Writer and photographer, Justin David, a graduate of the MA in Creative & Life Writing at Goldsmiths, has just published his story, ‘Unicorn,’ on Kindle. He talks about what it takes to reach readers, how his story went ‘viral’ and how epublishing might work as a way to attract mainstream editors
PJ: Why publish on Kindle?
JD: After the MA I’d written a novel and been taken on by a literary agent. I was convinced everything would fall into place. The fantasy went something like this: as a writer and photographer I’d be giving interviews on The South Bank Show, signing books everywhere, winning the Booker and Stephen Daldry would direct a film adaptation. ‘Ideas above his station,’ my mother always said. The photography is doing okay but even with a literary agent, getting my novel published is taking more time than I’d imagined, although there has been interest following the London Book Fair this month. But it’s a fact that there are fewer platforms for edgy, queer voices. And among the limited number of independent publishers there’s tough competition. So, while I’m waiting for my novel to find its place in the world I decided to experiment with Kindle Select (owned by Amazon).
JD: It’s a platform that offers authors the opportunity to self-publish, digitally, works of any length or subject. I found it exciting because you are no longer bound by the traditional forms of short story, novella and novel. Since you’re selling megabytes instead of pages, no one is going to castigate you if your short fiction is over 6000 words, or if your 35,000 words are not quite long enough to call a novel.
PJ: Why short stories?
JD: I had a set of short stories ready to go. Kindle recommends (from a marketing point of view) you publish works over 5000 words, since people seem to expect at least that for their 77p (the lowest possible price on Kindle) even though there are those of us who think a good read is more important than the number of words. Some of my short stories are under the 5000 word mark, so I decided to treat them like old fashioned 8” singles and batch them with a ‘b-side.’ I’ve decided to put them on sale one-by-one instead of instantly giving them all away as a collection.
PJ: How long does it take, and do you need to be techy
JD: It actually takes just minutes to get a manuscript uploaded if you have everything ready. There’s a little bit of reformatting to do along the way, but the Kindle website guides you through the process. It’s not difficult.
PJ: Okay, so you’re published but how do you find readers?
JD: The main issue with this kind of publishing is finding readers. I didn’t have a ready-made audience and no money for a big marketing campaign. However, I do have an audience for the photography. So I cannily set about thinking of ways I could bring my fan-base from the photography to my writing. I have an ongoing project involving photographs of cabaret figures, many of these have been published in magazines. It seemed like a good idea to set up photo shoots with some of these characters to create front covers. Later, I used social networking sites (Facebook, Flickr, Twitter and such) to connect all the dots and reach as many people as possible. By tagging all the people involved in making the images (model and make-up artist) I could reach out to even more people. Miraculously, the story went ‘viral’ as they say, and it wasn’t long before it was being downloaded in Japan, Canada, USA and all over Europe.
PJ: Instant results, but how do you keep that going?
JD: All of this happened at the touch of a button. Publishing at break-neck speed. As growing an audience was more important than making money, I decided to give the story away for five days. Soon there was over a thousand downloads and ‘Unicorn’ eventually reached No. 3 in the Download Chart. If you can get your story to chart long enough during this free period it will remain visible after Kindle switch it to being a ‘paid for item’ and that’s when you can make money. This being my first try, I was quite some way from doing this, but my audience is growing and people left some fantastic reviews on the Amazon page. Next, I signed up to Goodreads, which is a bit like Facebook for people who like reading, and yet another way for authors to gain visibility. Basically, I set about exploiting every opportunity to get word about.
Kindle offer a marketing scheme called Kindle Singles, specifically for short pieces, which, if your work is selected, is a little bit like being on the tables at the front of Waterstones – another way of getting noticed. Though, if you choose to go down this road, it ties you into an exclusivity contract with them and you can’t therefore put your story on another platform, such as iBooks.
PJ: I gather agents are encouraging authors to self-publish as ebooks, particularly work that they can’t readily sell. How did publishing ‘Unicorn’ sit with your agent?
JD: My agent sent the link out to people he thought would be interested in my novel. It has proven to be a useful tool for him to garner interest. Editors might be reluctant to read a whole manuscript, but while doing their homework in preparation for the London Book fair a lot of them downloaded and read ‘Unicorn’ before they received the pitch for the novel. It’s got people talking.
PJ: What’s next?
JD: I have my list:
- Upload the remaining stories to complete the set
- Send press release to magazines
- Network like Madonna
- Schmooze with Melvyn Bragg and anyone at Radio Four
I’ll let you know how I get on. Next year is my year. Does anyone have Spielberg’s number?
'Unicorn' is available to download, here.
More on Justin David's writing and photography, here