It can’t be all that hard, at least according to my family, who are still pondering, after 30 years, why I can’t go out and get a real job. I suspect there are a number of Amazon reviewers who feel the same way: write, publish, rinse and repeat.
But, this article is not about my family nor Amazon reviewers. I could write a very long and sarcastic book on what I think of both. My aim is to briefly explain how hard indie writing can be for most authors.
On the outside looking in, it seems like a simple formula:
- Beta read.
The writing process is hard enough in its own right. Every genre has a trope and often variations. In romance, readers want to read about that spellbinding first kiss. And, you damn sure better end the book with a happily ever after (HEA)—or happy for now (HFN). Otherwise, you’re going to piss off a lot of readers. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out writing must be somewhat difficult, or else Amazon would not have over 1200 nonfiction books on the subject.
The editing process is more daunting. Most low-budget independent writers simply don’t have money for developmental editors, line editors or copy editors. The price can range from $300 upwards. I’ve seen some editors charge $2000 for an 80,000-word manuscript. If you think that is an astronomically high price, you’re right. Especially considering there is no guarantee once the book is published it will make a dime of profit.
Family and friends make terrible proofreaders for a variety of reasons. Some authors pay between $50 and $150 for the services.
Writing a book is only the beginning, next comes:
- ARC (Advance Reader Copies)
They say a picture is worth 1000 words; in book publishing, this is absolutely true. A bad cover will kill a good book. Maybe that’s why graphic artists charge hundreds of dollars to make a good cover. It can’t be any cover either. A writer needs a cover specific to the genre in which they write. Readers expect that.
Budget writers tend to make their own covers out of necessity. It takes many hours, trial and error and a lot of sweat to produce something passable.
Blurbs (a synopsis of what the book is about) posted on Amazon (or any digital outlet) is tantamount to copywriting. Thankfully, as a former news producer, I was intimately familiar with copy edits. If it burns and bleeds, it leads—News at 11.
Those 300+ carefully chosen words can make or break a book sale.
Advance reader copies are tantamount to tribal warfare. Writers often send out 50 or even 100 free copies of their book hoping that readers will like (or dislike) it well enough to write a review. The rate of return is often less than 5%. For new writers, the percentage is even worse.
If all of these issues sound daunting—keep in mind the book hasn’t even been published yet. No wonder indie writers give up.
And, if that wasn’t enough—for every bullet point mentioned above, I can point you to a host of people selling seminars, courses, and software to make the process easier for the indie writer all for a handsome price. Scammers? Many are, but some aren’t. But, I can honestly say that I’ve never found a product offered for sale that an astute writer could not readily find in a Google advanced search if they would just take the time to look.
Once an author finishes his book and has it formatted the fun is only beginning. Next, comes the intimidating task of physically publishing the work product.
Sadly, this is where most independent writers fail.
If I have said it once I’ve said it 100 times: there is a tremendous difference between writing and publishing. Publishing is a business. Writing is an art. If you write a book that readers will never find, you might as well be writing a diary.
- Amazon or go wide;
- Setting the price;
- Social media;
- Newsletter (including swaps);
- Blog (and guest blogging);
- Street teams;
- Word of mouth.
Although I won’t go into the fine points of every bullet, each one should be considered carefully. An unintentional mistake can sometimes mean the life or death of what otherwise would have been a successful book. Not to mention the difference between selling 10 books versus selling 3000 books. Deeply understanding and knowing the publishing business is that important. Also, keep in mind that in this article I’m only covering about 20% of all the different things indie writers need to consider.
Amazon controls 80% of the e-book market. Distribution is probably the single most important issue of consideration facing an independent publisher. Second is setting the book’s opening price.
If there is such a thing as a heretical arc, third would be discounts and promotions. Even the ‘Big Five’ get it wrong from time to time. In March, a marketing executive with Harper ran what I would consider a dismal campaign on Bookbub for a preorder of an established writer. It wasn’t Bookbub’s fault. The ad executive failed to realize that readers on Bookbub are there because they are cost-conscious. They want discounts. Secondly, the author they were promoting did not need name recognition because she was already established. She had a readership. If the big boys get it wrong is there any wonder why 99% of indie writers fail and quit within the first year?
So, how hard is it to be an independent writer? It’s pretty damn hard; which brings us to my last focus: cannibalistic authors.
Arguably, my perspective is ingrained from growing up in a different generation that held loyalty and integrity to a different standard. And, my perception is somewhat tainted from my years of working behind the scenes in television news. But, for the life of me, I fail to see why so many authors find it necessary to cannibalize one another.
I’ve made no pretense that I dislike some Goodreads and Amazon reviewers. It is tantamount to the South Park episode in where all the townspeople turned into Yelp restaurant critics. It doesn’t help that some book marketing courses promote seeking out the Top 100 Goodreads reviewers (genre specific) in an effort to solicit their ARC. The theory behind it is that those reviewers have a following, and if they like your book they will leave a good review and you will get more sales. To some extent that may be true, but I’ve never seen a data point correlation that suggests a specific reviewer’s opinion is any more or less significant than another. Regardless of whether or not traditional publishers use this tactic, clearly some reviewers are just assholes and have an elevated opinion of themselves. Renegade? Perhaps, but at least I’m honest.
This is not unlike authors who for one reason or another go out of their way to belittle, bully and, at times, sabotage their competition. Writers are temperamental by nature: call it the artistic effect. I get that. But I’ve seen somewhat successful writers turn their ‘street teams’ into social media piranhas against unsuspecting writers needlessly.
Seldom do they go after the big dogs: the successful, moneymaking indie writers who carry weight. They go after the smaller fish who have limited resources to fight back. Sadly, Amazon does nothing about it as cannibalism is also part of the company’s corporate structure. I’ll take that back—once in a while; Amazon will do the right thing. Once in a while.
So, the next time you decide to criticize an independent writer for whatever reason, ask yourself if you could do any better if you were in his shoes.
A writer, especially an independent writer, is only as good as her last book. Historically, authors are under tremendous pressure to pump out the next project. Could you do any better?