Background You've probably seen his ads placed here on GDM. He's well known in the UK as a scribe embedded in the world of rock music. He's Neil Daniels, a bloke who has written on many aspects of heavy metal, hard rock and AOR. Of particular interest to me as a fellow writer is how Neil is embracing technology, while at the same time adding value with a number of titles as part of his port-folio. Not only is Neil writing books in the conventional sense, he is also working with newer concepts such as ebooks and 'publish on demand' printing. That's something we'll get to in our January 2014 interview with Neil. Let's get started..
The Interview GDM: I understand you were a writer in the music industry previously? What was your background prior to this ebook gig?
ND: I still wrote paperbacks - it just happens that the Createspace books I write (Createspace is print on demand; anyone can have a go. The company is owned by Amazon) transfer directly to eBooks. I've not given up on printed books. No way. I love the feel and look of a book and all of my books are out either as paperbacks or hardbacks. But yeah, prior to writing books, and up until recently, I wrote quite a bit for magazine and websites but have scaled down to focus on books as its more rewarding. I've currently got books out on Neal Schon and ZZ Top with Iron Maiden and Bon Jovi to follow later this year.
GDM: Was your foray into ebook publishing as a result of fewer opportunities in the conventional publishing industry or perhaps seeing a niche market open up for you?
ND: It's just another angle and an opportunity to get books out that mainstream publishers wouldn't even look at. The great thing about Createspace is that anybody can use it. It's free and after a few tries very easy to use. I looked to Dave Thompson for advice as he's released a few Createspace books in between his commercial ones and I took his advice and tips seriously. I thought the first two books that I did, AOR Chronicles and Rock & Metal Chronicles, came out quite well but I've done about 10 more since then and they definitely look and feel better and I've started to insert images too. My latest books are called Bang Your Head - Heavy Metal Shots and Get Your Rock On - Melodic Rock Shots, as well as the Neal Schon one, Electric World. In the age of digital printing more of these print on demand companies are cropping up but Createspace is probably the best. I even reprinted my first four POD books (through AuthorsOnline, initially) through Createspace and renamed them, so Rock N Roll Mercenaries became Hard Rock Rebels - Talking With Rock Stars and the All Pens Blazing books became Rock N Roll Sinners. They're all sold on Amazon and details can be found at www.neildanielsbooks.com
GDM: How is it that you are able to turn around so many books in a short space of time? lol!
ND: I don't write the books in a short space of time as such - like buses they all seem to arrive at once. I wrote some of this stuff a while ago; it takes a long time for a publisher to produce a book and it also depends on their schedule in terms of other books they have released; what the current market is like and if there is competition with similar titles.
GDM: Has there been one particular book that you've enjoyed putting together?
ND: I wrote a book on Journey in 2010 when the band were still in the press a lot because of Glee and the way they'd hired their latest singer Arnel Pineda (courtesy of YouTube) and Omnibus Press saw potential in the idea. I wrote a bonus chapter on Steve Perry and one on Neal Schon but the latter was edited out because of the word count so I kept it, and thankfully since discovering Createspace I thought I'd extend it and publish it as a guide to his solo music. A the title says, it is a `casual guide' but there's still lots of detail - a potted history, reviews, interviews, quotes, timelines, discographies and unpublished photos. It turned out well and is my bestselling Createspace book so far. My next casual guide book will also be on an underrated guitarist. I think both books make nifty companions. My Journey biog was pretty well received by the rock press (despite what Amazon reviewers would have you believe) and it sold okay. Maybe I should write one on Steve Perry now.. or maybe not.
I'm also pleased with my UFO book. I was asked by the publisher, Phil Godsell, at Soundcheck books if I was interested in a book on UFO after I had pitched a few ideas to him on other bands. I jumped at the chance. It's out now in the UK and due in coming weeks in the States. It wasn't an easy book to write as they have a very complicated history. They're very underrated. I hope fans will enjoy the book, though I realise many fans are hard to please. It covers their entire history dating back to 1969, and includes a foreword by US broadcaster Eddie Trunk who is a major UFO fan.
Here's the press blurb:
'UFO are one of heavy rock's most influential groups, admired by Metallica, Iron Maiden, Pearl Jam and Slash from Guns N Roses, amongst others. Albums like Lights Out, Obsession and Strangers In The Night have all achieved classic status. The list of musicians who have passed through their ranks reads like a Who's Who of rock: Pete Way (God bless him), Michael Schenker, Larry Wallis, Bernie Marsden, Paul Chapman, Billy Sheehan, Jason Bonham, Aynsley Dunbar and more, have all done time in one of the most enduring, and endearing, bands. Using extensive research and first hand interviews, top metal writer Neil Daniels traces UFO s history from their space rock roots in 1969 through to the present day, as the band, with original member Phil Mogg, just keep on rocking. The book contains a wealth of anecdotes about a group renowned for partying as hard as they rock and doing nothing by halves. High Stakes & Dangerous Men includes a foreword by the American broadcaster and author Eddie Trunk and an afterword by British rock journalist Peter Makowski.'
GDM: The scope of your books have been quite wide ranging. From Pantera, ZZ Top, to all the melodic rock subjects as well. Is there one genre that you prefer to write about?
ND: No really. I love rock and metal from Judas Priest to Journey to Bon Jovi (well early Bon Jovi) to singer-songwriters like Springsteen and Billy Joel. I like guitars, hooks and good melodies. I don't discriminate. Rock is quite broad and I can listen to AOR, prog, singer-songwriter, melodic?you name it.
GDM: How do you assemble your content? Is it a mix of historical and current day material, infusing input from the subject of interest as well?
ND: I started as I usually do with each book by gathering a list of possible interviewees and approaching them. I got to interview the likes of Leo Lyons, Laurence Archer, Mick Glossop, Nick Tauber and Ron Nevison, amongst other producers and ex members from the band's history. I then created a chronology of their history going back to 1969 and merged my research into the chronology to create the first draft. It's very hard to write a book on a famous band and unearth new information in the age of digital information and research because so much is online. Plus, it depends on your own knowledge of the band - one story may have been heard before by one fan but unheard of by another. What this book does is tell the story of the band in a chronological and easy to read fashion - there's enough geeky detail on the music for seasoned fans and enough casual detail for newcomers.
GDM: Are you finding out any jewels of information in your research that you believe isn't that we'll known to the rest of us mere mortals?
ND: With the most current book, ZZ Top, there's not much out there on the band. I know Dave Thompson wrote about them years ago but since then there's hardly been anything and given the success of the new album and how much they're in the rock press I thought it was a no brainer and thankfully Phil and his wife Sue at Soundcheck Books really got behind the idea and commissioned it after my UFO book. It's becoming increasingly difficult to get ideas off the ground but Phil and Sue have really stuck behind my pitches. It's a guide to their music and history - the first half of the book is a biography followed by detailed discographies, timelines, trivia, essays/quotes from fellow rock writers and all sorts of other tidbits of info on the band as well as unpublished photos. It's a really nice looking book. There's a foreword by Steven Rosen and an afterword by Martin Popoff. It's out now in the UK and published March 1 in the US.
GDM: Are the subjects of your books aware of your books, and have you had any feedback directly from any of them?
ND: No, not really. It's the fans I try to please and though it's impossible to please everyone on the whole I've had some good feedback. I do this because I'm a fan and I love music and pop culture and these stories should be noted down. If the bands like what I do - great!
GDM: Tell me about the 'publish on demand' market. How does that work?
ND: POD and self-publishing are not the same concepts. With self-publishing you basically do everything yourself from having the cover designed, to getting the text correctly formatted/typeset and buying the ISBN and finding a printing company, etc. How many copies do you wanted printed and where will you store them? How many do you think you will sell? What about pre-orders? If it's a massive 600 page tome, postage will be high so will it sell to readers living abroad? Think about all those trips to the post office! Of course, you have to pay for all this yourself. There is a lot of legwork involved. But with POD you just need to locate a publisher for your book such as Lulu in the States or AuthorsOnline here in the UK, which is the company I went for; publishing is free. You do have to pay for their services, however. It all depends on what you want in your package and there are several to choose from: I went for the cheapest option, which included an ISBN, a copy sent to the British library, website presence on Amazon, Book Depository, etc., because I knew a designer who could design the cover and format the text; if you want the POD company to do all that then the price of their services goes up. It can run into several hundred pounds. Hopefully all this make sense to you? If not, send me an email! Do your research and you will be fine! I don't regret it at all. In fact, I am aiming to publish more books via POD. It's the way the industry is going. In 2013 I shifted my four AuthorsOnline books over to Createspace and now publish all my POD books via the high-profile Amazon POD company. It's totally free. My All Pens Blazing books were reprinted and published as Rock 'N' Roll Sinners and Rock 'N' Roll Mercenaries Volumes I & II were reprinted and published in the tome, Hard Rock Rebels - Taking With Rock Stars.
I work really hard trying to get book deals and one reason why I went into POD was because I had ideas publishers that didn't care for. I like the idea of publishing smaller books through POD and working on bigger ideas with commercial publishers. The biggest selling POD titles as far as I'm aware are all non-fiction. You are dealing with a specific market and aiming your book at a target audience - probably a niche audience - which helps enormously with promotion. With a novel, you really need to get it into the book stores - Waterstone's and/or WH Smiths here in the UK, for example - and novels are notoriously difficult to sell to booktraders. I've heard stories of authors, self-published ones, making thousands from self-publishing their own novels but you have to wonder how much time they spent on promoting their titles and how much time they could have spent writing their next book. Indeed, how much time had they given up and how much work had they neglected? Personally, I think you can only do so much promotion before you should really start working on your next book. Building up a back catalogue is important, certainly with non-fiction. Your share of the royalties is significantly higher than the share you'd get with a commercial publisher which is usually less than 10 percent. POD can be as high as 60 percent; perhaps more or slightly less, depending on the company. Dave Thompson is the man to watch - he writes so much and his books come out in all sorts of ways. The same can be said of Martin Popoff. They're creating a legacy and adding something to history however small it might be.
GDM: Are you seeing any buyer behaviour trends to warrant a deeper investment of time, effort and resources in this niche?
ND: Not from this angle, if anything the market is saturated. You usually see books on the same bands and publishers won't take the risk on a book on a band that is deemed out of date. The fact is few, if any, publishers know about rock other than what's been in the charts - and there isn't much rock in the charts, sadly.
GDM: Is Amazon the major outlet for your books? There must be a glut of other ebook platforms as well? How do they rate against each other?
ND: All my books are on Amazon, yes. Createspace is an Amazon company so all those books are sold on the site. Most mainstream publishers are also shifting their books over to Kindle so you can find my commercial books on Judas Priest, Journey and Pantera on the Kindle. I think there is still a future for the printed book but eBooks are growing in sales, rapidly.
GDM: What about publishing in the conventional medium? Is this viable for ebook publishers like yourself? Or are the costs and logistics to produce a normal bookstore item just too far off the scale?
ND: Like I said, Createspace is free so anyone can publish a paperback. There are no overheards because the book(s) is printed on demand so if you buy, say, my book AOR Chronicles, the paperback will be printed on demand specifically for you. Createspace take a cut of the royalties but you still get more than the traditional publisher. The hardest part is promotion; letting people know your stuff is out there hence my new site www.neildanielsbooks.com.
GDM: I'm guessing that the ebook platform offers lower overheads. But still there must be a bundle of costs involved before you can reach a break even point? What sort of costs are involved?
ND: Nope. No overheads. There only cost is that you have to buy copies for yourself so if you want to sell them in a local shop or through your own site you would have to buy them but you get a discount. Also, if you want Createspace designers to design you book and PDF etc you'd have to buy them otherwise the step by step DIY part is entirely free.
GDM: As a writer, how does your working day usually pan out? Is there a schedule, or is it pretty much 'finger in the wind and we'll see how it goes'?
ND: I have a day job at a high school and the 12 weeks school holidays here in the UK are spent working on books plus 2-3 evenings a week. I don't have kids, either. I'm okay for time, I'm pretty disciplined.
In Summary GDM: For any budding ebook entrepreneurs out there, what are some of the pitfalls to avoid and some of the nuggets of knowledge to pursue?
ND: Just give it a go - there's nothing to lose. And it's not only eBooks but paperbacks too - all my Createspace books are available in both formats and some of my commercial books are available as eBooks. Check my site.
GDM: Is there a community of ebook publishers operating in your area of speciality and do you network with each other to promote your cause?
ND: I'm pretty much a one man show and I like it that way, though Martin Popoff and Dave Thompson especially offered great advice. My next two books (Maiden and Bon Jovi) are commercial ones published by Soundcheck Books.
GDM: As for the Amazon feedback community, I call it the 'great unwashed'. What's the feedback been like generally for your books?
ND: Puh. Some great, some okay, some real stinkers. There are some very bitter 'fans' on Amazon. How dare I say this about such and such an album or singer etc etc. It's funny because you can get great reviews in the printed and online rock/metal media but get slated by people on Amazon. Oh well. What can you do?!
GDM: What is the best way for melodic rockers to support you on your ebook crusade?
ND: Buy my books! LOL. Seriously, like with artists' music you've gotta buy this stuff so it continues to exist.
GDM: Thanks for your time Neil. I'm certain you've illuminated all our GDM readers as to the world of ebook publishing. Cheers!
ND: No problem. I've just been working on my new website www.neildanielsbooks.com which was launched last Monday. I've had 600 hits so far, so close to a thousand already. This year alone I've released two books - Electric World - A Casual Guide To The Music Of Journey's Neal Schon and Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers - A ZZ Top Guide. Next up: Iron Maiden with a focus on 1975-1983 and a book on Bon Jovi's Slippery When Wet.
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