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S2/E10: Let’s Get Digital by David Gaughran

Updated: Aug 2, 2021

David Gaughran is an indie publisher of historical adventures, including Liberty Boy, Mercenary and A Storm Hits Valparaiso. He’s been featured in places like The Huffington Post, Business Insider, and Forbes for helping thousands of authors through his workshops, books, and blogs on indie publishing. He has Let’s Get Digital is in it’s third edition and is the first in the Let’s Get Publishing series, followed by Let’s Get Visible, Amazon Decoded, and Strangers to Superfans.

My guess that the reason this book stands out among a sea of books on the topic is because of Gaughran’s voice comes through. He does a great job of concisely explaining a process with a lot of moving parts while retaining a personable, conversational tone.

He divides the book into three parts. The first part explains a lot of those aforementioned moving parts. If you want to get a clearer understanding of things like metadata, keywords, categories, book aggregators, pricing strategies, the differences between blurbs and taglines, how to find your first editors, your first readers, this is the section for you. There’s a fantastic checklist at the end of this section that lets you see the whole chess board, so to speak. The second section delves deeper into the industry itself. His hope is that this section will provide you with a “solid picture of the publishing industry landscape” and the many changes over the last decade “so you can make smart business decisions.” And he offers a list of tools and resources to help you get crackalacking. First-person accounts of author success stories make up the third and final part. Thirty authors across a wide range of genres, writing speeds, and publishing strategies share their indie (and sometimes traditional) publishing experiences.

Before I get to the 3 things today, I’m going to lead with the quote that jumped out at me:

“But before we get to all that good stuff [of marketing], we need to talk about you. Most new self-publishers take a little time to adapt to the mindset needed to be successful. Often, they have hang-ups about pricing, or focus too much on print over digital, or find themselves reluctant to let go of various fantasies that nourished them through the tough process of writing that first book. Perhaps they dreamed of being nominated for a prize, or being on the front table at Barnes & Noble, or getting reviewed by the New York Times, or having lunchtime gimlets with their editor. While I still want to have lunchtime gimlets with my editor, I would respectfully suggest that all these other things are mere symbols of success, and what you must focus on is success itself – i.e. selling lots of books to lots and lots of readers.“ David Gaughran, Let’s Get Digital: How to Self-Publish, and Why You Should (Third Edition)

Three Things

1. Avoid the trap of trying to write the perfect book. Gaughran wants to save you (potentially) “years of your life” by stating with conviction: “There is no such thing as perfection in this business. Part of the reason some writers pursue traditional publishing is the pursuit of validation. The line of thinking there is that it must mean your book is good if it gets an agent and an editor. And then the magic of agents and editors will make it if not perfect, damn close! Except, not necessarily. And to some degree, it doesn’t matter. Because it doesn’t have to be perfect. As Gaughran says, “There is simply no way someone can tell a tale for eight hours [the average length of time it takes to read a book] or more without part of it [failing to resonate] with someone in the audience. It just can’t be done. Accept right from the outset that perfection is unattainable.” Think about your favorite book. Someone out there hated it. Someone out there is fixated on that part that was maybe a little weaker than the rest of the book. Right? Put down that baggage. Because writing and finishing books is the only way you’ll ever be a published author, whether you choose the indie or traditional route.

2. The 411 on Author Platform: First: what is author platform anyway? He defines it as “your combined presence on social media and the internet. That does include your mailing list if you have one, because in this day and age, it’s all going to be generated online, as well. So here’s good news for people who are anxious about how much time marketing will suck away from your writing time: if you’re doing it right, now very much time at all. He contends that you can have a solid writing and publishing career if you do the following:

  1. write good books at a reasonable pace

  2. maintain a mailing list that readers can sign up for

  3. run the occasional, strategic pricing promotion and/or ad

Social media fans and bloggers, what you’re doing probably isn’t hurting, but it might not be helping as much as you think. He gets into great detail in this section about what sorts of things often cause writers to recoil from marketing. He divides this into “things that can make you feel icky” (like spamming and posting buy links on social media), “stuff that’s too expensive” (like some advertising and services), and “stuff that takes up too much time” (like expansive social media efforts, blog tours, guest posting, media interviews, really most things that require your presence). He lists off five reliable marketing strategies:

  1. 99-cent promotion sales

  2. free books (especially for starts of series)

  3. mailing lists

  4. carefully chosen advertising with a solid return on investment (or ROI)

  5. group promotions and collaborations with other authors (e.g. boxsets, anthologies)

3. Don’t try to sell to your friends and family. You’ve written it, you’ve had it carefully edited, thought about things like cover and blurbs and metadata and pricing strategies and whether to go wide (list your book on as many sales platforms as possible) or exclusive (stick to just one provider like Amazon). Your work isn’t perfect (see #1), but it’s daaaaaamn good. And you’re ready with your smart marketing strategy and not going to suck away valuable writing time on things that aren’t going to actually help you find readers (and hopefully life-long fans). Good job!! Look at you go!!

And now you’re ready to launch. And you think, that obviously, in addition to all of the other things you’ve thought through, you’re going to shout out from the rooftops to all your family and friends that this exciting day has come. NOPE.

You may be asking yourself, Wait, what?! How can it hurt, right? Well, as crazy as it sounds, if your friends and family are awesome and supportive and hustle out and buy your book, they might actually mess up your long-term sales. And this comes down to something called “Also Boughts,” which is a term for book recommendations on book sales sites. Unless your family and friends tend to consistently read books like the ones you’re publishing, it’s going to screw up the algorithms on the various sales sites, making it hard for the whole giant world out there of readers of your genre.

Oversimplifying it a bit: If Grandma Margaret and everyone in her book club proudly purchases your spy novel, but they usually read historical family sagas, you run the risk of the computers behind your favorite book retailer recommending your book to historical family saga readers instead of spy novel aficionados. Not good for long-term sales. Your friends and family can only buy so many! You need those readers that find their way to you through “also boughts.”

I always only stick to three things (and a hack . . . and a quote), so while you might be thinking right now, “But how do I get those first genre readers to find my book in the first place, I can only say: You’ll have to buy the book to find out! 😉 The Rookie Review simply doesn’t have the space or bandwidth to break it down. You could find your people in a variety of ways. That’s why the third section is so fascinating to read.

But Gaughran suggests everybody needs a website and a newsletter at a minimum. And today’s hack offers a little help in that department.

*Hack: If you’re a fiction writer, you may wonder what you can put in your emails that you send out to your all-important email list. He suggests things like “book recommendations, deleted scenes, interesting research nuggets, and any other content [you think] your target audience would enjoy.” He sings the praises of another book on this subject to really take your use of this important tool up a notch: Newsletter Ninja by Tammi Labrecque.

I hope this was helpful to you! Next week Robin Knabel will be sharing her Rookie Book Review on Consider This: Moments in My Writing Life After Which Everything Was Different by Chuck Palahniuk. If you’ve been listening to the show for a while, you’ll recognize Robin from our 2019 NaNoWriMo Panel series as well as having been mentioned as Eric Knabel’s muse (and alpha reader), of course. Definitely come back next week to hear her. You’ll be glad you did!

Until then. . .

Happy writing, people!

Check out David Gaughran’s collection for writers (and one of his recommendations):

And if you’re into historical fiction, consider checking out:

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