To self-publish or not to self-publish? That is the question…

It’s that time again, the early months of the year when I have a finished manuscript. This one took a bit longer for a number of reasons, the main one being the first time I thought I’d finished it and proudly handed it off to beta readers to peruse, the feedback was… underwhelming. In the brutally honest words of my husband, who has the dangerous and potentially life threatening dual roles of staunchest supporter and harshest critic, “it needs work”. Cue the arrow straight to the heart. After a year of harsh labour, someone called my baby ugly. Sobbing on the inside, drowning my pain with coffee and a surprisingly good Irish whiskey aptly called “Writer’s Tears”, I muscled up some internal fortitude and completely rewrote it.

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So now it’s done again and off to the beta readers. Feedback has been better, but I’m a bit scarred now. What if it’s really crap, even now? I think every writer has this fear, which makes attempting to market yourself and your work excruciating. We all know those people who are in complete denial about the level of their skills, whether it’s work, sport or ability to pick up in a bar. You don’t want to be that person, ever. That fear can be paralysing though, stopping you from doing anything in case someone, somewhere is laughing at you. Traditional publishing is great in that you can constantly reassure yourself that your book must be okay otherwise these people who don’t know you and aren’t your friends wouldn’t also like it and invest a whole lot of money in it.

 

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 Having been equally unsuccessful with both traditionally and self-published books, I think I have a sound working knowledge of the good and bad points of each. If you have success one way or the other, your perception would naturally be skewed in favour of the way that worked for you and accordingly less objective. Like the purchaser of a thermomix, you tell everyone how great it is, despite the fact there are not that many people willing and able to spend $2000 on a kitchen gadget. If it works for you, it will work for everyone, right?

So what to do with this one? I no longer have expectations of immediate critical and commercial success, which helps. One of the good things about self-publishing is the control, which people talk about a lot. It is probably the best thing about it and comes with good data about how much you’re selling and where, which helps with book promotion and knowing when you’re doing something right. The information is available quickly, so you can be responsive. The downside is that you don’t have professionals get your book polished and out there without major financial outlay and to reassure you when the doubts creep in. You pay for this though, by handing over control and the majority of sales revenue. Whether it’s worth it or not depends on the writer and the book and can only be decided in hindsight. There is no right or wrong answer, but the best thing you can have is options. If publishers are likely to be interested, it’s worth finding out even if you don’t end up taking that path. If it isn’t the sort of book they are looking for, then at least the decision on what to do becomes easier. Just strap on the chainmail before the sharpened arrows start heading in the direction of your heart. And put some make up on your book baby.

 

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When does marketing become cheating?

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Being a less than successful author leaves you open to a whole lot of helpful hints on how to make your book sell better. Given than none of the people offering advice have been in publishing, and I know almost nothing about marketing (what the f**k is a hashtag anyway?) these conversations tend to go round in circles. Friends in marketing for other industries have offered some useful insights, but none that my PR retarded self has converted to actual sales.

Several times the subject of “buying” reviews from India has come up as a suggestion. My immediate reaction has been “can’t, that’s cheating”, but the reply I got today was “no, that’s marketing”. The theory is that you have to spend money “advertising” your product, which in book terms means getting reviews and your book noticed. If you have a few hundred dollars to throw at it and it’s the most effective way of getting a return on that investment, then the logical path to follow would lead to the sub-continent.

Is it morally any different from buying a cake from the supermarket and dressing it up to pass off as your own? Taking the tags off new items of clothing and pretending they’re old? Buying ad space on a website that will then give a glowing review to your product? Pretending you have the degree you nearly finished? I knew someone who did that and I don’t think they were ever pulled up on it. These are all things that go to your credibility, but are hardly going to bring about the apocalypse.

The thing is, I’ve read a few books that had lots of amazing 5 star reviews, and realised after finishing that there was nothing redeeming about it and a book with that many typos and grammatical errors, as well as leaps in logic would never on its own get such a good rap. So I know they bought the reviews and I won’t read anything by that author again. Their next book might be a huge improvement, but I’ll never know (unless one of my favourite book bloggers recommends it and everyone else is reading it, then my militant stance will be out the window).

“But your book is good!” is the next response. Thanks, but everyone thinks their book is good or they wouldn’t put it out there. Also, you like me so you’re biased.

Marketing is never going to be my thing and I have enormous respect people who do it well and come up with new and exciting ways to promote their books. People outside the industry might not get why most of us will never buy reviews for $5 a pop, but writers in there for the long haul want to build up goodwill and loyal readers. After all, who is actually doing it for the money?

When exactly are you a “success”?

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I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on what it would take for me to consider myself a success. It could be the less than overwhelming response to my last book or the approach of a large numbered birthday, but there has been an unusual amount of navel gazing. If I don’t figure this out shortly, I’m likely to run into something hard and its going to hurt. I don’t do a lot of the angst-filled woe-is-my-life thing generally, so it could just be that I’m not that good at it, but I can’t figure out exactly when or how I could get to the exact spot where I nod my head sagely, decide that I have made it and have a lengthy lie down. If it’s money earned, how much? If it’s book sales, how many? There’s really no end point. Number of books published? What did the last one do?

Lying down is something that I do well (which could be another reason for the aforementioned issues with success) but even so, I have trouble picturing myself relaxing, job done. And this is from someone who has envisioned multiple battle scenes between imaginary creatures with barely a passing sweat. I’ve jumped a few hurdles – I got an agent and a publishing deal – but even then, that’s not quite enough. The agent didn’t sell either of my books and even with a publisher, there is no guarantee of sales. Like a desperate miner panning for gold, I’m hoping the next one will be the one to make it (or the one after that possibly). It’s the hope that keeps you going and the fact that there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing. But what if I stopped chasing success? It would do away with the nagging feelings of disappointment when things don’t go as I envisioned, but would that just be accepting failure? If there is no hunger (or more superficially the ability to haul out some actual accomplishments when meeting people at parties) is there a reason to get out of bed in the morning, other than small children bouncing on my head?

It was suggested to me by someone recently that maybe I could write a non-controversial, sweet, formulaic novel and possibly make some decent sales. My immediate reaction was NO! Absolutely not! but then I thought about it some more. There is nothing wrong with me doing that, it’s not like I have delusions of grandeur, but deep down there is a fear that even if I did that, sold myself to the devil of commercialism, it still might not sell. And that would leave me in the completely untenable position of having nothing else to blame. I need to hold on to my excuses, along with the idea that I’d rather write something I find interesting than solely for the money. But between you and me? I’d write anything if it was certain to be another Fifty Shades and I defy you to find another writer who’d disagree.