Finding His Way With Words
Successful self-published Abu Dhabi author explains how receiving death threats helped ignite his writing career
It wasn’t supposed to happen this way.
Hooked? Seumas Gallacher would hope so. It’s the first line of one of the books in the author’s Jack Calder crime series.
Personality oozes out of this Scotsman. He loves talking, flirting and telling stories that often see him going off on a tangent, which leaves me wondering how he managed to focus for long enough to write the four-book series in the first place.
And yet, this is exactly what makes Seumas so good at selling books.
The Scottish gent has built a name for himself, not just from his byline, but through branding and marketing himself.
“I was born on the same street as Manchester United’s former boss, Alex Ferguson,” boasts Seumas. “He’s seven years older than me and has got a lot more money, but I’m better looking. But I’m meandering…
“When I was 15, I did the classic Glasgow thing and left my house with my ukulele and duffle bag, and that was me off.”
Eventually finding work in a bank, Seumas ended up in the Hebrides.
“It’s the most fabulous place; everyone is a character and knows almost everyone else’s backgrounds so there are no airs and graces,” he explains.
It was here that Seumas began singing Bob Dylan songs in ceilidhs, a traditional Scottish social gathering. With a nudge from locals, he then learned Gaelic and went on to win local and national competitions singing in his newfound tongue.
Still finance paid the bills so he moved around the world working as a chief trader and then troubleshooter for banks from London to the Philippines to Australia and eventually the Middle East.
When working in Manila, Seumas was a troubleshooter for a ferry company.
“I fired 600 trade union dock workers in the first month, and I fired local policemen and mayors who were on the take. Within three weeks, the mayor of Manila told me I was under threat and he didn’t want me taken down on his patch. I told him, ‘I’m a banker, not Rambo, give me a break!’”
With the threat looming, Seumas was advised to get a bulletproof car with bodyguards, so he employed the services of a company run by an Irishman and ex-SAS soldier. He was trained how to operate so that no one knew where he would be going or which route he’d be taking. Little did Seumas know, this perilous venture would eventually form the “nub” of his first novel, The Violin Man’s Legacy.
But it wasn’t until years later when walking along the Corniche that Seumas decided he would write “that book that everybody has in them”.
“The storyline is three former SAS officers set up their own specialised security firm looking after high-value people and products around the world. We’re running up against international crime lords, drug barons, people traffickers, cash laundering, the whole bit.”
Just four months after his Corniche stroll, Seumas had wrapped up his first crime novel.
“I thought, great, now all I have to do is send it off to London and someone will buy it and give me $1 million, right?”
Wrong. Seumas received 40 out of 40 ‘No Thank You’ letters from publishers but admits: “I learned that’s par for the course”.
At the same time, someone asked Seumas: ‘Why don’t you just put it on Kindle?’
“I thought, ‘Yeah why don’t I?’… I didn’t have a clue what Kindle was.” In fact, this self-confessed “computer Jurassic” only bought his first laptop in 2008 to write the first book. “I’ve had a very quick learning curve.”
Following various requests for hard copies, Seumas did eventually print a limited number of books, but notes that the process of going to a printer in Abu Dhabi, getting a ‘galley proof’ and having the media council scrutinise his book for offensive material, wasn’t a simple process. But that’s what he did and stores that carry it include Jashanmal, WHSmith and Borders.
Business is business
Besides learning about technology and e-publishing, Seumas had to learn about the business of selling books.
“Business is business, no matter what it is. You’ve got to build your platform and learn how to attract people,” he explains. “In any business you’d have a budget, time and money. You’d have demographics, you’d know your markets, competition, pricing and distribution.”
Being a ‘Jurassic’ – as he puts it – Seumas’ idea of networking was attending cocktail parties, so his list of contacts consisted of “a handful of emails and 200-plus LinkedIn connections”.
But when he read a post from someone on LinkedIn saying his boss would pay him $1 for everyone who liked his post, something clicked. “After a day and a half, he had 1,700 likes and I thought, bingo! Now it makes sense,” he recalls.
“I went on LinkedIn and told my contacts: If you download my book that’s a bonus for me, but what I really want you to do is put it out to your address book. Tell people this is my book and it’s available here. Ask them to do the same with their address book and let’s see if we can do this silly thing called ‘going viral’.
“Within a month, we had sold 80 copies and I thought ‘Mamma look at me, your boy’s an author!’ It was a heck of a buzz, so I started on the second one. By the time I’d finished it four months later, the first one had been downloaded 7,000 times. The third one went out in 2013 and the three have been downloaded over 80,000 times collectively.”
But Seumas knows it’s not just about the number of books he sells.
“I started developing Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and so on, realising these were my business relationships. Having numbers for the sake of it doesn’t work; you’ve got to have a purpose to it. I’ve now developed into 20,000+ direct contacts.”
Then someone suggested Seumas start a blog. “What’s a blog?” he had asked. But after learning about blogs and starting one of his own, he realised it was a great tool for reaching out to potential readers and fans.
“I realised the difference between books and blogs: books use the author’s voice but the blog gives you a brand. So I developed into ‘I’m just a stupid old Jurassic writer who’s bumbling through the social network banging his knees’, and people love it.”
Seumas even won ‘Blogger of the Year’ in 2013 and works hard to interact on a daily basis and avoids spamming his fans and contacts.
“It’s about being available to people. Your persona, the brand you are, is how people will see and think you are. I like to be a decent enough fellow, I like to help other authors because they’ll help me, and that gets you kudos. Frankly, I get a great buzz from doing it.
“If I go to a fair I can chat with someone for 20 minutes; even if they don’t buy a book I’ll thank them. That engagement is where it’s at; that’s your affirmation that you’re a writer.”
Seumas admits that some people are more inclined to this type of interaction, citing his Gaelic glory days as preparation for his future self-promotion as an author.
The next chapter
Five years and three books later, Seumas’ hard work paid off when he was signed to Crooked Cat publishers in Edinburgh.
“If you don’t have ambition, you’ll never get it,” he says. “I believe in my work: false modesty is for stupid people. I’ve learned a lot and I take a pride in sculpting my work. I do a lot of things authors tell you not to: I edit my work every day. I box it, skim it, taste it and get into my work. I love my words.
“Self-publishing taught me I had to learn the business, the components, what works and what doesn’t in various markets.
“If I’d have tried this 40 years ago it probably wouldn’t have worked because we didn’t have the internet or communication skills, the immediacy of readership. Today there’s a cartoon mentality: ‘entertain me now or I’m going somewhere else’.
“Learn your craft. I’ve been doing this for seven years, and I’m still learning my trade.”
Seumas’ learning curve continues as he works on his fifth book in the crime series, and another in a completely different genre.
Whether or not he intended it to happen this way, Seumas paved his own way and the road continues. We can’t wait to see what’s next.
…I’m indebted to m’Lady, Rachael Perrett for capturing the spirit of what I think this ol’ Scots Jurassic is really about in my scribbling… thank you, m’Lady… see yeez later… LUV YEEZ!...
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