In 2014 I made the decision to become an independent writer/publisher, or indie for short. Two factors weighed heavily in my decision. One was the difficulty of going the traditional route. The other being freedom.
I don’t write much on the writing life, because I don’t have much, if anything, to add to the veritable mountain of information that’s out already. Nor is my personal journey all that unique. I’ve made plenty of mistakes and I am slowly correcting them. I’ve also done a few things right.
Today, I’d like to put out into the aether a few thoughts about being an author/publisher. These are my own reflections. For the writers in my audience, I hope you find something of use or encouragement. For the non-writers, hopefully you’ll find applications to your own lives.
Sometime in the middle 1960s I got my first copies of The Writer and Writer’s Digest. Let me be frank here, nothing much has changed in the traditional publishing world during these past 50 years. The most noticeable differences between then and now are these:
- There are fewer publishers
- An agent is virtually mandatory
- The wannabe author has to secure his/her own editorial services
- There is the internet
Everything else is the same. The same advice on how to write. The same adulation of critics, pundits, and publishers. The same narrow gate whereby only the few may enter. And once within the hallowed walls of authordom, the same lousy contracts and all the same self-marketing if you want to sell books.
My late friend and author, John J. Koblas, used to have his van filled with boxes of his books to sell at every speaking engagement and signing event. And to whoever might happen by. He made an okay living—but had to hustle to do it.
In truth, very little has changed in 50 years. For all of the perceived change, so much has stayed the same.
I value freedom. Robert E. Howard, in a letter to H. P. Lovecraft, confessed the reason he wanted to be a writer was because of the freedom it gave a person. I couldn’t agree more.
A writer is a self-employed artist. A creator and a business person all rolled into one. Unfortunately, the business piece of the partnership usually gets forgotten. The writer leaves that to the agent; or, if self published, too often to magic. When Weird Tales had trouble paying Howard for his stories, Howard followed the money and moved on to the western and fight magazines. He was a businessman as well as an artist.
Any writer can tell you, if he or she is actually writing stories and books, the act of writing is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. It’s work. It might be fun work, but it’s work nonetheless.
So why do so many writers—myself included—simply toss their books onto Amazon and then conduct tweet barrages to try to sell them? Or think blogging will get them noticed? Or hope that those 10,000 downloads of their free book will automatically turn into book buying fans? Because we want to believe in magic.
After being in indie author for over a year and a half, I’m here to tell you magic doesn’t work.
The freedom of being an independent author/publisher comes with a boatload of responsibility. The responsibility of being your own business person. Of being the one who directs your career, not some money-grubbing middleman (aka publisher) directing it for you.
The Black Hole
I read somewhere 3,000 books a day are published. I don’t know if that is true or not. But I’d hazard a guess it’s at least close to the truth.
Recently I went through a free course on book marketing with Nick Stephenson. Several times he mentioned writing into the black hole. In other words if you’re unknown, just writing books won’t bring you fame. They’re going into the black hole. Because no one knows you exist.
Marketing on social media is kind of doing the same thing. So is offering your book for free. There are lots of people out there who will grab anything for free and that includes books. They may never read those free books. Which means downloads of free books don’t necessarily mean readers, much less fans.
Dumping into the black hole isn’t going to do much to get you noticed. Remember, 3,000 books a day are being published.
Becoming a name, a recognizable name, is the struggle every author has had since authors first stepped onto the career playing field. And we are talking millennia here, folks. Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides weren’t always famous. How many more classical Greek playwrights never became famous? We don’t know. Their names are dust. Anthony Trollope got the attention of a few critics with his fourth novel. He made some money and got a name with his fifth. It was Hugh Howey’s eighth book, Wool, that gave readers cause to sit up and take notice. Very few authors ever hit the big time coming out of the gate.
When I look at Twitter or Facebook or Google Plus or Goodreads, I see writers grouping together primarily with other writers. And that is not all bad. But it won’t necessarily get you out of the black hole. Why? Because we writers want readers to buy our books. There are more readers out there than writers. Somewhere along the line I think we forget that. Although, I do keep hoping Marcia Muller or S J Rozan will discover and plug my Justinia Wright mystery series and I will rake in the dough on the Oprah Effect. I do keep hoping. Magic is alive and well.
The sad fact of the matter is most of us will be swallowed up by the black hole. Why? Because name recognition is much more difficult to obtain then writing a book—and writing a book is difficult enough.
To climb out of the black hole, we need to be business people. We need to plan our work and work our plan. We need to become proficient at marketing and self-promotion. And because many of us are introverts and shy, we see self-promotion as something akin to torture. And who wants to willingly lie on the rack or step into the Iron Maiden?
Nevertheless, we need to learn how to sell our books and ourselves—if we want to make a career of writing.
For myself, I’m 63 and retired. I don’t need to replace the dreaded day job. But I would like to supplement my income and get that Rolls Royce I’ve always wanted.
So how does one learn marketing? There are lots of ways:
- Business courses at college
- Observation of successful indies
- Getting personal advice from successful indies
- Reading marketing blogs
- Reading books on marketing
- Taking courses offered by indie writers who are successful or marketers who cater to indie authors
- Trial and error
- Paying a marketing firm (making sure you observe what they do so you don’t have to hire them ongoing)
I’ve observed successful indies, read a few of the marketing blogs, read a few books on marketing, have tried and erred, and am now taking a course.
What I’ve Learned
What have I learned over the past 20 months of being an indie author that I can pass on to you? Here are a few thoughts:
- Write. For indie authors, less is not more. More is more. Readers of indie authors expect a lot of product. All of the experienced indie authors agree on this.
- Write in series. Readers of indie works expect a series or at the very least related books in a universe or series characters. All of the experienced indie authors agree on this.
- Have at least 3 books written before you start seriously thinking of marketing.
- Write in an identifiable genre. This makes it easy for indie readers to identify you. The genre doesn’t have to be large. It could be, for example, romantic space opera. While small, that subgenre is identifiable. Once again, all of the experienced indie authors agree on this.
- Write well/Edit well. This should go without saying. Unfortunately it can’t. Pay someone to help you if you have to. Investing in yourself is always worth the money.
- Use social media to make connections with your peers. Don’t use it to sell. It’s a poor sales channel—unless you are paying for ads on the channel.
- Learn marketing. If you’re going to be an author/publisher, then you’re going to have to know marketing if you want to sell books. I wish someone had told me this 2 or 3 years before I started. This is critical. Marketing sells books. Wishful thinking and magic do not.
- Live by Heinlein’s Five Rules. If you are a writer, then you write. You don’t do anything else. Unless you’re an author/publisher and then you are going to have to also do the business end of things, like marketing, as well. But first and foremost, you write. Robert J Sawyer sums up the Five Rules very well. Do read them. Do follow them.
I hope this has been of value. Comments are welcome. Until next time, happy reading!Share This!