A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Bookfox Hilary first encountered independently published author Linda Gillard when posting a Goodreads review of Emotional Geology sparked a wholly amicable and satisfying conversation, and led her to read more of her works. Today, it is a great pleasure to welcome Linda to Vulpes Libris, to tell the tale of her journey “from dumped mid-list author to indie bestseller”, and the relationship she has with her readers.
You won’t have heard of me. When I was dropped by my publisher in 2009 I was a mid-list author and my third novel, STAR GAZING had been short-listed for two awards. Now I publish my own books. What’s unusual about me is, I earn a good living writing non-genre fiction. When I was traditionally published, I didn’t.
My publisher and I parted company over my fourth novel, HOUSE OF SILENCE. My editor claimed if I didn’t re-write it as a romance, they wouldn’t know how to market it. I thought it was a rattling good yarn as it stood, so I withdrew the manuscript, thereby committing professional suicide. Every other editor was to deliver the same verdict: HOUSE OF SILENCE was enjoyable, but unmarketable.
After two years of rave rejections, I still hadn’t found a new publisher. Editors said the book belonged to no clear genre. Well, they had a point. HOUSE OF SILENCE is a country house mystery/family drama/gothic rom-com. Or to put it another way, COLD COMFORT FARM meets REBECCA.
It was so frustrating. I had a modest, worldwide following and my fans had been waiting for a new book for three years. I knew I had a ready-made market for my new novel, but no one wanted to publish it.
Then came the e-book revolution. Self-publishing on Kindle was the answer to a disgruntled author’s prayer. I wasn’t desperate to see my name on a book cover or on a shelf in Waterstones. (Been there, done that.) I didn’t even care if I made money. This was about a book finding its readers, who I felt sure would love my story and characters as much as I did.
So with my agent’s approval, I published HOUSE OF SILENCE myself as a Kindle e-book. It sells for £1.99/$3.99 and even at that silly price, I make more per copy than I did from my traditionally published paperbacks. This is why some established authors are moving away from mainstream to self-publishing. They believe they can make more money in the long term. They also want artistic control.
I sympathise. Two out of three of my previous novels were, in my opinion, sunk by unattractive covers, so this time I paid a professional designer to produce a cover to my specifications. There were no headless people, no supermodel legs, no cartoon figures or illegible fonts, just a cover that made a clear statement about the content of the book. (Spooky old mansion under a lowering sky.)
I sold 3000 downloads in the first six weeks. (No publisher could guarantee the sale of 3000 copies of any book by an unknown like me. They wouldn’t even print 3000. Far too risky.) To date I’ve sold – sold, not given away – 56,000 downloads of HOUSE OF SILENCE and more than 800 paperbacks. Not bad for an “unmarketable” book, selected by Amazon UK as one of their Top Ten “Best of 2011” in the Indie Author category.
I went on to self-publish two out-of-print backlist books and three more new novels. I’ve now sold more than 115,000 downloads. I’m in the unusual and fortunate position where I can write what I like and know there will be a market for it. My readers will buy the book, not because it’s a paranormal romance or a family saga, but because I wrote it.
That sounds insufferably smug, I know, but since going indie I’ve acquired reviews that say, in effect, “This is the first book of Gillard’s I’ve read and I’ve now downloaded all her others.” One Amazon reviewer said she’d read all seven novels in two months. That’s someone buying a voice, not a genre.
They say 98% of all book marketing is a complete waste of time. The trouble is, no one knows which 2% actually works. I can’t claim I knew what I was doing, but looking back, I can see I steered a steady course through the choppy seas of self-promotion and online marketing by focusing on writing novels and interacting with my readers.
Facebook has been my main promotional tool. I don’t have a personal blog and I don’t tweet. I gather my FB followers tweet for me, share my posts and talk about my books in forums. An author told me recently, “There’s always chatter about you on Twitter” and that’s one of the reasons I don’t tweet. A reader promoting me is far more convincing (and less irritating) than self-promotion.
I kept my FB author page lively, personal and positive. I was conscientious about responding to anyone who posted. There were no cute cats or dogs, no pictures of food. I posted about topics related to my books: Scotland, textiles, castles, mental health, island living, World War I, music, landscape, wildlife. I shared my writing and marketing process and invited engagement. Readers were interested and keen to help. They gave me useful feedback about titles, covers, prices, blurbs.
But things really took off when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012. I had to decide whether to go public on my FB page. I’d always been open about my mental health history because I’d explored the issues in stigma-busting books like EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY and UNTYING THE KNOT. I could see no reason why I shouldn’t talk about my cancer journey.
It was the best marketing move I ever made. Health issues aired on my page found me a new audience. My lengthy cancer posts were shared and people posted to say they’d bought one of my novels on the basis of how I’d written about my experience – which was honestly, but with a lot of dark humour.
My FB followers have watched me go from dumped author to indie bestseller. They’ve seen both my children get married. They’re awaiting with me the birth of my first grandchild. They’ve followed the saga of my cancer, my subsequent disability, my battle with chronic pain and my slow recovery. It’s been quite a soap. I don’t claim it sold books, but it made the necessary business of self-promotion more personal and rewarding. Many readers have become friends. In fact I like to think of my readers as friends I haven’t met yet.
The first time I saw a book of mine in a shop was a branch of Waterstones in Manchester. I remember thinking I should be terribly excited, but I wasn’t, possibly because I’d been an actress and journalist and had seen my name in print many times. I’ve found it much more exciting to meet readers and hear what they thought about my characters. Ten years on, I’m still absolutely thrilled when readers contact me to say how much they’ve enjoyed a book.
And that’s what it’s been about for me. Sharing stories. True stories or made-up stories, it’s all about the story.
On Monday, Simon will talk about the long-delayed joy of Beverley Nichols.
On Wednesday, we’ll have a Vulpes Random – tbd (EXCITING, no?)
On Friday, Hilary feeds her dreams of actually living in an actual bookshop with Jeremy Mercer’s memoir 'Books, Baguettes & Bedbugs. The Left Bank World of Shakespeare & Co.'