‘The royalties!’: Alan Baxter on self-publishing his Aurealis Award-shortlisted collection The Gulp

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Alan Baxter is an award-winning author of horror, supernatural thrillers, and dark fantasy liberally mixed with crime, mystery, and noir. His recent collection, The Gulp, pulled in three nominations for the Aurealis Awards. Alan talks to Independent Publishing about The Gulp, his self-publishing process and his tips for other authors.

Congratulations on being shortlisted for the Aurealis Awards (Best Collection, Best Fantasy Novella and Best Horror Novella). Can you tell us a bit about The Gulp and the stories it contains?

The Gulp is a book of five interconnected horror novellas. Each one stands alone as a story in its own right, but they all take place in the strange isolated Australian harbour town of Gulpepper, which locals call The Gulp, as the place had a habit of swallowing people. Characters and events cross over between stories and by the end you realise you’ve been reading about a bigger story all along. But not everything is answered. However, fret not, as The Fall is out now. That’s a second book featuring another five interconnected novellas that develop from events in The Gulp, and by the end there should be some answers. Not all, of course, but many. It ends up being a kind of mosaic/episodic novel over two books made of ten stories that each stand on their own as well. I hope!

As a self-published author, what does it mean to you to be shortlisted alongside major publishers’ titles for an Aurealis Award?

I’m actually a hybrid author, with work out through Harper Voyager and a variety of small presses as well as the things I’ve self-published, so I guess I’ve cut my teeth across the board of publishing. But there is a kind of special satisfaction in seeing something I produced myself stand side by side with the major publishers’ works. Having said that, self-publishing doesn’t mean doing it on my own. I’ve utilised a team to get these books out there.

As an author who has published traditionally as well as independently, what has been the most gratifying aspect of publishing the book yourself?

The royalties! Honestly, you get a lot more when you’re not paying a publisher and agent as well. But of course, it’s very hard to sell books, especially self-published, so it’s swings and roundabouts really. I’m lucky enough to have built something of a following over the years, so self-publishing is easier for me now. I enjoy the creative control and I enjoy choosing exactly when and how things happen around release and everything else. But if I’m honest, I do prefer a publisher to do most of the work if possible. I’d like to concentrate only on the writing. But I do also enjoy having work in a variety of places. Publishers don’t always stay afloat, so having some things out there that aren’t subject to the vagaries of other companies is good. 

Can you walk us through your process of self-publishing? Which services did you use to get your book printed (and published digitally), and why?

I use a pretty standard system now: Kindle is uploaded directly through KDP, every other ebook edition is managed through Draft2Digital, and the paperback is managed entirely through IngramSpark. This seems to work best for me as it’s fewer things to watch on my end but the widest possible distribution for the books. Once I’ve finished the book, beta readers have given feedback, then it’s been to editors, copy editors and then the layout is done, it’s as simple as uploading it all as above. Simple. (Not really, but you get the idea.)

How did you approach the marketing and publicity process for The Gulp?  

It’s all about getting the book noticed, and if any of us really knew how to do that we’d all be bestsellers. Over the years I’ve built a decent social media following and built a reputation in the writing and reading community. I do my best to utilise that without abusing it. And whenever I get invited to an event or a podcast or an interview like this, I almost always say yes. It’s a lot of work, but if anything gets me even one new avid reader, then it’s worth it. What we really want are more readers, and then the readers do the real marketing through their enthusiasm and word of mouth. It’s a slow process.

What are the biggest lessons or tips you would give to others looking to self-publish?

Get a good team. Find cover artists, editors, layout, etc. that’s the best you can afford. Make your book indistinguishable from something put out by a major publisher. And just because you can self-publish doesn’t mean you should. Make sure your work is as good as it can be. Figure out what you really want from writing, think about the best way to achieve that, then go after it. And don’t quit.

 Finally, what are you working on at the moment?

I’ve got a new novel called Sallow Bend coming out through Cemetery Dance Publications later this year, so I’ve been pretty focused on that and the recent release of The Fall. But once I have some clear time again, I’ll get back to work on a new novel I started earlier this year. It’s a coming-of-age horror story, set in Monkton, which is the town just south of Gulpepper. I’m excited to get back into writing it.

To learn more about Alan Baxter and his booksincluding The Gulp and The Fall, visit his website here.

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