I’ve been thinking a lot lately…trying to identify the propelling force behind my sudden move into Indie Authorship. I can’t say that anybody who knows me was surprised when I wrote a novel because writing is something I’ve always done. I’ve always been a writer. What I’m trying to reconcile is what motivates a writer to become an author. Moreso, what makes that author then decided to take the self-publishing or Indie route?
My idealistic brain attributes the move to motivational lyric from the soundtrack of my life. (Yes, my life has a soundtrack: every twist and turn, a special song). The song which comes to mind when I think of publishing my first novel is “Defying Gravity” from the Broadway Musical Wicked.
As it relates to the urge to become an author, the song would ring:
…and then again, as it relates to my personal decision to self-publish….
Finally, how I feel about the opportunities that self-publishing provides for aspiring authors…
The sad truth is that life isn’t a musical and there is no soundtrack playing to my life (at least OUTSIDE my head). The reality is that being an Independent Author is a lot different than I thought it would be. Here are the realities of what it means to be an independent author….
1. It’s 80% Writing, 80% Networking and 20% Pure Luck…
I guess I had the *Field of Dreams mentality when it came to writing: “If you write it, they will read”. It was partly being overconfident in my abilities and underestimating the breadth and quality of work that is already out there. It’s true, my writing is exceptional and in a perfect world, this would be enough. What I learned, is that there are a lot of exceptional writers choosing to self-publish these days.
My debut novel was published on Christmas Eve and I was so excited for it to pop up on Amazon’s New Releases…and for it to be gobbled up by the holiday gift card shoppers. Apparently, I’m not the only one who had this idea because there were 400 pages of New Releases on Amazon during my book’s run. The only way for a new Independent Author to really get the word out about their novel is to build a strong network and advertise…advertise…advertise.
Even then, it comes down to getting the right break. This might be getting your tour on the right blog at the right time or getting a review from a trusted book reviewer. It doesn’t matter how good the material is, if nobody knows it’s out there and there is no formula for getting the right kind of exposure. I know an author who sold 35,000 books in his first year, without building a social network. When I asked him how he did it, he told me that it was mostly due to luck. He wrote a good book and it got a good break. His advice to me? Keep writing…eventually, you’ll get your break, too.
2. The Little Things Matter
When I wrote, and edited, my novel, I poured my heart into sentence structure, verbiage, usage, flow, and plotline. I polished and polished until it was at the best state possible. Still, the process was a lot easier than I thought it would be…it was a lot easier than doing some of the smaller things. Things like the copyright page, the dedication page, the synopsis, the author’s bio and the cover image.
Perhaps out of these, the most important is is the cover image and the synopsis. If I learned anything through my experience with Darkness Within, it is that I cannot write a good synopsis to save my life (yet). It’s more difficult than you think; to summarize the entire novel in a few paragraphs, while building interest and giving readers a taste of the novel’s contents. Still, the reader’s desire to open the pages of the novel hinges, largely, on the synopsis. My advice to aspiring authors: workshop your synopsis because a bad synopsis can be the death of a really great novel.
3. Use the Honor System
I attended business school for 3 years. During this time, I learned more about competition and marketing than I cared to. To a businessman, anybody who produces the same product is competition; not a friend. I guess that’s what I was expecting from the writing community, as an author. I was (pleasantly) surprised to learn that authors aren’t as competitive as businessmen. In fact, one of the greatest strengths in being an independent author is the community of authors who are welcoming to newcomers.
Instead of trying to “wedge” out other books and authors, we work to collectively build up each other. Think of it as a commune. Every author has something to offer. Maybe you have a really great blog? So, feature other authors. Maybe you’re really great at editing? So, offer your beta reading services to fellow authors. Always…ALWAYS…retweet when you find a great book, tell your friends about great authors, offer reviews, and give tips to newcomers. So, it’s a little more work but being part of the community is worth as much as a bundle of sales and you will only get from it what you put in.
4. Learn the Lingo
Don’t know what a .mobi is? What about .epub? Then, don’t expect your fist self-publishing venture to be easy. You need to familiarize yourself with things like formats, royalties and self-publishing services. You will have to decide where and when to release your books and the only way to do this is to get the facts. This is where having a strong network of fellow authors comes in handy. Scour blogs for advice. After all, reviews and testimonies from other authors will be the best way to determine what works and what doesn’t.
You don’t want to pour a couple hundred dollars into a blog tour service until you’ve seen what your fellow author’s experience with that company has been. The same goes for cover artists, editing services, printing services and even online bookstores. The simple lesson here is to learn what you’re getting yourself into before you even start.
Now that I’m in the midst of it, I compare the process of building a career as an Indie Author to building a house. The novel is the foundation, of course but you have to build the walls and have a nice roof over your head before a house is really a house. With each layer comes a new responsibility and a new pile of work but it’s all worth it, in the end. Maybe I’ll never be able to quit my day job…maybe I’ll never be nationally recognized. At the end of the day, I’m producing work that I care about…I’m writing daily and I’m part of a community that has quickly become as important to me as my own family. If that’s not worth the work, I don’t know what truly matters in this world.