A lot of people consider me an early self-publisher, and I only started doing this in 2011. That’s four years ago, guys! I’m a baby at this. And yet… I’m not. Things that are common knowledge for me are still new for authors who spent all or most of their time under the traditional system. So I know a lot, but I’m still learning, too. And you have to keep learning. Nothing is static in publishing anymore. Advice that was written in stone two years ago is inapplicable today. Keep on your toes. Keep learning. At the same time…
2. My goals haven’t changed much.
In 2012 I wrote a post about writing goals I called “Moving Toward the Mountain” about setting goals and following them, including some advice from the excellent Neil Gaiman. In that post, I identified four main goals for my writing career:
- I want to tell stories.
- I want to write better every day.
- I want to be able to pay my rent and buy groceries.
- I don’t want to be bored.
Surprisingly, these goals from three years ago haven’t changed much, so I focus on these things and let the other stuff be a bonus. Make a list? Eh. Grow my mailing list to ___? Eh. Hit number one in this category or that category? Eh. All that is bonus stuff. The fundamentals that I mentioned above? Those are still what I work for. (I just traded a mortgage for rent.)
3. It’s still about the story.
It’s still about writing a good book. It’s not about a gimmick or a trend. It’s not about hitting that list or getting that review and getting in with that advertising site. All those things are helpful on the business side, but they’re not going to mean anything if you’re not focusing on telling the best story you can.
A lot of people quit publishing in 2015. More will quit in 2016. Everyone has their own reasons. Some are good and some are bad. But if you’re getting into this business as a quick way to make a buck, then you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. If you’re writing and publishing to tell your story, then no matter what happens on the sales front you still have your work. And that’s not nothing.
At the same time…
4. This IS a business. Treat it that way.
You love Cover X, but the book isn’t selling well? Change it. It’s just business. Covers are there to sell a book. If a cover isn’t selling, it’s good business to change it.
You want to try an exclusive program for a book? Try it. It may work. It may not. It’s just business and you can change your mind down the road.
You don’t like giving your book away/discounting it, but every time you do, sales of the rest of the series go way up. Bite the bullet. Take the loss leader. This is just business.
Ask yourself three questions when you’re making these decisions:
- Does this compromise my morals or principles as an individual?
- Is this good for my audience?
- Will this make me money?
That last one sound harsh? It’s not. It’s business.
Example: Signings/conferences/conventions are a lot of fun! But accept that you’re not going to make much or any money from them. (That’s not the point. You’re there to have fun and meet readers in a promotional context.) But if you’re doing those every month to “drum up business” you’re fooling yourself.
Advertising and “getting your name out” is great. Giving away books can be great. But if you’re not seeing the financial return on investment, then change your methods.
My editing and cover costs both went up significantly in the past year. Significantly. I hire good people, so I expect to pay them for doing good work. But if I raise my e-book prices for new books this year, please don’t be surprised. Cost of doing business affects what I charge for new books.
I’m not being “mean.” This is my business.
5. Comparisons are the devil.
Please remember these two things:
There will always be someone who sells more than you.
There will always be someone sells less than you.
I feel very fortunate to have gotten to a point in my writing career that I have a team in place. I have a wonderful developmental editor, Lora Gasway. I have a wonderful copyeditor, Anne Victory. I have a couple of wonderful proofreaders who work for Anne, and a couple of different cover artists who work for me on different projects. I have a personal assistant/second brain named Gen who helps run my life so that I can focus on more writing in the coming year.
Please remember, it took me several years to get here. When you’re first starting out, you’re going to have a bare bones staff because you’re just starting out. (And all those people cost money. See #4 above.) That’s okay! You don’t have to find all these people at once.
You’re probably not going to have the funds to pay for all these people. (I know I didn’t.) So you’re going to learn how to format or design covers and trade with someone who’s a crack proofreader or great at spotting plot holes in rough drafts. You trade what you have or know for what you don’t. This can all be done in stages, but find your people.
7. You have to be willing to change. (Also known as: THE TALE OF MYSPACE)
Facebook is super popular with people my age (30s) but not so much with people who are teenagers. Twitter is a great place to talk to writers, but nobody sells books there. You have to have book trailers because all the kids are on YouTube! (I’m throwing these out, obviously. Opinions are like… you know.)
Change can be exhausting, but it’s necessary.
Social networks, where so much of business is done now, are constantly changing. Think of them as living organisms. They change and adapt over time. They attract different demographics.
Does that mean you have to be part of ALL OF THEM? Not necessarily. Find your audience and find out where that audience is hanging out. Be willing to go to them. I used to hate Facebook, but I started investing time in my author page over there and what do you know? I love hanging out on my page there, interacting with readers. It’s fun. (Because my readers are super-cool.) Find your readers and go to them. That’s how you sell books, my friends.
8. But don’t change too much.
Don’t do things solely for promotion that violate your principles and/or make you feel like a horrible schmuck/sellout/dancing monkey, because readers will be able to feel your disdain dripping off the page. If you’re a curmudgeonly writer of literary fiction, this may work for you. If you’re anyone else, it won’t. If you truly hate Facebook or loathe how you sound on YouTube, find another way to connect with your audience. You’re a writer. Use your imagination.
9. A lot of writing happens when you’re not writing.
Eh? But what about the almighty word count?
Hey, word count is important. I’m a big believer in BIC (butt-in-chair) time. Yes, you need to be disciplined and treat writing like a job if you want it to be your job. Yes, you need to write to be a writer. But you also need to refill the well. A lot of writing happens when you’re not writing. For me, it happens when I’m listening to music. It happens when I get out on the road and travel new places. It happens when I go for a walk under trees.
We write about life, whether it’s fantasy or history or science fiction. If you’re not living, you’re draining the well. Remember to refill it, because…
10. You have to remember why you started this.
In the past year, I’ve had so many friends feel burned out. Tapped out. Done. Finished. Writing became this chore that they had to do to keep up with… what? Financial obligations. Reader expectations. Personal goals.
These are all valid reasons for writing, but they’re not the only reason.
Because, honestly, there are easier ways to make money. (Like selling insurance or that extra kidney you have.) For most of us, a driving need to write and create and tell stories and share truth is what led us to writing and publishing. And that release, that escape, that immersion in other worlds is that made it fun or cathartic or whatever-it-was-for-you.
You have to remember why you started doing this.
When I start to get burned out, it’s usually because i haven’t had enough creative time. It’s because I’m focusing on the publishing and selling aspects of this business and not on the writing parts. I NEED the writing. It’s still my most-fun-thing. My escape. My happy place.
If you’ve lost that, then you need to step back, a deep breath, and remember:
- This is not a sprint; it’s a marathon.
- Refill the well of whatever stimulates your creativity.
- Take care of yourself, mind AND body.
- Remember why you started.
Live well. Breathe deeply. Stretch your eyes. Tell your story.
I’ll see you next year,