The conversation around successful self-publishing too often revolves around sales. Today’s super-successful indie is Dan Holloway, a beacon for literary values in a commercial age. Here he shares the secrets that have made him a success in the only terms that count: his own.
- What’s the secret of your success?
For me, success comes when I’ve touched people’s lives. And that has always come about by sticking to writing the things I believe in. Often these are the things that have had the smallest readerships, but it’s the works I refuse to compromise on that have prompted people to send me emails saying I’ve struck a chord or changed the way they look at the world. Evie and Guy is a great example of that. It’s a novel written entirely without words, just in numbers. It’s permanently free to download and so far in four months it’s only been downloaded 419 times, but I’ve had some incredible emails from people saying it made them cry, it’s inspired them, even that it’s the most beautiful thing they’ve ever read. That makes it more of a success for me than books that have sold thousands of copies.
- What was the single best thing you ever did?
I’d have to say the best thing I did for my writing was starting to perform my work. I fell into it a bit by accident when I launched my first book, and knew I had to make it different from regular book readings. I got tips from an acting friend, and put together a programme with a brilliant musician friend, Jessie Grace. Not many people were making readings into performances back then so it stood out, and as a result it opened so many doors – my next show was at Brick Lane’s legendary Rough Trade, I performed at, and won, Literary Death Match as the only self-published writer taking part. Now I have my own show, bringing together many of the country’s leading performance poets, and we’ve been touring for over two years.
- Did you get lucky? What happened?
Luck plays a huge part in anyone’s success (just read Ed Smith’s wonderful book Luck). For me it’s been a whole confluence of things: living in Oxford with an incredible bookstore that’s supported my work and events for years; starting a self-publishing collective before Kindle came along and that getting picked up and promoted by chance by a leading style magazine; turning to performance just as the spoken word scene started to break into public consciousness. I had the misfortune not to be writing in New York in the 1960s, but the good fortune to be around just as the UK is developing an underground scene that’s almost as vibrant.
- How do you get/stay in creative mode?
Music is a lot of it (Note: anyone not familiar with Roz Morris’ amazing Undercover Soundtrack blog should spend some time browsing it to see just how inspirational music can be) but the thing that really does it for me without fail is London . Whenever I’m blocked or uncertain where to take my work, if I can get to London and spend the day with my netbook in coffee shops, or just sitting with my back against a wall on a busy thoroughfare, the buzz of the city brings me back to life.
- How do you prioritise?
Very badly, I fear. I am terrible at saying no, and as a result I’ve spent a lot of time working on projects that have taken me too far from the central tenets of my writing. At times the awareness that I’m working so hard but achieving so little has come close to destroying my passion for writing completely. It’s something I’m trying really hard to get to grips with. It’s so important constantly to bring yourself back to the single, central reason why you write. Don’t be distracted when people tell you you’re doing well, when you start to get attention. You have to be centred enough to know that only you can tell when you’re doing it right. And you have to be prepared to swim against the tide to keep prioritising that. It’s hard, especially when the whole world seems to be suggesting you do something else.
- What’s next?
All sorts of things – told you I was bad at prioritising! All of them are projects really close to my heart and I’m finally moving them to the top of the list. I was very lucky recently to win the prize of a full edit, book trailer and cover from Harper Collins for my novel The Man Who Pained Agnieszka’s Shoes, which dissects the disconnectedness of the digital age. I’ve already had the edit in from the team at the Friday Review and I’m completely overhauling the manuscript for a launch in March. In the immediate future, I’m speaking at the self-publishing summit at King’s College London on November 9th and I’m taking my show The New Libertines to Woodstock Poetry Festival on November 16th.
- What’s the highlight of being an author-publisher for you?
Freedom. That sounds really clichéd, doesn’t it? But it’s true. I can write works that have a potential audience in their tens or hundreds and it doesn’t matter – I can write the work as it needs to be written, because I’m not answerable to any marketing department.
- What’s your top tip for other indie authors?
I’ve just written a long article about this and it comes back to what I was saying earlier. Know exactly what it was that made you start writing in the first place. Put it into one sentence and pin it to your wall and never get distracted from that, no matter how much temptation comes your way.