was selling a quarter of a million of those dead space operas every year and he just ignored me and moved on to the next question. This is what happens when you aren’t directly in touch with the market. His information was out of date. He’s only getting a sense of the market from talking to his sales staff, who only talk to bookstore owners. And they only see what’s selling in their own store, and if they aren’t stocking it, they can’t sell it! This often leads to publishers declaring genres as “dead” or “hot” — solely based on the success of a failure of a title or two. Which is a crazy way to run a multibillion-dollar industry, but there you go.
Of course, indies are more than happy to fill those gaps and have been doing so very successfully indeed.