Self-publishing; Good times, bad times, and ugly truths

I am writing to you from a place of confusion. I’m unsure about so many things that I feel the need to write them down to make sense of them. The one thing I am sure about is this; I am a writer and I need to write. I will always be a writer and I will always need to write. Everything else is a muddle.

Let me try to explain. When I got back into writing in 2011, I had a decade of wasted years lying behind me. Don’t get me wrong, these years were not wasted in my personal life. I was bringing up small children and earning a wage. I was too exhausted to write. Or so I told myself. The real reason? I was too afraid to take it further. I was too shy, too anxious, too introverted and too protective of my work to send it out to agents and publishers. Ahh, I can breathe a sigh of relief now that’s off my chest!

Once I started writing again, nothing would stand in my way. Not a new job, or a new baby. And at some point in 2013 my attitude towards publishing changed. I got braver. I’d shared some work on here and had some good feedback from a few very early followers. So I started sending the two books I had written, The Mess Of Me and The Boy With The Thorn In His Side out to agents and publishers. I wrote massive lists of both and worked my way through them. It was, of course, depressing and demoralising, but I felt I had to do it. I never expected any of them to like my work, and in many ways, it felt like a rites of passage to go through this.

Self-publishing presented itself to me and appeared to be the answer to all of my problems. I didn’t need to torture myself by waiting for inevitable rejection anymore. I didn’t have to stress over how to word a query or an email. I could take full control and get my books out there on my terms. Brilliant.

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It was exciting to start with. I felt like I had accomplished something. I had realised a dream. I had written and published my books! I wasn’t too fussed about sales or money as that had never been my motivation, and in those early, hazy days, I was just excited.

Of course, reality soon set in, and over the last four years I have had one hell of a bumpy ride and made many mistakes. I’m actually embarrassed now to look back on the early days. I had no idea about front covers. I had no idea about social media, building an author platform or promoting my work. I soon bumped back to earth and started the real hard graft that is the life of an indie author.

Let me tell you the reality of being an indie author.

It’s good and it’s bad. It’s pretty and it’s ugly. I love it and I hate it.

Indie authors do everything themselves. Yes, they may hire editors and front cover designers. If they have oodles of spare money they may pay for adverts and promotions too. There is nothing more evil to me than the saying ‘you have to spend money, to make money.’ That’s the crappest thing ever to say to someone who has no money.

Indie authors offer their work for free. This happens in very few other areas of life. But people expect it now. They expect freebies and offers and giveaways. We expect reviews and recommendations in return but rarely get them. In essence, being an indie is like giving your all, your everything, your blood sweat and tears, and then getting very, very little back. And again, I don’t just mean sales. I keep my books priced low because I want people to be able to afford them. I give free books and stories away with my newsletter and I post free stories on Wattpad and I do the odd giveaway.

Indie authors work extremely hard. They’ll have families, and other jobs, and still keep plugging away, writing more books, building their platform, increasing their content, remaining active on social media, trying new things all of the time in the hope it enables their books to become visible. They don’t want to spam people, they don’t want to beg. They have to learn how to self-promote without getting on people’s nerves. They have to deal with people thinking they are totally wasting their time.

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Let me be clear once again; it’s not about the money. It’s about the connection. I write books because I want people to read them. I love that connection. I love passing my stories on. I love receiving messages about how people related or reacted to the characters.

Right now I feel like I am betraying the indie scene, because I am trying the traditional route again with the next two books. I started the process the other night with The Tree Of Rebels and was instantly reminded of why I hated it so much last time. Ugh. It’s scary. I kept thinking, just self-pub it! Why are you doing this to yourself again? You’ve been here and done this! You’ve moved on! You’ve grown! You’re indie and proud! You know how to do it now, how to get the right cover, the right blurb, the right marketing plan…Yes I do, but I am also, really, really tired. My confidence is at an all time low. I am not making that connection with people. I am banging my head against a brick wall.

So, here I am again. Researching publishers and putting my heart in the firing line. I already had one rejection the day after I started this! I expect many more to come. Maybe I feel I need to do this. Give it one last try. Because I am not succeeding as an indie. I am getting better as a writer, and I am getting better at all the things you need to do to be an indie, but I am not succeeding where I really wish to, which is gaining new readers and forging that connection.

I see other authors getting promoted with their publishers and I want a piece of that action. I admit it. I am envious. I am filled with longing. I am practically drooling for the same number of sales and reviews. I want what they’ve got and I am afraid that my efforts as an indie will never be enough to get it.

So, heart in mouth, I will try the traditional route again.

But no fear, I will self-pub these books if I get nowhere. I promise you. I will self-pub the god damn hell out of them! I will market and promote the holy fuck out of them! I absolutely promise you that. I promise myself that. I will come back harder and faster and stronger.

There is no giving up. Not ever.

Either way, I will keep writing and getting better at it and if I self-pub again I will never give up trying to find more readers. This is not a post about quitting. This is a post about the realities of finding success as an indie. And by success, I mean a growing readership.

It’s just at the moment, I am tired of the indie ups and downs. The good days followed by the bad days. The endless hope that one day it will all be worth it…

And in a weird kind of way, submitting to publishers has already made me appreciate being an indie…it’s already made me feel that surge of pride and passion again about everything indie authors do, and are…I love the indie scene, I really do. I have read countless amazing books, in fact, I rarely read traditionally published books these days, because there is so much talent in the indie pool. It just makes me sad that so many of them are not getting the recognition they deserve.

Over to you. What do you think? Do you love being an indie? Is it what you thought it would be? How do you keep going when times are tough? I would love to hear your thoughts on everything I have talked about today. Join the conversation, have a moan if you need to..and then we will all get back to the writing!

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15 thoughts on “Self-publishing; Good times, bad times, and ugly truths

  1. I hear you. I feel you. I love writing. I love the feedback from someone who kept turning my pages. I have the mother in-law who said at a family gathering, “I didn’t like your first book, at all. Too many words. The second and third were ok.” Five years of my life, summed up in her three sentences, from the lips of a woman who never wrote a short story.

    I’ve sold less than 100 books. I know I could do more, but it’s just so damned hard some days. I love writing. I know this promotion thing is a crackable nut, and there MUST be a way without selling our souls.

    So we have to keep writing, keep trying, keep using all these platforms, keep inventing us.

    Love to you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Dy! It’s like searching for the holy grail isn’t it? There must be an answer somewhere! I tend to think now it’s luck and perseverance that pay off eventually. I also think genre and fashion have a lot to do with success!

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  2. Thank you for writing so candidly about your experiences as an indie author. I’m not there yet – I’m still working on my first potentially publishable book (not that there haven’t been earlier books), and I’m on the fence about whether to try to get an agent and trade publish or whether to strike out on my own. It seems like I’m where you were some years back. I left writing for nearly a decade while doing other life stuff, and came back to it seriously about two years ago. Now I’m determined to publish, and the event of getting a book out there seems to have a big shiny sign around its neck, “SUCCESS”. Of course, I know the realities of situation, that publishing the first book is just the beginning, but it still feels like the end goal. I doubt I’ll be able to lose that view until after I’ve done it, when I’ll realise it’s not all it’s made out to be, but in the meantime that you for sharing your view from the winding paths that come afterwards. Hopefully by the time I get there it won’t be a total shock.

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    1. Thank you for reading and commenting! Always much appreciated. Yes, I think generally there is more information out there now for new authors, which hopefully means people will be more prepared for all the ups and downs to come. Good luck with your book! Keep me updated!

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  3. Thank you for sharing so honestly. It’s good to get a balanced view of self-publishing – not a route I think is the right fit for me. I wish you every success in your hunt for a publisher.

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    1. Thank you for reading and commenting, Lynden! Yes, I think it’s best to be honest about the various routes to publication. I don’t think any of it is easy. But then, what’s worth having in life rarely is! 🙂

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  4. Thanks for sharing such an honest article. Everything you say rings true. I haven’t been down the self-publishing road yet, but I know I HATE the agent-search and publisher-search, the synopses and cover letter-writing, the elevator pitches and blurbs. BUT, I have noticed that agents seem to be getting friendlier in their rejections, and even offering positive feedback and encouraging comments. One recently wrote: “Malorie Blackman wrote 9 books and was submitting for 2.5 years (and got 82 rejections) before her first book deal, and then she became Children’s Laureate – so do persevere!” I thought that was wonderful! Anyway, good luck with your submissions – and don’t give up.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Oh Chantelle, I hear your pain. It’s a big ugly world out there. But what you have to remember, hold onto, is one day somebody WILL notice. I have faith in you, trust me and trust yourself.

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  6. Wow. This blog is amazing….thank you for sharing. It’s almost like hearing my own thoughts. And I agree my focus is not on selling books but getting readers to connect with it and benefit from it. i have found that I sell printed books in my own country a bit easier than online. You can try marketing your books via online newsletters and traditional media – radio, television, newspapers, magazines as well as podcasts, videos etc and try to market or sell the value people would get from reading it….while also sharing your journey.

    Once people see themselves in your writing they will naturally connect with it. you can also try doing book talks at the libraries, bookstores and even events of your own like what I have done here. Sometimes those things don’t always work right away…but it’s a good way of getting visible and it’s more fulfillment from your writing so your readers/ audience can connect in a different forum.

    It’s a tough job…but at the end of the day we do it for the love (not for the love of money) so we have to trust that once our hearts are in the right place (which is to enrich lives and help others) our rewards are only a matter of time. Keep the faith and don’t ever stop writing! Trust that you are being led by a Divine force that is greater than you. Just stay open to the possibilities. xxxx

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    1. Thank you Carolyn for reading and commenting! You mention some great ideas to try and they are all on my list now. Funnily enough today I’m taking part in a local author event at the library, which is the first time I’ve done something like that, so fingers crossed it goes well! Good luck to you too!

      Liked by 1 person

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