This Saturday, 11/15/14, marks the six-month anniversary of the release of Unlucky Seven.
I figured I would give you, my loyal readers, a progress report along with some tips I’ve picked up along the way.
If you follow me on Facebook and/or Twitter, you know that I’ve been doing quite a bit of advertising. Probably too much for most tastes. It feels like the only things I’ve been posting have been links to my Amazon site and my GoFundMe campaign (shameless plug).
Can you blame me? I finally finished a novel that was many years in the making and was able to scrape together enough self-confidence to put it out there for public consumption. Suddenly, when you see people buying your stuff and you get cases of your own book in the mail, the classic trope of “someday finishing your novel” isn’t as much of a pipe dream anymore.
I am proud of what I’ve done and I want to get the word out about it. I have it on fairly reliable authority that my book has memorable characters, a fast-paced witty style, and is a very fun and fast read. I find myself going back and re-reading posted reviews and comments confessed to me in text messages and over Facebook frequently to keep my spirits up whenever I feel I’m starting to lose faith in what this book can accomplish.
I’m doing everything grassroots, too. Grassroots is tricky because, aside from yourself, you have to rely on friends to spread the word. Friends of mine in the local music industry know this part all too well. It’s a bit different trying to hock books than it is getting people to go to shows and buy albums but we find ourselves in the same sort of situation: attempting to sell our art when no one knows who the hell we are. The main advantage music has over literature is that it is much easier to stumble upon music. Since I’m not reading my book out live anywhere, I can’t be randomly heard or discovered. I do have a sample track in my first few chapters available for preview at Amazon, however, people have to be brave and/or engaged with reading enough to give it a shot. Instead, I rely on the kindness of friends to repost my links (most of them have), however, it’s tough to get people to read. Much tougher than getting them to look or listen.
I was lucky enough to find a partner in another local published author who also happened to be a good friend of mine, Spike Bowan. We teamed-up for a local toy collectors show where we shared a table and sold our books. We thought we did pretty well and I already had aspirations of taking the book to a bigger convention, namely, Steel City Con here in Pittsburgh this December. Spike and I agreed to an alliance which made things like Steel City Con more affordable at a split-price. We formed IAM – Indie Authors of the Mon-Valley – a writer’s group. Though it’s still in its infancy, our ambition is to give a home to genre fiction writers whose body of work doesn’t really fit well with the many lit-fic and poetry writer’s groups in the area. We don’t think there’s enough encouragement for genre writing and wanted to give the rest of the misfits, like us, a home. I’ll let you know as this develops. It’s kinda still in the chrysalis stage, but we’ll get there.
Some of my friends tell me that writing a book is a big deal. That I’ve accomplished something. Yeah, I suppose I have and, as I mentioned, I’m proud of that fact. It still makes me feel pretentious and icky to run around touting myself as an author or a writer. I’ve never been one to brag (I just wasn’t raised that way) and it feels too much like bragging to admit to people that I have faith and confidence that the words I’ve put down in that book are, briefly, good. I am not good at schmoozing and I am absolutely awful at self-promotion (see above: annoying). I keep getting told that it’s all just grist for the mill; that I’ve got to buck-up some more confidence and really sell my book. This is true. Right now, I’m just sitting here waiting for word of mouth. Let me tell you how quickly that ocean dried up.
It also makes me feel pretentious and icky when people ask me questions about writing. I don’t know that I’m one to be giving advice. Yeah, I’ve been putting words to paper in one manner or another for many years of my life (rants, blogs, Fights of the Week, etc) but, somehow, I don’t feel like one self-published book suddenly makes me qualified to speak as any sort of expert. People have asked for advice on their writing based on their appreciation of mine and I’m not really sure I should be answering. I’m not Dickens or Twain – I’m just a thirty-something from Munhall who sacked up and put a story out there, for better or worse.
Thinking on it for some time, I came up with a few points of advice for the aspiring, speaking only six months out from me being one of them. If anything, take this as preparation for when you finally decide to give the bird finger to all those publishers who rejected you and do it on your own. Learn from this, my friends. Please.
1. If you are a genre fiction writer, publishers and agents will absolutely deny you 99% of the time.
Too pessimistic? Too bad. No one – not anyone ever ever – will tell you this painful truth. Except Stephen King, he mentions his consistant rejections in “On Writing” (a fabulous and inspirational book, btw). The difference between now and when our good Mr. King was trying to break into the industry is the internet. More specifically, there was no Kindle, no Nook, no smartphones, and no apps. All of these wonderful solutions for modern living have taken the traditional idea of publishing and thrown them entirely out the window.
I’m not going to go too far and say that eBooks are putting paper under because that would be a lie. Paper books are still very much a thing in the same manner that, in an electronic world, paper cards for every occasion still greatly outnumber eCards. In fact, after my initial eBook only release, there were many people asking me where the paper copies were. Even though some of them were pretty avid device-users, they wanted it in print. Not just because they wanted it signed by yours truly (which most of them received) but because they were objectionable to the eBook medium in one way or another.
Don’t let that little bit discourage you. There are plenty of people out there buying eBooks, some of them are dragging a net into the deep waters that are the new independent books. These intrepid deep-sea fishermen are looking for your genre fiction. They want something that caters to their niche. They will find you.
The point of this first entry on the list is that, unlike Mr. King whose crazy horror stories finally found a mainstream home after a good number of years, when you get to the end of your rope and stop believing that The Powers That Be in writing are the end-all-be-all of getting your book out there, you can stop writing letters and just do it yourself. The Gatekeepers of the Industry are still present, but there’s a small hole in the fence. Squeeze on through as soon as you feel you’re ready.
2. There are people who will tell you that you achieved nothing because your book wasn’t REALLY published.
Your reaction to this should be a prompt, sturdy, and constant middle finger. These people are defined in the dictionary as assholes and are not worth your time.
You did not get a major publishing house to back your efforts. This in no way invalidates what you have accomplished. If you have completed a novel or a book or a volume or whatever you want to call it and have moved forward with publication, self or otherwise, you have done something that many people only aspire to do. Think about every person you’ve ever known who has alluded to or outright announced the fact that they’re working on a novel. Some people do it just to sound intelligent, some people are legitimate about it. Whatever the case, once it’s actually out there, you’re part of a different club. The important thing isn’t that your book is available (e- or print) but that YOU HAVE FINISHED YOUR NOVEL. Not only have you finished your novel, you’ve done so in a manner that makes you comfortable having other people read it, rate it, and respond to it. Those last parts are the hardest to get over. More on that later.
You have accomplished something that many deign to do but never complete. You’re at the end of the marathon, looking back on all the people behind you, able to marvel at this thing you’ve just done while others may stumble, stop, or quit altogether.
There is absolutely no shame in self-publishing. If anything, going this route makes it more of a challenge. You could send out queries for years and maybe, just maybe, you’ll get a result. If you get in with a house or an agent, you’ll have a much easier time with things. On the other hand, if you’re like me, out on the streets essentially putting feet-to-pavement to get word out about your stuff and you do become a success, it will be much more rewarding than going the traditional old-boys-club route.
So, you can tell those assholes who heckle you for self-publishing exactly where they can shove it.
3. You will be criticized and you may not like it.
You’ve put your book out there. If you’re like me, you’re probably using Amazon to do it which means that, as soon as Kindle Direct Publishing clears your product page for publication, the dreaded stars become a major focus of your life. There are five of them. If you’re lucky, most of them will be red all the time.
I have been fortunate so far that people reading my book have liked my book and told me so via the precious Amazon stars. While I’ve only got six ratings and I know I’ve sold more copies of my book than just that, a 4.8/5 rating on my page makes me feel good. People who read it like it enough to say positive things about it, which really gives me a boost. As you may or may not know, most people who rate things online either love it to death or hate it with passion. Not many people are going to rate your stuff three-stars. The internet is not a place of equity and reason, it is a place of extremes.
Although my Amazon rating might be intact, putting the book out there has exposed me to criticism in real life. People reading have told me about characters they love (which I hate) or characters they hate (which I love). I’ve been presented at least once with a sheet of minor grammatical errors (along with some perceived syntax errors, both very short lists) and told by that person that they “hope the second edition addresses these issues”. Bro, there probably won’t be a second edition for a while, fyi.
Still, the criticism is valid. All of it. You have to take it in stride and remember that you’ve put your book out there. There aren’t any real takebacks. Could you pull your book from Amazon, rewrite, and pretend it never happened? Sure. Don’t, though. You had confidence in your work enough to put it up for public consumption. Remain confident in yourself even if someone doesn’t like it. If you’re writing genre fic, like me, your particular niche might not be someone’s bag. Unless they have a solid argument, citing the source material, just consider it that someone doesn’t like your style, let it roll off your shoulders, and move on. Keep your head up. Remember, the person who criticized you probably didn’t write their own novel and throw it out there. You are braver than they’ll ever be. Keep your head high and march on.
4. Do not concern yourself with how many units you move or you’ll go crazy.
Your first experience in sales will be extremely rewarding. When you first announce that you have a book available, your friends will swarm like piranha to snatch up their copies. Within the first twenty-four hours with Unlucky Seven, I sold fourteen units. While that may not sound like much, I have yet to beat that one day total. In fact, I have yet to beat that one day total in a week’s worth of time. Maybe a month’s worth of time.
The first few days of your release will have you obsessively checking your sales statistics (which KDP handily provides). You’ll squeal with glee every time the line bumps up another unit. Then, inevitably, things will go flat. And, they WILL GO FLAT. There’s no real avoiding this. Do not let this affect you. This will happen often.
You’re obviously trying to monetize your work. You wouldn’t have put it up if this wasn’t the case. Amazon, as it states very clearly in the ePub contract you signed in the terms and conditions, is not responsible for the marketing of your book. You will not get any direct help from them unless your book starts to do exceedingly well, at which point they reserve the right to put you up on Kindle’s front page. This will not happen immediately because your name is not John Green. The only thing you can do to up your book’s views is to put it on sale. Amazon allows you to do countdown deals (selling your book at a discount from what you state as your list price) and book giveaways (offering your stuff up for free for a limited time). These options, per the terms, increase the visibility of your book while the discount/giveaway is on. I’ve done a countdown deal and I can tell you that it spiked sales pretty good. I’m contemplating a giveaway just to get the book out there.
Remember that this isn’t a race, but also remember that promotion is key to moving more units. Which brings me to my final point…
5. Marketing is a bitch.
I mentioned this in the above but I don’t know if I can mention it enough. The biggest challenge with self-publishing is self-marketing.
If you’re like me – a self-deprecating humorist with an anti-social streak a mile wide and perhaps (only perhaps) a dozen actual go-over-their-house-for-dinner hang-out-on-a-regular-basis friends – then you’re going to have as much trouble as I do moving units.
Social media is going to be your primary outlet for advertising because it’s free. I’m going to give you some advice that you see in every “how-to self-publish right” type of guide right here, but I’m going to add a bit of marketing advice given to me by my wife as well. This will be a small sub-list.
1. Start an author page on Facebook. Do not make a page for the book itself. You’re going to be writing more things than just the first book, right? Or you hope to, at least? Then you want a centralized author page. Do not make friends and fans follow more than one thing and do not put it on yourself to try to keep up with posting on more than one group page about your writing. Keep it simple. One page means one update reaches your audience. Plus, new friends/fans will be able to easily find your official stuff.
2. Twitter. Make your current account known. Update your fans regularly. Throw them little bonus bones like lesser-known (or unknown) facts about characters and locations in your book. Give them a reason to follow you.
3. Pony up and buy a domain name. While WordPress and services like it are a wonderful thing, people will take you much more seriously if you’ve got your own domain. I purchased jpbidula.com which, come to think of it, you should know already because that’s probably where you’re reading this very listicle. Make sure you’re keeping a blog. Your fans will likely want to hear what you have to say even if it’s usually bitching about a TV show that looks to crush the early origin of one of your favorite superhero franchises. Your fanbase will get to know you as a person from this place and it can be a platform for links – your Amazon page, an etsy or cafepress page for merch, your social media, deviantart if you’ve got any – just to name a few. Your domain should be the hub of your publicity efforts.
4. Goodreads. I got turned on to this site thanks to another good friend of mine. As a Goodreads author, you can really connect to your readers. I recommend checking it out. It comes highly regarded by many many self-published authors. Beware of the fan fiction there, it runs pretty thick.
5. Take some freaking pictures of yourself, you hermit. Better yet, get someone experienced to take them for you. You know people in the art community, I’m sure, and at least one of those people has to be a decent photographer. Go out in the world with them and get some good shots of yourself for promotional purposes. That Facebook page? Twitter? Your domain? Goodreads? All of them look better when your profile picture isn’t a blank outline of a person with a question mark over their face. Putting your face out there, even if you have low self-esteem like yours truly, makes you a real human being and can help your readers relate better to you.
6. Make yourself some business cards. When you do, list most of this stuff on it. When you give someone your card, it should allow them to connect to you on at least the major social platforms (FB, Twitter, your site). People WILL NOT remember who you are if you meet them and tell them you’re an author. They will, however, find your card when cleaning out their pockets/purse/wallet and maybe remember.
Use whatever tools you can for marketing. As I mentioned, I’m taking my book to a Comic Con along with my friend Spike. We’re going to be in the trenches with real copies, pressing flesh and meeting new people. We considered this a prime option for publicity. This does require an amount of capital (hence my GoFundMe site) but, as my boss at my day-job put it, it’s making an investment in yourself and, in the end, it will be worth it.
In conclusion, there will be ups and downs. The ups will feel incredible, the downs will be horrible. Remember that it’s not a race nor is it a competition. You will move units eventually but you have to put the work in to selling them. You have to be relentless with your promotion as much as you may hate it. You will come off to your friends as annoying after a while but they’re not the ones you’re marketing to after the first few weeks.
Above all things, keep your head up and remember that regardless of your sales numbers or reviews you have still accomplished a phenomenal thing. You are brave. You have done well. You will succeed if you put enough time and effort into it.
When we all get to the finish line, I’ll buy the first round.
Keep fighting the good fight.