The great thing about being an independent author is that you really can write what you want and still have it published. Prior to the electronic reading revolution, you could still write whatever you wanted, but if you wanted it published, you’d better hope that what you wanted to write was whatever the publishing houses were looking for. The trouble now is that you can write what you want and publish it, but that doesn’t mean that anyone will read it.
Visibility is the new gatekeeper
Are your expectations realistic?
The days of indie authors making a living on the back of free and 99c books is pretty much over. Authors who entered the game after 2012 can’t expect to join those who made it big when the market was new, but some blogs and many books and courses still give the impression that it’s easy to make money as a self-publisher. Because of this, expectations rise and disappointments follow in their wake.
Do you notice how many authors are now teaching others, running courses and workshops, or selling books on self-publishing? Why are they doing that? Because there’s more money in that than selling fiction these days. My best selling book is my book on writing, and I suspect authors with books on publishing and marketing will find that it’s the same for them. The fiction market is just so crowded, and the number of readers isn’t increasing, because the younger generations are turning to all the other forms of entertainment.
Writing the book is only the first step; once written it has to be published – if you want any one to read it – and then marketed, and that’s the bit most authors don’t like much. We’d rather just keep on writing. But these days, even if you’re traditionally published, you need to do some marketing yourself. If you’re self-published, you’ve put up the money for editing and covers and you’ll want to get your money back at least, but unless you manage to write a best seller, getting the money back will take time, and some may never cover their costs.
Not covering costs or making money doesn’t mean a book is bad, it just means it’s not selling enough copies, and sales and quality are two different things. One does not indicate the other. Not only is marketing a tricky game but also there is only a small readership for many indie books. Why? Because they tend to cross genres – making them hard to sell, which is why the traditional publishers wouldn’t pick them up.
Writing is not worth the time if you’re counting the minutes and expecting to be paid for it. But we don’t write for the money; we write because we get inspired to do so. We write because we enjoy it, and when we don’t enjoy it anymore, we stop.
Problem solved, but don’t give up your day job
I think the way to treat the business of writing and publishing is as a hobby.
Why? Because with a hobby you spend money and don’t expect to get it back.
That doesn’t mean that you don’t get the best gear though. Golfers save up to buy the best quality clubs. Riders buy good horses. Authors spend money on good editors and cover designers because that’s what’s involved in the hobby. Doing it on the cheap won’t get you a good product, so you won’t get the satisfaction of a job well done, and readers will be less inclined to read or feel good about what they do read.
If you’re running a business you can’t keep running at a loss unless you have the income from somewhere else to cover it. And in a normal business, you’d get out of that game and find something else, but if you look at it as a hobby, then if you happen to make some money out of it, that’s a bonus.
You’ll not be looking to give up your day job, though, at least not until/if your books start selling enough. And that is still possible for those who write mainstream kind of books – those with a big readership – and who manage to market well.
Visibility is the new gatekeeper
It used to be that authors would write several books before they got a publishing deal. Many wrote several books and never got a deal. Some got a deal with their first book but didn’t sell enough books for publishers to take a risk with another book. A few sold well. 95-98% didn’t. It’s still the same, but now instead of the publishing houses being the gatekeepers between books and readers, it’s visibility that says whether or not we’ll sell books.
Assuming that our book is good, then visibility will determine sales, and the visibility has to be for the group of readers who will enjoy the book. It’s no good having a thriller highly visible to a romance readership!
How to get visible
There are books that deal with this, but essentially you have to:
- decide what kind of people will like your book best,
- find out where they hang out,
- go there and interact with people until you’re part of the group,
- mention that you’ve written a book – and do it without spamming.
That’s basically it. You need to get your book in front of those who will most appreciate it, because if those who will want to read it don’t see it, you might as well have not published it at all. That’s how visibility acts as a gatekeeper.
If it seems daunting …
Just write. Write what you want and write it from your heart. That way you’ll get satisfaction from your writing that doesn’t depend on financial or any other external form of return. Any other kind of writing is a waste of time – unless you’re getting paid for it!
Authors – Do you write from your heart? Have you found the people who like your books?
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