Self-Publishing Success: Hopeful or Hopeless

Self-Publishing Success: Hopeful or Hopeless

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Writing and publishing a book seems a lot like having a baby. There is always a stranger who wants to tell you their awful story.  They had to use the paddles during my C-section.  Worse, you could be trapped in a corner for hours while a new mother shares all the tiny details of her child’s very routine birth,  measured out in breathy bursts (“and the baby CRIED when the doctor…”).  Like a baby, “delivering” a book  is hard, painful work, but worth it when the precious bundle is sitting in your arms (or on your bookshelf). Imagine how much harder it would be if a line of people stood right outside your hospital door waiting to tell you that, not only is the baby ugly, but she probably won’t amount to anything so maybe you should just admit that the situation is hopeless and give up now.

The topic of self-publishing seems to bring a similar line of people hell-bent on telling us just how spectacularly we are going to fail in ever getting decent book sales, let alone making a living doing what we love. Turn on any podcast and you will hear industry experts stating that the e-book “boom” has come and gone and sales are now winding down, while yet others say that the industry is changing to one driven by hybrid authors (traditionally and self-published) and success is possible if only one finds the magic formula of producing a great novel at the right time marketed just so and for the right price. As a newbie, I’m almost convinced that, for a reader to buy my book, they would practically have to live next door and follow the signs posted on my lawn “get e-book here!”

John Winters, a humorous and clearly talented writer, calls himself a self-publishing failure, equating self publishing with (gasp) masturbation, but “with less thrilling results.” The post is worth a giggle and found at http://www.salon.com/2013/04/02/im_a_self_publishing_failure/. Turn the figurative search-engine page and Patrick Barkham will tell you that you can be an e-book superstar, and “here’s how.”

Even my sometime idol, Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords has weighed in on the difficulties with the pitfalls of success as an indie author in this blog post http://blog.smashwords.com/2010/09/seven-secrets-to-ebook-publishing.html. I can easily forgive Mark. He gave self-publishers a platform, and like any good mentor who truly cares about writers, he wants to maximize our success and minimize our disappointment. Without visionaries like him, we wouldn’t have the luxury of asking the failure-success questions.

Successful authors like Amanda Hocking (http://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/jan/12/amanda-hocking-self-publishing) or Blake Crouch may seem like anomalies, but are they? Hocking says that she never expected much from her books. In fact, she doesn’t want all this rags-to-e-riches recognition based on how she sold her first books, but for the books themselves. Hocking designed her own covers and took the road that many traditional publishers are still trying to shame indies from taking: self publishing without an editor, an agent or a cover designer. Blake Crouch, another hybrid author success story is the opposite of self-made millionaire Hocking. While Hocking’s first e-novel, My Blood Approves, still sells for .99¢, Crouch, an author with an agent and traditional publishing contract, states (http://thenextweb.com/media/2011/03/07/the-economics-of-self-publishing-an-ebook/ – !u6mgy) that he can’t justify selling his novels for such a low price. Crouch, unlike Hocking, has used industry services such as cover designers to facilitate sales of his books.

While Hocking has recently gone the traditional publishing route—it’s tough to be a one woman business and still produce books—I believe her journey is more relevant than ever. The publishing industry is built on a rejection model that assumes cream will rise to the top. How many industry backed best sellers have you picked up but couldn’t finish because you kept falling asleep or couldn’t care less about the characters?

The industry is changing and it has to change. Jenny Trout’s excellent blog post, Our Exclusionary Attitudes Toward Self-Publishing Must Change ( http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jenny-trout/our-exclusionary-attitude_b_4602996.html ) is a brilliant perspective on attitudes toward self publishing.

Writing heavy hitter, Anne Rice, posted this response to Trout’s blog post on her Facebook page: “Our Exclusionary Attitudes Toward Self-Publishing Must Change” — by Jenny Trout. Excellent article and I agree with her all the way on this. Thanks to Jeffrey Brasher for the link. (By the way, I personally prize fiction as the creation of an individual soul. If I suspect a book has been re-written by a committee in a New York publishing house, or smoothed out and edited for popular consumption by in house editors, I don’t read it. If you read the article you’ll understand why I’m saying this.)”

Bear in mind that writers who fail may sell you on their failure, not because they want you to fail, too,  but because that is their experience and they may extrapolate it to the entire industry. Not all books are timely, well-written or what the consumer wants. Bryan Hutchinson makes excellent points about what makes a successful book—and it doesn’t have anything to do with a grammatically perfect, industry-approved style of writing. He shares the criteria for the books that sell at http://positivewriter.com/blogs-books-fail/.

At the beginning of my journey, I bought any and every book out there on the subject of self-publishing before I realized that, ironically, self-published books on self-publishing are sometimes written by people who don’t know anymore than I do. Taking writing advice about your writing future is like anything else in life: to be taken with a grain of salt,  because—until you write it—no one can tell you how successful your book will be. Advice that is worth the price you pay for How To books should focus on what you can do to improve your craft and promote and market your product (anyone else tired of the word platforms yet?) or what to avoid, such as sites that charge author-hopefuls for services rather than promoting their books and taking a fee from sales. One author-entrepreneur with a pay-it-forward attitude who demonstrates compelling fiction writing skills as well as balanced writing and publishing advice is Joanna Penn (aka J.F. Penn of http://www.thecreativepenn.com/). Penn is often one step ahead of the industry, taking the time to research and learn what is working, what isn’t, and where we should go as writers. Her book How to Market a Book is more than worth the price.

We’re not idiots. We know the path may be rocky or uphill at times, but it’s a complete waste of time to focus on what we can’t achieve.  Writing is hard enough. We don’t need to get sucked into the notion that we are failing before we start. The only thing we can control is the quality of our books, our attitude toward writing and publishing, and what we choose to carry as we travel this path.

As Emily Dickinson so eloquently said:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

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