Hi friends, fans and followers,
The world of publishing is not what it was ten, five or even two years ago. When I started my own publishing journey, self publishing was still relatively new (in its modern form). Now, as I approach my fifth year as an indie author, I pause for a moment to reflect on what it takes to endure the many obstacles in an author’s path and the constant roller coaster ride in becoming successful.
First of all I want to qualify what “success” means. In years gone by an author’s success was determined by having a book traditionally published and selling books to the public. Beyond that there are levels of success, with best selling authors right at the top and those who were just happy to see their book in print, right at the bottom. But these days success comes in many forms and it depends largely not on how many books one sells, but the quality of those books, as determined by the increasingly savvy readers, who, despite picking up your self published title, nevertheless expect it to be at least as good as the average book in a book store. Rightly so. Because you are not successful merely for having published your own book. I have seen some terrible examples from people who have no right calling themselves “authors”. Likewise, I have read books published traditionally which are trash. But even trash books can become popular, purely because they engage their readers on a level well suited to the clientele and the expectations of the reader themselves, who may just want a romping read and do not care if the narrative itself is not as polished as one would expect. A case in point is the hugely successful “Fifty Shades” series, written, I might add, by a writer who began just as I have, as a self published author.
When I first began I had high expectations and did immediately meet a welcoming audience, albeit small. But I have witnessed the book market crash along with the economy as people who would normally experiment with unproven authors, gradually returning to the tried and true books they know will bring the rewards a reader is looking for. In the current market, saturated as it is with a flood of books from all kinds of writers, authors have been forced to acknowledge the gold rush has peaked and on the decline. Not the volume of books, but the willingness of readers to invest in them.
Success for me comes in the feedback I get from happy readers. Thankfully, in my case bad critiques have been few and far between. That’s not to say I don’t welcome them, as good, honest reviews, no matter how negative, actually serve to encourage me to lift my game and improve. To date I have published twenty eight titles, from children’s books to novels. I write across a range of genres, not to maximize my reach, but because each story I write fits a different genre. I write only what I want to write. My stories are stories I would want to read.
Recently, an individual bought twenty paperback copies of The Black Fairy and The Dragonfly. I have no idea who this person is or what they intend to do with those books. I can guess they are a class set for school children, or for a book club. It thrills me that someone thought enough of my work to invest no small amount in them. This for me in itself is success. In four years I have sold a little under 300 print books and I don’t know how many digital copies. It is actually impossible to calculate as with expanded distribution, the figures just aren’t available. However, right now, hundreds of my books are in the possession of readers. I am not naive enough to assume they have all read them, but those who have and have responded, truly like my work.
I am constantly on guard from the tendency to overreach and place too much emphasis on quantity. Instead, these days I am far more grateful for the feedback, which is extremely crucial for a writer. I only wish more people wrote reviews and told me what they think, not because I necessarily want huge numbers of reviews, but because I genuinely love hearing from my readers.
There are ten things an author must know and do when embarking on this self publishing journey:
- You need the right stuff. Your work needs to be at least as good as average books and preferably better. You need to convince readers you have what it takes and that your books are worth investing in, from the moment they see the book cover to reading the first chapter and all the way to the end of the book.
- Write what you like. Don’t be tricked into writing what you perceive the readers want, as you will not write with passion and your work will come off as contrived.
- Write what you know. I know young people. I have taught for ten years. before that I was a Youth Leader. I am one of nine children myself and I have a massive bank of anecdotes and personal experience to draw on. This cannot be bought or learnt. Experience is priceless.
- Story first, age group second, point of view third, genre fourth, narrative style last. Start your story, which in its infancy will be a single idea. Name your characters as they are introduced. Do not find a name that just sounds right. Do some research about the name. Does it symbolize something. Is there a connection beyond merely a random name. Be inventive when it is called for but keep it simple when it is not. Choosing the right point of view will be determined by who is telling the story. There are three options: First person (I, me), second person (You, Your) and third person (He, her, him, she, they, them). Second person narratives are not as common in literature but are common in many classic folk traditions. First person is used to tell very personal stories. This can be a restrictive perspective and as such the writer or the narrative voice is limited mainly to what the perspective knows or guesses. Third person is far less restrictive and assumes the writer and narrative voice knows (but does not necessarily tell) everything. The genre will be evident the moment you start writing but be prepared to be flexible. If your story does not fit a specific genre, make it multiple genre (fantasy science fiction or Mystery Drama etc.). The age group you are aiming for will largely determine how you write the story and then, of course the narrative style will follow that.
- Take your time to get the plot right. I always know the end before I have finished the book. This gives me a target to aim for. However, be flexible enough to allow the natural progression of your story to come on its own and be ready to change your mind as the story evolves.
- Make sure you get the basics right. The best approach when writing is less is more, so long as you infuse your narrative with interesting passages that intrigue your readers and encourage them to invest more wholly in the book. Too many adjectives becomes convoluted. Instead, vary the language and get rid of repetition (unless you are using repetition as a device, such as an interesting character with a speech impediment or unusual behavior traits). In The Black Fairy and the Dragonfly, my dragonflies use a repetitive’ almost lyrical and quite primitive language which is fun to read out loud to children. Avoid starting a sentence with “And” or “But” unless it is specifically designed to catch a reader off guard or draw attention to something very important.
- Proof read your work both as you go and on a second and then third re-write. My re-writes do not focus on changing the story, only improving the flow and resonance of the narrative voice as well as fixing mistakes and inconsistencies.
- External proofing. You cannot as a writer see all the flaws and mistakes in your own work. I have my own proof readers and they willingly and consistently offer me suggestions and pick up mistakes I did not see. Note: Editors are for those who can afford it. Unless like me you have a good editor, do not pursue one. Instead, get a couple of people who have done copy editing or proof reading to go over your book. They will spot what you cannot. They will be honest with you. A good professional editor can cost a lot of money and should only be engaged after first achieving some financial success. In any case, no matter how good an editor is, they cannot fix a very bad story and many won’t even bother trying. Note: If you engage the services of a copy editor, they may charge per page. Some will do it in exchange for free signed books and this is fair and reasonable.
- Trial publish. Do not waste time waiting around, trying to make your book perfect. Even in the traditionally published world, mistakes are more common than you might imagine. Some of the most famous literary works have errors. Just publish your book. Get it out there.
- Promotion. This is the most challenging part of publishing. You are fighting against an army of “authors” all vying for a slice of the action. They will tweet, blog, Facebook, Pinterest etc. until they are blue in the face and whilst this is a necessary part of promotion, it DOES NOT guarantee you will find an audience. Nothing replaces local book signings and stalls and, if you have the finances, a book tour. I am planning a big book tour in the state in which I live, visiting a dozen towns. I am going to contact the local papers of each district, letting them know when I will be in town and use the public libraries and schools as my contact point. This can be an expensive undertaking, but if you plan it as a working holiday, you will see more of the country than would otherwise be possible. Get your books in the hands of readers and encourage them to give feedback. Be inventive about this and you can’t go wrong. Schools love visiting authors and students welcome the change in curriculum when an author visits. It makes them feel special when someone who has written books comes to their school to see them and share their stories. Make sure you are ready to give away (as prizes) books to students who make insightful comments or are genuinely engaged.
This list is by no means exhaustive, but if you plan well and are committed to your own work, it will come across in the end result. Be confident, even when you want to see only bad things. No author, no matter who they are, trusts their own judgment. In the end, it is not even up to you how good your books are. It is, as in many other things, the job of the reader to tell you that. And, if your work has merit, tell you they will.
COMING SOON TO BRAVE BEAR BOOKS