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.