SPS-289: Why a NYT Bestseller Switched From Trad to Indie – with Gail Carriger
Hybrid author Gail Carriger has some great tips for authors about negotiating contractual clauses, connecting with your fan base, and the importance of thinking like an indie author, even when you’re traditionally published.
- The importance of reading publishing contracts and knowing what they contain
- What an editor at a traditional publishing house does
- Thinking and acting like an indie author even when traditionally published
- The importance of knowing and connecting with your fan base
- Times when choosing the trad publishing route might work
- How the Heroine’s journey differs from the Hero’s journey
Resources mentioned in this episode:
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
MERCH: Are you a ligneous beetle or a yawning hippopotamus? Get your SPF hoodies and t-shirts in the brand new SPF Store.
SPS-289: Why a NYT Bestseller Switched From Trad to Indie - with Gail Carriger
Automated: On this edition of The Self-Publishing Show.
Gail Carriger: Even when I was a Trad author, and even when I was hitting New York times and getting six figure deals and stuff like that, I acted like I was Indie, and that really served me in good stead. I used some of the tactics, for lack of a better word, that early Indie authors did. And if I have one piece of advice for anybody, whether you're wanting to go Trad or self, use those tactics.
Automated: Publishing is changing no more gatekeepers, no more barriers, no one standing between you and your readers. Do you want to make a living from your writing? Join indie bestseller Mark Dawson and first-time author James Blatch as they shine a light on the secrets of Self-Publishing Success.
This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: Yes. Hello and welcome to The Self-Publishing Show with me, James Blatch.
Mark Dawson: And me, Mark Dawson.
James Blatch: We have a great interview today with Gail Carriger, who's big in traditional publishing, is now big in indie publishing. She can talk about the pros and cons of both of those, a much debated topic, but here's somebody who's seen it on the inside, and is very erudite about the subject. A very interesting discussion about The Heroine's Journey coming up in the interview. So this is, I suppose, effectively, we're talking about the female protagonists versus male protagonists, but it's not as simple as that.
You cannot have a heroine's journey with a male protagonist as well, the different type of journey from the hero's journey that we might be more familiar with, very interesting I found it. That's Gail coming up shortly.
We do have some announcements before then. We have a Patreon supporter I believe to welcome. Mark, your job today is to welcome our new Patreon supporter.
Mark Dawson: Yes, We have Jason Coldwell, who has joined our Patreon. So thank you, Jason, and all the other several hundred now people who are kind enough to help us to continue running the podcast. So we're very grateful for all of you.
James Blatch: Yeah. Thank you very much. And you get enrolled in all sorts of things, goodies you get when you sign up, even for a dollar, patreon.com/selfpublishingshow, an opportunity to win courses. You get an opportunity to be in the book club. We'll have another one of those coming up soon. I know they're very popular episodes. Last one was superb.
I also have a couple of things to mention. Steven Marriott, who's an old friend of the show, based in Southwest London. Steven has written a travel themed novel, and does quite a lot of travelling himself, although clearly, not over the last 18 months or so I guess. And he started a podcast very much on this theme. It's actually very enjoyable. Listen, chats to very interesting people about times and places. And you can catch that. It's called Marriott's Side Trips. So if you just Google Marriott's side trips, it's on all the usual platforms.
And another podcast, another fellow podcaster to push this week is Patrick O'Donnell. You remember Patrick's been on our show a couple of times. He's a Milwaukee cop, just retired, and he's been there and done it on the streets. The challenging areas of that city, incredible stories to tell. And he's created a really fun community called Cops and Writers, a place where you can go as a writer and ask questions about police procedures, and hear back from actual cops, it's not just in the US, in the UK, Australia as well I've noticed.
I think they're about 4,000 people in that community. I'm slightly addicted to the Facebook group. I find it really interesting. And Patrick has featured none other than me on his podcast this week. He must be scraping the bottom of the barrel, Mark. He says, getting in there first.
Mark Dawson: Yes he is. He's obviously running low on legitimate guests, so he's having to reach out for the dregs.
James Blatch: It was a fun chat talking to Patrick. So if you Google again, Cops and Writers Podcast, probably go to Cops and Writers Facebook group and join that, and you'll get a link to that podcast. So thank you Patrick for hosting me. I had a really enjoyable time talking to you. Now, I think that's just about it in terms of our announcements.
There's quite a lot going on in the background with our various books and publishing outlets. I think we can announce, I know we can announce, because we've actually signed contracts and exchanged contracts, that Fuse Books has taken on its third author and we have taken on none less than the Kindle storyteller award winner from last year, the year before Ian W. Sainsbury.
Ian has been chatting to us for quite a while, has been thinking about whether it's going to be a good fit for him. And we've been having that conversation with him, "Is this going to be worth it for you? Do you want to do it?" And we've come to a place where we have signed a contract and we're going to take on three novels, which is going great guns on writing, reshaping for us, an interesting concept those novels, aren't they? A man with a split personality. Who knows which one of us goes out at night, nefariously. I reckon it's you, as Salibury's murders.
Mark Dawson: What are you on about? You're melting your brain.
James Blatch: Well just putting it out there, that we don't know what happens in the evening and yet mysterious things do happen in Salisbury.
Mark Dawson: They do. Yeah. People are poisoned and there's all kinds of police helicopters over yesterday, someone escaped from the hospital, it was all very exciting.
James Blatch: Escaped from a hospital? What sort of hospitals do you have there?
Mark Dawson: It was very wild. I think he was having treatment for a certain psychological condition, and he decided he was going to do a runner, and so we had to police driving up and down the road actually trying to find him. And they did in the end.
James Blatch: Well as always with Ian, when you're in Fuse Books, it's not like being in some other publishing house, where everything happens behind closed doors. We do share lots of information. So Ian hopefully we'll be happy with us talking about his publishing journey with Fuse.
We'll talk about how we market his books, how we get them going from where they started, as we inherit them as new books, but complicated, the way they've started off and we got going.
And certainly, if we do what we've done with the first two authors, I think Ian will be very happy indeed.
Right. I think, Mark Dawson, it is time to listen to our interview. As I said earlier, it is Gail Carriger, really fun. I really enjoyed this chat with Gail. She has been there and done it a bit in publishing. So it's very interesting to hear from her experience, and particularly her non-fiction work on the Heroine's Journey, I think that you're going to find very useful indeed. Here's Gail.
Gail Carriger, welcome to The Self-Publishing Show.
Gail Carriger: Thank you for having me. It's lovely to be here.
James Blatch: I'm excited to hear about your journey. We do talk to people who have a foot in both camps, moved from Trad to Indie occasionally, vice versa. But you've been completely immersed in Trad, had a brilliant career, and now you're pretty much completely immersed in Indie, having a brilliant career. So somebody who can really look at this from both sides.
Gail Carriger: I see the flaws and the benefits in both.
James Blatch: So let's start with a little bit of you. How about you tell us your background and what series you write.
Gail Carriger: Right. I've been publishing professionally for about a decade. And I started in Trad, like you said, and that was in the SciFi fantasy universe. My first publisher was Hachette, which ended up being Orbit. And then I also published YA with Little Brown and parent company.
I have three large series, New York Times bestsellers, all that sort of thing. And then about five years ago, I started inroads into self-publishing, and have pretty much switched completely over at this juncture. Although, I do consider myself still genuinely hybrid.
The last two traditionally publish books that I had were published for North America. And then I did the UK myself. So the book itself was half traditionally published, half self-published, so that's pretty different. I haven't really encountered many people who have done that. It was a nightmare, let me just say, that's really hard to do. And then I do novellas and then I will bundle them and sell them to a small press that does a fancy metal inlay fabric cover, a hardback edition for collectors. So I do use the luxury scarcity model as well, and I use traditional for that.
James Blatch: How did it get started for you? How did you get book deals, back in the day?
Gail Carriger: Way back in the day. I think I'm maybe one of the last slush pulls. I cold submitted a manuscript to a publisher. I didn't have an agent, and you could do that back then. We're talking 2007. Not too many houses even then, but to a few. And then I was pulled by a house, that shall remain nameless, as a full-time academic at the time. And the option clause in that contract included non-fiction, and I flat out refused to sign that for that book.
As an academic, I can not for my career's sake afford to offer any non-fiction I write in my career, which was archaeology at the time, I can't afford to offer that to some random fiction publishing house. You have to exclude nonfiction and they refused to relax the option clause. And so I ended up walking away from that contract.
I had an agent by then who was helping me with the contract. And so my agent knew I was the kind of author who didn't want it that badly, who just didn't want Trad as badly as most people did, because I was very happy with my regular career. She knew going to the table for contract negotiations, that I was willing to walk because I'd already done it. And so we were in a bit more of a sort of powerful position than most debut authors. And so that book, which would become my debut, Soulless, went to another publishing house.
She went into negotiations for that, and was very good about the option clause. For me is I have what's called very tight option clause, which means, I pretty much control that universe. And so when the time came I could pretty much write what I liked in that universe. There were no lock-ins, in terms of an option clause or anything.
James Blatch: And what about, I always imagine if you've got a traditional publishing deal that you get to know the people at the publishing house, and you probably have the odd lunch and they sort of become your friends, but really that system that locks authors in, and it's a business at the end of the day.
I still think it must take something to look them in the eye and say, "I'm not giving you this book. I'm going to do this myself."
Gail Carriger: I have a terrible reputation, because all along I've been like that. And I also, like most authors, I like the booze, and I've been quite friendly, not just with my editors and publicists and all those people, because I'm very into the aesthetic of it. I love going on book tours. I love meeting people. I'm a weird author in that I perform extroversion really well and I enjoy it.
They put me on book tours pretty early on, but so, I also know the publisher, the big league publishers, and we'd sit down and have drinks with them and stuff. I remember yelling in the bar at the publisher of Orbit at the time about the eBook revolution, which we were all going through. And he was convinced that if it was just handled appropriately, people would stop reading eBooks and go back to reading hardback books.
I am an eBook reader. I was basically just yelling at him. I was like, "What you have here is a bunch of people who have stopped having lattes and are now having almond milk lattes. And you are never going to get them back to regular lattes because they are all lactose intolerant," because no one will ever go back from eBooks once they have started, if that's what they love.
And I was like, "You have to meet them there." I was probably arguing because they had priced by eBook too high, and I was mad about it. So I've always been one of those authors who just confronts the publishing industry. I had frustration and part drove me away from that industry.
James Blatch: Well, it's a good thing to be. Mark is like that as well. He's a no-nonsense guy. He doesn't particularly care about hurting people's feelings, when it comes to making a logical business decision that's in his favour or being asked to do something that's not, he figures in his favour.
I think some other people would never almost dream of looking the other way, because of that relationship that gets built up.
Gail Carriger: Oh, absolutely. And there have definitely been times where I have pushed it too far, and I have a very good relationship with Chip, with my agent. Not when I first signed with her, but later on has signed, for example, Hugh Howey, so she's very accustomed to Indie authors, or primarily self-published authors. And so we have continued to have a very healthy working relationship, but I definitely will go to her and be like, "Boom. Should I push this? Do I have enough clout to push this? Is this something I can push back on?"
Because I did not, especially early on, want to damage my working relationship with my editor in particular. And I think this is something that self-published or newer authors don't understand about Trad, which is, they think of the editor as the person who edits your book, which they do, but actually primarily the editor, from a business perspective, is your project management person.
They are there to advocate for your book to fight for your book in marketing, for your advance, all of those sorts of things. Your editor is actually your advocate on staff at the publishing house. So you really do want a good, healthy relationship with that editor, which is another reason a lot of authors get very perturbed when they're orphaned, when their editor leaves a publishing house, because it's not just the person who edits your work, it's your advocate that has left and you have to stay behind with the publisher.
James Blatch: How do you view the traditional world now? How do you think they're coping now? Do you think they're still thinking about it, or are they strategizing better?
Gail Carriger: Publishing is so stick in the mud-ish. It seems to move so incredibly slowly, everything about it. I was calling doom and gloom down on Barnes and Noble years ago, I'm still shocked they haven't declared bankruptcy. I gave them five years, six years ago, and they're still around. So I don't understand how publishing stays the way it stays, I have to say, but they're forming conglomerates, so they keep becoming more and more monolithic, Big Six became Big Five, it seems to be about to become Big Four.
So that is a survival tactic, obviously. And I was thinking perhaps the last year and a half would have taught them something about the importance of eBooks, and pricing eBooks competitively, and thinking about eBooks and marketing them differently, because it seems to be mostly a different consumer base, but I don't see that happen either. I'm not sure what they're doing or how they're going to survive. I have to just assume at this juncture that they will survive because they have, and there's no rhyme nor reason to it.
James Blatch: They are still pricing eBooks above print books very often. And it seems to be a market manipulating attempt to get people to buy the print edition, which is not particularly eco-friendly as much as anything else. But, there you go. Well, we'll see, won't we? We will be bystanders, but you've made some really good business decisions.
From a writing point of view, is your experience as an Indie author better or worse from writing and editing?
Gail Carriger: Oh, that's a very good question. I had to make a value judgement. Well, it's materially different because in the case of traditional publishing, the editor has paid you for the right to edit your work in a strange way. And so they are very invested in making it as good as possible, and I'm talking about a developmental editing standpoint, which I do do. Even though I have 30 odd books, I like a developmental editing, I like the editing process.
I like to be edited. I'm a perfectionist. So I like to try and make it as perfect as possible. And, clearly from a personality perspective, I'm very confident in my voice. So I also know when I can turn around to an editor and be like, "No, I like it the way I wrote it." I don't have a problem doing that either.
With Trad, they've paid you for it ostensibly, or they've paid you in advance for it, and so even though they have paid you for it and therefore they're the customer in a way, there is a different power dynamic because they're so invested in making sure that it's as good as possible. So you have multiple back and forth, usually with a dev editor and things like that, whereas with Indie, I hire my dev editor and we usually just have one, maybe two back and forths.
I use a beta reader team a lot more for in world consistency, and for discussions. I use my fan base, even, when I'm making some... I'm very close with my fan base. And so, I will ask them about story decisions or business decisions sometimes too. And so it is different, an emotional relationship. The really nice thing, which is pat, but it's genuinely true, is I get to write whatever I want to write at this juncture. And I have just a big enough fan base and just enthusiastic enough readers in that they have told me, "We'll read anything you write. You don't necessarily have to stay on brand," that I can do, that I can be like, "Oh, I would like to write a crazy science fiction novel next." And that's not normally what I would write. And they're all, "Yeah."
Not as many would read as would read something that fits in with my steam punky, alt-history universe, but still enough of them will read, that makes it worth my while. And that freedom, for a creative, is unprecedented. Us writers have never had that before, until we could self-publish.
James Blatch: And it's such an obvious thing to have really. I can't imagine it when I've written one book and writing another, and I enjoyed the story of the first one. I'm loving the story in the second one. I can't imagine having somebody say, "Eh, we don't want that story. Give us some more ideas," and you happen to find more ideas and, "Well, we like that one," and you think, "Oh, I really wanted to write the other one," which actually has just happened to Bill Walker. One of our friends who in his interview, he said, he's just putting some ideas. He had his fingers crossed for one of them being picked up, but it was the other one, he's fine. He's going to make a great feast of it, of course. But I can't imagine being in that position, that lack of freedom.
Gail Carriger: Although, and I think about this with self-publishing a lot too, I listen to a lot of podcasts, for example, niche focused romance, genre writers. And they are in that position where they rapid release to a very tailored market like, Reverse Harem or something like that. And that's all their readers want. That's all their readers will buy from them. If they try to write something else, they can't sell it. So that trap does close on Indie authors as well. So it depends on how you write, how you market, and how you set up your fan base to a certain extent.
James Blatch: So your readers are you commissioning editors, in that sense?
Gail Carriger: Yeah, they are. Like I said, it is to my benefit to make them as happy as possible, because that's how I earn my living.
And if you are writing in certain genres, or you are practising your Indie career in a certain way, you can get into that trap.
James Blatch: Now, for those of us who toil away at the coalface of Facebook ads and Amazon ads, you have a slightly different experience because you've got this of organic fan base from your years in Trad publishing.
There's a value to that, isn't there, the traditional industry didn't really get to realise once you go into Indie.
Gail Carriger: Really. And honestly, I think I was at an extreme advantage, which I really didn't know at the time, and I only I'm realising now, which is I was always tapped into Indie because I was an early podcast adopter. So here I am on a podcast talking about this, but I always started listening to podcasts, I think it's 2005, 2006, I've always loved consuming nonfiction in particular audio. And so I was listening to the early podcast fiction authors, who were also the only people doing nonfiction about writing podcasts.
Gail Carriger: Like Pip Ballantine and Tim Morris and Scott Sigler, people like that. And, so I was listening to them talk about the business, but they then were also some of the very first Indie publishers and self publishers in science fiction and fantasy. And so I was listening to them talking about what it was like to self publish at first. And I have good friends from that community who are self publishing.
So I noodled around with self-publishing and did some short stories even early on when I was Trad, and we're talking before the Kindle, when you had to use like Sigil and stuff and calibrate to hand-code your eBooks. So I played around with it super early on because I had friends who were doing it for no really other reasons than that.
I've always paid attention to how self-published authors market themselves. Even when I was a Trad author, and even when I was hitting New York times and getting six figure deals and stuff like that, I acted like I was Indie. And that really served me in good stead. I used some of the tactics, for lack of a better word, that early Indie authors did.
If I have one piece of advice for anybody, whether you want to go Trad or self, use those tactics, I cannot tell you how many times I want to take one of my Trad published best friends and shake them and be like, "Why don't you have a newsletter? I cannot believe you don't have an... Are you insane?"
James Blatch: There are plenty of traditional authors who never pick up a keyboard in anger when it comes to marketing, they just assume that's all done for them. And in some cases, I guess that works, but it's not my cup of tea. That's for sure.
And also you don't know, that trad publishing company could go bust tomorrow.
Gail Carriger: Absolutely. I'm really a fan of diversification, and I just don't believe in putting my eggs in one basket ever, under any circumstances, which is why I'm wide as an Indie author. But one of my early key tactics was trying to get my eyeballs. It's your name on that book, whether you're Trad published or not. And the reader base almost never has any kind of loyalty to a publisher. They don't know who the publisher is 90% of the time, with very few exceptions.
You should at least a newsletter. If you have a website, you should have a newsletter sign up. You should have some way that you are gathering your readers. And even if you are the greatest selling traditionally published author in the world, like you said, you never know your publisher can go bankrupt. Your editor can leave you, there are a million things that can happen, and reasons to own your fan base as much as you possibly can, because you never know when you might have to lean on them.
James Blatch: Exactly. So let's talk a bit about where you are now. I think you said in your notes you write one book a year now, or one project a year, you described it.
Gail Carriger: I do three projects a year, but one only one of them is going to be novel length usually. So, and that's actually usually the experimental thing. And then I usually write one novella length work that's in my super popular universe. And then I write the broad reaching fantasy esque world that say Mercedes Lackey, or like the Dark Over novels or whatever, it's a sandbox playground that's very easy for me to drop a single story, or a little mini series in, or whatever with side characters. So it's a pretty easy universe to pick up and run with a novella and whenever I feel like it.
And then I usually do something else that's really experimental, like a cookbook or a colouring book, or a very fancy high price collector's edition or something like that. So I usually do three things a year, only one of which is a book. And yeah, and just because I've been doing this long enough, and because I have such a broad, enthusiastic base, that is my living and it allows me to make a living, I just think it's an interesting model as opposed to say a rapid release, because I think a lot of authors can't do that.
I can't write that fast. I think I would just burn out if I tried to. I have nearly burned out a couple of times because my traditional publishers put me on a six month book rotation. And I was like, "I can't write a book in six months. I can't keep writing one book every six months. I can't. It's too much."
James Blatch: Me neither, let's say it happens. Have you toyed with, is it NFTs? I can't remember what the acronym is for the ethereal thing that doesn't really exist. Do you know what I mean?
Gail Carriger: Non-fungible assets?
James Blatch: Assets?
Gail Carriger: Yeah.
James Blatch: I knew you'd know more about it than what I do.
Gail Carriger: I'm not an early adopter. I'm an early stalker. So I will take a look and see what other people are doing with it, and I'm a Machiavellian. I like to see if there's a twist I can take that will make it work in a slightly different way for me, it's hard to describe, but it's just the way my brain works. So yeah, I don't know about that.
I'm waiting to see if other authors have success with it or not, but this is another thing about knowing who your fans are. I survey my readers regularly. I have an extraordinarily active Facebook group, for example, and I just nip in and run a poll occasionally and chat with them constantly. And, they are mostly by source steam punkers and SciFi fantasy geeks and nerds. And so in general, they like physical object collection. That's just the personality type for-
James Blatch: A helmet is something that you can put on your shelf.
Gail Carriger: Exactly.
James Blatch: What would you do with an NFT exactly?
Gail Carriger: They're aestheticists, my fans in general. And so they like a really beautiful hardcover that looks like a Victorian book, with a cameo or something, that's their thing. They're not futurists, I don't think in general, so I don't think like NFTs or that sort of stuff is really in their bailiwick.
James Blatch: So to this day, your most popular series, you're well known for Soulless. Is that still your most popular universe series, are you still writing in?
Gail Carriger: Yes. So that's the Parasol Protectorate, the first series. And the second series, which is my YA series, which is the finishing school series, is also extremely popular. It would be hard for the numbers game for me to work out, which one of those in monetary... But I would say, the Parasol Protectorate, the first one is probably still the most popular and it still sells. I still collect royalties and blacklists on that book. And it's 12 years old now. And occasionally this is another way that Trad publishers are insane. My Trad publisher will be like, "We do not understand why Gail's books sell so well still."
James Blatch: Yes, it's like magic.
Gail Carriger: Which is just Trad code for, "We're not putting any marketing behind this 10 year old book," and my agent will turn around and be like, "Do you think it's because she's still writing in the universe and still promotes those books, do you think? Maybe?"
So yeah, that's definitely my heaviest hitter, but at this juncture, again, for lack of a better term, I use those as loss leaders for all the other stuff that I write in that universe, because they sell so well, I'm never going to get the assets back, it seems unlikely they'll ever go out of print. So yeah, and that is the universe I continue to write in.
James Blatch: So the Parasol Protector, those are five books series. I'm looking at it now in Amazon, that's the Orbit series.
Gail Carriger: And then there's this spinoff four books of the next generation that's also Orbits, but the last two of that series are half mine. They're mine to everybody, but the United States and Canada.
James Blatch: Okay. But you could potentially. Is there anything stopping you, and you say your contract, you had before to write book six in the Soulless series, you wouldn't necessarily be able to link to it on Amazon.
Gail Carriger: I think technically under contract I would have to offer it to them, but the nuances of contract would mean, then they have to offer me a very great deal of money for me to accept the contract with them, but I think they probably would, but I don't want to. I'm a finisher of serieses. As a reader, I don't like very long serieses, and so as a writer, I don't write very long serieses, even though people are always like, "Another Alexia book." And I'll just be like, "No. I'm just not that kind of person. I just don't like that."
James Blatch: So for the future, for you, you're going to stick with your three projects, one experimental, I'm intrigued by the cookbook ideas.
Gail Carriger: Yes. And I did non-fiction, which was a one-off and it was a whole other experience. I think a lot of the self publishing podcasts don't really talk about this, but a lot of self-published Indie fiction authors will do nonfiction as well. And the market share and the way the consumer is, and the advertising and everything is completely different for nonfiction. And I was like, "Oh, this is a whole new universe that I am working in right now," because fiction is entertainment, non-fiction is problem solving. And so they're different mindsets, everything is different about it. I had a nonfiction book that my agent was like, "We can sell this too if you want to."
I seriously considered it and eventually I decided, I feel like it's the right decision to self-publish it. But the non-fiction sells in print like gangbusters. And I already have higher print sales than most Indie authors because I come from Trad. But the print, it's insane, statistically, the differences between non-fiction and fiction for print was crazy.
So I guess if I have a piece of advice for anybody out there, if you're a self-published author or an Indie author who would like to do non-fiction just make sure you get your print game in order for that book, because it's going to sell a lot in print. I was shocked when my non-fiction sold so much in print.
James Blatch: Yeah, it's funny. Without even thinking about it. I think I've got them here. I'm an eBook reader like you. I switched over a few years ago and I won't go back, but I'm pretty certain every time I buy a nonfiction book, I buy it physical because I like to sit during the day and look at it. It's funny, isn't it?
Gail Carriger: Yes. I do too. But I also like to muck about with my non-fiction. I like to underline things and make notes, and it's just easier in print. And I think there really is a lot of people like that.
James Blatch: Yeah. There is a go to.
Gail Carriger: Yeah. That was my big tip.
James Blatch: Well, I was going to ask you for other tips. One is, we have a lot of authors who are trying to get going, listening to this, and some of them will still have that dream of getting a traditional deal, and they'll be looking around for one, and they're listening to this podcast and they're being in two minds about the difficulties of marketing and stuff.
Do you have any advice for people in that position is? Is Trad the right route for some people?
Gail Carriger: I really hesitate to make a blanket statement for that. I feel like I have friends personality wise for whom Trad still suits them despite how... It's so fresh. I'm like, "You could at least do a novella, just to see what it's like." No, everything, even the novellas and shorts goes to Trad. I'm like, "That is a waste of your pen." But they're so, "I want to wear a berret and sit in an ivory tower and just write," that this is where they have ended up.
And personality wise, I'm like, "Okay. You're 55 years old. Can you change? I don't know. Perhaps you are best suited." And I also do think there are some, I don't know for certain right now, since the landscape has changed so much, but I do think there are probably some genres that are still, if you want to make it big, it's still probably easier with Trad, if you have the right commercially viable property.
I would say Children's and YA is probably their main stream. So, not niche spiritual or something like that, but the mainstream arena, just because the gatekeepers are still pretty high in terms of schools and libraries, and when you are selling to kids, you are selling to parents, librarians and teachers. You're not usually selling the kids obviously, they don't have the money, you're selling to the adults around them. And that's just very difficult to break into, which is not to say you can't, but I think that the road is harder.
So there are definitely some arenas where Trad might be a good choice. I also think in some cases, it's worth submitting out to agents or traditional publishers, it's mostly agents now, just to get a feel for what that kind of rejection is like, because it's going to keep happening, whether you're self, you're going to get negative reviews, so you might as well get a private email rejection and get used to that sensation early on.
And also, you might get some extreme enthusiasm also, which is nice. And you can always walk away from the contract, even if the agent or the traditional publisher is very excited about you. You always have the power to do that.
James Blatch: So as long as they haven't taken you out to lunch too many times, and you've got that ability to say, "Do you know what, I've done the figures on this."
Gail Carriger: Yeah. You're listening to this podcast right now, so obviously you're open to other avenues and other interest levels and ways of approaching a career.
But if you are a person who has a day job that they love and you want writing to be your hobby, then maybe Trad is all right too. If you're a CEO, who is earning a tonne of money, or if you were like I was, if you're an archaeologist who adores what they do with their life, you don't necessarily have to become a full-time author. If that's not your dream, then obviously it's going to be a different approach for you, and Trad might be the right avenue under those circumstances.
If I have one piece of advice to give to people who are trying to make this decision, it's really be very self reflective, and really understand who you are as a business person about your art, because that is what... If you are somebody like me, I love like demographics, and statistics, and spreadsheets, and analysing data, and numbers.
That used to be my career. I love that kind of thing. I love running regression analysises on myself. I love it. I like the business side a lot, but there are plenty, in fact, there are a lot of artists out there who really don't. And if you are one of those who is terrified by the financial side, terrified by the marketing side, then from a self-publishing perspective, you either are going to have to think seriously about Trad, or seriously about all of the contract workers that you're going to have to hire in order to take on all the nitty-gritty stuff that you don't want to do. But it really behooves you ahead of time to know that about yourself, what kind of person you are as a business person, because this is a business.
James Blatch: I think that's really good advice.
Gail Carriger: And if you don't take it seriously as a business, you will be taken advantage of, that's what happens, because everyone else treats you like a business and like a property, your book is a property, it's an asset. And a lot of authors have a hard time separated themselves from their baby. This is my baby book. I love this book so much. And you're like, "You're done with it. It's now a product." I'm sorry. I'm so sorry to tell you this.
James Blatch: Yeah, no, that's it. It's definitely difficult to do when you're writing the blurb, and so on in particular you find detaching yourself. My big idea, I keep telling people, is to find a blurb buddy. You write their blurb and they write their blurb.
Gail Carriger: That's so great.
James Blatch: Great blurb from somebody telling you about their book and you think, "Well, that would be great." And even if they look at it and say, "But that doesn't really tell my story," that's good. That's not what blurbs do. You're not trying to tell the story. Anyway, no, I think that's really good advice.
And I think I would also say that how much control you want is very important as well, because if you're like me and I think you're probably the same, I couldn't imagine not being in control of a lot of the things I'd have to hand over to Trad. I want that control actually, even if it's not necessarily the most profitable route at the moment, I just want copyright my books in the longterm. And I want to be able to decide what to do with them, what format, all the rest of it, if you don't care about that stuff. But if you do care about it, you might be frustrated if you end up in Trad.
Gail Carriger: Exactly. And I have to say the flexibility and the amount of control you get at the end if you do change your tactics substantially, towards a more intimate one-to-one relationship with your fan base, can be extraordinary.
I'll give a really good example of this, which is, I did a short story, which was very off-brand for me. I didn't even want to publish it because I was sure it wouldn't get reviewed well. People who weren't really intimate fans of mine were just not going to get it. It didn't really have a middle and end. It was basically fan service.
It was like a little bit of fan-fic, but I have the kind of fan base where I was basically like, "All right, this is very queer affirming. This is very positive." And so in certain specific ways that I think my fans will really love. So I offered it as an exclusive for sale for charity, to my email list only. And it's a short story and I raised $5,000 for charity with it, but that is the kind of thing you can do as an Indie author.
Only my fans know about it. You can't buy it anywhere else. And, so it is a little perk, but it is a pay to play perk, but if you have a close enough and intimate enough relationship with your readers, then you can do experimental things like that, and they can surprise you and be really enthusiastic. So for me, that is the number one biggest advantage of having gone Indie is I have this sandbox, that's not just the world's sandbox I play in, but the fans' sandbox I get to play in.
James Blatch: It's your sandbox.
Gail Carriger: Yeah, it's mine.
James Blatch: Yeah, and I'm going to play in it. Thank you, Gail.
Finally, your non-fiction works, which you throw out, in addition to the cookbook, have you written on publishing or written advice for other writers, is it something you've done?
Gail Carriger: Yeah, it's a craft book. So one of the things I have said I do a lot and which I happen to have as part of my brand and loved, is I do a lot of events. So I do comicons and small cons, and I've been to the UK and done quite a few cons there and stuff like that. I did a lot of bookstore tours early on in my career. So I like it.
I like dressing up, and I like going and seeing people in person, it's fun for me. But I've been on a lot of panels over the years. And, as I also alluded to, I have archaeologist background and that's classical archaeologist. So I have a classics minor, and we studied both the Hero's Journey and the Heroine's Journey as part of my gender and classics courses, way back in the day.
And I would casually talk about the Heroine's Journey regularly on panels as a different narrative journey to the Hero's. And inevitably somebody would be like, "Ah, what is that? And is there the Joseph Campbell version of that?" And I would have to say, "No." So after about eight years of being constantly asked that question, and waiting patiently for somebody to basically write like, "Here's the breakdown of the Heroine's Journey. Here's what that circle looks like. Here's what the narrative bits are. Here's how you write it. I finally was like, "Okay. I guess, she who spots the problem is responsible for the solution." So that's what I wrote. So it's the heroine's journey. It's not Jungian, there's no psychological analysis to it. It is for writers, readers and pop culture enthusiasts.
And it basically just talks about the classical mythological foundation for the heroine, and the Heroine's Journey in particular. And then I use a couple of very popular movies or franchises to talk about ways of activating it. And then also if you're running into writer's block, a lot of times I feel like authors in the creative process are on a Heroine's Journey, that's what they're writing, but they don't really realise it. And so they have the wrong toolkit in order to solve for these problems.
So basically I was like, yeah, if you're writing a Hero's Journey, then you need to put him in peril, isolate him increasingly. If you're writing a Heroine's Journey, then you need to put another character into that scene, give her some advice, give her a moment of connection. Let her delegate authority and skillsets and stuff like that. And so it's just a toolkit basically for the two different narratives.
James Blatch: This sounds like another podcast interview, we should do at some point, because I'm sure we could talk about that far for now. The Heroine's Journey by Gail Carriger, it's on Amazon, if you want to seek that out that's great. And your life sounds great going to comic cons and conferences and well, apart from the last 18 months, obviously, yes, but the next 18 months.
Gail Carriger: Soon, I hope.
James Blatch: Do you cosplay your own characters? Do you do any of that?
Gail Carriger: I have been known to do so. Yeah.
James Blatch: You have? You do.
Gail Carriger: This is the great thing about Steve Buck, is the model on the cover, I know the model, she's a friend of mine, who's on the cover of my first series because I found that image, which for anybody in Trad, this never happens. The author never has really much say at all in their cover art, but I actually found the model on the cover of my books and we've been friends ever since, Donna. And so there a picture of me in the outfit that she is wearing on the cover of my second book.
James Blatch: That's very cool. Great. Well, maybe we'll see you out in the back at some point Gail, if we ever get out-
Gail Carriger: That would be great.
James Blatch: Of this mess, but it would be really good. And thank you so much. It's been really a delight talking to you. I feel quite energised.
Gail Carriger: Good. Thank you for having me. It's been really fun talking to you.
James Blatch: There you go. Gail Carriger. I found that really interesting and fun interview.
Mark, I guess you probably don't read books on how to write books anymore. Do you?
Mark Dawson: No, I don't. I don't think you ever stop learning, but I think by this stage, I don't know how much more I've got in terms of the effort and time really that I have to spend in digesting all the information, but I certainly did when I started. I've got a shelf full of books downstairs, guides and books on dialogue and action and crime scenes and all that kind of stuff.
So it's very valuable as you start working and start writing, looking at you for this really, it's definitely something that you can spend some time on.
James Blatch: Yes. My only problem I think is that there's a lot out there, and it seems like every week there's a new trend or a new idea or the latest guru, and it's actually quite difficult to keep up, and you could waste a lot of time simply reading about how to do things rather than sitting there writing.
I've been talking with my friends, writer friends, this week about process, and we listen to people on interviews and you read about people who have this amazing process, and you wonder how much of that is really true. Do they really sit down, like Lee Child on the 1st of September of the year and just bash out a book, or is there, like the rest of us, quite a lot of hard work goes into around there. Not that I'm saying he's not telling the truth about that, but-
Mark Dawson: That's not what he does. He'll be researching and thinking about what he's going to write for the nine months when he's not writing. And then he'll write the book in three months. For me, that would be an absolute walk the park. Most authors listening to this podcast, not everyone of course, and plenty will think one book a year is just basically slumming it.
James Blatch: Yes.
Mark Dawson: Now, and I shouldn't say not everyone will be the way others. For different reasons, we'll find one is quite hard to do that, because childcare or they've got a full time job, or the idea is just not coming, but for most Indies, one book a year is a fairly easy target to hit.
James Blatch: I'm really struggling to get the time at the moment, but one of the things that's happened, we had a very busy time recently and I deliberately didn't do too much on holiday. So almost got to burnout point just before then. I haven't been writing on my second novel, but it has been ruminating and honestly, that's really useful for me. The story and the theme has got better and better in my mind. And I know I'm going to do a little bit of rewriting what I've done so far. That's a really important part of the process for me is just allowing it to sit in your mind for a few weeks, whilst you think what would be good, or that would be good. That would be good, and fairly fundamental changes, but they don't come... There is not somebody who can sit down 15 minutes and force my mind into-
Mark Dawson: Not many people can do that, if anybody. I had a couple of ideas just walking the dog, I'm 50,000 words into the new Milton book. And I had a couple of ideas this morning actually. They're not massive in terms of the plot, but they're very useful in terms of motivation. And when I was walking, not really thinking about the writing, that just came to me, which is fairly standard. I'll have ideas in that kind of situation.
James Blatch: Yeah. Rumination. Okay, good. It sounds like the police helicopters back.
Mark Dawson: No, that's my gardener with his leaf blower.
James Blatch: Oh, yeah. We always choose that moment, or you've got a lot of leaves. Good. Okay. Look, thank you very much indeed to our guest Gail Carriger, super interview today. You can find all the interviews, all our previous episodes if you go to selfpublishingformula.com, just click on podcast at the top, and there's a rich and diverse archive there for you to delve into. That's it. I think all that remains we'd say I believe, is it's a goodbye from him.
Mark Dawson: And a goodbye from me. Goodbye.
James Blatch: Goodbye.
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