Yesterday, I read an article an author friend of mine posted on Facebook. The article was from 2013 and was written by an author who was once traditionally published, and when faced with his next manuscript being rejected by many traditional publishers, decided to turn to self-publishing. What he found was what many of us indies face every day. Big news outlets who once reviewed his prior works wouldn’t give him the time of day on his indie title.
You can read the original article here. For the purposes of this post, I will paraphrase the basic message of his article with this image:
Dont get me wrong, I feel for the guy, but, I also think it’s about time for a lesson on the realities of self-publishing. The odds of him ever seeing this are pretty much nil, but I thought this might be a good time to bring some things up for new authors and authors who have their heads filled with delusions of overnight success falling in their lap with no work involved.
Self-publishing, or being an indie author, is a LOT of work. If it isn’t, you’re one of the very rare, very lucky ones who will probably one day start shitting gold bricks. Congrats to you. For the rest of us mere mortals, making our books a success is not nearly as easy as clicking ‘publish’ and watching our sales rank soar.
Let’s start from the very beginning, yeah? I know everyone has a different life and a different situation, so I cant speak for every indie out there. What I will do is give you a glimpse into my life and what I go through to hit the publish button.
WRITING THE BOOK
Sounds easy, right? Not so much. Well, that’s not totally true. Writing the story is a breeze! Before I even start, I already have the entire thing mapped out and ready to go. It’s just a matter of finding the time to get my thoughts banged out on a keyboard.
As with a lot of indie authors, I work full time. I have to. Unless you are a raging success as a writer right out of the gate from some weird twist of cosmic fate, it’s not possible in most cases to just up and quit your job to focus on your dream of being a career writer.
On top of working full time, I am also a single mother. I have a 5-year-old man cub, Ryker, who is just a font of limitless energy. From the moment he wakes up until the moment he slips into a peaceful coma each night, he’s in 4-wheel drive. He always wants to play, as most kids do. He’s never really been exposed to video games (not because I’m uptight or anything – he’s just got the attention span of a table lamp when it comes to things that require you sit still), so when he wants to play, I (and his sickeningly large collection of Transformers) am who he plays with.
So, Monday through Friday, my days go something like this:
I wake up at approximately 6:00am. Get myself dressed and get my backpack (a.k.a. my mobile office) loaded up with all necessary chargers, laptop, book notes, to-do lists, etc. Then it’s on to getting Ryker ready for daycare. I imagine getting him into his clothes in the morning is somewhat akin to trying to capture an eel with your hands coated in Vaseline. It turns into a 20-minute long gigglefest in which he thinks it is HILAAAAAAAAAARIOUS to flash his little man junk at me while I am trying to get him into his Batman underwear. I cant wait to tell that little horror story in front of his first date. I think that will be HILAAAAAAAAAARIOUS…. #revengeofthemom
Oh, and a side note: I am not a morning person. I firmly believe I shouldn’t have contact with other human beings until I have had a chance to mainline a decent amount of coffee into my system. So, yeah, patience at that hour is in short supply.
So, by this point, I am frazzled to say the least. I get the boy off to daycare and I go to work. I arrive at about 8:45am. I have 45 minutes of breathing time before my shift starts at 9:30am. This 45 minutes is used to run up to the cafeteria to grab my oh-so-necessary coffee and breakfast, then to draft and publish all of the day’s posts for my 2 book blogs – Pure Textuality and Pure Textuality’s Slutty Little Sister.
Then I start work. Throughout the day, during dead times and between calls, I cram in the following:
– my Pure Textuality Public Relations client business (tours, review solicitation, etc.)
– book cover design for clients
– blogging on my author site (like right now)
– posting to my author social media profiles
– organizing book signings
– booking promotional anthologies
– fielding review requests for PT and PTSLS
– scheduling submitted reviews for PT and PTSLS
– Building All For Indies
And about a million more things I am not going to take the time to list out.
6:00pm rolls around and I get to go home. When I get there, I have to get the man cub fed, play until his bedtime at 8:30pm, get in as much of the work list above done as possible, shower, sleep, and start all over again the next day.
With everything on my plate, cranking out books can certainly be a slow process. Luckily, on weekends, my daughter is at my house. She’s a writer/blogger like me, so, one of our weekend rituals is to write/blog at the same time, each on our respective laptops, while the man cub naps. He goes to his dad’s house on Sunday, so, we do have that day completely free, and that’s the day of the week I get most of my writing done.
I tell you all of this to explain the reason I chose to go indie instead of hiring an agent and shopping my work to traditional publishers. See, I’m kind of in a catch 22. If I were to sign a contract for a traditionally published book, I don’t know that I would be able to meet a deadline. Like, ever. Between my schedule and a case of debilitating headaches that always strike at the most inopportune times, sometimes it will take me a month to write 10,000 words. Other times, I can crank that out in an afternoon. There’s no rhyme or reason to my writing productivity. Sometimes, the stars align perfectly and I’m allowed to get a huge portion of a book done in a weekend. Other times, it will take me months. As long as I have to work full time, I don’t have set hours each day to be able to write. And as long as I don’t have set hours to write, I cant afford to quit my job.
And the truth is, this is the case with the majority of indie authors. Being an indie means on top of your regular household bills, you now have a list of expenses a mile long just to get your book published. Cover art. Editing. Formatting. Marketing. Book signings. Print-On-Demand for paperbacks. All of this comes directly out of an indie author’s pockets.
As long as I’m an indie author, I am under no one’s deadlines but my own, and I am a pretty laid back boss, but it comes with a mile-long to-do list many authors going into self-publishing just don’t take into consideration. For me, having the freedom self-publishing affords me is totally worth all the work it takes to make a book a success.
HITTING THE PUBLISH BUTTON
Prior to hitting the publish button, there’s a small handful expenses that have to be taken care of.
First, editing. I cant stress this one enough. DO NOT HIRE AN EDITOR WHO WAS NOT RECOMMENDED TO YOU BY ANOTHER AUTHOR WHO HAS USED THEM. There are so many successful authors out there who publish beautifully clean books. Take 3 seconds, shoot them an email or Facebook message, and ask for a referral. And be prepared! If the editor is good, it’s going to cost you. Somewhere between $200 and $3000 depending on the length of your book and their per word charge.
Second, your book cover. This is probably the most important one, and also happens to be one that can be VERY costly if you go to the wrong cover artist. I’ve seen covers cost people as much as $1500! USING FRIKKIN STOCK IMAGES!!! That is simply INSANE. If you need a cover artist, just like the note about editors, ask around. There are some great ones out there who will do a cover for you for as low as $75!
Instead of typing out why covers are so important, I am just going to insert a quote from my Open Letter to Indie Authors:
And here’s the before and after of my covers that I mention in the quote:
Third, formatting the ebook and paperback. This is one expense you can actually get taken care of for super cheap. The highest I have ever seen for a formatter was $50. Not too shabby.
IT’S PUBLISHED, NOW WHAT?
Remember the mile-long to-do list I mentioned? Yeah, I wasn’t kidding.
Now, the things I am about to list off are not things ALL authors do. It works for some, not for others.
These are a hit or miss. They work great for some and do a fantastic job at getting the word out about the book. For other authors, they are a complete and total waste of time and money. And the money? Yeah, depending on which tour company you go through, a standard tour could cost you anywhere between $50 and $700, depending on how big you go with the tour.
Release Day Blitz
This is where a tour company gets a SHIT TON of blogs to all post a release day spotlight on your book with the purchase links. The desired result is a spike in sales on release day that will drive your sales rank through the roof, hopefully landing you a bestseller title. Again, depending on the company, this can range from $30 to $200. And the desired result is not always the outcome. A big part of it is your cover art. That can make or break a book.
This process is almost as fun as driving rusty nails into your eye sockets. Part of the client business I do on Pure Textuality Public Relations is review solicitation services. I do it on the cheap ($30), and I submit your request for your book to approximately 700 book bloggers over a 3-day span. Here’s the rub. If your book cover is not good or your synopsis isn’t great, you may get nothing but crickets as a result. I’ve done review requests for authors before where they didn’t get one single bite. Others have been FLOODED with responses from bloggers. I can tell you the deciding factor is your cover art and/or synopsis. If either one are bad, your book will be dead in the water.
One of the complaints from the author who penned the article that spawned this response blog was that he has submitted his book for review to TONS of places. And all he got was crickets (don’t lie, you hear crickets chirping in your head, don’t you?).
I can tell you with one glance why that book isn’t getting bites:
As a book blogger and avid reader, I wouldn’t pick up that book. The book may be an absolute work of art within the pages, but the cover looks like something you’d find on a comedy or satirical novel, not an “epic, heartfelt novel about friendship, family, hard work, love, life and death, and rock and roll.” Determining why no one is after his novel was a no-brainer.
This one doesn’t really cost dimes, just a lot of time. In order for social media exposure to work to an author’s advantage, you have to be super-duper active on it. I recently sent this to a fellow indie looking for some guidance and this sums it up pretty well:
“If you use a Facebook fanpage, your views will always be very limited if you share a link or a photo. Instead, post your status and put the link or photo in the post as a comment. Your views of that particular post will quadruple.
The other thing is regular activity. If you only post once a day, your views are very limited. However, if you post multiple times a day (again, putting any links or pics you want to share in the comments instead of in the post itself), your view will jump considerably. I have over 2300 “likers” on my fanpage. I find that when I only post once a day, only about 80-85 people are reached. But if I post 4-6 times a day, my average reach is 300-400 people. Still far lower than my number of likers, but you’ll never reach all of them unless you pay and obnoxious amount of money to Facebook for post boosts and advertising. That is how FB makes their money and there isn’t much you can do to get around it. Just post regularly and post things that encourage your audience to interact with you. Pose questions to your audience. Use hashtags (i.e. if you’re watching Sons of Anarchy, use the hashtag #SOAFX). The more people that like/comment on your fanpage posts, the more people it will reach. When you have a lot of interaction history, the FB algorithm allows your post to be seen by a lot more of your followers when when a lot of them are clicking like or commenting.
Also, readers tend to interact more when what you post is conversational instead of always about you and your writing. Something like “Quick! I need something to read! Give me some book recommendations! What has been your favorite read lately??” Something like this will almost ALWAYS get your audience interaction up on your page. 🙂
Also, please, for the love of Pete, do not pay Facebook for post boosts and advertising. I did it. I blew $200 in less than 24 hours and I got 14 extra views. Yes, 14. 1-4. Fourteen. It was a giant waste of money and a total ripoff. Just do what you can to increase your views without dumping a ton of cash.”
The best thing about social media (in my opinion, anyway) is interacting with readers. I love, love, LOVE it! I happen to think – no, scratch that – I KNOW I have the best readers on the planet. I am sure every author out there says that, but I love the relationship I have with my readers. So, for me, social media is not a chore at all. BUT, if you’re an author with a Facebook fanpage that you never post to, and you never interact with your fans, don’t be surprised when you get 1 view when you do post, and it’s something important. There’s a science to making social media work to your benefit. If you ignore the science, social media will ignore you.
One other side note about social media – LinkedIn is a big, fat waste of time and does nothing for you but piss off the people in your address book with the incessant invite emails. I don’t recommend it.
If you’re going to be indie, you need to have no shame. If you’re not excited about your work, how are you going to expect others to be excited about it?
I do want to insert one slight caveat here. There’s a fine line between promotion and spamming. Dont be a spammer. Spammers get deleted. If you’re sharing the links to your books on social media 80 times a day, expect to be deleted from friends lists and unfollowed.
Part of shameless self-promotion is doing things like online author events, guest posts, giveaways, interviews, etc. You have to be willing to really put yourself out there. Be charismatic, but remember to NEVER lose humility. The second you start to get even a sparkle of an idea that you’re better than anyone else in this industry, it’ll be the beginning of your downward spiral. Readers are the FIRST to pick up on it when it happens. Well, most of the time. Some readers are willing to forgive a complete dick head if their books are worth it, but I wouldn’t chance it.
This is kind of hand-in-hand with the shameless self-promotion, but this one will potentially cost you an ASSLOAD OF MONEY.
Best piece of advice ever: You have to be choosey about your events. Dont just jump on an event or chase after an event simply because of the names there.
For example, the RT Convention. Yes, the RT Convention has a lot of reader attendance and lots of well-known traditionally published authors, BUT, as an indie, you kind of get screwed out of benefiting from those readers even being in the damn building!
Last year was the first year indie authors were allowed to sign. For an indie to sign, it cost approximately $400-$700 for registration. Add to that airfare and hotel. Now, indies were given spaces on tables. Not tables, but SPACES on tables. Approximately 12-18 inches wide. That’s BARELY enough room for you, never mind if you have paperback books to display. To top this off, indies were kept segregated from the traditional authors, and the RT staff were actually STEERING readers into the traditional room and away from the indies. For indies, RT Convention is a huge bust financially. The point of doing a convention is to meet readers and sell books.
One career-healthy alternative to RT would be The Novel Experience Event. TNEE is a convention that has openings for 500 authors and ALREADY has over 450 attendees registered to go to the 2015 event. The fee for author registration is only $200, and that gets you a signing table all to your onsey. Plenty of space available for you, all your books, banners to stand behind you, and lots of room for multiple readers to crowd around your table. Sell 20 books at $10 each and you’ve made back your registration fee. As for travel, 2015’s TNEE event is being held in Las Vegas, which happens to be the cheapest place to travel in all of the United States (I should know, I’ve been there 4 times in the last 2 years). TNEE is also 100% indie friendly. They don’t care if you’re traditionally published, self-published, or if you published your books out your bathroom window printed on toilet paper. Okay, maybe not that far. The point of the event is to support AUTHORS, regardless of how you get work out to the world. If you’re a newer author, or even just an author in general looking to grow your audience, I encourage you to look into TNEE. You can get more info at http://novelexperienceevent.org.
PLEASE NOTE: I am not behind the organization of TNEE, nor do I make any money off of it. I just happen to be signing at that event and I know it’s going to be a good one for the author community.
So many authors out there are so stuck on getting into the “big” events, they are willing to go broke over it. It’s a big mistake and can be very discouraging when you walk out of the event having sold only 1 book. Don’t set yourself up for failure. Pick events that are going to help you succeed.
TNEE being a stark exception, most events are a financial drain and don’t have the reader turnout authors go in expecting. However, if you find a good, solid event like TNEE, slappin’ on some pretty and a great, big smile, and getting out there to actually MEET new readers is SO WORTH IT. AND it will help solidify your writing career (on a personal level, meeting new readers is my favorite part!). It’s hellafun, but keep in mind that it’s also exhausting. Book signings are not just a big party. You are there to work. Being a career writer is a business, people. You are your company, your books are your product, readers are your customers. Yes, signings are full of fun and hi-jinx will surely ensue. They’re a blast! But they are also work.
Here’s the thing. None of this work ever stops when you’re an indie. Being indie means working your ass off. It doesn’t ever slow down. The second you slow down, the second you get quiet, readers will forget about you. Book bloggers, the people single-handedly responsible for the most successful career indies out there, will forget about you. You have to be on and present at all times. If you intend to be a career writer, you have to suck it up, buttercup! It’s going to be a long ride!