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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How My Writing Habits Have Changed

I’ve never understood the type of people who refuse to change the way they do things. You know the type. Even if what they’re doing is not going so well, they’ll hang onto the adamant belief that it is the best way to do it, simply because it is the way they have always done it. It’s even worse when it comes to opinions and beliefs. I have strong beliefs and opinions, but I like to keep my mind open and accept that knowledge and understanding are open to interpretation and change. If some new piece of knowledge comes along, I am always happy to admit I was wrong and change my way of thinking. I think the refusal to ever change your mind or admit you were wrong, is actually very dangerous. Anyway, in that spirit, I’ve been thinking lately about how I write now, and how I used to write. You see, over the last few novels, things have changed. And with the WIP I am on right now, and the book I have planned after that, I feel they are changing even more. Here’s how, and why…

  • I edit as I go…Not word for word, not every paragraph, but I do now go back over what I wrote at the start of the session. And I always read what I wrote last before I start writing again. I used to do things quite differently. I would rush out this clunky, crazy first draft. It would be this desperate measure, this way of getting this thing out of my head once and for all. I’m not saying that’s wrong, and I think with some books it’s totally the right way to do it! But I have noticed lately that I’m slowing the process down. I’m going back over what I last wrote and editing out mistakes and typos. Previously I would not care about these in a first draft. I just wanted it done. Now I think I am probably saving myself some time later on, and it is also helping me get to know this story and its characters, to feel and breathe with them as they develop and take form. Reading over and checking what I just wrote is helping me to make sure everything stays on course.
  • I plan more…I used to plan as I wrote the book…so as ideas came to me, I would jot them down and the novel would often change course and follow twists and turns as I wrote it. I would start, not really knowing how to finish. Now, I try to plan the whole novel before I start writing, chapter by chapter if possible. Not in too much detail, and always allowing for change and development and the surprises which will inevitably pop up. But now I like to be able to see where I am going…I like to know the general destination of my journey.
  • I’m aware of my potential audience…This is not to say I am writing anything and aiming it at a certain audience. Doing this with The Tree Of Rebels caused me untold problems (see Did Choosing An Audience Ruin My Book?) so I won’t be making that mistake again. But I do have a better idea of the genre I am writing in before I start writing, an idea of the type of person who would pick this book up and want to read it. I never used to consider this at all, and had a very hard job picking genres and categories for my finished books because of it.
  • I write the log line and synopsis first…Now, to be honest I am only just getting to grip with loglines! They are actually quite hard to do. The idea is you should be able to write a one to two sentence paragraph which explains your book, and if you can’t, you may have a problem. The logline can then help you to shape your synopsis. With early novels, I always left the synopsis to last and found them nothing short of utter hell and torture. How to condense a massive novel down to a paragraph or two? What to cut out, what to leave in? How to lure people in without spoilers? How to pick the right key words? Hard, hard work. With the last two books I penned (The Tree Of Rebels and Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature, both still not quite finished) I wrote the synopsis first. I’m not sure why. It just seemed like a good idea, and I had a general idea of what to say, so I went for it. Neither is perfect and both will need tinkering, but overall, I think they both say what they need to say. Lesson learned. From now on, I work on the synopsis first!
  • I research as I go…This is another thing I used to be quite lazy about. I was in a hurry. I just wanted to get the book written. So I would make up stuff as I went along, noting down that I needed to properly research it later.  Now if something comes up that needs looking into, I do it there and then before I write another word. Again, this saves me time and stress later, and if what I research ends up changing the story in some way, it’s much better to know this early on! Plus it’s fun. I used to put off research of any story because I thought it was boring. Just detail that needed throwing in to make it all sound better. But now I look at it differently. It’s important to the story and I’m also learning new things all the time!

So, over to you followers! Have you always done things the same or have your writing habits changed through trial and error? Does it all depend on the book you’re writing? Let me know!