A Message of Hope and of Responsibility

A while back, a guy wrote an article on salon.com about his failed attempts at self publishing. There was a lot of criticism about the piece because it seemed to cast a negative light on self pubbers and the guy didn’t seem to have tried very hard to make his book a success. Hugh Howey recently wrote a counterpoint article. (Links to both at the bottom of this post.)

If you haven’t read these articles, you should. The blogosphere is aflame with posts about the dueling viewpoints — and rightfully so. They express two points of view that I read a lot in my journeys through forums and blogs:

POV 1 – Over 3 million books will be published this year. If yours sells more than a handful, thank the stars for your luck at finding a market.

POV 2 – If your work is good enough and plentiful enough and you market it right, you will find an audience.

Note that I have no idea where I got that number about the quantity of books to be published. I can’t remember and, frankly, have no idea if it’s accurate. I do know that 93.499152168291063% of all statistics are made up.

The voices espousing POV 1 are much more plentiful than those for the counterpoint, and, I must admit, they sometimes give me pause. There are a lot of authors out there who have spent hundreds/thousands of dollars to publish a book and have sold about 50 copies.

Let’s be honest. I’ve read a lot of traditionally published stuff over the years. The majority of it is simply meh. Over the last year, I’ve read a lot of indie and small pub stuff. Overall, I’d say the quality is less than that of the traditional material.

No one is saying, “If you put something out there, no matter how crappy it is, you’ll sell mega copies.” What POV 2 says is, “If you work on your craft and produce stories that are compelling to your audience and you work hard and smart to find that audience, you will succeed.”

What Hugh says in his article, and what Michael Sullivan preaches all the time, is that there are a lot of people out there earning their living from self publishing. Though you wouldn’t recognize them if you hit them with a truck, they do exist, and they’re plentiful.

This view gives me hope.

This view scares me.

If success absolutely can be achieved, the only person I have to blame if I fail is me.

If POV 2 is correct, there are only 5 reasons for failure:

• I didn’t work hard enough at my craft.
• I didn’t work hard enough producing a sufficient quantity of products.
• I didn’t work smart enough in producing something my audience wants.
• I didn’t work hard enough at reaching my audience.
• I didn’t work smart enough in determining how to reach my audience.

I have hope; I can succeed. But, if I don’t, it’s all my responsibility.

Links:

I’m a Self-Publishing Failure by John Winters

Self-Publishing is the future — and great for writers by Hugh Howey

How to Become a Successful Author

This post is the final part of my Analyzing the Behavior of Book Buyers Series.  See Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.

There’s a lot of bad news if you’re trying to replace your day-job income with your passion for writing:

  • There are millions of books out there, and people just keep writing more!  Would they just stop already?  It’s hard to stand out from the crowd.
  • If someone does happen to find your book page, you have opportunities to lose them with you description, the reviews, your preview section, and the price.

There is, however, one piece of very good news: Book Buyers actively look for books.

I’ll buy somewhere between 20 and 30 novels this year.  There are a lot of Goodreads members who have goals of reading more than 50 a year.  In order to buy that many books, we’re going to have to search them out.  You don’t have to come to us; we’ll be trying to find you.

If you can make it easy enough for a lot of us to find you, you’ll be a success.  How, then, is the best way to do that:

Step 1 – Write a good book.

Step 2 – Repeat Step 1 over and over again.

Fellow Mythic Scribes members Michael Sullivan and Kevin McLaughlin convinced me of this approach, but logic bears them out.  Let’s look at how Book Buyers find books on a macro scale:

  • If they find a single book they really like, they consider every book by that author.
  • They wait for their favorite authors to publish a new book.
  • They get recommendations from Goodreads, people they know, forums, and lists.  They search out these recommendations.
  • They search within their favorite genres for new books.

Three out of four of those methods involve the book being good.  If the reader doesn’t like your writing, they’re not going to look at your other books and certainly not going to wait for you to publish another one.  If readers in general don’t like your writing, they’re not going to recommend them to anyone.  With so many books in the marketplace, you simply cannot rely on driving customers to your book through advertising or any other method; you must have word of mouth working for you.

I’m planning on releasing Power of the Mages later this year.  Let’s explore two possible scenarios on how that release goes:

Scenario 1Power sells only a few hundred copies in the first year, but I get favorable responses back from the people who did read it.  What do I do?

Write a new book.  If people like Power, it means that I need to give them more time and opportunities to find my writing.

Scenario 2Power sells only a few hundred copies in the first year, and the response is generally bad.  What do I do?

Concentrate on getting better at writing.  I obviously wasn’t as ready as I thought I was to publish a book.

As I do for mine, you probably think your writing is good enough to publish.  Let’s face facts:

  1. Most of the self-published stuff out there isn’t all that great.  The odds aren’t in forever in your favor.
  2. You are not the best person to judge the quality of your work.

Take a long, honest look at the feedback you get.  I know it’s painful, but you’re never going to become a success if you bury your head in the sand.  If you want to get better, you have to try to get better.

I’ve heard many times that the only way to get better at writing is to write.  I think that advice is horse manure.

In the absence of feedback on what you’re doing wrong, it’s unlikely that your writing is going to do much improvement at all.  If you need to get better, get opinions from people who know writing.  Take their suggestions seriously.