Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Linda Gillard on e-publishing House of Silence

I'm very pleased to hand over the blog today to Linda Gillard, author of House of Silence, which I reviewed yesterday. Linda has kindly agreed to write about the struggle she experienced trying to get her book accepted by print publishers & why she decided to go it alone & e-publish.

To paraphrase PG Wodehouse, “It’s never difficult to distinguish between an author with a grievance and a ray of sunshine.”

Two years ago I was dropped by my publisher. I was in good company. A lot of mid-list authors – some well-known names – were dropped as the recession bit deep. It seemed all editors wanted was “stunning début novels”, genre fiction and books by celebs. So-called “respectable sellers” like me were told our sales were disappointing and we were quietly dropped. Though I didn’t go that quietly. My third novel STAR GAZING was subsequently short-listed for three book awards and won one of them. (I think I hold the record for The Most Short-listed Author Without a Publisher.)

You’d think awards and short-listings would have made it easier for me to find a new publisher. Er, no. Publishers are ruled by the bottom line. Unless a book award stimulates big sales, it doesn’t count for much. It’s easier and cheaper to launch “stunning” début authors, offering in some cases risible advances or even no advance at all. (Some authors are now being offered just a share of the profits.)

After two years of my agent’s best efforts, we hadn’t found a publisher for my fourth novel, HOUSE OF SILENCE. Editors said the book would be hard to market because it belonged to no clear genre. Well, they had a point. HOUSE OF SILENCE is a country house mystery/family drama/rom-com/love story. Or to put it another way, COLD COMFORT FARM meets REBECCA.

What’s that? You’re salivating already? Your clicking finger is itchy?… I must now explain a fundamental difference between authors and publishers. (Brace yourselves. You might find the next bit upsetting.) Authors are trying to sell their books to readers. Publishers are trying to sell their books to retailers. Increasingly, in the UK this means supermarkets.

It was very frustrating. I had a considerable, worldwide following and my loyal fans had been begging for a new novel for three years. Meanwhile I’d kept myself in the public eye by writing guest blogs, chatting on book forums and – ahem – winning the odd book award. I had a ready-made market for a new book, but no editor wanted to publish it.

To be fair, a couple of editors really loved HoS, but they couldn’t get their marketing team on board. One enthusiastic editor backed off when she discovered my next book wasn’t the same. She was dismayed to discover I wrote one-offs, which are – you guessed it! – hard to market. (Versatility is apparently a publisher’s nightmare. In what other field of creative endeavour is that true?)

And then the e-book revolution happened. Kindle was the answer to a grumpy author’s prayer. I no longer cared if I made money, so long as I broke even. I wasn’t desperate to see my name on a book cover or on a shelf in Waterstones. (Been there, done that.) No, this was about letting a book find its readers, who I just knew would love the story and characters.

So, with my agent’s approval, I decided to publish HOUSE OF SILENCE myself on Amazon for Kindle. Believe it or not, selling the e-book at £1.90, I'll still make more per copy sold than I did from my paperbacks! I only need to sell 100 to go into profit. (I paid a professional designer to do a cover to – oh joy! – my specifications. So there are no headless people. No supermodel legs. No illegible fonts. Just a cover that makes a very clear statement about the content of the book. Spooky old mansion under a lowering sky. An oldie, but a goodie.)

Readers think authors are giving e-books away at silly prices, but the appalling irony is, we’re actually making more money this way. That’s why some established authors are moving away from mainstream to e-publishing. They can make more money and have artistic control. So authors are rejoicing. The revolution is here!

Personally, I have nothing to fear from the e-publishing revolution. I’m already acquiring new readers with HOUSE OF SILENCE and they’ll turn to my out-of-print back-list, so I’ll publish two more e-books, EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY and A LIFETIME BURNING on Kindle later this year. If editors don’t want my fifth novel (finished) or my sixth (work-in-progress), then I’ll put those on Kindle too. There are plenty of people waiting to read them.

But I know a lot of my readers would prefer a paper book – to be honest, so would I - so I’m looking into print-on-demand to see whether it could be economic to produce “limited edition” paperbacks for readers who don’t have access to e-books or who want to own “a proper book”. Those won’t come cheap, so it all depends how much readers are prepared to pay to own a paper book.

Some fear e-publishing heralds the death of paper books, but I think there could be a backlash. I suspect the Folio Society will do very nicely out of the e-publishing boom. We’ve seen fountain pens and letter writing make a big comeback. Music on vinyl has become popular again. I’m sure readers will continue to collect special, well-produced books for their shelves, while amassing e-books on their Kindles. It isn’t either/or. We can have both.

Thank you Linda for sharing a writer's experience of the world of publishing. Have a look at Linda's website here for more information on her work & check out House of Silence at Amazon.


  1. This is a fascinating post. I miss the mid list which was full of the sort of books I liked to read, a thriving industry in reprinted classics is great (and I'm assuming that so many of these are appearing is because they're now public domain) but where are the middle brow classics of the future to come from?
    It also baffles me why publishers want to sell to supermarkets (I work in one now) and books aren't really what we do. They're not a money spinner in their own right, no one goes to Asda to buy books, they're add on sales and impulse purchases, and in fact my branch of Waitrose has just ditched the fiction and childrens titles we had (top 10 titles only) because they didn't sell. We kept the cookbooks because they do, and because it leads to more add on sales. We're there to make money so if customers want something we'll try and provide it but outside of the heavily discounted top 10 lists which can't make much money for retailer, publisher, or writer there is neither the will or the space to sell books.

    I do hope the e publishing works well for Linda and that she finds a publisher who is prepared to back her books into paper at an affordable price. Failing that I hope she makes a pile of cash and can sit back and have the last laugh!

  2. Oh, wow, I had no idea that Linda's latest book was available until I stumbled across this by chance. By the time I'd read so much as the first few lines of this post I'd dashed over to amazon to buy it.

    If it ever became available in paperback I'd jump at the chance as well, but as far as I'm concerned it's the publishers' loss if they can't see the talent of authors such as Linda. I've read all 3 of her published books, and loved them all - as I know a lot of other people have. What a waste to drop successful authors like that, but thank goodness for self-published ebooks!

    And the comment: "I’m sure readers will continue to collect special, well-produced books for their shelves, while amassing e-books on their Kindles. It isn’t either/or. We can have both." is spot on by the way.

  3. Fascinating isn't it to think publishers drop people who go on to be shortlisted!?

    I think publishers are really missing out on an excellent book. Another person here who agrees that we can have books and kindles living quite happily alongside each other. Perhaps the publishers do not realise that and therefore they find they need to be careful.

  4. I've just read a great review of this novel on Cornflower Books and was just wondering how to get hold of it. Now I know and shall do so forthwith. I'm sorry to hear of your trouble with publishers but this is an excellent solution to the problem and I'm sure lots of readers will be delighted. Thanks!

  5. Thanks, Lyn, for giving me a platform to explain myself and thanks to those of you who have commented so positively. :-)

    Hi book_odyssey! Glad you found HoS. Follow me on Facebook or keep an eye on my website to keep up with future news. I have more books in the pipeline and if editors don't want them, I shall e-publish. (I went into profit on Day 2.)

    Desperate Reader, you will be dismayed to learn that my latest offering UNTYING THE KNOT is collecting rejections - some of them raves. Apparently it's just not "high concept" enough and there's no hook to hang a marketing campaign on... Divorced couple are still in love with each other and can't move on. He's traumatised ex-military bomb squad, she's the loyal army wife who cracked and walked away from their spartan life in the ruinous Perthshire castle her husband was restoring. Season with gags, secrets about everyone's past, plus a toy boy comic subplot. Stir well and you have what I consider to be my funniest and most romantic book yet. But I forget the High Concept. Damn...

    Look for it in an e-book store near you in about a year.

  6. Linda, what exactly is High Concept?! I can't wait to read UTK & I think you've found a viable way to reach your fans with e-publishing. Thank you everyone for your comments. I've been a fan of Linda's work for years & I'm just happy to be able to give her venture a bit of publicity. Hayley, I agree with you about the middlebrow reads of the future. Where will they come from if publishers only publish more of the same (another vampire romance or Da Vinci code clone anyone?) or mega-selling authors? There are lots of readers out there who want intelligent fiction with a few laughs & lots of romance. I also agree that books & e-books can live happily together. I don't think I'll ever stop buying print books but I love my e-reader for those harder to find books & if I ever go travelling again, it will be perfect.

  7. Now I just want to read Untying the Knot a.s.a.p.!
    Well done to Linda for having the courage of her convictions and doing things independently, and let's hope publishers see sense soon so that her books and those of other similar writers can reach the widest possible readership.

  8. When THE HURT LOCKER cleaned up at the Oscars and there were so many news stories and dcoumentaries about traumatised war veterans and the toll post traumatic stress disorder takes on families and particularly marriages, I thought I was on to a winner. But no.

    I have no idea what a "high concept" is. (Interestingly, no one I've spoken to knows what "high concept" means, not even my agent.) *My* high concept was, I thought readers should know that more Falklands war veterans have committed suicide than were killed in the conflict itself.

    But at least I now know there *will* come a day when I can tell that story and you'll all get a chance to meet Mad Magnus MacGillivray holed up in his tower. ;-)

  9. There is nothing I can really add, Linda, only jolly well done on going ahead with an e-book and I hope in due course you will be able to publish-on-demand! My goodness, it seems a long time ago since you stayed with us and wrote your first novel which I read page by page, hot off the A4 press, har, har! No one could be more delighted than me that you've had three books published and now, with the short-sightedness of publishers, you've had the courage of your conviction and published this yourself as an e-book!
    Margaret P

  10. I was pointed in the direction of this blog post by Harriet (who commented above). I'm off to download your novel now. Since I got my Kindle in December I've been delighted with the e-books I've downloaded from writers who've put their novels straight into e-book format. (Harriet's own novel 'A Butchered Man' was one of the best novels I'd read in a while). House of Silence sounds good and, as you say, you are marketing here to a reader.

  11. Untying the Knot sounds very tempting, something I would almost certainly buy if I saw it on a shelf - so annoying if that won't happen!

  12. Desperate Reader, this one *will* make it to a Kindle near you if publishers don't want it. UTK is another book that I'm convinced my readers will enjoy and Magnus is another flawed hero I think they'll take to their hearts. UTK has a lot in common with STAR GAZING which was my most successful book, but like SG, it's thoughtful, introspective and the conflicts are mostly internal. Distinctly lacking in "high concept" and therefore doomed to commercial oblivion.

    Or maybe not. I've sold 59 e-books. Today. ;-)

  13. Good for you! And thank you for answering some questions as we pondered these very issues last night while closing the library. I understand businesses having to consider their bottom line but frankly I am sick to the back teeth of some corporations making decisions that are out of touch with what the public wants. I for one don't want to read formulaic stories at the contractual rate of one a year by the same author so I applaud your variety. It's the reason I gave up on Jodi Picoult way back when.

    All the best in your future endeavours and given your determination and spirit I'm sure you will do well!

  14. Thanks, Darlene!

    As far as I know the only publisher who carries out market research is Harelequin Mills & Boon, yet editors always claim to know "what readers want", which oddly is not always in accord with what *authors* think readers want, even though authors are the ones who meet readers, correspond with them and chat to them on blogs like this one.

    I've tried to find out why publishers don't do market research. I've been told it's because they don't have time. Certainly what I've seen of publishing has revealed overworked staff working flat out, so I can well believe this is true. But if they aren't in touch with their readers, how can they hope to get it right? And if they haven't got time to chat to readers, why not listen to authors who do?

  15. Well said, Linda! I'd have thought it was good business sense to have an idea what readers want. Doing a little market research would be a good idea but of course it would be more costly & time consuming than just publishing another clone of the current hot book whether it's vampire romance or Da Vinci code thriller. I rely more on blogs & my online reading group & serendipity when looking for books to read than on the latest publishing hype.

  16. I think publishers and the BBC should get together as they both have the same shortsighted attitude to the bottom line/profits/ratings.

    Dont publish/produce high quality programmes/books but stick to being mediocre. The BBC are currently thinking of hiving Blue Peter off to a digi channel and halving its viewers and now hear that BBC4, the most interesting channel they own, is in danger because the viewing figures are not high enough.

    Mediocrity reigns it seems. Linda, this long rant is by way of saying good for you, I have your book on my Kindle and intend to read it ASAP

  17. Thanks Elaine. I'm looking forward to your review.

    I think there's an assumption that if publishers aim at the middle ground, they'll hit the maximum number of targets, but this seems to be flying in the face of publishing success stories of very quirky books that no one expected to succeed, or niche marketing, like Persephone Books. The same goes for the BBC. Their Dickens "soaps" were a big hit with viewers who don't actually want dumbed-down viewing, but as they'll watch whatever is put before them programmers conclude they're getting it right.

    Anyway, HoS has totally vindicated my view of it as a commercial book. It's in the Top 100 e-books and selling over 70 copies a day at the moment. It's been on sale 2 weeks so this is just the beginning. Many of these sales (perhaps most?) are now coming from people who haven't read my other books. I know because they email me or say so in reviews or on forums.

    I now have to ask myself if I actually *want* an orthodox publishing deal for future books. I can predict a quantity of sales for future e-books that no publisher could ever guarantee me (because retailers have different criteria from readers.) I would also have to sell at least 3 times as many books to make the same money.

    The big losses in e-book publishing (and for me these are considerable) are
    1. I don't see foreign editions appearing. I have a lot of readers outside the UK and a lot of foreign editions of STAR GAZING & EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY. I would have liked to offer those readers more books.

    2. Some readers can't or won't read on a screen. I like the fact that a print book can be available to almost everyone.

    I hope you'll forgive the length of this comment, but I thought readers would be interested in the latest developments.

  18. Thanks for the update, Linda. I'm so pleased that HOS is selling like the proverbial hotcakes. I do understand that you'd like the best of both worlds. There are lots of people who can't or won't read on a screen & your foreign fans will miss out, also those who read large print or like audio books. I suppose you can only do what you can to satisfy yourself first of all. Without e-publishing, only a few people would have had the opportunity to read HOS.

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