David Gaughran: Manning the Barricades of the E-book Revolution

David Gaughran’s ‘Let’s Get Digital’ is a really good handbook for new indie-publishers - a morale booster and time-saver all in one.  More than that, it’s a justification for what is snobbishly being referred to as ‘self-publishing’ by the establishment, in a way that somehow brackets it with Vanity publishing and brands it as crap at the same time.

‘An Army is only ever prepared for the war that’s just finished’, warns one of David Gaughran’s authors.  But special forces have to envisage and prepare for the next war.  David Gaughran is the digital equivalent of special forces, preparing us for a digital revolution which, he suggests, has only just begun.

It may seem a bit far-fetched to think of what’s happening with e-books and self-publishing as a kind of war, but traditional publishing is putting up quite a fight and they don’t always fight clean.  ‘We should be on the same side, working together to advance our collective interests, but sometimes self-publishers are viewed as the enemy, or wayward children that are making a terrible mistake,’ David Gaughran observes. Digital authors need to be as fully armed with information as it’s possible for them to be. That’s why he wrote the book.  It’s sub-titled ‘How to Self-Publish, and Why You Should’.

The Guardian are giving a lot of space to the arguments of traditional publishing at the moment in the shape of Ewan Morrison who seems to think that all self-publishers should be exterminated in the interests of literary good taste.  Another article recently by US author Sue Grafton quoted her as saying that self-published authors were lazy, amateurish, and not bothering to learn their craft through years of rejection and the filtering system operated by agents and publishers.

Both commentators were woefully ill-informed.  Self published authors have to work harder than others - they don’t have a big publisher to do it all for them; and many, many self-published authors have decades of professional experience behind them and could teach EM and SG a thing or two about craft.  Of course there’s a lot of crap out there - but there is in traditional publishing too and it often sells better than the more ‘literary’ stuff!  As for being ‘amateurish’, only the top 5% of traditionally published authors earn enough to give up the day job and ‘go professional’.

David Gaughran dedicates a lot of space to encouragement and persuasion.  He gives you validation, if you need it, for self-publishing your work, and a dozen successful authors relate their reasons for going digital and share their experiences. They range from big players like Bob Mayer, to complete newbies, and yes, JA Konrath gets quoted too.

Gaughran’s message is simple - traditional, legacy publishing is doomed and he explains why.  Agents and publishers had it cosy and lucrative for a long time and they were slow to recognise the challenges presented by the digital age.  When cold commercial winds began to blow a few years ago they didn’t react in the right way, adopting industrial business models, going for mass market, accountant controlled publishing and allowing product quality and author development to be squeezed out. Then, when new technology arrived, they saw it as a threat and began to act defensively to defend their territory. They’ve have been consistently hostile towards e-books and self-publishing rather than working out how to join the party.

The truth is that writers and readers can now form partnerships without intermediaries.  We don’t need agents and gargantuan publishing houses that eat money and move at a snail’s pace. It’s too late to reverse this process. Some traditional publishing will remain, Gaughran states, and some independent booksellers will survive, but not in their current forms. Will the last person in the building please put out the light?

He also deconstructs some of the self-publishing myths.  So, there’s a lot of crap out there?  ‘The idea of the poor self-published work contaminating the rest is clearly rubbish.’  The cream will always rise to the top. It’s just as easy to find a good book on Amazon as it is in any bookshop.  People still find books in the same way - by telling each other. ‘Word of mouth... is the only thing that has ever sold books.’   And readers don’t care who the publisher is;  ‘If you have a quality cover, a great editor, perfect formatting, and a good story, your work cannot be readily distinguished from a trade published book’.

Having demolished the myths and encouraged you to join the digital revolution he goes on to show you how.  He doesn’t pretend that it’s easy and he stresses all along the way that quality really has to matter - if you’re not putting out a product that looks and reads professionally, then you shouldn’t be doing it.  Cutting editorial corners is the biggest mistake a self-published author can make.

Rather than go through the whole process of showing you in tedious detail how to convert files to mobi or e-pub, Gaughran offers you the option of downloading his own guide from the internet (free) as well as an excellent step-by-step instruction booklet by Guido Henkel (also free). Both documents are regularly up-dated.  Neil has already Kindled 7 books and put 2 up on Smashwords, but he says he learned a great deal from these guides - things he’d fiddled with for hours could be formatted in a couple of key strokes without resorting to bad language or being driven to the booze cupboard for inspiration.

Next, Gaughran takes you through the publicity and promotion you need to do - not the hours and hours that some doom merchants estimate - and probably no more than a legacy publisher would expect you to do.  I’ve recently spent two days travelling to give a one hour talk to 30 people in a bookshop, all to please a publisher and sell maybe 10 books.  A couple of hours on the internet seems economical to say the least. As well as covering the marketing angles, Gaughran also gives very good advice on the delicate business of pricing, explaining clearly how the Amazon thing works.  I found pricing e-books quite difficult and was glad of his advice.

David Gaughran never hides the fact that the formatting is complicated, nor the fact that you’re going to have to invest some money in cover design and editing if you want a top quality product, but he does make you feel that it’s all worthwhile and that joining the E-book Revolution is exactly the right thing to do right now.

Neil and I wish we’d had this book when we started on the road to e-publishing.  We’d have avoided a lot of pitfalls and not spent so much time agonising about doing the right thing.  This is a life-changing book for digital authors.  As David Gaughran says ‘It’s a great time to be a writer’!


  1. Sounds like a fab resource. A good morale booster too!

  2. Thanks for this Kathy - its a really helpful review of what looks like a must buy book for people like ourselves who are serious about e-publishing. I'm delighted to see he desconstructs some of the myths about self-published work being toxic.

    I will definitely point any readers of my blog in the direction of this post and I'll be downloading the book!

  3. I've posted a link to this review on my blog Kathy and tweeted it - it's too good to miss. Like you I wish I'd had a book like this to refer to from the start!

  4. Thanks Avril - yes it's excellent - so clear!
    Thanks for your comments and the Tweet.

  5. Such a typically inspirational post Kathy that makes me even keener to relish my newly empowered role in this exciting ePublishing world. I will certainly buy this book and recommend it to writers who will certainly benefit from it. Good luck with your own publishing enterprise.


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