Before you publish, Part 2 – Should you go indie?

Before you Publish - 2

In the first post for this series, I gave a checklist of items authors need to consider before actually publishing based on my own, recent experience. One of the things not in that checklist, which you still need to work out, is what publishing route to take? I’ve written a few blogs on this during my own journey. The truth is there is no easy answer. I think a lot of us crave the legitimacy and validation of a traditional publishing deal, but given the nature of the industry at the moment, this isn’t going to be an option for a lot of people. From my perspective, there isn’t a generic right answer. The direction you go depends on what is going to work for you.

When I chose to go indie, it was because I realized that getting a book deal was actually within the realm of possibility, but it meant levels of commitment I couldn’t hold to. I have a job that pays a living wage and benefits, two essentials for my family. Had I gotten a good publishing deal, and managed lots of sales, a debut author wasn’t going to make enough to live on. Not that it couldn’t happen, because it does, but that’s more of a Cinderella situation having more to do with luck and persistence.

Still, choosing to go traditional is a solid route for someone committed to making this their career while being both willing and able to make necessary sacrifices. As I said, you will need to supplement your income even if you sell tens of thousands of copies. One approach is to write lots of things in lots of different venues or working another job until you ‘make it.’ This was the case for the most famous and successful writers out there, though you hear plenty of anecdotes of success on the first try – again, think Cinderella.

Choosing to go indie means several things. First, it means that this is going to be your side-gig unless you get very lucky. Second, it means that you’ve got a very, very steep hill to climb in terms of getting exposure and making sales. This is why the checklist from the first post is so essential. You need to be prepared every step of the way to make a successful launch. It could mean the difference between having ten book sales over a year on Amazon and getting to the point where people you don’t know are picking it up and sharing your work with friends. Also, luck isn’t particularly kind to folks who aren’t prepared to take full advantage of a break.

The third thing to keep in mind about being an indie author is that you’re going to be doing ALL of the work. On the one hand, it’s nice, because you’ve got 100% full creative control. On the other, you’re going to be responsible for every aspect of book production from choosing the font to developing targeting for your advertising. It’s exhausting and will take away a lot of writing time. Remember, you’re also probably working a full-time job too or perhaps you’re a stay-at-home parent with multiple competing priorities.

There are also other options to consider, such as small presses and crowd-sourcing. These are also good options, but again, you’ve got to look at these for how they fit you as an author and your goals. For example, crowd-funding is much harder than self-publishing but can pay out bigger rewards if you can pull it off. My best advice for any author on the fence about what to do is the following:

  • Look at traditional first. Submit to agents, see what comes back. I’ve had an agent practically beg me for work, and simultaneously shit on me so hard I very nearly quit writing. It was instructive and helped me gain perspective. Another benefit is that this takes a long time and will give you time to continue developing your back-list or hone your skills.
  • Look at small presses. This option isn’t for everyone, but there are quite a few, and they can help you get out there and get exposure. They help with marketing, editing, and general book production. I didn’t go this route because I couldn’t find a press that was reaching out for the sort of stories I produce.
  • If you have a large enough platform on social media, consider crowd-funding. There are options out there that will act as a traditional publisher if you can get enough pre-orders. That said, if you have fewer than about ten thousand followers on any given platform, this may not really work out for you. When I tried this route, I got probably 25 or 30 pre-orders from folks on social media who have supported me. At the time, I needed a total of 500. This might be an option for folks producing under a platform like Wattpad who have gained a following and are ready to take the next step. I don’t write for Wattpad, so I’m not sure if this makes any sense.
  • If you’ve gotten this far and you’re coming up dry, it’s time to consider self-publishing. Before you do, however, revisit the pre-publication checklist I put together as a starting point.

 

Before you really steam ahead with self-publishing, assuming you’ve done your research and so on, you need to stop and ask yourself: Is your book really, actually ready, and do people want to read it? One of the things I’m struggling with right now is whether or not I have published a book that should have been published. So far, the feedback I’ve gotten from virtually all the readers of Wine Bottles and Broomsticks is: That was actually pretty good. Several people have finished the book in the span of a weekend and asked for book 2. My previous book, which I didn’t publish, was read by a total of 3 people and I gave it out to a lot more than that. It was enough for me to stop and re-evaluate things. At the time, I decided to try something different, if nothing else, to take a break from that first story. It was possibly the best writing decision I’ve ever made.

My point here is that if you’re experiencing a situation where your proof-readers or beta-readers aren’t finishing or can’t provide much feedback, you may need to consider taking a very hard look at the story and thinking about whether or not it’s time to try something different. This is extremely difficult advice for writers to take. Most of us don’t, and that’s okay, but being stubborn isn’t going to help you out much in your writing career.

I don’t know if that helped you, but it’s been my process, and I think it was pretty good. If I had to do it again, I would probably have done it in the same order, except I’d have skipped trying out crowd-funding. That was a dead-end for someone like me.

Did you have a different experience? Leave me a comment for discussion on what you decided to do and why.

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Before you publish, Part 1 – Pre-publication checklist for new authors, by a newly published author

Before you Publish - 1

This post is the start of a series sharing my experiences in publishing. This is targeted at writers looking to go indie. As I write this, I am concluding my first month as a published author. I released Wine Bottles and Broomsticks, my debut novel about an inept witch hunter who seems to drown in personal drama and attracts witches like flies to honey. This was the second-ever book I finished. Putting it out in the world was a tremendous learning experience. Within about a day of hitting publish on the KDP dashboard, I learned twice as much about publishing as I did leading up to it. That comes in spite of a series of interviews with other authors asking them specifically about their experiences.

The first post in this series is just a checklist. Before you hit ‘publish’ go through this list. If you’re absolutely set on traditional publishing also go through it. Most of it is still relevant.

  1. [Y | N] – I have 1 book ready to go right now, and at least 3 more that could be ready to publish in the next 12 months.
  2. [Y | N] – At least 2 of my books belong to the same series (book 1 / book 2)
  3. [Y | N] – I have developed and memorized 5-second and 30-second pitches.
  4. [Y | N] – All of my work has been read by others, I have received and incorporated feedback.
  5. [Y | N] – I have, at a bare minimum, used an application like Grammarly to edit my work or asked a competent friend to proof-read. For indie authors, you will have, ideally, hired an editor.
  6. [Y | N] – I believe I know who my core audience is (YA/Middle Grade/Women aged 18-32 etc…)
  7. [Y | N] – I have researched other books similar to mine and authors that have a similar style.
  8. [Y | N] – I have asked those who have read my work, what authors and books it is most similar to.
  9. [Y | N] – I have connected with other writers about their experiences and asked for advice (you will not be selling your book to these folks, they are your colleagues, not your audience)
  10. [Y | N] – I have developed a social media presence – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, blog
  11. [Y | N] – I have developed a plan for advertising & marketing
  12. [Y | N] – I have researched local bookstores and am prepared to engage owners / managers in a discussion about hosting an author event.
  13. [Y | N] – I am prepared to spend hundreds of dollars on advertising
  14. [Y | N] – I have mentally prepared myself for a single page-read on KU, and no more than 10 total book sales in the first month, and maybe a single review.
  15. [Y | N] – I am prepared to talk with people about my work, my book, writing in general, and other books similar to mine or that helped me learn the craft.

For indie authors only:

  1. [Y | N] – I have purchased or have access to software that can layout my books (InDesign, Vellum, Scrivener, etc…)
  2. [Y | N] – I have access to software to produce a book cover (InDesign/Canva) or have contracted with a designer
  3. [Y | N] – I know exactly where and how I am going to publish my book and on which platforms (Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, IngramSpark, Lulu, etc…)

If you have answered No to ANY of the above. You may not quite ready to go yet – keeping in mind that this is the opinion of a debut author but were I to do it over again, I’d make damn sure all of them were YES before moving forward. All of these items on the list are not things I consider myself an expert at. These are listed because they’re what I have or am struggling with. I don’t intend this to be the fully-unabridged version of how to prepare yourself, by any means. Every day that goes by is a new experience for me that threatens to add one more bullet point. That said, we can all help one another out and, as item number 9 suggests above, be prepared to ‘pay it forward’ to help out your fellow authors and community. We are all stronger that way.

What do you think? Should there be another item on the list? What would it be? Leave a comment below.

You just published a book, but you’ve been kinda quiet, what the heck?

anxiety

It’s been about a month since I’ve released Wine Bottles and Broomsticks. In that time, I’ve posted a single blog post about this, done a hand-full of tweets, paid for a bit of advertising on Amazon, and shared it on Facebook. Really, it’s not much, and I should be posting a lot more and working double-time on writing the next two or three books I intend to publish. I should also, at very least, be blogging about my experience launching a book impulsively and what I’ve learned. There isn’t any good excuse for why I haven’t. I mean, there is an excuse, but as with any excuse, it’s an excuse not really a good reason. To put it in a word – Anxiety. I can’t seem to get over it.

I am at the tail end of two weeks of vacation as I write this and just made the mistake of rechecking my work e-mail. I’ve been keeping half an eye on it just to make sure if something came up I had to deal with, I could. I went from a wee bit more relaxed to full-on stress-ball in the span of three heartbeats. It’s completely incapacitating. These past two weeks were intended to be time spent with the kids, write, blog, advertise, unwind, and generally catch-up on personal life stuff. None of that happened, really. I’ve been avoiding literally everything to the point where all I can do is play video games – which is usually a reinvigorating escape for me. Not this time. I have what I can only describe as a video-game hangover, and I don’t feel anything like rested up and ready to tackle work tomorrow (Tomorrow was supposed to be another day off, but things being what they are, I’ve got to go back a day early.)

There are what you could call extenuating circumstances here, making things worse than they might otherwise be. Right now, in the state of Alaska, my home, the governor has just vetoed hundreds of millions of dollars in funding. I believe it is the largest set of budget cuts ever for this state. Ostensibly, these cuts were made because the state can’t afford it. However, any state that can pay out thousands of dollars every year to its residents can’t possibly be so broke it can’t fund essential services – just one example is the emergency broadcast system – this for a state frequently beset by natural disasters and hazardous conditions.

I did keep my job after the cuts, and it’s looking pretty okay for the foreseeable future, but it’s not clear for my wife. Part of the cuts involved the elimination of all funding for the appellate courts. This is the state supreme court and all courts you might bring a non-criminal case to. I want that to sink in for a minute – he eliminated funding for the most critical aspects of the Alaska court system – if this part of the courts isn’t funded, Alaskan residents won’t have any legal recourse when something goes wrong. For any libertarians reading this-this is what happens when you don’t have a government, you don’t have a voice. It’s not a good thing. Reports are that the budget has the goal of reducing the state’s population. Read: Make it an unsuitable place to live for people with families, unless you’re already wealthy.

The bottom line is that this governor and the people who voted for him are working toward a place that is wholly impractical for my children to settle when they reach adulthood – no education, no services, no safety. I grew up here. This is home. In spite of the fact I make noises about moving to New Zealand or some other state, this isn’t realistic. I did leave for a year when I couldn’t find work, but I couldn’t make it elsewhere. I came back fully understanding that I might very well end up living in a shitty apartment, working two minimum wage jobs. As it was just the two of us at the time, we felt we could make that work. Now, with kids, the calculation is different. It’s not about me anymore. Regardless, this is home, and it will be, even if I’m holed up in a homeless camp at the edge of town with thousands of others in the same boat. The same can’t be said for the people making the cuts. They aren’t, actually, from here and will likely leave in the future anyhow. One of them came here specifically to implement these cuts and then leave immediately.

Even then, for me, it still gets deeper and harder to cope with. I do work for the state. Yes, I still have a job after the cuts, something conservatives say I should be grateful for, but for the first time ever, the cuts have been so dramatic that I’m unsure that I’ll be able to fulfill my obligations to the state, which are written in state law. The hard part about this is that it’s not my fault, but I get to be blamed for the failure. The politicians have taken away resources necessary to be successful and will then point their greasy fingers at people like me and say, “look at that lazy bastard.” So, when I look at my e-mail and realize that I’ve got six weeks of work due in something like the next 10 days. I’m feeling super extra fucked, a failure, and someone else made it so. I don’t like letting people down or just walking away from things, but I’m in a position to do just that.

Alright, so that’s the core of the anxiety, climate change is the other aspect, but I already went semi-viral on a particular rant there and don’t care to repeat the experience. The rest boils down to being impulsive and releasing Wine Bottles and Broomsticks when I did. I don’t actually think I was personally ready for this. I have had a lot of support and positive feedback, but I’m still learning, and it’s committed me to things that I’m not sure I can muster the energy to cope with. I mean, I will with a smile and as much gusto as needed, that’s how I am –recall that I build most of a house with just the help of friends in two years because I was too stupid to know I couldn’t. That house withstood a 7.1 earthquake. However, as it comes to writing, publishing, and marketing, I don’t know if I can pull it off. I’ve goofed around with advertisements and things, but it’s pretty clear that the only books being sold are to those folks I routinely interact with or know IRL. Which is fantastic, but it’s not getting reach beyond that. It’s a lot of effort to go through, and I don’t know if I’m doing it right.

As a result of all of this, I’ve been effectively immobilized. Every time I start thinking about something, the weight of everything else breaks in, and I just can’t properly concentrate. So that’s it. There’s my excuse and what’s going on with me. Now I’ve gotten it off my chest, I will (hopefully) be producing more content and really getting to work on more books.