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How I Earn A Living As An Indie Author: I Do It My Way

In a presentation hailed as “inspirational” at a recent  Edinburgh publishing conference, self-published writer Linda Gillard described how going indie brought her commercial success. Below she shares the key points of her speech and her conclusions from attending the conference.

Self-published author Linda Gillard speaking at a publishing conference in Edinburgh

Linda Gillard inspiring delegates at the Edinburgh publishing conference

There’s no doubt about it – the publishing world is gradually opening up to indies. I was invited to speak at a conference entitled Publishing: Evolution, Disruption & the Future, a day of talks, discussion and networking held at Edinburgh Business School on June 12th and hosted by the Edinburgh Entrepreneurship Club. I was one of ten speakers, each given thirty minutes to talk about their industry and how it’s changing.

Why I Went Indie

My talk was entitled Why I went indie – and why I’m staying indie.  (Click on this link to view the recording on YouTube – I start at 28 mins.) I told my heart-warming story: mid-list author dumped by publisher finds success and a salary in the welcoming arms of Amazon’s KDP.

Many authors have done this now, but few have done it my way. There are no rules in indie publishing, but the received wisdom is, you won’t succeed without a personal blog or Twitter. You need to write genre fiction, publish a series, or at least a sequel and you have to make your books free on a regular basis.

I didn’t do any of that. I had a website, a Facebook author page and a modest following. I write contemporary genre-busting fiction – notoriously hard to market. When my publisher dropped me, they cited “disappointing sales”, but there had been other problems. The fact that my books belonged to no clear genre and didn’t resemble each other had led to friction. I always knew that as an indie, I wasn’t going to be able to market a genre, I was going to have to market me. Me as an author of good stories.

Why I Focus on Writing

Cover of Untying the Knot by Linda GillardSo instead of engaging in intensive social networking, I concentrated on writing new books, resurrecting my backlist, then getting them onto Kindle. I e-published four novels in less than a year and that made an impact. I blogged here about how I gradually built up a following, interacting with readers. I call it self-promotion by stealth. It’s slow, time-consuming, and you can’t distill it into a Tweet, but it’s much more effective.

My goal has always been readers, not sales. Readers who’d enjoy my books so much, they’d buy anything I wrote, regardless of genre. I’ve now achieved that goal in the UK and sales from my five indie e-books and paperbacks now earn me a comfortable living. I’ve made mistakes, but I made no concessions. I wrote what I wanted to write, in the way I wanted to write it. Much to my surprise, it sold.

So I explained what I’d done and how I’d done it to my Edinburgh audience and there were a few laughs along the way. But “inspiration” and “inspirational” were the words bandied about after I’d spoken. Mark Coker of Smashwords followed me and in his encouraging talk, Ten Trends Driving the Future of Publishing, he was kind enough to say, “Linda’s success will inspire the next generation of indie authors.” (Mark’s talk begins at 61 minutes in the Youtube link above)

A Look to the Future

Perhaps some of those aspiring authors were sitting in the audience at the Edinburgh Business School. Mark Coker’s message came across loud & clear: the future of reading is e-books. My message was just as clear, just as hopeful: the future for authors is indie – at least for those who wish to earn something like a living.

And just think how far we have come, that we can now talk – confidently in many cases – about writing for a living.

 

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20 Responses to How I Earn A Living As An Indie Author: I Do It My Way

  1. Joanne Phillips July 4, 2013 at 9:14 am #

    Your story is indeed inspirational, and I really enjoyed watching the YouTube clip. I think your success proves that being authentic, and doing only what you enjoy doing, is the key to attracting readers. People can tell when an author – or anyone, for that matter! – is only tweeting, or posting on FB, or blogging because they feel they ‘should’. I remember the days when NLP and modelling success were the buzz words, but it was always about modelling attitude and drive, not trying to replicate someone else’s way of doing things.
    Thanks for sharing your story :)

  2. Dan Holloway July 4, 2013 at 12:04 pm #

    You’re an inspiration, Linda. It’s sad how the world of digital books, because it revolves around lists and algorithms and “discoverability”, is if anything more obsessed with genre than bookshops – exactly the opposite of what the pioneers of digital publishing said. Your example is a reminder that it needn’t be so!

  3. janis f. kearney July 4, 2013 at 12:46 pm #

    Linda, I love your spirit and your philosophy on what counts for us.(writers) “A living,” is all most of us can dream of, when we choose writing over the more saner, acceptable careers. But, making a living is really the gravy; it’s the getting up each day and doing what we want to do, how we want to do it. And, then to have readers and followers really, really like what we write. Ah, that’s so much more than merely living!

  4. Linda Gillard July 4, 2013 at 1:37 pm #

    Thanks everyone for your kind comments. I think my contrary-Mary attitude came about after suffering so much grief at the hands of 2 traditional publishers – feeling I was a nuisance, that I was being difficult by not toeing arbitrary genre lines. Traditional publishing on more than one occasion made me vow never to write another novel – or rather, never try to get it published.

    But all that frustration & despair helped me sort out my priorities during the dark night of the soul in which I tried to work out whether to cast myself out into the publishing wilderness – which is what I did when I withdrew the manuscript of HOUSE OF SILENCE from my publisher who’d said it needed a complete re-write. (I also feared I’d lose my agent by doing this, but she stood by me. She thought I was doing the right thing. We both believed in the book.)

    I’ve just looked back over the angst-ridden journal I kept at that time, in 2008…

    “I need to get back to the origins of my writing, which were therapeutic and an outlet for creativity. Being published has really only ever been a by-product of what I did/do to stay sane and happy… I *can* pull out of the publishing circus without invalidating who I am, what I have already achieved. I *do* have control.”

    I exercised that control to protect my intellectual property. I thought it was worth protecting, even if that meant it wouldn’t be published! It was a very tough call, but I drew a lot of comfort from a Cyril Connolly quotation: “Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.”

  5. Francis Guenette July 4, 2013 at 2:32 pm #

    You really do inspire, Linda! It’s great to know there is someone out there who is doing what they love and doing it their own way. It hasn’t taken me long to learn that It’s easy to be pulled in a million different directions with self-publishing – far too easy to lose sight of what matters. The list of things I absolutely must do to succeed is long and time-consuming and dictating by the so-called experts. Then a lone voice comes along (Linda!) and says – hey, I don’t do those things. Look at me. Thanks so much.

  6. Julia Munroe Martin July 4, 2013 at 4:28 pm #

    As a just-starting-out indie author, this is so encouraging to read — THANK YOU, Linda! And bravo and congratulations on your success. Can’t wait to read your books!

    • Linda Gillard July 4, 2013 at 8:01 pm #

      Thank you, Julia. if you do actually download one of my books, you’ll be proving one of my theories – that a readership can be built up by making a personal connection with readers. I don’t know if it’s possible to move or inspire people in a Tweet (I expect Stephen Fry can), but I’ve discovered that if you speak from the heart, people respond warmly. They jump to the (perhaps erroneous) conclusion that an interesting, passionate author must write interesting, passionate books. ;-)

  7. Kathleen B. Jones July 4, 2013 at 4:50 pm #

    Linda, this was a posting that came at exactly the right time for me. I am launching into the world of indie publishing after many years publishing with more traditional publishers. Like you, my writing cuts across genres; it subverts conventions. And that made it difficult to find a home for my new book. I fought against suggestions to make my work conform; I fought against suggestions to rewrite the whole thing. Along the way, I picked out the good advice from various others who read the MS in its earlier incarnation. And I sorted through the advice on so many web sites I started to get dizzy until I synthesized what was essential and applied what made sense to my writing. Now, I think I am ready to go. And making some of my other works available in ebook form is part of the process.

    Anyway, thanks!!

  8. rhapsodyinbooks July 4, 2013 at 5:20 pm #

    As I see it, however, big problems remain with self-publishing because of the many people who self-publish without having any editing done whatsoever, and evince problems with spelling and grammar, not to mention plot. This is not to say that every book that comes out of a big house is worth reading, or even that it has received adequate editing. But the percentages favor big house books. Nevertheless, I agree that publishers don’t go for cross-genre-ing, nor do they like protagonists who represent some minority or other, whether it be a color, a psychological or physical handicap, or who knows what sets off their marketing alarms. And I, for one, am a rabid fan of Linda Gillard, and know that her books are excellent, self-published or not. So my question is, how can potential readers and reviewers know how to SORT from among these self-published books? Yes, certainly I can look at a book by Linda Gillard and say, oh, well, I know THAT one will be good, but what of the rest of the authors out there?

    • Linda Gillard July 4, 2013 at 6:09 pm #

      This is an important question, Jill. Indie authors want readers to buy with confidence.

      I think in the first instance potential buyers of indie fiction should be persuaded by the cover. If it’s not a professional-looking cover, it might not be a professionally-produced book. Indie authors are smartening up their act every day, realising what a competitive world we write in. Anyone serious about indie-publishing is serious about their cover – and by serious I mean they’re prepared to spend money on it. (One of my books has a £250 cover. I had no idea if I would make that money back when I instructed my designer, but the cover I wanted was going to cost that much, I thought my book was worth it, so I paid it.)

      The book’s blurb should also indicate the quality of the book. If you don’t like the way the blurb is written, the book is probably not for you. (And if the author’s biography is much longer than the blurb, beware)

      The other way you can tell if a book’s worth your time is reading the sample. I think you can tell on p.1 if someone can write. You can also tell within a page if the author is a stranger to punctuation & grammar. If you persevere and read 10% of the novel, you should be able to tell if the author can construct a story and create believable characters. And you can do all that for free.

      But increasingly I think readers will look to their usual channels for recommendations – book bloggers, book forums, book clubs, family and friends who recommend indie books. It seems many bloggers still like to make a distinction between indie and traditionally published books, but it’s my impression that readers have already allowed that boundary to become blurred. For readers it’s still good books v. bad books and I don’t think a book’s provenance is all that important to them – probably not as important as its price.

      One of our jobs as indie authors is to read a lot of indie books so when we meet & talk to readers we can make suitable *quality* recommendations of books anyone would be happy to read and own. Indie authors don’t just have to promote themselves – though Heaven knows, that’s a time-consuming job. We need to promote *each other*. By doing that we will raise the standing of indie books generally and it’s my belief the rubbish will gradually sink to the bottom.

      • Helena Halme July 14, 2013 at 4:02 pm #

        Linda, this post came just in time to lift my spirits.

        I have three books out in very different genres, although all could collectively be called literary fiction. The readers who have discovered my books are incredibly passionate, but alas, there aren’t enough of them yet for me to give up my (part-time) job. It’s good to hear a good living can me made from books that are not in a specific genre.

        So onwards, and upwards I go, writing the fourth book (funnily enough, a sequel to my first, The Englishman). It’s going well, but at times, I wish I had a publisher or an agent breathing down my neck with talk of deadlines!

        A great speech.

        Helena

  9. Maureen Blundell July 15, 2013 at 10:50 am #

    Linda, I heard you speak at the recent Felixstowe Book Festival and was really inspired to go back out into the world and give my trilogy another chance to find the readers I know are out there. This ‘genre’ thing really bugs me – a good book is a good book whatever genre it ‘fits’. The aim of literature, or any art, is to widen the horizons of the mind, surely.
    So, again many thanks for giving me, and obviously others, the incentive to go out there and try again. And thanks for all the advice which I shall do my best to put into practice, although I baulk at the FB and Twitter community too. (Just heard on the radio about these ‘cookies’ that crawl all over our postings – yikes!)

    • Linda Gillard July 15, 2013 at 7:39 pm #

      Glad you found my talk helpful, Maureen. Who was it who said there are two kinds of writing – good writing & bad writing?

      The whole exasperating genre issue makes me think of Granny Smith apples. No one particularly wants to eat Granny Smiths, but supermarkets love them because they’re all the same colour/size/shape which makes them easy to package. I think it’s interesting & also very heartening that since indie authors took over their own marketing, there’s been an explosion of inventiveness and a lot of creative cross-fertilisation.

      Good luck with your trilogy. I hope it finds its readers.

  10. Philippa Rees October 13, 2013 at 1:10 pm #

    A Sunday spent with you and Mark Coker in Edinburgh, and worthwhile for the uplift, if not for any more specific reasons. I am having soon to talk to a crowd, less interested in my subject than your was on books so there were ‘acting’ and ‘timing’ pointers too.

    You are incredibly focused and the part on the difference between US and UK readers was convincingly made. I could not help wondering whether this is a perception issue or a real one, since in my case I have found the few US readers, or more specifically US interviews are more ‘open’ to a very unorthodox work than any UK institutions are ( though not UK readers who have done everything possible to assist dissemination)

    Your list of the ‘things I did not do’ (regular blog, twitter) was a great comfort since both have absorbed massive time with nil results…but I do wonder how UK authors start a march on the US and what has been considered Any thoughts from anyone?

  11. Elizabeth Burgess April 30, 2014 at 4:46 am #

    Enjoyed the article!! Thanks so much!!

  12. Cat Blount May 2, 2014 at 2:43 pm #

    This alone, “I wrote what I wanted to write, in the way I wanted to write it,” says it all! I love this quote from you. It totally fits me and my writing career!

    I have 13 published titles. Only 7 of those titles are available to the public. Why? Because I took my first 6 titles and revamped them all from cover to cover and wrote them the way I wanted to write them. They are now introduced to the public as, “Storyteller’s Edition” under each title. My concentration was too much on, “I’m not supposed to write it this way, I’m not supposed to write it that way, They may not like it like this,” instead of being on stories that came straight from my spirit. Now I write from the inside. I do what I feel.

    Thank you for your blog and your video. May God continue to bless your success!

    Sincerely,
    Cat Blount

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