Many of my readers are themselves aspiring authors, and I am often asked for advice or insight pertaining to how they can “make it” as a writer in the indie world. I try to be helpful. But more often than not, what I have to say is nothing new. Good cover, professional editing, catchy blurb, networking through social media, etc. As much as this is all true, it’s nothing they can’t find out from other sources. In fact, there are far better sources for this type of information than me; people who use the various avenues of promotion to its uttermost. My methods are rather simplistic. They are certainly no secret.
If you do intend to give it a go as an indie novelist, there are some things to watch out for. The indie world is riddled with scammers and snake oil peddlers ready to exchange bogus and frequently harmful methods and products for your hard-earned money. It’s easy to fall prey to these charlatans and, if they’re good, hard to ferret them out.
Here are a few things to look out for, along with some things you can do to avoid being taken in:
1. Guarantees. There are none. If someone tells you that they can guarantee you even a single sale, they’re lying. In any business where you offer promotional services, you can only go by past performance. They can provide data such as the size of their mailing list or estimated readers they can reach. But they cannot tell you how many will buy your book or that you will hit the top 100 lists. All ads and promotions are risks. Anyone who claims otherwise is full of crap.
2. Testimonials. These can be easily faked. Check them out thoroughly. Not only can the authors be either misquoted or the blurb simply made up entirely; it could also be a sock puppet and the person not even exist. Not all testimonials are fake. In fact most are not. But it’s easy to do, and few people bother to check out their validity.
3. Money up front. Recently, I’ve been hearing about people becoming part of box set anthologies. There is nothing unusual about this. I’ve been in a couple of them myself. But I was never asked to pay up front to cover any costs. And I licensed the rights to my work for a limited time only. If you are asked for money up front you are not dealing with a reputable individual. It’s normal for someone to recover their costs via royalties earned. But it is never acceptable to ask a writer to pay for these beforehand.
4. Beware of cultism. It’s perfectly normal to look up to another author, or aspire to achieve what they have achieved. And there is nothing wrong with singing the praises of a promotional tool with which you have had success, or someone who has helped you along. But remember that you are not dependent upon anyone for your success. Nor do you owe anyone anything other than kindness and consideration. Do not get sucked in to a situation where you are asked to behave in ways that go against your morals and ethics because you think there is no other way to attain your goals, or you feel indebted. Remember that you are the reason for your success or failure. No one else.
5. The exposure con. Many an aspiring novelist gets talked into giving away their work for exposure. I’m not talking about perma-free. I mean periodicals who ask for content in exchange for exposure. It’s usually crap, and almost never has the desired effect. If someone wants your content, they can pay for it.
6. Undercharging. There are some great promotional and editorial services with solid reputations and good track records. They provide services without wild promises, and let you know up front what you can expect and what you are getting. The thing is…they cost money. Quite a bit of money. Discounts appear good on the surface, but in this business, you get what you pay for. If it sounds too good to be true, it is.
7. Vanity Press traps. If you are paying to have your book formatted, edited, proof read, and a cover made, you are an indie. You have no need for a vanity press. They try to come across like they are offering products and services that you cannot access on your own. Some even make claims of getting your book seen at expos or stocked in bookstores. This is not the case. There is nothing a vanity press can do for you that you cannot do yourself.
Moreover, they overcharge the hell out of you for what is generally substandard work. I know I mentioned undercharging, but overcharging is just as common when dealing with these people. Take the time to learn the business and the trade skills. Go online and find tutorials on formatting and interior book design. Or simply find a reputable company who does it for a reasonable fee. You should never receive less than 100% of your royalties if you are the one paying for publishing costs.
8. Toxic forums. These can be just as dangerous as scammers. Disappointed and bitter people often invade what starts as a positive and valuable source of information and turn it into as cesspool of bad advice and negativity. They prefer commiseration to information. They do not truly want to hear of your achievements. They would much rather wallow in shared failures. It validates their point of view that they did everything right, and it was the stupid, blind, and otherwise unworthy world that didn’t recognize their genius. Stay away from these places. Becoming a writer is hard enough without this in your life.
I hope this helps you navigate the wild and wonderful world of being a novelist.