Self-Publishing: A Writer's Odyssey of Confusion
There's No Right Way, But Here's A List of Wrongs.
A writer’s life can be a very confusing one. If you’d told me eight years ago, when I started writing my first novel, that the easiest thing about being a writer was writing the books, I’d have never believed you.
Because at first, it really isn’t. Writing is hard, was hard for me, that is until I understood plot, pacing, characters, descriptions, dialogue…and how to put them all together in one readable package. That whole process took me about four years to get comfortable with. My very first novel took me two years to write, and it’s never seen the light of day. The reason is, it was completed before I’d learned how to write.
But I did learn, and in 2016, I self-published my first book. My second followed quickly, in 2017. That was the year I retired from the Canada Border Services Agency. Suddenly, I had all this free time to write, and I began producing three or four works a year. I got the hang of it, I think.
But I only really got the hang of the writing. The rest, like communicating with agents and publishers, running a website, and advertising, are still calculus-level hard for me. This is the tough stuff, the part I’m still trying to grasp.
I suspect a lot of people who read the articles on here are also writers. So, allow me to share my journey, in the hope that it may save you some pitfalls. Here are some rules for the struggling writer I’ve learned the hard way:
One: Don’t Spend a Lot of Your Own Money
In self-publishing the first two books in my Will Bryant Thrillers series, I must have easily spent over 12,000 dollars Canadian. It’s safe to say I haven’t seen much of a return on this investment. That’s not to say it was a total waste. The first book in my series greatly benefitted from the attention of an experienced editor. I needed her help. Getting a website with my second book was a big help, too.
But I don’t need radical re-writes anymore. And a website can be constructed for a fraction of the amount I spent on publishing those two books.
Recently, I published five books all at once on Amazon Kindle. Total outlay? About five hundred bucks, and that was only to order print copies for my own use. Kindle makes it ridiculously easy to produce professional-looking e-books and paperbacks, and distribute them. If you decide to self-publish, this is the way to go.
Two: Don’t Give Up on Agents and Publishers
Submitting your work to Agents and Publishers is a valuable experience, one you should undertake with each of your books before self-publishing them. After you self-publish, these people tend to look at your work like it’s a dogshit sundae. Give it a shot first, before leaping into self-publishing.
Three: Don’t Let Rejection Bury Your Work
Submit, by all means. But be prepared for multiple rejections. That’s just the way it goes. So, once you’ve been rejected, do you conclude your work isn’t good enough, and let it molder on your hard drive?
Absolutely not. Books are written to be read. Yes, agents and publishers are very knowledgeable about what makes a good book. But they’re really more concerned with what will sell in the current marketplace. After filing through my rejections, I came to the conclusion that my books simply don’t fit the current trends in the market. Lots of white males. Historical subjects. Brazil? Where’s that?
Who gives a shit? The market is big enough that, unless your book is total vomit, somebody out there will like it. If it costs you next to nothing to publish it, why not give that person a chance to read it?
And, if by some chance your book takes off, guess what? All those people who couldn’t wait to get rid of you will be frantically combing their reject pile for your contact info. Get it out there, and let it be read.
Four: Wattpad Gives You Good Exposure, But Don’t Keep Your Book Free Forever
Wattpad is a nice platform to build a readership, and it has interesting awards and promotional programs that make it worth considering. But, beware: They have a tendency to take you for granted. In my first year at Wattpad, I thought I was doing quite well. Two of my books were shortlisted for awards, and one of them got a Wattpad Studios shopping deal. But a year came and went, and nothing happened with the shopping deal. The next year, I won nothing, and I couldn’t even get prompt replies to my e-mails.
But my readership started growing. And growing. And growing. Then, I pulled my work, except for a few books, and sample chapters of the remainder, off of Wattpad. I was determined to make money from my hard work. As soon as my books started disappearing, who came calling, wanting to make me a “Star?” Yes, Wattpad.
Your books reflect your hard work and imagination. Okay, Mom, Dad, Sis, free copies for sure. But make everybody else pays. Your work is worth it.
Five: A Man’s Got to Know His Limitations
What Inspector Harry Callaghan said about cops also applies to writers. If you suck at marketing and website design (guilty as charged), open up your sporran and pay somebody to do it. You’d be surprised at what a difference a little thing like Search Engine Optimisation makes. I was getting destroyed by a little indie writer named “James Patterson.” Perhaps you’ve heard of him? Now, typing my name into Google returns stuff I’ve actually written. Don’t feel bad for James. With 17% of the US market, he’ll be fine.
Oh, and Facebook ads? You might as well take your money out of an ATM, then buy some gas and a lighter. Total waste of money.
Six: Attack on All Fronts
This is bad advice if you’re a Nazi dictator. But for writers, it’s a must. Don’t let your books sit on Amazon, unheralded, unnoticed. Advertise online. Do pitch videos. Jazz up your website, and do giveaways. Order paperbacks, and talk to local bookstores about consignment sales, and signing events. Submit your work to libraries. Write to book publications about featuring your work. Slip your books into casual conversation. Don’t miss a single opportunity to pitch.
Finally: Success is Defined Subjectively
I’ve come down from my once lofty intentions to become a rich author. I have a concrete legacy of storytelling, and I’ve written a body of work I’m proud of. That’s my definition of success.
But hey, some cash would be great, too.