As I languish in limbo, while deciding whether to go ahead with self -publishing, which I’ve been preparing to do for seven months, or to wait for a reply from The Future Bookshelf who are contemplating if my manuscript is worth publishing, I came across an outspoken answer on Quora.
The question posed was What are the hardest aspects an author has to deal with when trying to get their book published?
Michael Davies, an Australian writer, publisher and writing teacher, who answers first, doesn’t pull any punches!
A revealing article penned by indie author Alastair Crombie describes
how he attempted self-marketing as an unknown writer.
I’ve not found any other methods that work reliably for newbies.
I’m not sure there are any. The cold truth of the matter is that
instant success belongs in the fiction we write and not in the facts
“And the final lesson I learnt: living with disappointment. I know most authors recognize the feeling.”
year, I’ve been navigating the self-promotion trail, which is
something I wish I’d began six years ago, before writing my first
Cornish Detective novel. If you’re new to writing, I earnestly
recommend beginning a blog (with a newsletter) and posting regularly
on social media. The trick is to get your name known and also to
collect email addresses of subscribers who may, one day, buy your
whether you self-publish online or you publish traditionally through
a book company, you’ll be expected to have an author platform, so
best start now!
When I returned to creative writing in 2013, I knew it would take at least five years to get anywhere and so it has proved. It helps that I’m stoical (and bloody-minded!). I had some experience of publishing and being a writer from selling short stories and magazine articles in the 1970s and 1980s, realising that you were only as good as your last published piece—and that it needed lots of luck to get that into print.
I’m glad that one of the first writing guides I read was How Not To Write A Novel: Confessions of a Midlist Author by David Armstrong. Originally published in 2002, what he says about surviving as a non-bestselling author is even truer today. The hardships and ignominy are worse. There are affordable copies available on Amazon and eBay and Kindle:
confirms that it’s a long, hard slog to get anywhere as a writer.
Wannabee authors might well be put off starting.
present, I’m wrestling with the hydra of converting my books to other
formats, those most commonly used by e-reading devices, which are
PDF, MOBI and EPUB. This is to make my manuscript flowable, able to
automatically fit different-sized screens. Previously, I’ve
self-published on Amazon and via Smashwords, which rather spoilt me,
for they have meatgrinder software which does the conversion for you.
I should have used Smashwords again, even though I’ve unpublished my 45 titles on their site, to promote them via Draft2Digital. Instead, out of some daft sense of behaving honourably, I attempted to do the job by using Calibre, checking what the converted story looked like with Adobe Digital Editions
The main problem has been that the formatting I’ve used sometimes gets removed by Calibre, resulting in unwanted spacing between sentences and paragraphs. Trying to establish my own house style, I’d used Celtic symbols as section breaks, like this:
Calibre didn’t like that at all, substituting a capital ‘O’ for the key I’d pressed to insert the Celtic Knot. Smashwords meatgrinder did the same thing. This meant I had to remove them all, which took several hours…as did adding them last week. Note to self: stop being a clever dick!
After cleaning the manuscript of extraneous design flourishes, I put it through Smashwords meatgrinder again, which gave me a clean-looking story, complete with an attached book cover. There are still problems with the MOBI conversion done by Smashwords, which is the format used by Amazon for their Kindles.
Smashwords and Amazon don’t play well together, each insisting that any manuscript submitted doesn’t mention their rival. I’d listed my 45 previously published titles at the end of the book, linking them to Amazon, which gave Smashwords an epileptic fit! Removing them improved the MOBI reformatting results, but Amazon’s own meatgrinder will probably do a better job.
Of course, if I had the money, I could pay someone to run a campaign promoting me and my books and to convert my books to other formats, placing advertising strategically, but I don’t, so I’m doing everything myself. Paying for services is no guarantee of success. I’ve read some horror stories of people investing their life savings to promote themselves as writers, selling very few books and facing penury.
I’m 80% towards completing what I planned with blogging, having an author website, designing book covers, reformatting my five crime novels and posting on social media. I’m going to put in a couple of weeks of 12-hour days, to ready things for launching the first two stories in mid-July.
Although it’s taken thousands of hours of work to get to this point, I’m truly not expecting anything much to happen. I’m not a celebrity who’s chosen to write a book (or have it written for them), so I’ve no free promotion that way.
I’m just a nobody trying to be a somebody.
What might help raise my profile, is to do interviews with the local press and radio stations, which I’m loath to do, but needs must when the devil drives. EMOJI Cornwall Libraries have a policy of buying books by Cornish authors and those set in the county, so I’ll make some sales that way (including eBooks) as well as introduce local readers to my name.
What problems have you faced in self-promoting and self-publishing?
What worked for you?
And, what was a waste of time and money?
If anyone needs advice on what I’ve written about in this post, please contact me (before my brain melts).
I might have made the mistakes, so you don’t have to.
As I continue with my self-promotion campaign via blogging, creating a website dedicated to my crime novel series and posting on social media, in preparation for self-publishing this summer, I was happy to come across an optimistic article written by Harry Bingham.
I like Harry, as he knows the publishing business as an author:
In the article What Fiction Decline? An Indie Author’s Asking, he makes astute points about the inaccuracies of many surveys of publishing, which ignore crucial sales figures—such as Amazon’s KDP—which Amazon doesn’t share with anyone. No one would take a survey of traffic seriously, if it only counted vehicles on two-lane and local roads, ignoring motorways/freeways, so why embrace doom and gloom when the Association of American Publishers and the Publishers Association in Britain say things are getting worse?
The fact is that nothing at all in my interactions with readers makes me feel like I’m selling horses to car owners. Indeed, if my email inbox is anything to go by, I’m selling horses to people who really, really like horses. The appetite for good, absorbing, well-written fiction feels to me as intense now as it ever did.
I was glad to read this paragraph: I’m still unsure about what I’m doing with self-promotion and self-publishing, but it feels more like progress than querying cloth-eared literary agents who either ignore me completely or only deign to reply after three months with a form letter of rejection.
People hunger for new stories, so perhaps I’ll find an audience.
Writing blogger Kristen Lamb recently posted a long article about the collapse and purchase of Barnes & Noble, which is worth a read if you’re confused about the current state of publishing and book selling.
It’s worth reading the comments below the article from writers and B & N employees. One of them mentions James Daunt’s appalling attitude to his Waterstones employees’ wages, which is confirmed in this article:
To see him as a saviour riding in to rescue B & N and its staff, customers and the writers that create its product is laughable. He’s a wealthy man out to make money from what he can, one of the 1% who rule the world who favour the best-selling authors who make the most profit. We all know the phrase “It’s just business”—which is doublespeak for “I’ve behaved appallingly to get what I wanted and there’s nothing you can do about it”—book-selling and publishing are businesses…the most vulnerable will be oppressed. That includes authors.
Seeing as how they’re establishing a bricks and mortar presence, it’s possible they’ll buy some of the old B & N stores.
* Although many people who work in the book trade love books, be they book-sellers, editors, literary agents, book cover artists or publishers, this doesn’t necessarily translate into respect or recompense for the writers on whom the whole business depends. For any surveys that show there’s been an increase in readership, most of the public are indifferent to books and their creators. As an author, it sometimes feels like everyone is against you—even those who are supposed to be on your side.
Writers are the foundation stones of the book business. If we’re not treated properly the whole building will collapse. Imagine if a supermarket chain decided to only stock the 100 best-selling food products, not promoting anything new or unusual. They wouldn’t last long but might start to sell novelty items to bring more buyers in, maybe have a café, as B & N did. If you don’t believe in what you’re selling, why should anyone buy it? That holds true for the author, their agent, the publisher and then the book shop.
* At the moment, I’m at a crossroads with my writing career. After being with Smashwords for years, I recently transferred to Draft2Digital. I’m happy with their efficient operation, but feel like my Cornish Detective series might sell better on Amazon. Some authors have made millions from being on Amazon.
But, I resent their controlling ways. Effectively, they’re an intelligence agency gathering information on their traders and customers. This blog is available for whoever wants to read it, but I don’t know who’s got access to it. It doesn’t fill me confidence to know that Amazon is spying on me.
I’m loathe to go exclusive with them for my crime novels. As someone says in reply to Kristen Lamb’s article:
...some authors have figured out a sweet spot to milk a good living out of KDP Select. That’s fine, but having all their eggs in one basket could come back to bite them in a massive way if Amazon arbitrarily decides one day to change the payout structure.
I’ve had some experience of their forceful marketing tactics when they suggested I participate in bundling my titles with other low-selling writers’ eBooks, which would have yielded me about 10c profit for each sale! Books are like light bulbs or bars of soap to Amazon.
* Instead, I’ll be staying ‘wide’ for my book launch this summer. I believe in Ernst Schumacher’s Small Is Beautiful approach to economics and to living. I intend to market and publish at a manageable and personal level, going grassroots with my marketing, through local libraries, reading and writing groups, Cornish media, self-publishing my series via the D2D aggregator and also selling directly from my dedicated website.
Relying on faceless corporations and huge book store chains means I’d be giving away the tiny amount of power I have over my career. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t grab a publishing deal with one of the Big 5, as happened to James Oswald:
For now, though, I intend to self-publish in eBook format, not worrying about POD until it’s requested by readers.
Writing is a lonely task. Many of us yearn for the support and validation of signing with an agent, getting a traditional publishing contract or interacting with Amazon’s ‘experts’ to market our eBooks, but any of those can fail to provide what they’ve promised. Then what?
It would be lovely to see your novel on a book store shelf, but what if they don’t promote it all? What if the whole business fails? It happens, however big the company. Bosses stick their heads in the sand, pretending that all’s well. Even Jeff Bezos predicted that Amazon would fail one day:
One thing that Mark Dawson and Russell Blake share is how prolific they are. I thought that I was doing well to complete five novels in four years, a total word count of 480,000 words, but Dawson has written 23 books in four years!
Curious about this, I had a quick look at these two authors’ work on Amazon, which allows one to access the first few pages. Initial impressions are that it’s action-driven, with little subtlety, very short chapters and the longest word appears to be Kalashnikov!
It’s certainly not literature, but few great works of literature are adapted into television series or movies.
I’m considering putting more work into the 45 titles I’ve already self-published on Amazon and Smashwords (and the vendors they distribute to), as querying literary agents is such a wearisome and time-consuming activity. I’m put off by the thought of having to schmooze through blogging, social media and my long dormant website. Such a campaign would be to generate interest in me as a writer, to launch my first novel.
I’d prefer to be writing new books—but if they ain’t selling, what’s the point?
The dreaded process of discoverability is a tough nut to crack, and it’s made easier if the writer is a marketing expert. Considering the amount of work Mark Dawson has done, it’s certain he employed advertising industry experts…he admits to spending hundreds of pounds on advertising, which is not something most of us can afford. Hit someone over the head enough times, and they soon get the message. It’s a truism in advertising that the more a product is promoted, the shoddier it is in quality—handmade and high-quality items don’t need promoting, as they sell themselves—how often do you see an advert for Rolls-Royce?
Newspapers are often irresponsible in the articles they feature, which make it look easy-peasy to achieve success through self-publishing. Like any human endeavour, it’s only a few people who win through. Suggesting that simply publishing your novel on Amazon Kindle Select will make you a millionaire, is as daft as saying taking up running will win you an Olympic gold medal!
Whoever said ‘Life isn’t a popularity contest’ didn’t know about ebooks!
Going it alone is not without its drawbacks, however. I’ve compared self-publishing to emptying a bucket of water into an ocean—who’s going to notice it? To stand any chance of success as a debut writer self-publishing, readers have to know about you via social media…which is what I’m gearing up to do in 2019.
Well-established authors do well with epublishing, as they already have a name to trade on. Many aged writers are digging out the old novels and short stories that weren’t considered fit enough to be printed thirty years ago and sticking them on their own web sites for sale.
Lawrence Block, who is one of my favourite crime writers, does this. He, and several other well-known authors such as Donald Westlake, earned a living back in the ’50s and ’60s by writing soft-core porn and pulp fiction. They used pseudonyms back then, for discretion, but are now proudly churning out their backstock in these less judgmental times.
My first foray into digital self-publishing was in 2013-2014. I’d written a lot of poems and song lyrics and a dozen novellas and short stories, so finding the Smashwordsbook distribution site offered me a free way of getting my work out there.
Laughably, I first published in time for Christmas, thinking to make a few quid, totally ignorant of how crucial marketing and self-promotion are. Without making potential readers aware of who I am and what my books are about, uploading a manuscript started to feel like emptying a bucket of water into an ocean.
I learnt a lot about digital publishing from Smashwords‘ founder Mark Coker, and his style and marketing guides are free and worth a look.
I self-published the same titles on Amazon, using their basic KDP option, but resisted theirSelect option, which gives higher royalties, as it insists on exclusivity. This would have meant me taking down all of the 44 titles Smashwords had published and distributed to other booksellers. In theory, this is easy to do, but in practice, it can take weeks. I disliked Amazon‘s bossy attitude.
I’ve spent the last four years writing five crime novels, occasionally running querying campaigns of literary agents when I felt like being ignored or rejected!
In 2019, I’m dedicating myself to selling me as an author and my books as commercially viable products. I’ve queried 88 agents, but increasingly, I’m favouring a return to self-publishing. Whether I do this or if I luck into a publishing contract with a book company, I’m still going to have blog, tweet and post on social media to let the reading world know I exist. I’ve been singing away, wondering if anyone can hear me.
As part of making myself look good, I reformatted the ebooks on Smashwords, adding hyperlinks from the Table of Contents to chapter headings, to ease navigation for Kindle users. I also tidied my biography and a self-interview. This is easily the most mind-numbing and repetitive task I’ve done in writing books, making editing feel like a walk in the park. With Smashwords, the changes have to be made individually for each book.
It was partly the slowness of conforming to Smashwords style requirements, that helped me find another book distribution operator calledDraft2Digital while searching for competitors.
This article compares Smashwords and Draft2Digital.
There’s nothing to prevent me from having my ebooks distributed by Smashwords and Draft2Digital, keeping them on Amazon. The main drawback will be duplication, including with ISBNs, which Smashwords and Draft2Digital offer for free…Amazon doesn’t require them, as they use their own ASIN (Amazon Standard Identification Number).
Apparently, there’s an easy way of migrating listings on Smashwords over to Draft2Digital, but this would feel disloyal to me.
What do you think of Draft2Digital?
Have any of you used them or Smashwords?
What has been your experience with Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing?
I completed my fifth Cornish Detective novel at the end of 2018. Overall, I’m happy with the progress of my series, and though I queried 88 agents in February, I think it’s more likely that I’ll return to self-publishing for the launch of the first story this summer.
I had my 32nd rejection email this morning. What rather unsettles me about these, is that they often come with a signature of someone I didn’t submit to. I spend ages researching who is the best agent at an agency to query, as we’re advised to do by publishing industry experts—apparently, 85% of queries are immediately rejected as they are sent to the wrong agent. To do that, and then hear back from someone whose name doesn’t even appear on their website, makes me think that some work-experience flunky has been ordered to chuck out the last 1,000 submissions with a form letter.
It doesn’t put me off—just makes me feel even more jaundiced about the so-called expertise of literary agents. It’s hard not to get cynical when I look at the marketing side of selling books. Thanks to the huge success of three novels with the word ‘girl’ in the title—Gone Girl,Girl On A Train and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo—there’s been a whole slew of crime novels that have ‘girl’ on the cover. Perhaps I should alter one of mine to ‘Girly Girl Has Girl On Girl Action at the Gorilla Grill’, (I’m going for the animal lover and foodie fans too!)
Never mind. I keep reminding myself of novelist and screenwriter William Goldman‘s observation, that:
“Nobody knows anything…… Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess and if you’re lucky, an educated one.”
I’ll just keep on plugging away while treating rejections from agents like the worms of the nursery rhyme.
Down goes the first one, down goes the second one, Oh, how they wiggle and squirm. Up comes the first one, up comes the second one, Oh, how they wiggle and squirm.
I’ll cut their heads off suck their guts out and throw their skins away Surprising how us girls can eat worms three times a day That’s how we get our wiggles.
Talking of verse, it’s even harder to place poetry with a publisher. It’s worth remembering Don Marquis‘ advice, whatever genre you’re querying: “If you want to get rich from writing, write the sort of thing that’s read by persons who move their lips when they’re reading to themselves.”
Marquis made a number of pertinent observations about the process of writing and publishing, including this pithy favourite—which though it’s about poetry applies very well to what happens when you query literary agents with your prose!