Transcript: What An Indie Author Learns

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Interview with David Daniel Davis, Jr.

For podcast release Saturday, June 22, 2013

KENNEALLY: Copyright and intellectual property are only two of Dave Davis’s many passions. A research analyst at the nonprofit Copyright Clearance Center where he has worked since 1994, Davis plays oldies on his rock ’n’ roll guitar, a red hollow body Gretsch, cultivates an active interest in medieval history, and brews his own beer. He’s also hiked all of the 4,000-foot peaks in New England.

Welcome to Copyright Clearance Center’s podcast series. I’m Christopher Kenneally for Beyond the Book.

Adding to his accomplishments and distinctions, David Daniel Davis Jr. published earlier this year two long stories, or, if you prefer, a pair of short novellae. The experience so far has made him not only a fully fledged copyright holder, but also a budding pundit on indie publishing. He joins me now in CCC’s Danvers, Massachusetts, headquarters. Welcome to Beyond the Book, Dave.

DAVIS: Thanks for inviting me on, Chris.

KENNEALLY: We’re very happy to have you join us, Dave. We talk every day, but now we’re going to share that with the world. And I really am delighted to talk to you because we’ve been covering self-publishing a great deal for Beyond the Book and looking at it from a number of angles, and it’s great to have a self-published author here to tell us about the experience.

So far, you’ve published two thirds of an anticipated trilogy of stories about a character, Dan Warshaw, a skeptical neuroscientist by day and a rock ’n’ roller by night. Let’s start, Dave. Give us the pitch. What happens to Dan in Last Stop, Electric Ladyland and the follow-up tale, Pride, Joy, and Murderous Intent?

DAVIS: I conceived of Dan as sort of a working scientist. He’s skeptical by nature. He doesn’t believe in things unless there’s sufficient proof and evidence for them. But as it turns out in the fiction, there’s more to this world than he had guessed, and there are people that are still around even though they went to their reward.

I don’t know if you ever heard of the 27 Club, but it’s this notion that rock ’n’ rollers tend to die early.

KENNEALLY: They tend to die by or about their 27th birthday.

DAVIS: By or about their 27th birthday. So playing with that notion, I said, suppose – and the beginning of all speculative fiction is the what if, suppose. Suppose they were so infused with electricity or something up on that stage that they survived and were able to make contact and deal in this world. They might still have issues that needed resolving.

And so, Mr. Dan, who is not expecting this and not inclined to believe it in the first place, gets a realization and then is brought into helping them solve some problems that they have involving someone getting killed.

KENNEALLY: It’s a fun premise and gets you to play with all the things that you care about and to obviously give some pleasure for the readers as well. We’ll let them find out by going and getting the book online at Amazon, and I guess that’s where I want to really sort of dive into this conversation. Why go with Amazon? There are so many self-publishing services and sites out there, and I have a feeling – you’re a librarian by training and a researcher by trade. I bet you looked into all of them. Why did you go with Amazon? What was the process like when you decided to sign up with them?

DAVIS: I gave it a lot of thought, Chris, and the reason I went with Amazon, who’s the Big A goodness pack, as a newb, as someone that’s unknown in the fictional realm, I wanted to get more distribution, get more publicity, to find a way in at no cost. I wasn’t going to invest heavily in this project in terms of dollars.

They offer that distribution. They offer that means of getting the word out there. And when you get into the Kindle Direct Publishing, you’re in the Kindle store, you can tag it with your keywords, you are in a larger network immediately, so they give you a little handholding there. I think that’s valuable when you’re just starting out.

On the other hand, many alternatives exist, and they’re perfectly good as well.

KENNEALLY: Right. I guess that’s a personal decision, then. You wanted to have some help, maybe a little bit of support, and I guess finally, with regard to making that choice, as things turned out, did you get the support you expected? Was the process easy or difficult?

DAVIS: I found it easy. Working where we work, I know about rights and stuff, so filling out that kind of form online was not difficult for me. I didn’t have a high target for monetary reward on this. It’s more for fun. They did ask whether I wanted to put on DRM. I’m not a big DRM fan.

KENNEALLY: DRM, we should tell people, is digital rights management. That’s interesting. The choice there would be to, if you will, lock down the material, and you were happy to leave things, if you will, free and open.

DAVIS: That’s right. I didn’t see any utility to DRM in this case. I want people to read the story. If they want to buy it, that’s even better.

KENNEALLY: You are experimenting, as so many self-published authors do, with adjusting the price levels and occasionally, with regard to making it available for people, giving the works away for free. Tell us about that experience. You’ve done some of that. What have you done and what did you find out?

DAVIS: In the Kindle Direct Publishing, they offer five free days per 90-day period and you can set the price. I guess you could set it as low as you want, but I set it to zero, off of the 99 cents. And then my downloads went up. I had 120-some people download the story during the free period, and that I think is true for each of the two stories so far.

KENNEALLY: Normally, the two books are available for how much? For 99 cents?

DAVIS: Ninety-nine cents.

KENNEALLY: So you went from 99 cents to zero and your downloads increased by how much then?

DAVIS: By a factor of 10.

KENNEALLY: By a factor of 10. So it really makes a difference. And I suppose as an author – this is the argument so many people make about all of this. I’ve heard it from Mark Coker at Smashwords and many others. Obscurity is the enemy. You don’t want to be obscure. You want to be well-known.

DAVIS: Agreed. And so you’re able to get in there a little bit with other authors who are working in science fiction or fantasy or whatever genre you tag it as, people that are looking for that. There are people that regularly cruise the free section of the Kindle store looking for new material. Oh, weekend. I’m going to get five or six of these things. I’m going to be doing this my Saturday morning. So if you’re in there, you might get noticed. You have a better shot.

KENNEALLY: We’re talking right now with Dave Davis, my colleague at Copyright Clearance Center, a research analyst here and a self-published author of two long short stories, a pair of short novellae, I like to say, which are available on Amazon under the author’s name, David Daniel Davis Jr.

So, David Daniel Davis Jr., Amazon offers two levels of royalty splits for authors, and I want you to explain those and why you chose to take less rather than more. What led you to that?

DAVIS: I looked carefully at it and I gave it some thought. I decided as a budding author, as new to the game, that I wanted all the help I could get, so in exchange for taking a lower royalty cut, they’re able to help with promoting your story to additional sites that they are affiliated with. They do promotional work to it in the Kindle store so it shows up more. And they just give you tools to try and help you along, and I thought that was a fair trade.

KENNEALLY: The other help you’ve gotten has been from a colleague, another CCC colleague. We’ve got a few authors lying around this office, and the one I’m thinking of is Chris Howard, who’s reasonably experienced at publishing by himself, self-publishing and otherwise. Chris Howard writes science fiction and fantasy. He’s the author of Seaborn, Nanowhere, and Dryad. How important was it to have a buddy like Chris when you were getting going with this process?

DAVIS: I think it was critically important. There’s so much to learn and so much to know and you have someone that is even a few steps down the road ahead of you to hold the lantern out for you. Chris said to me, what do you mean you’re not going to put a cover on it? You have to have a cover. Then, Chris, being a polymath and can do so many things, he drew me a cover, and it’s helpful. And he said, oh, by the way, you have to have this so that it looks good in thumbnail. Not something I’m going to know on my own.

So that’s how you learn. You talk to people that know.

KENNEALLY: And you do some reading, as well. You got some inside information. I know there was one particular author, another self-published author, that you learned a lot from.

DAVIS: That’s Guy Kawasaki and he talked about his book Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur, APE, and I found that very helpful. It’s just a series of well-laid-out chapters about all the steps that are necessary to get this done and the roles that need to be accomplished. Not knowing about them doesn’t make them go away. You might as well learn it, because you’re going to be dealing with it whether you learn it or not.

KENNEALLY: I’ve had a chance to hear Guy Kawasaki speak about his book and about his experience, and he refers to this new world which is sometimes called self-publishing, sometimes sort of fancifully along the lines of independent film it’s called indie publishing, but he calls it artisanal publishing.

And you’re – as we said at the start of this – a maker of your own beer, so I suppose you’re already artisanal in that respect. What do you think of that notion that it’s artisanal and what would that mean to you as far as publishing goes?

DAVIS: That’s very interesting. I hadn’t thought of that. I think artisanal in that concept would imply that there’s a great deal of care brought to it by the individual author. I don’t have an editor.

KENNEALLY: Handmade, so to speak.

DAVIS: Yes. I don’t have an editor that’s helping me. I have to be the editor. So you get in there and you revise and you revise and you revise and you revise it again until it’s as good as you can make it. So you’re not cranking out production product like slicing the salami, I think Stephen King referred to it as. You’re crafting to get to the point of quality that it’s as honestly as good as you can make it.

KENNEALLY: Right. Now, you’ve also put together an accompanying website that promotes the stories, answers questions about the characters and themes. Why did you think that was necessary?

DAVIS: When you’re crafting a world that doesn’t previously exist – this world has ghosts in it, but they’re not the usual kind of ghosts. They’re rock ’n’ roll ghosts and they’re fueled by electricity. They’re not composed of ectoplasm – then there’s some explaining that needs to go along with that.

In the story, there’s exposition that I hope is not tedious, but it is necessary. If you’re going to try and garner a fan base, you give them a little handholding and say, this is how it works here. It’s like the typical FAQ on any website.

KENNEALLY: It sounds like a smart idea. The other thing you’ve done is a bit of social media. What’s been successful in that regard for you?

DAVIS: I use LinkedIn, I use Facebook, I use Google+, I use Twitter, and I like each of those for their own purposes. I did pick up a number of downloads through Twitter, which is a bit of a remove. It’s not so up close and personal as Facebook. The lesson I got out of that is just use whatever is available and see what works. Don’t lock in on one. Use all of them.

KENNEALLY: And they’re all free, so you don’t have a lot to lose.

DAVIS: The price is right.

KENNEALLY: And finally, Dave, you said at the start of this you started as a newb, a newbie, and maybe now you’re an apprentice. Will you ever want to be an expert? Authors these days, when they’re faced with this choice of to publish with a traditional publisher or to go out on their own, I hear many of them say, my gosh. I’ve got my hands full writing. Did you find this ultimately a burden, a liberating experience? How did you feel about it and how much more do you want to know at this point?

DAVIS: I’ve always found it exciting to learn, so learning the game is fun, and that’s the good part. I don’t know that I’d want to always do this, particularly if I got into longer works. I’m thinking about a novel in this world of mine, and that would be a lot of work to plug. And so, were it to get picked up by a major publisher, I would welcome that development.

KENNEALLY: Well, we welcome you at Beyond the Book anytime you’ve got something to talk about, Dave Davis, my colleague, a Copyright Clearance Center research analyst. His two short novellae are called Last Stop, Electric Ladyland and Pride, Joy, and Murderous Intent. They’re available on Amazon under the name David Daniel Davis Jr. Dave, thanks so much for joining us.

DAVIS: Thanks, Chris.

KENNEALLY: Beyond the Book is produced by Copyright Clearance Center, a global rights broker for the world’s most sought-after materials, including millions of books and e-books, journals, newspapers, magazines, and blogs, as well as images, movies, and television shows. You can follow Beyond the Book on Twitter, find us on Facebook, and subscribe to the free podcast series on iTunes or at the Copyright Clearance Center website, copyright.com. Just click on Beyond the Book.

Our engineer is Jeremy Brieske of Burst Marketing. My name is Christopher Kenneally. For all of us at Copyright Clearance Center, thanks for listening to Beyond the Book.