At my first ever writing retreat, I remember a conversation with one fellow retreater.
I’d never met this lady before, but she was there to finish her book. Put everything into the order she wanted, ready for typing up (yes, some people write in long hand). She was then, she said, going to publish it on Kindle.
Okay, great. I loved that, because I’ve published on Kindle, too. We’ve something in common, I thought.
This lady then went on to voice what I once thought myself, and have heard other self-published authors also say. ‘It’s so easy these days. You just upload it onto Amazon’s website and that’s it.’
As I say, I once thought that, too.
Several years ago, when I held my first completed novel in shaking hands (well, not literally, it was on my laptop), I entertained the prospect of seeing that book in print, and listed on all the major sites. Of course, I went down the usual route of looking for an agent/publisher, in the hope of getting it ‘out there’ in the traditional way. Sci-fi is a hard genre to sell though. Or, rather, there aren’t many agents who will handle it. With several rejection slips littering my cork-board, and my next novel started, I discovered lulu.com.
Within a month, I really did hold my first completed novel in shaking hands. Right there. In hard copy. Not only that, for a distribution fee, it was up on Amazon, too. It was also on the main distributor’s list, so all the big bookshops could order it and put it on their shelves. Because they would, wouldn’t they? Its inherent brilliance would compel their buyers to just… well, buy it.
So I sat back and waited for the royalty cheques.
Yes. That’s when I got my first inkling that self-publishing wasn’t quite so ‘easy’.
A year later with only two copies sold, I was convinced the book was rubbish. (And, lets face it, first novel. It was never going to be great.) Still, by then I was well into my second novel. By the time it was complete things had moved on still further. There were more places online which offered print-on-demand, more places you could publish ebooks. And the distribution fee wasn’t so steep. To some extent it, along with the ISBN, became free, for limited distribution.
Easier to publish. Cheaper to put ‘out there’. Royalty cheques?
The problem – the real problem – was not ‘publishing’. It’s marketing.
Anyone can publish. You can publish your wedding photos, if you want. Print them off and send them to guests as mementoes. You can publish a collection of your granny’s recipies or grandad’s war anecdotes. Anything. Anyone and anything can be published. Getting people to buy it is where the problem lies.
No, sorry. Not even that. Telling people about it. Letting them know it exists. Bringing it to their attention and giving them the opportunity to buy it is where the problem lies. I’m not talking about friends and relatives, who are beholden to buy it anyway, but other people. Strangers. Who picked up your book because it looked like something they wanted to read. People who will hopefully become fans.
A self-published author doesn’t have the massive wheels of a big publishing house behind them. They don’t have a budget dedicated to bringing their work to the public eye, unless they’re well off, and most writers aren’t. They don’t have the contacts, they don’t have an established market. They don’t even have someone to design their cover art except, maybe, their daughter’s friend’s mate who’s pretty good with stuff like that.
All they have is their talent, their belief in themselves and their book.
For a self-published author, writing and publishing that book, their undiscovered masterpiece, is only part of the story. Marketing it, or rather not marketing it, is where success often turns to failure. Everything else is there, all the tools needed to turn a manuscript into that cohesive entity otherwise called a book.
To that lady, who naively believed putting her book on Amazon would be the end of her own self-publishing story, I’m sorry. Unless she’s happy for it to just sit there, undiscovered, unremarked, unread, this is where her work really begins.
Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, all the other social networking sites out there must become her new best friends. She has to tell people. Pester people. Become a pain in the butt. Friends as well as strangers have to get fed up of seeing her posts, her tweets, her book cover on every newsfeed and wall they possess. She has to start a blog. Talk about her book. Talk about other books. Or anything else she has something to say about. In every way she can possibly conceive of she has to gather a following, tell people her book is out there. Or they’ll never find it among the millions of other titles.
Self-published authors don’t get hand-ups. They’re on their own. Writing is a lonely profession at the best of times. With the modern phenomenon of self-publishing becoming more established, and the competition getting stiffer, it’s become even lonelier. But with traditional publishers so limited in what, and how many, books they’ll take on, for most authors self-publishing will be their best chance of becoming known.
It won’t come without hard work, but, for most of us, it’s probably the best chance we have.