Archive for the ‘indie authors’ Tag
Filed under: Ramblings (and a few Rants), Writing | Tags: amateur writers, contrarian attitude, indie authors, professional writers
If you’ve read the other parts of this series, you may be thinking it’s about how not to promote your writing. If it inspired anyone to seek out the many blogs offering positive advice on marketing and promotion, so much the better. I admit my approach to these aspects of being my own publisher is lackadaisical. But does that make me a Bad Writer?
This might be an answer…
Writer = one who writes.
Real writer = one who makes one’s living by writing.
Hobby writer/dilettante/fake = one who writes for one’s own amusement, with something other than writing as a source of income.
Is it really so?
Real writers have to market, promote, make business plans, etc. (unless they have publishers who do those things for them). Hobby writers can just put their books out there and hope for the best.
Real writers have to work social media, make connections with their readers, create and maintain their brand. Some, perhaps many, hobby writers do these things too, but their livelihood doesn’t depend on it.
Hobby writers (unless retired with adequate pensions) need to spend most of their time and energy at their day jobs. That leaves only “spare time” for both writing and marketing. Which one do you suppose gets neglected?
Things all writers have in common:
1. A compulsion to write.
2. A desire to have their writing read and recognized.
So the only difference between real writers and hobby writers is that real writers need to make a living from their craft.
This leads to the big questions:
1. Are real writers better at writing than hobby writers?
2. Does any of this matter to readers?
The writing itself may be bad or good, regardless of what kind of writer produces it. Hobby writers, under less compulsion to keep producing new works and marketing their existing ones, may take more time and so turn out work of greater quality. Without the need to direct all their writing to a target market, hobby writers are free to write from inspiration, possibly creating works of originality (or weirdness). On the other hand, career writers must sharpen their game if they want to succeed, so have to pay attention to quality as well as quantity.
All writer-publishers should be aware of the “ugly truth” about the publishing business.
But does this mean if you don’t want to market and promote, or are a dismal failure at it, you’re not a Real Writer?
Of course not! It’s only a problem if you expect to sell a lot of books and make a lot of money. Most of us began writing because it’s what we love to do, not in order to set ourselves up for failure and guilt. We all have choices and not everyone is looking for the same rewards, as illustrated by this quote from writer SK Nicholls (commenting on another writer’s blog post about trad vs. indie publishing): “I have heard people say hobby writers can’t be taken seriously. Only writers writing for money and those who treat writing like a business can succeed. I suppose that depends on your point of view and your definition of success. It certainly isn’t mine.”
It’s crucial to maintain a balance between your expectations of whatever constitutes success for you (money earned, readers attracted, awards bestowed) and the effort you are willing to put into marketing and promotion. The gap may in rare instances be bridged by good luck or magic (but don’t count on that).
For readers, there’s really no point in worrying about whether the writer of a book you are considering is a real writer or a mere hobbyist. Some readers will not read anything that has not been endorsed by critics or reviewers, but most look at the story first. If the story interests and excites them, then they want to know more about the author.
Who are the Real Writers? All of us — all who write with passion and energy, striving to perfect our art. How good we happen to be at selling our work is another matter. There are professional writers and writers who prosper financially, but those are subsets of the broad category. We are all writers.
So endeth the series. The Irascible Indie goes back to reading, mulling, questioning and writing. (And with spring just around the corner, add gardening to that list).
Filed under: Ramblings (and a few Rants), Writing | Tags: book marketing, contrarian attitude, indie authors
Having read any number of exhortations to writers to “Know your target market,” I ask myself — what is my target market? Haven’t got a clue, except — wait for it — people who really want to read my books, of course!
Which is pretty lame.
I suspect it’s related to the fact that I don’t write in a standard genre.
But really, does every writer start writing with a specific group of people in mind, tailoring their work to please that group? I think not.
Many writers start to write because they’ve been haunted for years by a story plot or a character. Finally, the opportunity arises and they embody the plot or character in words. With luck, the piece of writing takes on a life of its own and compels the writer to keep on writing until all is resolved and an end is reached. Now that it’s so easy to publish, many works are rushed into print (or ebook format) without any thought for a potential market.
This may be naive, foolish even, but surely not evil.
The writer who wants to make a career of writing, or merely to supplement their income in a reliable way — that writer needs to think about a target market, to write within the constraints of a genre, to direct their marketing efforts toward readers of that genre, and to find ways of creating a fruitful relationship with those readers. Those of us who need not depend on our writing for our livelihoods, and have the luxury to write from inspiration alone, need not fret about markets.
But readers, fans, a devoted following? What writer doesn’t want that? The trick is to find these readers and to know who they are.
In the old days of traditional print-on-paper publishing, authors had no way of knowing who bought their books. People went to bookstores, picked up books they found interesting, paid for them and went away. Even when authors held book-signing sessions, they didn’t ask the people who wanted their books signed to leave their names and addresses. Only real “fans” (in the original sense of “fanatics”) who bothered to write to an author’s publisher would impart such information, but they were a minute minority.
Clever authors now use a variety of enticements to obtain readers’ email addresses and build contact lists they can use to inform those who have bought their books when new ones are to be issued. Not so clever (or lazy) authors do not.
Another piece of advice with apparent logic on its side is to think about the interests of potential readers and to frequent online hangouts where those folks gather. All right, so my books were inspired by a story written by H.P. Lovecraft. HPL has a huge number of fans, and there is a multitude of Lovecraft-related blogs and discussion venues to check out. Have I done that? Well, yes. Sort of. But I don’t really have much to say to video gamers and I don’t relate well to tentacles.
Well, how about other elements found in my books? The funeral business, for example. Physicians and surgeons. There are plenty of places where these topics are featured, but somehow I can’t see attempting to insinuate myself into professional discussions of these groups in any credible way, lurking and contributing until one fine day I can let slip the fact that I’ve written novels featuring a doctor who once worked as an undertaker and has an interest in revivifying corpses. Oh, and his best pal is a librarian.
For that matter, I am a librarian — a cataloguer, in fact, just like the narrator of my first book. I belong to a very active discussion list about cataloguing and related matters, but I would never dream of mentioning my books in that venue. It’s simply not done.
This business of targeting a market is yet another of the potential arenas of failure that surround the indie author/self-publisher. Even when making a living from writing isn’t a necessity, being inept at marketing is yet another club we can use to beat ourselves with. Rather than seize it and administer blows to our egos, I suggest we treat ourselves more kindly, administering humour when possible. Let’s be grateful for being able to publish our own work as easily as we now can, recognizing that some of us are better at selling our creations than others. And we’re lucky to have a community of fellow indies online with whom we can share our woes and wisdom.
Filed under: Ramblings (and a few Rants), Writing | Tags: Amazon book categories, book descriptions, book marketing, contrarian attitude, fiction genres, indie authors, literary supernatural
Until now, I’ve had trouble answering the question, “What kind of books do you write?” As soon as I said, “Well, they’re not really mysteries. Or science fiction. Or thrillers. They’re sort of … different,” I knew I was in trouble. Writers are supposed to be able to tell people about their books in 25 words or less. Waffling around about what they’re not is pretty lame.
The trouble is, my books are in an awkward category. Or rather, they don’t sit squarely in any category. Calling them “literary supernatural” feels right to me. My settings are 98 percent realistic, my characters are fully developed and the plots are built around their interactions and conflicts. There are elements of the magical and the unexplained, but not enough to qualify for the “fantasy” or “paranormal” labels.
And I recently found this in Wikipedia: “Supernatural fiction continues to be popular, but because it is not simple to define and is not popularly understood, it is not used as a marketing category by publishers, booksellers, libraries, etc. When marketed, supernatural fiction is often classed as mainstream fiction, or is subsumed by other subgenres.”
Calling your book mainstream fiction is the kiss of death, I’m told. The advice is to pick a category (on Amazon, this is) not shared by thousands or tens of thousands of other books. Get specific. The trouble is, as noted in the Wikipedia entry quoted above, there is no category called Literary Supernatural. And of course “literary” comes with its own burden of perceptions — elitist, complicated and (worst of all) boring.
In fact the topic of book categories, especially on Amazon, is a popular one in the blogosphere, as authors try to figure out the optimal categories to maximize sales. Advice abounds, but somehow I’ve never managed to find the magic bullet (assuming one exists). After going through the available categories I settled on Literature and Fiction > Action & Adventure and Literature and Fiction > Literary > Psychological. I have no idea if different choices would have better results in terms of sales.
Which, of course, is a problem in itself.
I also have a small swarm of tags buzzing around the books, which do approximate their content, Here they are, in alpahbetical order (the most important ones in bold and/or UPPER CASE:
Acadians, alchemy, Arkham, artists, boys, Cape Cod, corpses, doctors, first person narrator, first world war, gay men, Gulf Islands, HERBERT WEST, journalists, librarians, miracles, Miskatonic University, Providence Rhode Island, psychological novels, raising the dead, reanimator, secrets, supernatural novels, tramp steamers, widows
And at least I’ve come up with the requisite 25-word description of my books: psychological fiction about a man who can raise the dead — after a fashion. Why does he do it and where does it get him?
Ha! Twenty-four words!
Filed under: Ramblings (and a few Rants), Writing | Tags: books about writing, contrarian attitude, indie authors, learning to write, Stephen King's On Writing, writing method
As I read blog posts and discussions by writers, both indie and trad, I notice recurring topics: It’s not enough to write your book and put it out there. Your book will not sell itself. Writing is a business. You must know your market. You must position your book in the correct category. You must use social media. And so on.
While I recognize the value of this advice, inevitably, I consider, mull over and often question. I thought I would turn my musings into blog fodder. The result is a series of posts about “writing right.” Not so much the writing, but the presentation — of both the writer and the written works. I admit I often have a contrarian reaction to advice. Maybe it’s just a reflex reaction; maybe it’s because I’m sort of lazy (I considered calling this series The Indolent Indie). Does that mean I’m a (gulp) Bad Writer?
So here goes —
Part 1: Writing By Feel.
Confession: I have never taken any courses in “creative writing.” But I have written all my life — essays in school, term papers in university, memos, reports and documentation at work, a journal for many years, hundreds of blog posts and five (soon to be six, I hope) novels, four of which I have published.
I often end up arguing with the advice given by “how to write” books and falling into “angry child” mode (kicking and screaming — metaphorically, of course). It’s possible I secretly fear that my writing won’t be good enough, that I won’t be able to incorporate all the advice, and therefore FAIL.
Selling one’s writing may be a business, but creating it should not become an arena of failure. Writing should flow, not jerk along with the writer consulting a handbook between paragraphs and questioning the correctness of every sentence. (All right, it may help to bring the book out at the editing/rewriting stage, but first drafting goes best when it’s unfettered).
I also resist a formulaic approach to writing, given the huge element of subjectivity in how it’s judged by any individual reader. (Readers vary tremendously; consider the difference between a casual reader, a critique group member, an editor, reviewer or writing teacher. Each of them reads for a different reason, which colours their evaluation of a piece.)
Consider too that reading books about writing may be a great way to avoid doing any writing yourself. There are so many of these books you can’t hope to read them all, which means you may never set pen to paper (or, more likely, fingers to keys).
But then there’s Stephen King’s On Writing. I did read that. Unlike many of King’s novels, it’s a slender little book. Far from provoking my usual cranky reaction, it inspired me to start writing. It was magical — suddenly this thing I thought was impossible was the only thing to do. But then, I’ve been a fan of King’s writing for decades. In fact, reading and re-reading his novels (and those of other authors) helped me learn how to write.
That’s the thing: I believe the best way to make yourself into a good writer is to read — read A LOT — feel intensely, fall in love with an idea, a plot, a character, and WRITE. Then find a group of people (maybe writers) you trust, who will read your work and tell you what they think. Then rewrite (or not!). Keep doing all this stuff long enough, and you will probably produce at least something worthwhile. But don’t rush to publish prematurely. It’s better to take longer and produce a really good piece of writing than to quickly crank out a bunch of mediocre efforts. Setting a manuscript aside for a few months is a good idea too; you will return to it with the sort of objectivity that leads to improvement.
Time for writing is so precious, I hate to waste any of it reading “how to write” books. Okay, maybe if I was between writing projects, with time to spare, a book about writing written in a style I find engaging might be worth reading. Not as a paint-by-numbers manual, but as something that could be stashed in the brain attic to mingle with all the other stuff up there, possibly to improve my next writing effort without my even realizing it.
Filed under: Writing | Tags: book bloggers, BookBub, indie authors, self-publshing, submissions
Until a few years ago, aspiring writers sought out advice on how to query agents and publishers, spending fortunes on big fat books full of names, addresses and tips, not to mention all those expensive conferences where writers could sign up for a 5-minute encounter with (gasp!) an actual agent.
In the Trad Pub era, supply was controlled by those gatekeeping dragons. Most aspiring writers’ hopeful submissions were relegated to slush piles and recycle bins. A few wannabees were seduced by vanity publishers, but no one took them seriously. Then came the internet. Self-publishing became respectable (and a source of income for those catering to the self-publishing crowd). The floodgates opened.
One of the bonuses of publishing your own books is that you, the writer, are in charge. You hire the editor, you decide what the title is and what the cover looks like. You set the price and carry out the marketing plan. No more rejections from agents and publishers.
No more gatekeepers.
There are still barriers between writers and the blissful state of success, except instead of big, iron-clad gates, there are a lot of little hurdles and pointy-picket wickets. They’re called book bloggers, reviewers, publicity agents — and readers!
Many readers seek the help of critics and reviewers to guide their reading choices. Amid the welter of star ratings and “reviews” by anyone, including grumpy people and trolls, an authoritative voice recommending a book can make a huge difference. But a good review is hard to find.
The blogosphere is full of advice on this point. Don’t scream “Buy my book” on social media. Don’t plaster links to your books all over the place. Be subtle. Figure out your target market and frequent online discussions populated by those folks — for example, middle-aged, golf-playing men who like to cook. Or cat-loving video gamers. Or cello-playing spelunkers who also collect stamps. You join those groups and lurk. Occasionally you contribute to discussions, demonstrating your expertise in the subject of interest and your writing style. Never mention your books. Make yourself so interesting that the bloggers, reviewers and readers find you irresistible and want to know more about you. Once they seek out your blog or website they’ll discover your books.
This reminds me of advice once doled out to women about enticing a man — don’t throw yourself at him, don’t seem desperate, talk about interesting topics to show your intelligence and sense of humor in order to make him want to know you better.
Hmm. Given our short attention spans these days, be prepared for a long campaign and don’t be surprised if you don’t get 100% results.
You see, the fundamental problem hasn’t changed: too many writers, too few readers.
So if the subtle approach isn’t for you, what about advertising? There’s BookBub, a book discovery service that sends recommendations to readers. Authors can purchase their services, but money doesn’t guarantee admission. They have a Submissions form. This is from their website: “BookBub employs an editorial team to review the many submissions that meet our requirements and select those they feel are the best fit for our readers to be featured in the BookBub email.” They actually send out rejections. From their Submission Tips: “Certain genres and subgenres perform better with our readers than others. There’s a chance we simply don’t have a good place for your title right now or that the particular subject matter of your book isn’t as good a fit as others in the same category.”
What does that remind you of? (I wonder if they end with “Good luck with your writing efforts”).
But really, these gatekeepers are pussycats compared to the dragons of former days. They’re not keeping writers from getting their works out of the bottom drawer and the cardboard box.
My advice, for what it’s worth: Fellow indies, don’t get desperate. Remember why writing is important to you. Adjust your expectations. Even more, don’t put yourselves into a situation that generates desperation by going into debt with your self-publishing efforts. That way you can afford to take the long way around, assuring yourself that at least your works are published and available for readers to discover — somehow.
Will the cream really rise to the top? Is there too much cream? Only time will tell.
Filed under: Ramblings (and a few Rants), Writing | Tags: book launches, indie authors, self-publishing
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Last week I attended a book launch by a writer from one of my critique groups. It was a pretty splashy event, complete with an Elvis impersonator who arrived in a vintage Ford Mustang.
That got me thinking again about the whole self-publishing thing. It’s a remarkable phenomenon, the result, I think, of three things: thwarted creative ambitions, market forces and technological developments.
“Everyone has a book in them,” and when it became easy to create manuscripts, everyone wrote their book. With all the touting of books and featuring of authors in the media, wannabes began submitting their creations to publishers. To serve this market, how-to-get-published books and courses proliferated.
Publishers could not cope with the flood of queries and submissions. The big ones fenced themselves off behind agents. Smaller publishers insisted on print submissions, hoping that exacting submission guidelines and the cost of postage would act as a deterrent — to no avail. Who hasn’t heard of five-foot stacks of “slush” plugging up publishers’ mail rooms?
Rejections flooded out from agents and publishers to hopeful writers, many of whom (despite advice to develop thick skins) got seriously pissed off and started looking for other ways to get their creations out there. By this time the internet was available to all and creation and sharing of “content” was the name of the game. In the best tradition of the free market, alternatives opened up to meet the pent-up demands of writers. Self-publishing went from suspect (the vanity press) to last-resort (POD and “subsidy” publishers) to normal (today’s new world of ebooks, Smashwords and Amazon).
When you think about it, this progression is logical. Why wouldn’t people start to write memoirs, novels and how-I-did-it books, when all through school they were told to be creative, follow their bliss and take chances? Especially when the personal computer and Microsoft Word made whiteout and carbon paper obsolete.
Having poured one’s passion into a literary creation, why wouldn’t one hope to share it with others, receive admiration and make money? Most famous authors aren’t beautiful, athletic or talented at anything besides sitting behind a computer and stringing words together. Oprah’s Book Club, here we come!
Publishing has always been a business with narrow profit margins, in which a few wildly successful books subsidize the less-than-best-sellers. In the traditional situation, a book has a short time to prove itself before it’s taken out of print and remaindered. With the best will in the world, there was no way publishers could hope to publish all the wannabe authors flooding them with submissions.
And there was no way that the writers, full of newly-discovered creative joy and the self-esteem that had been introduced to them from childhood, would accept their multiple rejections and settle for bridge, bingo and birdwatching. Entrepreneurial types recognized a huge and eager market, and hastened to serve it. Editors, book and cover designers, advertising and publicity providers rushed to fill the gap. Writers, no longer thwarted by the gatekeepers, became published authors eager to market their books.
I am a self-published author, and I can say without hesitation that I much prefer that to being an unpublished writer, full of self-doubt, resentment and frustration. I decided to publish my works, and it was up to me how much and what kind of editing to do, what cover images to use and what sort of marketing to do. Several years have passed since I published my first novel. It’s still in “print” (as an ebook) and selling steadily. Instead of sending out submissions I am writing new material.
You could say that the slush pile has been liberated from publishers’ mail rooms and made available to readers. Some bemoan the flood of crap, but let’s face it — there’s always been a flood of crap. The internet has made it possible to create and share more of everything, “crap” and good stuff both. The best indie authors are producing books as good as anything by the traditional publishers. What can possibly be wrong with writers and readers having more choices? It’s an exciting time.
Filed under: Writing | Tags: indie authors, Mark Coker, self-published authors, writers' rights
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Mark Coker of Smashwords has created a manifesto for indie authors. While one should be cautious of things calling themselves manifestos, this one is hard to resist if you’ve ever slogged through the submissions process and found an antidote to it in publishing your own work.
Number 6 is my favourite. No more submission.
Filed under: Writing | Tags: Hugh Howey, indie authors, Mark Coker, self-publishing
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I am not a big fan of the word “submit” when it refers to sending one’s writing to publishers with the hope of getting published. In fact, I wrote a blog post all about this antipathy.
These gentlemen cover the topic more than adequately, so I will add only that this is another reason for indie authors and those with the temerity and courage to bring forth their works to the world to take heart. Write! Publish!
Filed under: Reading, Writing | Tags: Amazon, book reviews, indie authors, literature, smashwords
Yesterday I attended a panel discussion on book reviewing organized by a literary journal published in the city where I live. At another recent event , a successful novelist said that one reason for his success was that before submitting his first novel to agents and publishers, he had done a lot of book reviewing, thereby gaining a measure of credibility with those folks. So what is it about reviewing, I wondered, and when I saw a notice of this panel discussion, I decided to go.
There was a distinctly academic flavour to the presenters, the organizers and even the audience, not surprising, perhaps, given that the literary journal organizing the event is situated at the local university. The first speaker, a professor of English literature, emphasized that a good reviewer takes in a writer’s entire oeuvre, not merely the book that is the focus of the review. He also noted that (given sufficient space in whatever publication the review would appear), a review could function as a critical evaluation of the author, or explore a larger literary topic as exemplified by the work being reviewed. Finally, he said, a review must be as crafted a piece of writing as any literary work.
He was followed by a freelance writer and editor who succinctly described the responsibilities of a reviewer to the publication for which they are writing, to the readers of that publication and to the author of the work being reviewed. Self-interest is not absent from these considerations — the author whose work you trash may appear on a committee evaluating your grant application.
Another panel member, speaking strictly from the perspective of reviewing poetry, noted that critics are failing poets these days, not the other way around. Reviews are full of received phrases that sound intelligent but are empty of meaning. Certain words, such as “meditative” are overused.
Finally, a publisher stated that the dearth of reviews is worse than badly written or “unhelpful” ones. The biggest problem today is the decline of book pages in newspapers and magazines, due largely to the undervaluing of the arts in today’s commercially-minded society. There are fewer reviews because there are few reviewers willing to write for peanuts. Reviewers should focus their energies on lesser-known authors, rather than reviewing books already on the best-seller lists. The internet should be used to start conversations among writers and readers.
It was interesting that not one of these folks said the word “Amazon” until a question from the audience prompted it. Everyone acknowledged that for many readers, Amazon is a primary source of reviews. They are not always used in order to make a purchasing decision, either (although someone pointed out that you need to have spent $25 with Amazon before you can post a review — the opposite of reviewing for pay). Some readers (myself included) go to Amazon after having read a book, to seek the opinions of other readers. Does anyone else out there think that this book is an overrated piece of trash? Or — does anyone else love this book as much as I do?
By the end of the session, a consensus emerged that the literary conversation should include both amateur and professional reviewers, perhaps juxtaposed as in the Rotten Tomatoes movie review site. The truth is, there is no shortage of book reviews, ratings and rankings on the internet — sites such as Goodreads and LibraryThing and individual blogs abound. Anyone can review a book any way they like, even without a degree in English Literature. A trend is emerging here, similar to the rise of the “indie author,” as Smashwords founder Mark Coker calls the folks who publish ebooks on his site. Incidentally, readers of Smashwords ebooks can post reviews to the site. Anyone can publish on the internet and anyone can review too. Maybe we’ve gone from a relatively polite conversation to a buzzing cacophony. Is this good? It’s probably too early to tell, and maybe it doesn’t matter.
Write, publish, read, review! What’s holding you back?