FAQ: Writer’s Edition

So, most of the visitors I’m getting to the site now are readers, not writers. For that reason, writers who visit (hi there!) get their own FAQ page.

First, a bit of an introduction: Lots of new or aspiring writers look at the success that I and some other indie writers/self-publishers have had and think:

a) self-publishing is super easy and all you have to do is crank out that book that you’ve always thought about writing, slap it up on Amazon, and yay! Instant millionaire!

OR

b) the indie ship has sailed, the market is flooded, and all the luck has run out. Forget success. Forget being taken seriously. It’s all downhill from here.

Generally, I go by the philosophy that life (and that includes writing life) is never as good or as bad as it seems. The truth lies somewhere in between these extremes. Success is attainable, but much of that is dependent on your definition of success. So, keeping that in mind, here’s some very commonly asked questions I get about self-publishing.

1. Did you submit your books to a publisher first?

Nope. Never queried/submitted/etc. Nothing against those who do; everyone takes a different path in their profession. I’ve detailed some of the reasons why I chose indie-publishing here.

2. Why do you call yourself an indie-publisher and not self-published?

I use both, to be honest. I don’t have any real objection to being called “self-published.” After all, if it’s good enough for Mark Twain and Charles Dickens, I’d be a real snob to buy into the stigma. “Indie-published” just seems more accurate since I have so many other people involved in producing my books. First-readers, editors, proofreaders, formatters, cover artists… There’s only so much “self” in there.

3. But self-publishing is super-easy, and I’ll be able to be an overnight millionaire, right?

But of course!

Okay not really, but if you are a good writer and are willing to put the work into writing and producing a professional product, over time you can market and sell books and make real money. It’s not a get rich quick scheme, but it’s possible.

Write good books and don’t expect to be an overnight success. Plan to spend some time (as in years, not weeks) building your audience and learning to be a better writer.

My personal motto is: It’s not who makes a big splash in six months, it’s who is still writing after six years. I want to do this for the rest of my life. It’s fun, and it gives me a good excuse to research obscure trivia.

4. So, what you’re saying is that it’s really really hard, and I should probably not even try? In fact, all of this writing business is an exercise in futility. In life. In love…

Not really, Captain Sunshine, but if you’re going to be a pessimist, you might want to stop right here, redirect your efforts into literary fiction, and possibly win a Pulitzer someday. (I kid.)

(Sort of.)

Listen, if you love writing, then write! My attitude is, if you’re doing what you love (even if it doesn’t pay the bills for a while, or ever) and you make back your initial investment on the book (TIME DOESN’T COUNT) then everything else is gravy. Seriously, that novel you slaved over sold five copies last month? Well, that’s five copies you wouldn’t have sold if you never put out the effort. Keep writing. Keep getting better. You never know what the future holds.

Listen, especially when you’re first starting out, don’t seek to sell, seek to be read. You’re building your audience and that’s a long term game.

5. Do I really need to hire an editor? They’re expensive.

Yes.

But—

Yes.

No, really, I don’t have the cash to—

I totally get where you’re coming from, but I’m still going to say YES.

Here’s the thing. When I published A Hidden Fire, I probably had a budget of less than $200. That’s it. I was on unemployment at the time. (I wrote three books on unemployment while I was waiting for copywriting jobs to appear. I’m not too proud to admit that because I used the time I had. Reinvention is possible. Take a cue from LEGO and “build your world.”)

But seriously, cash wasn’t just tight, it was nonexistent, at least for literary pursuits.

I traded editing with a friend who’s a textbook editor. I sent it to other writing friends I really trusted who I knew were going to be critics and not just cheerleaders. Lots of them. I finally scraped together enough for a proofreader to give it a final look. Was it perfect? No. Far from it. But it was the absolute best I could make it, and the first thing I did with the money from A Hidden Fire was to put it into editing on This Same Earth.

If you don’t take yourself seriously, no one will. You want to be a professional? HIRE AN EDITOR. It really is that important.

6. Do I need to hire a cover artist?

Possibly. It depends on your artistic skills. Just remember there’s a lot going on in a great book cover besides pretty pictures and a few words slapped on. It’s a design skill. Some of you may have it, but I can almost guarantee more of you don’t. Be really honest with yourself and do your research.

7. I wrote a real book! What do I do now?

Did you read the two questions and answers above this one? You did? Good, you’re ready to go ahead with the rest.

Go online. Research. There’s tons of information online, and it’s free. Then, if you really, really want to buy a book that tells you how, I recommend David Gaughran’s book, Let’s Get Digital. It’s a great resource and is geared toward new writers who don’t have experience in publishing. I used it often when I was first starting.

To new writers: Please do not believe anyone who tells you that you need to pay a bunch of money to some company to self-publish. YOU DO NOT. You need to hire an editor, a cover artist, maybe a formatter, but NO ONE needs to be paid a percentage or a flat fee to put your books up at Smashwords, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. Again, if you’re serious about publishing, read David’s book.

 8. Will you read my book or promote it?

Probably not, though I’m very flattered you would ask! As you can imagine, I get quite a few requests to read books by new writers. Unless you’re someone I know personally, or have exchanged work with in the past, then I’m probably not going to have time. It’s absolutely nothing personal.

And honestly, you should be cultivating your own circle of fellow writers you know and trust. This can be a formal critique group or just a group of friends with common interests you meet online. Some of my best beta readers (I’m looking at you, Sarah) live very far away and I’ve never even met them. Find your people. They’re out there. When the time is right, you’ll send your book baby to them, and they will be invested in making it awesome.

9. Do I need an agent?

Possibly. Now, you don’t need an agent to self-publish. You don’t need one to be a professional writer. But you may need one for your overall career.

Say your books do really well. Yay! Now, do you want to be shopping your books for translation deals? Or coordinating audio rights? You can! With a good intellectual property attorney, you can probably do all that stuff yourself. The question is: Do you want to? (And that’s an entirely personal thing.) I love having an agent because she deals with stuff like that, and I have more time to go on a field trip with my son’s class. In my opinion, that’s worth her commission. It’s a purely personal choice that has a lot to do with your goals.

And yes, there will be some in the literary world who will take you more seriously if you have a literary agent. That’s just reality. Decide how important that is to you (and there’s no ONE right answer to that question) and act accordingly.

10. I have a book, a great cover, now how do I promote my book?

I’m basically the worst person in the world to answer this question, because I’ll tell you to just not worry about promotion much and go write more books. And people hate hearing that. I shared a little bit of what worked for me as far as marketing in this post HERE. It boils down to:

  • Write well and KEEP WRITING
  • Build your readership within a defined genre when you’re first starting out, and THEN branch out.
  • Connect with readers, not other writers.

That’s about all I can think of right now. I’ll probably add stuff as I go, but for now, ten questions is a pretty good place to stop. I’ll be updating the Reader FAQ soon.

3 Comments

  1. Pingback: Writing news, early reviews, and a great big thank you. | ELIZABETH HUNTER

  2. Thank you for this Q&A, it lifted me up when I was feeling overwhelmed. I have written and self-published two books this year, but building a platform has been stressing me out big time! I made a blog (if you can call it that), but I can’t figure out what to write about, how I want my blog to look, and with my pen name-I don’t want to use my own pictures. I wanted to get an ARC of one of your books, but then saw it was only for established bloggers. My face dropped, then I read this and felt a little better. I’ve been reading your books from the beginning, I followed your success from the start, and thought mine would be similar-NOT! LOL!

    You’re very talented, seem to be very kind, and give me hope. I started writing when I had a failed fusion surgery and was told I would never be able to work a “normal” job again. Similar to your story, money is very tight and I’m not making any yet, but I refuse to give up and am committed to doing something I’ve always wanted to do. Before I became disabled I worked 70 hours a week and rarely saw my family. Now I’m home all the time, but don’t feel as if I’m contributing to my family (thank goodness the kids are now grown), at least it’s just the hubby and I. Anyway, before I talk your ear off, I just wanted to say thank you! I will continue writing, figure out my blog, and find my friends :). Maybe one day I will be able to get an ARC when I succeed at this blogging thing.
    I love your work and am a huge fan (in case you didn’t get that) hehe. Thank you for sharing your knowledge in being an indie-author and the way you make learning history completely fun!
    Have an awesome week!
    Callie

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