Doubt, Excitement, Confusion, Frustration, Success, these are the stages you’ll go through if you stick with the path of self-publication. You may experience them differently from the writer who comes before you or after you, but you’ll see all of these in some manner.
Whether you’ve submitted a hundred works or decide to do an end run around the whole publishing establishment, you didn’t get into self-publication because you were being chased around with 6-figure book deals. You’ve made a decision to set out and make your own way. It can be daunting. It can be intimidating. At some point you’re going to question yourself, and wonder whether you’ve made the right decision.
- Am I good enough to do this on my own?
- Am I ready to take on all the roles a publisher would handle for me?
- Should I keep trying the traditional route?
- If my work was good, wouldn’t someone find me and come to me?
If you let those stop you, you probably weren’t cut out to go the independent route. Bu you don’t have to stop and listen to those questions. Yes, Yes, No, No … answer that way and keep going.
This stage will set in either upon completion of your manuscript or when you launch your first book to the public. For me, it really hit when I saw the first Amazon sales of Firehurler. It was a great day for me, and really felt like a milestone. It had stopped being all theory and promise, and turned into something real and out there in the wild: my own book on Amazon!
You’ll tell your friends and family. You’ll tell your editor, your cover designer, and whoever else helped realize your book. If you had anyone beta read for you, you’ll try to get their reviews up on Day 1, or as soon as they can at least. They are your first fans, and potential new fans are going to want to hear from them before giving your book a try. As fans and contributors to your finished product, you will probably get nice reviews from them, and that will feel good too.
Confusion will set in once the heady excitement of release fades. Your little surge of adventurous souls who try anything new, your friends and all your aunts and uncles have bought their copies.
Then everything stopped.
Like a car that stalls on the highway, if you’re not a mechanic, you’ll find yourself stuck on the side of the road with little idea how to get going again. Don’t count on AAA to bail you out of this one, either. You’re self-published; you’ve forsaken the safety net of the publishing establishment (who also would have kept you up on your oil changes and make sure your fuel gauge was working).
For some reason, your book stopped selling. You try to figure out why.
- Is it priced too high? I’m new, and I want people to take a chance on me
- Is it priced too low? Do people think I’m peddling unedited trash, and I’m afraid to ask a fair price for it?
- Does my cover suck? I like it, but maybe not everyone does
- Is my book description too bland? I’m a writer, but that doesn’t mean I write good marketing copy
- Are my reviews not good enough? Do I not have enough of them?
These lingering questions, combined with a lack of sales (and you will lack sales), and Amazon’s oft-bizarre workings (bugs, laggy reports, unannounced changes …) will lead to frustration. You’ll start doing math, and at this point in your self-publishing career, math isn’t a kind-hearted companion. You’ll figure out your hourly wage and find that, after paying your editor and cover artist, there are prison inmates with better cash flow than you. You’ll project your earnings out, and decide that by the time the sun goes cold, you’ll have outsold the local newspaper’s daily readership.
To fight this frustration, you’ll scour the internet for advice, talk to anyone who claimed a smidgen of expertise, and (this one is important) – you’ll tinker with things.
You’re going to find new forums to talk about your book. You’re going to improve your author platform (something which is a whole topic unto itself). You’re going to move your book’s price around until something seems to stick. You’ll rewrite and rewrite the blurb in your Amazon product description. You’ll contact known readers and kindly mention that reviewing your book would be quite a nice gesture.
One of the most important things you’ll do is to keep writing. After all, if you intend to be a writer, you’re going to need to write. If you didn’t write To Kill a Mockingbird, or Catcher in the Rye, one just isn’t going to cut it. Readers want to see that the author they are investing in isn’t going to be a one-and-done. They’re hoping to stumble across the next Beatles; they’ll be happy to find a ZZ Top; but they really don’t want to read the literary equivalent of the next Vanilla Ice. Show them you’re serious. Especially if you’re writing a series, readers want to know that they’re not getting stuck with a partial work that will never be finished.
If you’re not willing to accept that this is a step in the process, you’ve still got one foot stuck in Doubt. Doubt is what will cause you to quit, or ease off and not pour everything you’ve got into your writing. You need to believe that what you’re doing is good. You need to work hard not only to make it good, but to learn to write even better.
Who’s to say when you become successful? Is it when you can support yourself from money you make writing? Is it when the publishers come and beat down your door to publish your next book? Is it the day some starts a question: “Hey, you’re a successful writer, can you help me with …”? Is it the day you win an award? …get a movie deal? …hit #1 on the bestseller list?
Decide for yourself. You can pick any of those goals or make one up for yourself. If you’ve gained thousands (millions?) or fans, or just a few dozen, people are reading and enjoying your work. Whether your audience grows quickly or slowly, if you keep going, it will grow. Success is a matter of time, determination, and a willingness to work to improve.
Am I successful? The other day I had a particularly nice spike in sales that sent me up into the Top 100 on the Epic Fantasy bestseller list in the Kindle store. I was seeing names all around mine that I know and respect. For a brief, shining moment, I saw The Fellowship of the Ring listed after Firehurler! Of course, mine was a one-day spike, not the lingering aftereffects of 70 years of being the gold standard of the genre, but it happened, and it felt amazing.