How best-selling author Geoffrey McSkimming makes it matter
Talk to author Geoffrey McSkimming and two things will stand out: his utter passion for his work and his equal passion for wife and co-creator, magician Sue-Anne Webster. In this interview, the bestselling author tells his secret to expertly blending work and love. Also, discover why after 25 years of having his work published by other people, he’s decided to go it alone.
How do you give it mouth?
I breathe creativity. I just can’t stop. I write. I act. I make videos. I married – I have to bring my wife Sue-Anne straight into this – I married a professional stage magician, and now we create together and it’s wonderful.
Our new venture, which we started in February this year, is an e-publishing house called Nine Diamonds Press. We’re publishing the backlist of my 19 books in the Cairo Jim series. All the rights have reverted to me. We had all this real estate – and I know you think of intellectual property in the same way, Naomi – that was untenanted. Well, we’re now putting tenants back in.
We’re also publishing my new series, the Phyllis Wong series. The first three books in the series were published traditionally. But truth is I’d had enough with the traditional publishing industry. So I decided to publish the fourth book in the series, Phyllis Wong and the Pockets of the Shadows, myself. That came out on the 1st of May.
We do everything involved in the production of the books, from typesetting to proofreading to making promo trailers.
Trailers? How you make the trailers.
We make them just on our iPhones actually. We invested in some good lights, plus we live on the Harbour in Sydney, so we get the reflections from the water. It’s great. So we use everything.
We give it mouth by doing everything for ourselves.
Tell me about your decision to self-publish.
It’s 25 years this month since my first book was published.
Things were good for a while.
And then I got disgruntled. I was doing all this work and the people making money from it were the booksellers first and the publishers second. I was never keen on the idea of publishing my own stuff. Then I started looking at Amazon forums. And now of course you can read Amazon e-books on any device.
So the deal with Amazon is very fair. In traditional publishing the author gets about 10%. At Amazon we get 70%. And it’s amazingly easy to use. I’m no tech head, but I just find it so simple. Plus they answer any questions you have.
Importantly, though, I wanted to get more control of my work because it was like I’d lost a bit of control, you know? As an example, I had a collection of nonsense poetry published for kids a few years ago now (I won’t name the publishers). And the publishers actually lifted some of the poems to use in an educational magazine, without even bothering to contact the agent or myself.
Now I get full control of my work. As an example, we were going to publish the fourth Phyllis Wong in July. Then it was announced the new JK Rowling book was coming out, so we brought the publishing date forward.
We can also control the price. So we offer special deals and so on when we want to.
The sense of power in reclaiming your own work and putting it out there on your own terms is a really good feeling.
Have you got anything else in the pipeline at Nine Diamonds?
We’re definitely going to move on with other projects.
For example Sue-Anne’s got a magic book coming in 2017-18. But you know – it’s so wonderful having your own publishing house – we’re also planning a Who’s Who of Cairo Jim. I’ll annotate the characters and the incidents and then there’ll be a nice companion to the Cairo Jim series.
Part of our plan is also to publish books out of copyright. For instance, I love vintage crime fiction and there’s a crime fiction writer whose books are just about to come out of copyright. Her books are coveted amongst collectors so I’d definitely consider publishing them.
Yeah there are a few companies doing that. It’s a good idea, especially if – like you – you’ve got a passion for a particular genre. You can sort of rescue those books that will otherwise not continue to exist, can’t you?
Yeah, it’s like a crusade.
How do you balance marketing and getting your books written?
Well, we’re lucky. We love making the trailers. We’re hams. I am at least … Sue-Anne is much more sophisticated than I am. But we have fun making the trailers so it doesn’t feel like work at all. It’s just part of what we do.
And how do you handle the business aspects of what you’re doing? It’s a big part of it all isn’t it?
Yes, there’s the creative side and the business side. We have a great accountant. It’s imperative to get an accountant experienced in the creative industries. I think it’s also important to have a solicitor as well so there’s someone to do the legals for you. And once again, get one who’s familiar with intellectual property and so on.
What’s the secret to successfully working with your partner?
I don’t have to make an effort with it really. It’s lovely because we think along the same lines. I’m constantly amazed and delighted by what she does, and she likes my stories.
What about when you disagree?
Well we do sometimes but it’s always professional. And it’s respectful discussion. Always be in a partnership with someone with whom you share an absolute mutual respect for the work you do.
What are your hottest tips for people who want to be indie authors?
- Be true to yourself. The beauty of indie publishing is you don’t have to write for the market. We need of course to make money from our work, that’s important. But never write for the market. If you’re consistent and keep working on what you’re doing, …just ignore the market and keep going.
- Don’t do freebies of your work. Reduce the price, but don’t give your work away.
- Actively engage with the world, but make up your own mind about things.