Secrets of Best-Selling Self-Published Authors #14 - David Moody

After a hiatus of sorts we've got a fascinating interview for you today from best-selling U.K. author, David Moody. As you will read below, David has been very generous with sharing his experiences and advice - please take a moment to check out his links at the end of the interview and buy his books. Here's a bit about David from his Amazon author bio: David grew up on a diet of trashy horror and pulp science fiction. He worked as a bank manager before giving up the day job to write about the end of the world for a living. He has written a number of horror novels, including AUTUMN, which has been downloaded more than half a million times since publication in 2001 and spawned a series of sequels and a movie starring Dexter Fletcher and David Carradine. Film rights to HATER were snapped up by Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Pan's Labyrinth, Pacific Rim) and Mark Johnson (Breaking Bad). Moody lives with his wife and a houseful of daughters and stepdaughters, which may explain his pre-occupation with Armageddon.

Let's get into it - here he is folks - David Moody.

Who are you and where do you come from? Do you think that your life experience has gone some way towards making you a successful author in your chosen genre?

I’m David Moody and I’m from Birmingham in the United Kingdom. That’s a great question to start with, and I’ll answer with a disappointingly vague reply: yes and no. What I mean by that is I was fortunate to get my first break before I’d really lived. When I wrote my first novel I was a young bloke with no responsibilities, still living with my parents. Very quickly, though, I found myself with a family and a mortgage and a pressured job etc. All of that inevitably had an influence on my writing. When I was younger I’d have arrogantly argued that life experience isn’t essential, but now, with hindsight, I think it is. I like writing about people first and foremost, and how they react and interact (or don’t!), and I think I’ve got a lot better at that in the twenty years plus that I’ve been writing. I rewrote my first novel, ‘Straight to You’, after two decades because although I loved the story still, the original characters were paper-thin and the writing was pretty dire. With twenty years of being a dad and a husband and a homeowner etc., I was able to take the story to a whole new level. Hope that doesn’t sound too pretentious!

Your second book, ‘Autumn,’ was a big hit with over half a million downloads – how did you achieve such a phenomenal download rate with this book and have you managed to replicate it since?

Luck! I’ll be honest, there was an element of good fortune and ‘right place, right time’ involved, but I worked damn hard to get those downloads. You had to back then (we’re talking 2001 – 2005) because the eBook market was virtually non-existent. At the beginning it was a case of building a mailing list and readership – which I did by serializing the book online – and literally mailing Word and PDF documents out to people who were interested. Back then, giving a book away for free was pretty much unheard of, and I benefited from that. In answer to your second question, I haven’t tried to replicate the success of ‘Autumn’ in the same way, primarily because the market’s changed beyond all recognition.

Where do you get your inspiration from for your writing and for the way you brand yourself as an author?

Inspiration can strike in any place at any time – you just have to be able to recognize it and capitalize on it. It’s become instinctive now... when I’m watching a film, reading a book, listening to music, or doing pretty much anything else and inspiration strikes, it’s second nature to a). make a note of it and b). to chew that inspiration over and over for as long as I can to explore all the possibilities. I’ve found that good ideas don’t tend to disappear. I know that if I keep coming back to an idea, then there’s a good chance it’ll have a strong enough hook to interest readers too. The books I’m working on during 2016, for example, are based on ideas I first had between five and fifteen years ago! In terms of branding, I have a couple of self-imposed rules (which are really flip-sides of the same coin): do what feels right and naturally, and don’t do what anyone else is doing.

You have enjoyed best-selling status on Amazon and have also been the recipient of book contracts and even a movie deal – is there a particular moment in your career as an author that you realized that you had done something right to get where you are now? Can you pinpoint what it was that spiked your success to date?

That’s quite an easy question to answer, because there was one event that changed everything for me and took my writing career to a level I’d been dreaming of for years. In 2006 I released HATER. The book was doing pretty well and I was happy with the reaction it had received. Then, out of the blue, I had an email from a production company in Los Angeles who were interested in optioning the film rights. It quickly transpired that it was Mark Johnson (the Oscar-winning producer of Rain Main, probably better known now for producing Breaking Bad) and Guillermo del Toro (who needs no introduction). Book deals quickly followed, and I soon found myself published by major publishers in the US, UK and fourteen or so other countries. But the most important part of all of this for me, was the realization that a). I could write, and b). I could publish. My independently produced release was good enough to attract the attention of some major players. Whenever I doubt my abilities (as all writers do from time to time, I guess) I just have to remind myself of what happened back in 2006.

If you could pinpoint one thing in particular that has grabbed readers of your work, what would you say it is? I.e. what is it about your books that keeps your readers coming back for more?

I often describe my books as being about ordinary people who find themselves trapped in extraordinary situations, and I think that’s what appeals. I have a real problem with heroes who are just too good to be true: dashingly handsome, incredibly intelligent people who you know from page one are going to save the day. I’d much rather write about people like you and me and the people we know. Ordinary people with flaws and foibles who make mistakes and sometimes get things wrong. They’re far more interesting! I think my readers identify with characters like that, and because they can easily put themselves in my characters’ shoes, they keep coming back for more.

You formed your own publishing company to independently publish your books – would you advise other authors to set-up a publishing company to publish their own books, or do you think that the same results can be achieved by a self-published author without forming a publishing company?

A well-respected editor once told me that hiding behind the Infected Books moniker was a ‘masterstroke’ and, a decade or so ago, it was. People have grown used to the idea of self-publishing now, and are a little more accepting of it. Back then, though, people looked down their noses at anything that wasn’t traditionally published. I was very conscious of that when I started out, so wanted to give the illusion that Infected Books was a far bigger deal than just me sitting in the spare bedroom in front of the computer at home! It occurred to me that when you buy a book, you often know nothing about the publisher other than, perhaps, some of the other titles they’ve released. You don’t know how many people they employ, when they started publishing, what color their office walls are... it struck me that putting a brand between myself and potential readers and booksellers etc. would potentially put me on an even keel with all other publishers. And it worked. I think the marketplace has changed dramatically now, though, and people are far more accepting. If you’re serious about making a career from self-publishing, however, I’d still recommend forming a company. It’s a safety net of sorts, I think, and gives you much more maneuverability in the marketplace.

With recent changes to Amazon’s various publishing services, many independent authors are looking elsewhere for other online publishing options. Are your (self-published) books exclusive to Amazon or do you publish through other distributors like Smashwords Draft 2 Digital etc and what do you think of the recent changes to Amazon’s KDP and KU programs?

I don’t like to put all my eggs in one basket, so I use a mix of approaches. I have a couple of shorter titles which are enrolled in Amazon KDP, but the novels I publish through Infected Books are available in other digital stores and formats. I’ve a lot on my plate, so I’ve taken the easy option and use Smashwords for distribution to avoid having to deal with Apple and Barnes & Noble and others separately, and I have to say, I’m more than happy with the results. I’m still on the fence with Kindle Unlimited. I think eBook subscription services are great in principle, but I’m not yet completely sold on any of the alternatives out there at present, and anything which requires exclusivity immediately makes me nervous...

Once you have decided that self-publishing might be your route, what financial and artistic considerations should you keep in mind before you begin?

I think your only consideration should be making your book as professional as a book from a traditional publisher. That’s my benchmark. I want people to view an Infected Books title the same way they would a book released by, say, St Martin’s Press (who publish my non-indie books in the USA). The second you start to compromise on quality is the moment you’ll hit problems. I have to have 100% confidence in all of my releases, and if that means I have to spend more to get there, so be it. The extra investment always proves worth it.

Your books have been made into movies – did you handle all the negotiations yourself and did you actively seek movie deals for your books? Do you have any advice for self-published authors on how to option their books for movies?

That’s a really interesting question! I sold the film rights to AUTUMN and HATER within a few weeks of each other, and at the time I didn’t have representation. With hindsight, I wish I hadn’t gone it alone. The two approaches were very different: the outfit which optioned AUTUMN was a small, independent Canadian production company, whilst the HATER approach came from the Hollywood big boys. My logic was that by agreeing to both of these vastly different deals, there was a good chance that at least one of the films would be made. Like many people who find themselves in the position of being offered sums of money for work they’ve already done, I guess, agreed both deals too quickly and without sufficient negotiation. It’s not all about cash, I know, but to put things in perspective and show how important it is to get advice, so far I’ve earned ten times the amount from the unfilmed HATER than I have from the AUTUMN movie which was released in 2009! I’d offer a couple of pieces of advice to writers who are approached to sell the movie rights to their books. One: Stop. Wait. Think. Consider your options and take advice. Two: be prepared for a roller-coaster ride with huge highs and crashing lows. The buzz and exhilaration when you complete a film deal is incredible, but you should bear in mind that most properties which are optioned never make it to the screen. And those wicked movie folks, they’ll sweet talk you and tell you what you want to hear to get you to work with them! Really, you just need to exercise caution. As a postscript to this answer, after having the HATER movie tied up in development hell for the last six-or-so years (it almost made it in front of the cameras with Guillermo del Toro producing and JA Bayona directing back in 2009), I took the movie rights back and sold them to a UK production company. We’re hoping to start filming later in 2016 from a script I’ve written.

What do you see as your most innovative promotional strategy?

It doesn’t sound so innovative now, but giving away free books was my unique selling point back in 2001! After my first book (STRAIGHT TO YOU) was traditionally published in 1996, I was forced to rethink my strategy. The book didn’t come anywhere near to selling out its first 500 copy print run (I still have a box of them in my garage!). So when I finished my second novel, AUTUMN, I knew I wanted to try a different approach. The eBook market was just starting to emerge, so I launched a website and gave the book away as a free download in as many formats as I could make available. Hard to believe, but free eBooks were few and far between back then, and the book took off. I racked up more than half a million downloads in a relatively short space of time, and I owe my career to giving stuff away! Paid sequels, film deals, Infected Books, other novels... everything stems from that decision. The logic was simple: what good’s an author if no one has any of their books?

How important are ‘series’ books to your success as a self-published author?

Very important in terms of getting a foothold and building a readership, I think. With AUTUMN, for example, I was able to give the first book away for free, then charge for the sequels. I hate to sound too corporate, but it’s important to build a brand, and an ongoing series can be integral to that.

Do you design your own covers? How important do you think cover design is to a potential reader and how big a part do you think it has played in your success to date? 

I like to have an input in all my book covers, be they traditionally or independently published. I don’t know if it’s true of all writers, but I tend to start having cover ideas/ concepts as I’m writing the book. HATER is a great example of that. I knew I wanted the word written in blood on a white cover when I originally released the book through Infected Books in 2006. I borrowed some of my youngest daughter’s paints, got a sheet of paper, mixed up some ‘blood’ and wrote the title with my finger. It was a hugely successful concept – after the film deal the books were bought by St Martin’s Press and then sold on to numerous countries around the world. Many of the international editions went on to use my original improvised artwork or variations. I’d also like to refer back to one of my previous answers here – a professional-looking cover is crucial if you want a book to sell. I think many more bad books with good covers are sold than good books with poor covers! A gallery of my covers is available here:

In your opinion, is traditional publishing on the way out? Do you think that traditional publishing can continue to keep up with the rise of self-publishing?

I think there’s space at the moment for both traditional and independent publishing, but everyone involved in the business needs to recognize that BOTH variations are important. There’s an unfortunate snobbery, I feel, from traditional publishers which might once have been justified, but not any longer. There’s little a traditional publisher can do that an indie can’t (other than easily getting books into bricks and mortar stores and having vast marketing budgets!). Infected Books, for example, now has a foreign rights division and I’m moving the business into other areas which would have been off-limits to an indie just a few years ago. I think traditional publishers have more to fear. Indie publishing empowers authors.

Would you ever consider signing all your books to a traditional publishing house or will you always mange some of your titles yourself through self-publishing?

I have sold many of my titles to traditional publishers, and when the first deals were signed, I mothballed Infected Books. After a few years, though, I realized I missed publishing books independently, and now I do both. There are some titles which just aren’t designed for mass-market consumption, and Infected Books gives me a way to get them to market alongside my more popular books. I missed the control that independent publishing gives.

What avenues of self-promotion did you find to be most effective and affordable? What’s the best ‘bang-for-your-buck’ advertising you have employed?

I don’t pay for advertising. I rely on word of mouth, social media and my mailing list. To my mind, it’s the only way to go. That said, I also take full advantage of my traditional publishers marketing resources to raise my profile and increase sales of my independently released titles.

Do you feel there’s a good sense of community within the self-publishing industry?

Yes. There’s a definite feeling of ‘we’re all in this together’.

Was it always your intention to self-publish, or would you have considered the traditional publishing route had the opportunity presented itself?

Again, I think I’ve answered this – I was traditionally published but, first time around, it didn’t work. I initially used independent publishing to get my work to a wider audience.

What would you say is the single biggest advantage of deciding to self-publish?


Your books are published both independently and traditionally – do you think it is a crucial way of staying afloat as an independent author to have more than one income or publishing option? I.e. do you think that the successful self-published author needs to be prepared to work alongside traditional publishers in order to maximize their readership and income?

As I’ve already said, I think being a so-called hybrid author is the best option. It gives you access to the whole market. There’s no doubt there are benefits to both the traditional and independent publishing routes, so why limit yourself to one or the other?

Are you in regular contact with other self-published authors and how important was any input you may have received early on in your career?  Do you have a mentor in terms of your self-publishing success – someone who may have inspired you to ‘give it a go’?

I think this answer might sound a little arrogant, but I don’t have a mentor. I do feel like a mentor to quite a few folks, though. I’ve been at this for longer than most, and I feel like I grew with the market. Many people ask me for advice and I’m always more than happy to share my experiences – what I did right and what I could have done differently. I find there’s a great community around independent publishing. Maybe there’s safety in numbers...

Where to from here? Are you currently represented by an agent and are you working with any publishers on future projects?

I do have representation, and I’ve just signed a deal with St Martin’s Press for three more HATER novels which I’m really excited about. I’m also working on a number of different projects, some of which will go the traditional route whilst others will be Infected Books releases. At the moment I’m also running a year-long Infected Books event called YEAR OF THE ZOMBIE to mark the 15th anniversary of both the original release of AUTUMN and the formation of IB. Some of the best zombie authors in the business are contributing original novellas for the series. You can find out more at

Can you offer any advice to fellow writers if you could go back in time and “do it all over?” What’s your top tip for other indie authors?

Keep writing! Obvious, perhaps, but true. It’s the most important thing. The other thing I’d say is there’s no such thing as wrong decisions. Go with your gut. Don’t spend all your time following the crowd, because this definitely isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ business. You have to find the right approach for you and not spend your time mimicking others.

Finally, thanks for sharing your thoughts on self-publishing. Where is the best place for readers to find your books?

It’s been a pleasure! I’ll leave you with a long list of links if I may!

 A small selection of David's books (click image to purchase)

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