by: Eric T Knight, Guest Author
Eat the Shark Before the Shark Eats You.
Huh? What’s that about sharks, you say? Isn’t this supposed to be about writing?
It is. I only wanted to get your attention.
So, now that I have it, I’d like to share some thoughts with you about being an indie author. Some are things that helped me. Others are things I wish I’d known. Much of it I still struggle with sometimes. Mixed in with it all is a healthy dose of rambling, because that’s what writers do, dammit.
Get professional help!
No, not that kind of help. I’m talking about other indies.
Let me use myself as an example. After 25 largely fruitless years of trying the traditional publishing route, I decided to give self-publishing a try in 2015. My first step was sending 50 query letters to agents in a last-ditch effort to go the traditional route.
Only one responded.
After that I engaged in a couple of years of random flailing about. I managed to sell about 1500 eBooks and picked up a bit over 90,000 page reads. Which wouldn’t be so bad except that I spent a foolish amount of money doing so. It probably would have been cheaper to just hand out money on the street.
Finally, I decided I needed help. I got hooked into the indie community and started to learn the business. Lots of amazing people helped me, too many to name. I wouldn’t be where I am now without their help. (Over 100,000 books sold and 63 million page reads.)
The greatest thing about this business is the people. Seriously. I am still in awe over how many indies, many of them complete strangers, went out of their way to help me. They will help you too. I will help you.
Don’t be like Eric. Don’t try to do it on your own.
Controls are for spaceships.
There’s an awful lot in this business you can’t control. Reviews, sales and rankings come to mind. Obsessing over these things can drive you crazy.
Personally, I almost never look at my reviews. Bad ones can crush my whole day and ruin my productivity, especially when it’s clear that whoever wrote it is so wrong! Good ones just give me a swelled head. Either way, I can’t control it, so I don’t try.
(I know authors who stress when a bad review is sitting on page one, but I had a box set that sold well for two years and much of the time TWO of the top reviews were two-star. FWIW.)
Sales are even more maddening. There’s simply no magic formula to guarantee sales. Anyone who’s been in the entertainment business for very long knows sales are a crap shoot. Your best work might disappear without a trace, while that horrible monster you can barely stand is your most popular work.
Focus on the writing. It’s the one thing you can control. (Disclaimer: I’m often not in control of the story. The characters have a way of wresting that away when they feel like it.)
Line those priorities up.
Being an indie author means wearing many hats. For the most part, you are your whole team. You have to do everything.
And boy is there a lot to do. Coming in, I thought all I really needed to do was write a good story and the rest would take care of itself. Ha!
Once I finally started trying to learn from other indies, I was almost immediately overwhelmed. There is so much information out there, so many incredible things other authors are doing that I should be doing. Newsletters. Mailing lists. Marketing. Covers. Podcasts. Blogs. Interviews. Live readings. The list is endless.
I drove myself nuts trying to do all of them, but it was simply impossible. Often, I’d set out to do one of them only to get sidetracked into three others. I spent a lot of time spinning my wheels. And I ended up not doing anything well.
Read what others are doing. Pick one or two and focus on them until you can do them well. Then acquire others as you have time.
But above all else, keep writing. Writing should always be the number one priority.
Like a nose, only you can pick your path.
Learn everything you can from others. But remember that your path is unique. What works for someone else might not work for you. I remember fishing with my dad, using the same bait, casting to the same location, but he caught lots and I got nothing. It’s the same with being an indie author.
If something’s not working for you, maybe it’s not for you. Don’t let it discourage you. Try something else. Play to your strengths.
Beware the envy trap.
Trust me, it’s waaaaay to easy to fall into this sucker. This is how it goes for me: I’m feeling pretty good about how I’m doing and then I go online and there’s someone who’s just crushing it. Suddenly, everything I’ve done is pathetic. There’s really no reason to continue in this business. I’m clearly a hack. I should just quit now.
Measure your progress against yourself, not against others. Don’t worry about where others are on their path. The only one that matters is yours.
Enjoy the view.
While it’s important to focus on your path, you also want to make time to stop and enjoy the view now and then. It’s a long journey. It can be exhausting and depressing. (Especially due to the solo nature of this work. We authors don’t have coworkers to vent to and eventually not even the cat wants to hear about how much you hate the last chapter of your new book.) You need to savor the milestones along the way.
I remember the thrill the first time I sold a book to someone I didn’t know. The time I held my first paperback in my hand. (I’ve been doing this so long I remember how excited I got the first time I printed off a short story—on a daisy wheel printer!) There are so many cool moments. If you skip them, you probably won’t enjoy the final destination even when you do make it there.
Determine your own success.
Another trap that’s easy to fall into is letting the actions of complete strangers determine whether you get to feel good about your work.
Let me explain. You’ve written a book that you’re really happy with. It’s your best work yet. You’re really getting better at this thing. You wrap it up all neat and put it up for sale.
Whereupon it does exactly diddly.
At this point, it’s really easy to fall into thinking that poor sales equals poor writing. Your story sucks. Your characters suck. Everything sucks. There’s no point in going on.
All because of the actions of strangers (or, in this case, inactions).
That’s bullshit. Sales do not necessarily measure quality. Good books languish while bad books sell.
The market just makes no sense sometimes. If you are proud of your work, don’t let the vagaries of the market tell you otherwise.
Pat yourself on the back.
Don’t ever lose sight of the fact that simply writing a book is a huge task. One that truly deserves a hearty cheer. It’s a task that very few people will ever undertake or complete. Even if your book stinks, you still wrote a freaking book! That means something. Give yourself credit. And then give yourself some more.
Don’t give up.
This job is hard. It can be mighty discouraging. You work your butt off, but it feels like you’re not getting anywhere. Maybe this is all a waste of time.
But as long as you keep writing it’s not. For one thing, you learn from each book you write, lessons that will help you on the next one. Think of it as finishing an advanced writing class. Best of all, no student loans to pay off afterwards.
Also, each finished book is an asset. That asset may not be worth anything now, but down the road it could be. There’s no rush. Unlike an avocado forgotten in the corner of the veggie drawer, books don’t spoil. (With a few exceptions. You probably should have written that fondue cookbook back in the ‘70s. It’s going nowhere now.) It could be that the time just isn’t right for that particular book. Maybe it needs more work or a better cover.
Wherever it leads, being an indie author is an amazing journey. Enjoy it. I mean, why do it if you’re hating it? Aren’t there enough awful jobs out there that we have to do? Why add writing to the list?
There you have it. Pearls of wisdom from my long, several-year career. Hopefully you found something here that will help you. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me. I’ll help however I can. firstname.lastname@example.org
About Eric T Knight