The most common questions people have for indie and hybrid writers has to do with what it takes to “make it”. Well, I’m not sure anyone ever really “makes it”. Even the wealthiest superstar authors are seeking the next step along the path. And as for me, I see myself at the beginning of what I hope to be a long and prosperous career. My goals are far from having been reached. But that is not to say I haven’t achieved certain levels of success. My journey thus far has been filled with excitement and thrills. And I, in a relatively short time, have achieved more than I had ever hoped.
But saying this does not answer the question, does it? What they want to know is how to get people reading their book? How do they get eyes on the page? What are the steps? Does it cost money? How much time is involved? There are in fact answers to these questions. But I always warn whoever I’m telling that nothing I say is a guaranteed method for success. And there are other opinions which differ greatly from my own. That said…
Before you can sell your book, you must first write your book. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been giving advice about promotion, editing, proofing, etc., only to find out that the person I’m speaking to hasn’t even finished their manuscript. An idea for a story is worthless unless you write it down. So start there.
But let’s assume you have written your book. You have had the immense pleasure of finally writing my favorite two words, “The End”. You have your masterpiece in hand and it’s ready for the world to see. Not so fast. Regardless of your talent, you need to take a step back and realize you are too close to your story. You need more eyes. And not just any set of eyes. You need professional eyes. Yes, I’m talking about an editor. And finding an editor is not as simple as you might think. One size does not fit all. Find someone both qualified and from whom you can take critical advice. Ask for a sample edit before committing. And most of all be wary of discounts. Good editing is not, and should not be cheap. If someone says they’ll edit your 150,000 word book for $300, run away as fast as you can.
Your next step is proofing. Editing is NOT proofing. Even the best editor will miss a few typos. And here’s some good news. This is an area where you can possibly save money. I personally pay proofers, but that doesn’t mean you should. If you have enough people around you who are meticulous and helpful, you might be able to talk them into searching your book for mistakes. This is a very important step. The cleaner your manuscript, the better the reception it gets from the reading public.
Once proofed, some writers use what are called beta readers. This is a step that can be important, but can also send you in a wrong direction. Beta readers critique your work from a reader’s perspective. It’s a way to receive a review without it being public. Two things to remember about beta readers should you decide to use them: One – they need to be a fan of the genre in which you’ve written. This may sound silly and obvious, but I assure you it’s not. Ask the reader ahead of time what books they have read. Two – the beta reader’s word is not gospel. You can disagree. It’s allowed. But if you are using five readers, and four say the same thing, I would take it seriously. What you are really looking for is a consensus – not individual opinions.
Now that your book is ready…it’s time for a cover. On this subject there are many schools of thought as to what constitutes an acceptable cover. I tend to go with a single main focal point (nothing too busy). But what most people agree on, is that the two key aspects are the title and your name. Do not sacrifice the visibility of either in favor of the art. This may upset the artist, but who cares? Expect to pay anywhere from $100 to $500 for a decent cover. You can spend more, but for most writers starting out, this is within their budget. Be sure to take a look at best sellers in your genre. They can be solid guides as to what your cover should look like. Though I have seen debut novels with terrible covers sell well, more often than not it’s those with professional looking covers that get the reader’s attention.
Okay, you have your book, your cover rocks, and you’re ready to show the world what you’ve done. You set up your accounts on the various sites and hit the “publish” icon. Day one and you have five sales. But those are mostly friends and family. Still, it’s nice to see that your book has a ranking. Then day two…nothing. Day three…more nothing. What the hell? I did everything right! Why aren’t they buying my book? Well, that’s because this is only the beginning. Now you have to take off your writer’s hat and put on the one labeled marketing and promoting. This is when most people give up. “I’m not a marketing agent,” they say. “I’m a writer.” I hate to tell you this, but if you want to succeed at self-publishing, you have to be everything all at once.
Promotion is a slow, frustrating process. It takes hundreds of hours of relentless work to get your name out there. And there is no way to know what will and will not work for you. Some will recommend blog tours, others paid ads. I recommend anything you can think of. I’ve seen people have book signings in their front yard which did far better than you might imagine. Be creative. Each thing you do is a drop in a very large bucket. But over time, if you don’t give up, it will get filled. Soliciting reviews from bloggers, conducting interviews and podcasts, joining literary groups, advertising; all of it helps.
Finally – Keep writing. The indie world is fast paced. I can write three full-length novels in a year, as well as a few short stories. But I know other writers who put out more than double that. You cannot expect to build an indie career on one book. Even if your book does well from the very beginning, indie books typically have a 3-5 month window before sales decline dramatically. You need to have something new ready by then or you could lose momentum. The top indies are constantly putting out new material. Some as often as every 2-3 months. This is another leading cause of writers giving up. They simply can’t keep up with the pace and the workload. Unfortunately, there is no solution to this problem. In time you might be able to delegate some of the logistical aspects, but you are the one who must write the books. For this, there is no shortcut.
Now that you’ve read my take on the indie world, I have to break the bad news to you. If you do everything I said, it might not work. In fact, it probably won’t. There are thousands upon thousands of writers out there. Only a handful get to the point where they can make a living. You must ask yourself if the reward is worth the risk. Some people will say it’s all about luck. And I suppose luck does play a part. But Seneca said, “Luck is when opportunity meets preparation.” If this is what you really want, be prepared for luck to come knocking. Otherwise you are in store for a bitter disappointment.