Q&A with self-publishing guru David Gaughran


Self-publishing, obviously, hasn’t faded away since David Gaughran’s best-seller “Let's Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should” came out.

That segment of the industry has only grown, as has “Digital” — an expanded second edition was released last September and is currently on sale. (So is the follow-up to it, “Let’s Get Visible: How To Get Noticed And Sell More Books.”)

We were able to ask David a few questions recently, and he also graciously agreed to answer some from readers, too. Send questions to sadye(at)thefussylibrarian.com, and we’ll get them to David.

Here’s what David had to say about the writing/publishing world right now.

SADYE: What's the single biggest thing that stops potential authors from writing?

DAVID: Time. It takes time to get good at anything, and writing is no different. It usually takes a long time to write your first book — and it may not be publishable when you are done. Most people don’t have a lot of spare time.  … 

It’s not coal-mining, but it’s a different kind of tough. You have to be determined yet patient, stubborn but willing to learn, and then commit to flailing around in the dark for an unknown period while you figure it all out. Even after all that, success is far from guaranteed. It’s easier today than it was five or 10 years ago. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

SADYE: Why are many authors reluctant to market their books? What would you tell them in response to those concerns?

DAVID: I think there are two things going on here — first, the myth that writers and artists never had to promote their work in the past, which leads some to think they are above that grubby nonsense because it somehow affects their artistic integrity. And that’s rubbish. 

Second — and these phenomena are probably connected — most writers have such a skewed view of marketing that I don’t blame them for being apprehensive. The popular caricature of marketing involves some kind of sleazy spam, or public begging. But good marketing is simply connecting people to products they want to buy.

I understand that writers can be introverted types, and that even the most extroverted don’t necessarily feel comfortable hawking their own stuff. … However, effective book marketing, the kind being employed by successful authors, doesn’t involve things that will make you feel sleazy or uncomfortable — instead it’s stuff like ads on sites like this, running a 99-cent sale, and building your mailing list. Even the shyest author can handle that.

SADYE: I recently read an article saying some writers choose to self-publish out of impatience (i.e., they don’t want to wait for a “traditional” book deal). How would you respond to that?

DAVID: I don’t blame anyone for being impatient! I wasted 18 months chasing agents before I started self-publishing. I wish I’d made the leap sooner. And there’s nothing wrong with self-publishing being some kind of Plan B, or a backdoor into traditional publishing. That is a well-trodden path at this point, and, if you can approach a publisher with a platform or readership, you will likely get a much better deal than you would have from the slush-pile. It doesn’t really matter how you reach readers, so what’s optimal for you? 

What’s interesting to me is that self-publishing has now become the first choice for many writers. Some of the top sellers today never even queried an agent! That blows my mind. So much has changed in the last five years.

SADYE: Is there ever a wrong reason to self-publish your work?

DAVID: Not everyone self-publishes for the same reasons. If your goal is to build a writing career, then you should remember that your name is your brand. You might only get one chance to impress a reader, and, as such, you should take a professional approach: Only release your best work and make sure it is presented well with a striking cover, enticing blurb, attractive price, clean formatting, and good editing.

But that’s not everyone. Some are hobbyists publishing their late grandfather’s memoirs of World War II. Others are businesses using e-books as some kind of calling card. I see schools involving a whole class in publishing a book of stories together. And that is very cool! So I’m loath to make blanket statements here.

SADYE: What’s the most common mistake you see self-published authors making? 

DAVID: Standards have improved hugely in the last five years as self-publishers have realized that (a) they are competing against the biggest authors from the largest publishers, and (b) that not everything from the past needs to be reinvented in this Brave New World. 

The creative part of our brains will always want to do things differently so we might instinctively reject the notion of something like following genre cover conventions. But most thrillers don’t have a gun or a body on the cover because traditional publishers lack imagination — it’s because they know they have two seconds to tell the reader what genre it is. 

I think authors should remember that the place to dazzle readers with originality is inside the book — i.e., with your words.

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David Gaughran is an Irish author, living in Prague. Find out more about his novels (and pick up a free book) on his reader site; and check out his author blog for information on publishing and marketing your works.