Life as an indie writer is not easy. It is a hard slog, full of ups and downs. It is a journey often plagued by a gnawing self-doubt as well as the added burden of feeling like you constantly have to prove yourself. Not only do you have to make all the key decisions about your book, with regards to editing, front cover, and how to market and promote it, you also sometimes feel like you have a shadow hanging over you. You have to fight harder to be seen, try every trick in the book to prove yourself, and all with the nagging question that just won’t seem to go away. Are you really good enough?
Sadly, since I started my own journey in 2013, I’ve seen indie author’s announce they are quitting on a regular basis, stating that they just can’t do it anymore. There are just so many of us out there now, all searching for the same thing. The Holy Grail. How to succeed as an indie writer. It often feels like a step forward, followed by two steps back. Many give up when their books refuse to sell. Many become disenchanted when they fail to find an audience. Many become exhausted by the endless choice and costs involved in promoting their books.
So what does an indie need to survive? What sort of person to they need to be to get through the inevitable highs and lows? I believe survival comes down to four main things, four personality traits you are going to need in bucket loads, if you are going to stick with the indie life and not give up when the going gets tough.
You need to have an immense passion.You must believe in your stories. You might be good at writing, but you are going to need more than talent to survive the bumpy road ahead. Never mind your writing abilities or creative talents right now. Ask yourself this; do you truly have a passion, a deep and possessive passion for the stories? Do these stories keep you up at night? Are these stories begging to be told? Do they plague your daydreams and interrupt your ordinary life? Do you have something you desperately want to say and share? Is this idea driving you crazy? If yes, then you‘ve got the passion. But that is only half the battle. You have to keep that passion, especially when times get tough, as they inevitably will. It helps to have a lot of unwritten material sloshing around inside of you. A host of characters chattering away, urging you to get on and give them their turn. A desire to get it all out,whatever it takes, to keep writing and writing, no matter what. The passion to write is perhaps the most important thing you will need. It will ensure you keep writing, because you have to write, because absolutely nothing is going to stop you.
Self-belief. In truth, for any writer, self-belief comes and goes. There are times you have lots of it and feel genuinely proud of your last paragraph or your final, finished product. But there are equally as many times when a first draft is anything but perfect. In fact it is ugly and clumsy and utterly different to how you envisioned it in your head. Quite simply you think you should give up and never write another word. This is quite normal, and I’m sure even the most successful and well known writers are regularly plagued with bouts of crippling self-doubt. There are days you just can’t write properly, nothing comes out the way you want it to, you compare yourself to others and feel you fall woefully short. This is all fine. But in order to succeed as an indie writer you need to have a rather solid foundation of genuine self-belief.You may not want to brag about it or declare it to the world, but deep down inside you must believe that you are good. You must believe that you can write. You can tell a story and make it work. You can make people care. You deserve this and can hold your head up with the best of them. Otherwise, the hurdles to come are going to knock you off course pretty quickly.
Hope. I think this applies to the indie more than any other writer. The indie needs passion and self-belief, in order to get that idea down on paper. They need talent and determination to edit, rewrite and perfect that work until it is ready to publish. They need to become an expert at marketing, promotion, an entrepreneur even, and in many respects a businessperson. But they also need to be an optimistic and hopeful kind of person in order to survive. Why? Because hope keeps you going through all the hard times, through the low sales and no sales, through bad reviews and no reviews, through feeling totally alone and out of depth and not to mention being penniless! You have hope that you‘ll become a better writer, that you will get better with every new thing you write. You have hope that your small following will continue to grow,and that fans will spread the word for you. You have hope that you‘ll one day land a nice big, traditional publishing deal, (if that’s what you want, and let’s face it, most indies would love to hand at least some of the control over to an enthusiastic professional!) You have hope that you‘ll make it. You‘ll succeed and realise your dreams, and achieve whatever level of success you are aiming for.
And finally, I believe you need to be a realistic dreamer. By that I mean, you need to dream big and aim high, but at the same time, you need to keep your feet on the ground and be realistic. I think perhaps too many writers jump into the indie game with their expectations too high. I know I was guilty of just this at the start of my journey. I sort of expected things to just take off. I thought all my friends and family would buy and love my book, would leave plentiful glowing reviews, and would then encourage all of their family and friends to do just the same, and my book would somehow just tumble forward, picking up speed until I made it! Oh how that makes me laugh now! No, I’m sorry, it’s just not going to happen like that. In my experience, people mean well, but when they say they will read or review your book, it does not always happen. People are busy. They have their own lives and interests, and they may not want to read your book for fear of offending you if it’s not their kind of thing. in truth, many of them are just not going to be interested at all. The indie journey can therefore be a lonely one at times, not to mention frustrating. Expect too much, and you are going to get disappointed. Be realistic. Recognise that it is not a race, but more a journey of development and discovery. The fact is, you will get better at all of it. You will get better at writing, and at marketing, and you will realise you don’t need your family and friends to push you forward. You need to find your own audience, and finding them, is quite simply part of the package you sign up to. Getting reviews and exposure, gaining readers and fans, winning awards and so on; all of these things are down to you.
I believe that if you have enough passion, self-belief and hope, you will be able to maintain longevity as an indie writer. Keep your feet on the ground and your expectations realistic, while not ever giving up on the dream. They may all get dented and bashed about from time to time, but as long as the reserves are deep, you should be able to keep going. Who knows what is around the corner as long as you don’t give up your dream?