Why Going Digital? An interview with David Gaughran

Read this post in French/Lire ce billet en français

I discovered David Gaughran through his popular self-publishing guide Let’s Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, as in 2011 I was sarting to self-publish myself, I read a couple of books on the subject including his.

He is the author of the South American historical adventure A Storm Hits Valparaiso and the short stories If You Go Into The Woods. He runs the publishing blog Let’s Get Digital and the South American history site South Americana, has a regular column at Indie Reader, and his work has been featured in the Huffington Post, The Sunday Times, the Irish Times, and the Irish Examiner.

Buy it on Amazon Kindle
Buy it on Amazon Kindle

David answers 5 questions


Why self-publishing and not traditional publishing?

This is a question a lot of writers are asking themselves, but in the US and the UK these days, the question often gets reversed: why traditional publishing instead of self-publishing?

The advantages of self-publishing are becoming clearer with each reader that switches to digital. Chief among them are:

* Money. The royalty rates from traditional publishers are criminally low. An author can earn four times as much (per book sold) if they publish themselves. Also, with a publisher, you get paid several months after the books are sold, and usually only twice a year. With Amazon (and Apple and the other retailers), I get paid monthly, 60 days after the book is sold. It makes it much easier to manage your finances.

* Control. Nobody tells me what I can and can’t publish. I publish what I like, when I like. I have complete creative control over my output and how it is presented to the public. Authors with traditional publishers have little say over things like cover design and no say at all over crucial issues like pricing. Readers complain that ebooks from large publishers are overpriced. I agree, and because I’m in charge, I can price much lower than they do.

* Attention. Publishers release a huge amount of books every year and only have limited time and resources to market each title. Naturally, most of their energy goes towards promoting their biggest names. Authors starting out get very little marketing. By self-publishing, I can ensure that each of my books gets the necessary care and attention required to reach readers.

* Speed. If you sign with a traditional publisher today, it could be up to two years (or more) before that book hits the shelves. Once my book is back from the editor, I can have it online in a matter of days.

To be honest, the only real benefit of going with a traditional publisher is access to bookstores – but I’ve been able to do that on my own too. And anyway, again, only the big names will be stocked in good quantities by every bookstore.

Even if a traditional publishing deal is your ultimate goal, I firmly believe that the best path to that is via self-publishing – building your audience first and then approaching a publisher from a position of strength.


How did you define the price of your ebook? Why?

Pricing is very important, and this is a key advantage of self-publishing – particularly in countries like France where there are laws restricting how much companies like Amazon can discount books from publishers. Those laws keep book prices artificially high. I understand why they were first brought in, but if the solution to any problem is to make books more expensive, then I respectfully submit that the solution creates a bigger problem than the one it intended to solve. As the boom in American reading has clearly shown, if you make books cheaper, reading greatly increases. For the first time in a generation, readers (who switch to digital) are buying more books. This should be celebrated, and encouraged – and cheaper prices is the most effective way to do that.

As for my own pricing strategy, I remove all emotion from it. It’s important not to confuse “price” and “value” – they are two radically different concepts that often get conflated. You can get Dickens, Dumas, or Vonnegut free from any library, but that hasn’t devalued their work.

I price at the level that will maximize my revenue. I ascertain that price through experimentation. That sweet spot will vary for each author, genre, and book. Right now I’m pricing most of my full length books at $4.99 in the US. However, the UK market is less mature, so I price a little cheaper there (and in France too).

However, I also play with price – and run limited-time offers at 99c (for just a couple of days) to give flagging sales a boost. It works very well. I explain my detailed thoughts on pricing here.

Buy it
Buy it



Have you made the cover yourself? Based on which criteria : is the illustration made by a pro? If you worked with an illustrator, how did it go (collaboration, rates…)? Who did you choose to do this work and why?

Covers are extremely important – despite what you might intuitively think, they are even more important for e-books than print books. Consider the average reader buying e-books. Normally, ebook covers are only visible on a site like Amazon where the cover is reduced to a tiny thumbnail. As such, it must stand out. The title and author name must be visible. A single striking image usually works best.

The most important marketing is that which you design into the product. This means that if you want your book to stand any chance, you need quality editing, formatting, and covers (and a good story of course).

Sometimes people are under the misconception that self-publishing means doing everything yourself – but this isn’t true. Most authors hire cover designers and editors. That process is simple.

Some people worry about the cost but it doesn’t have to be expensive. You can exchange services with people and call in favours. My cover designer is my sister. Other writers exchange copywriting skills or web design skills with artists or editors. Even if you don’t have talented members of the family or skills you can trade, there’s always a solution. For example, this English cover designer sells pre-made covers for just 30 Euro.

If you want to read more about the cover design process between me and my sister, read this.


On which platforms does your book sell best? Do you know why?

Amazon, and the reason is simple. Amazon doesn’t place any obstacles in between me and readers. Let me explain.

It often surprises people to learn this, but all those spots in physical bookstores where books are recommended – the front table, beside the cash register, even the bestseller list – are bought and sold. Publishers pay extra money to promote certain books (usually the same names) in these spots. Naturally, this exposure causes a huge increase in sales, and bookstores make good money from selling this « real estate. »

Online, the same happens. Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Google and Apple all sell high-visibility spots to the large publishers (who reserve them for their biggest authors). The only exception is Amazon. They use these spots to recommend the books that they think you are most likely to purchase – and each person will see a different set of books. They don’t care who has published the book, or what price it is. This strategy might cost them revenue on that first sale, but it builds trust in the recommendations – because they are more useful, because they are the books that you want to read – rather than the ones a publisher thinks you should read.

For me, this is the primary reason why Amazon are winning against their competitors, and the main reason why most self-publishers sell much better on Amazon than anywhere else. I explain all this in more detail here.

Buy it
Buy it


Do you handle the book promotion yourself, or do you have a PR?

I think a PR is a waste of money, to be honest. They tend to focus on traditional media – newspapers, radio, television – all things that aren’t very good at selling e-books. They *sometimes* have a small effect on print sales – but only if you have nationwide book distribution, and even then it can be minimal.

I’m speaking from experience here. Without the help of a PR, I’ve appeared on national radio, in major newspapers (The Huffington Post, The Sunday Times) and the effect on sales was minimal.

The only thing that has ever really sold books is word of mouth. And if you break down that nebulous concept, all it really means is a recommendation from a trusted source. However, there are ways of generating word of mouth, and helping it spread – and you don’t need a PR for any of it. In fact, it’s better in these situations not to use a PR because the solutions are social media based. Those interactions are most effective when they are authentic – and that authenticity can only come from you. I cover all this in detail in my book (and it’s impossible to squeeze in here), but virtually all of them don’t require you to spend any money.

Buy it
Make a reservtion. Coming soon


Read more interviews in English:

Interview with Lise Capitan

Interview with Emily Hill

Why going digital? is a series of interviews with Digital indie and Self-Published Authors (publishing in French), as well as professionals who work with them, helping them to create high quality books . 

If you want an interview, please read the form and choose 5 questions. Authors should look  here (Partie 1), non auhtors there (Partie 2)
If your French hasn’t been refreshed  since High School, don’t worry. Contact me, we’ll work out something.

GOINGmobo, the Magazine of the Mobile Bohemian


Chris Simon _ Licence Creative Commons BY-NC

Photos  © David Gaughran

1ère mise en ligne et dernière modification le 8 mai  2013

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