When I decided to e-publish my much-rejected, now best-selling fourth novel, HOUSE OF SILENCE I knew my fans would buy it. They'd been begging for a new book for three years. But never in my wildest dreams did I think that, if I self-published HOS, thousands of new readers would buy it. I hoped to sell perhaps 10 copies a month. For the first three months I was selling 100 copies a day.
Since no publisher could hope to sell 12,000 copies of a book by a relative unknown like me, let alone in five months, with a publicity budget of £100 (the cost of the e-book cover), I can claim that all those editors who rejected HOUSE OF SILENCE because "it wouldn't sell" were wrong.
To be fair, when publishers say something won't sell, they usually mean, "We wouldn't know how to market it" and the (quite reasonable) assumption is that, for something to sell, it has to be marketed. Big budgets and marketing departments are organised around what purports to be a commercial fact of life.
But it no longer seems to be a fact. The only marketing for HOUSE OF SILENCE was done by me. (I wrote six guest blogs when the e-book was published and I had a spontaneous and enthusiastic cyber-launch with friends and fans on Facebook.) A few bloggers helped by writing great reviews and cross-posting them. (Thank you!) There must also have been a word-of-mouth factor on book forums. Then there was Amazon's own brilliant sales strategy. No respecter of persons or publishers, Amazon promotes books regardless of who they're by or what they're about. If it's selling, Amazon will rank it and promote it and HOUSE OF SILENCE was a beneficiary of that strategy. It sold because it was selling.
With a professional-looking cover and blurb, readers didn't know or care whether HOS was self-published. The text was correctly spelled, punctuated and properly presented. (I used to be a teacher.) As for my cross-genre cover blurb – it worked! Readers responded positively to the genre mixed-marriage, especially the tag-line, "COLD COMFORT FARM meets REBECCA". I discovered that REBECCA and COLD COMFORT FARM are favourite novels for many readers, as they are for me.
So you could say I struck lucky. Or you could say, by going it alone, having faith in my story and characters, faith in readers' passion for a good tale, my tenacity finally paid off.
I'm hoping to strike lucky again when my latest novel, UNTYING THE KNOT appears as a Kindle e-book next week. This novel is another hybrid genre marketing nightmare... "A ruined castle. A ruined marriage. Two shattered lives. When love is not enough, who pays the price?" It's a love story about a couple in their 40s who are divorced. From each other. There's a rom-com subplot, two weddings, some explosions, several war zones, flashbacks (in all senses) and the restoration of a ruinous Scottish castle. In short: TWO WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL meets THE HURT LOCKER.
Whatever its genre, UNTYING THE KNOT is the most romantic novel I've ever written, even more romantic than STAR GAZING (short-listed for Romantic Novel of the Year in 2009). But this was why one of the editors who really liked HOUSE OF SILENCE wasn't interested in publishing either HOS or UTK: they didn't belong to the same genre. (That distant thumping sound you can hear is an authorial head repeatedly striking a brick wall.)
Sadly, "Linda Gillard" is not a "brand", like Jodi Picoult or Sherrilyn Kenyon. To be really successful in print publishing, you need to be a brand. Print publishing is governed not by authors or readers, or even editors. It's ruled by retailers who decide which books will be stocked. That means they have a lot of influence – some would say far too much – over what gets published.
With the demise of Borders and, it's rumoured, the UK Waterstones chain, "book retailers" (in the UK at least) will soon mean supermarkets, which already dictate price and cover design to an alarming and unhealthy degree. Booksellers and supermarkets like brands. They like series. I’m not sure why. I suspect because they don't have to be marketed, they can just be advertised with, "Here’s more of the same". It's boring, lazy and unimaginative. I say, bring on the gay gladiators, comic cougars and vegetarian vampires. Put them into the fictional melting pot and see what happens. The result, if well-written, could hardly be dull.
Fortunately you don't have to be a "brand" to sell e-books. Readers browse and decide whether to click on the strength of the cover, the price, the title, the blurb and the reviews. (Price is a big factor and that's where indie authors really score.) Of course with indie e-books, there's no quality control – something which irritates, even depresses many e-book readers. But at least you can download a free sample which will reveal whether you're reading the work of a real writer or a deluded amateur. And don't forget how many books you've started, then abandoned, asking, "Who ever thought this was worth publishing?" or even, "Did no one proof-read this book?"
Quality control has been an issue for years. Editing and proof-reading are expensive services and some publishers decided long ago that money could be saved by cutting a few corners. With the e-book explosion, quality control is now a much bigger issue, but the book world is already adapting. Blogs, websites and Facebook pages are offering e-book recommendations. Even Amazon has realised that, if it's going to publish all-comers, it needs to give buyers some guidance as they navigate their way through a sea of teenage TWILIGHT clones and unpunctuated porn. They've set up a Kindle Indie book store on Amazon.com and I hope we'll soon have one on Amazon UK.
I'm very happy with the latest developments in the book world and I'm thrilled that my books are finding lots of new readers. But there's still one thing I'd like to see. (I think you might like to see it too.) I'd like to see a new genre being developed and promoted – not least because I think my novels would sit very well within this niche. The name of my new genre? Rattling Good Yarns.
It's a genre that everyone will read and love. And it will never go out of fashion.
Many thanks to Linda for sharing her experiences and thoughts on the challenges facing authors who are trying to get their work published. You can find out more information about Linda's books here. You can find Linda's books on Amazon here in the US and here in the UK.