Struggles of an Indie Author
The challenge is not in writing the book but in selling it.
You have no idea how many people tell me that they want to write a book and they don't know where to start. Some say they have a story to tell, but they are not confident about their writing skill; they were never good in English. Still others see themselves as authors, but really don't have any idea how to organize and write a book. Neither of these is a challenge to me.As a retired English teacher, my command of spelling, grammar and usage is immaculate. In college I'd spend weeks researching my topics, then stay up one night or two actually writing the paper. Other than correcting a few typos, I did very little revising. I was just that good. And this was before word processors and computers. I had a manual typewriter so corrections were hard and often messy. Still, I earned A's in most of my English classes and carried this skill on to grad school. The challenge in writing, for me, was never getting the paper started; it was bringing it to a close. I could ramble on for pages and often wound up cutting half my writing to meet the ten-page assignment I'd been given. I'm both fluid and fluent, so I thought becoming an author after I retired from teaching would be perfect for me.
Now that I'm working on my fifth book, I can tell any prospective writer that the real challenge isn't writing the book; it's selling it. With the technology we have now, almost anyone with a creative mind and ability to persuade can turn out a decent book. Your grammar and spelling challenges can be met with the latest correctional tools. The formatting issues can be simplified by Amazon or outsourced to someone who is better at it. In my case, I just went on to the next book when I hit a wall in formatting. When I finally got it right, I published three books within one week: 7 Tips for a Successful Marriage, Raising the Roses, and Tales from the Family Tree.
While I didn't expect to make thousands with these first books, I had no idea how difficult it would be to sell them. At first I followed the Kindle program that claimed I'd make a name for myself if I gave my first books away for free, and in the long run, I'd profit more from this huge shared campaign they had for their books-on-loan program. What I learned (the hard way), was that the people who'd buy my books were not part of the paid loan program, so I was just giving my books away for nothing. I made a few dollars every month, but most of the people I knew already had my books, so here was the question. After your friends and family buy your books, what's next? I read (a lot) about marketing and selling books. I bought DVD's, watched webinars and took copious notes. I conducted sales on Kindle Direct Publishing campaigns as well as Book Goodies and joined an online book promotion group, Rave Reviews Book Club. I joined over two hundred Facebook groups, from African-American and urban fiction readers, to Christian non-fiction and romance.
My fourth book was Monday Morning Blues, because I always enjoyed a good love story. I'd post to different groups, hoping to reach a different audience of readers. I carried my list of groups, updated daily, in my agenda, and recorded notes by each name of when and what I could post there. Some of them would actually get angry and maybe drop me if I promoted my book on the wrong day. I even invested in Mass Planner, one of many available auto-posters, so I could just schedule my posts ahead of time and choose the groups I wanted to target. When my computer wouldn't cooperate, I learned to do this on my cell phone, and lo and behold, the groups were already there! It was just a matter of me selecting a group and going through four or five steps to post my ad, then repeating the process with another group. I had to remember which groups I'd posted to that day, because if I posted more than once, they'd really get mad. But eventually, whether using Mass Planner or my phone, I started getting temporary bans from Facebook because I was posting too much. That meant I couldn't post any promos for four or five days, ruining my scheduled sale, then it was back to the grind again.
This time, as I'm preparing my fifth book, I want things to be different. I've revamped my website and I'm working on rebuilding my brand. I'm looking at the advantages and disadvantages of working with a publisher versus continuing to self-publish, or at least investing in some of the tasks, like formatting and book covers, that are not my strong suit. This time, I want to increase my distribution beyond Amazon, and reach a wider audience. I want to add audiobooks, and gain access to more creative marketing. I'd like to build my reputation as a speaker as well, about my books and about my journey. I want to help those people who lack the confidence or organizational skill to get started.
So for those of you that have wanted to write for a while, know that the journey is not easy. My last two book conferences confirmed the trend that high-dollar advances from the Big Five publishers are no longer happening unless you're a celebrity or an author with a well-proven track record. Other publishers will do what you need for a wide range of fees. Still, if the desire is in you to write, by all means follow it. Follow your heart and your dreams, and be the writer that you know you can be.
Footnote: I did use a "vanity publisher" from Author House for my last book, Seasons: My Journey through Grief. We went back and forth for months about layout and corrections. Once the formatting and cover were to my satisfaction, I loved the book. But the royalties were too low and even though my book was distributed to several outlets including Barnes and Noble and iBooks, I received no sales reports. So after six months, I reclaimed my project and republished it on Amazon. Once an indie. . .