Self Published Books SUCK!

books-447466.jpgAt least, that is a lingering thought held by so many readers.  Personally, I think it’s a holdover from the days of vanity publishing – when rejected authors poured their own money into printing their books, then tried to sell them any way possible.

Today, “self-publishing” and “independent-publishing” are mostly the same thing.  The group contains both authors who struggled to control the production of their own product as well as those believe that once their great masterpiece hits the shelves they’ll be drowning in riches.

First, let me assure you that almost no author gets rich on a single book.  Even the ones with breakout debuts published by the big traditional publishing houses didn’t!  They signed deals for series.  (Fifty Shades of Grey, Twilight, Harry Potter?  All were a series of books.)  Being a successful author relies on two main things.  You can produce enough books to satisfy your fan base and those books are good quality.

Which leads me to the point of this blog.  People think self-published books suck because WE, the people making them, let them suck.  I’m not talking about that other guy’s books.  I’m talking about yours.  You, the person reading this who thinks he or she can publish his or her own book.  The vast majority of us are going to say some version of “not bad for doing it on my own” at some point in the process.  And THAT is where we go wrong!

It’s YOUR fault

books-608984.jpgAs a reader, I don’t care if you did it on your own.  I can only see that it’s a good book or a piece of poop.  Either there is a lovely cover or a hideous one.  You have a talent for putting words together, or you were too cheap to pay an editor.

And right there, is the rub.  In no other small business can you get started with so LITTLE investment.  I don’t care if putting out your books is just a hobby.  I don’t care if you’re broke.  If you don’t think the book is worth investing in, then why the hell should I pay you for it?  I don’t OWE you.  I don’t have to read your book.  You must SELL it to me.  You should prove to me that this is a story I need to survive.  If you can’t do that?  Then your book isn’t ready.

It doesn’t have to be perfect – but when it’s not, a good indie author is going to fix that problem.  She’s going to buy a new cover, write a better blurb, or send it to another editor, then update the novel to be the best it can be.  If you toss your book out to the wolves and it doesn’t sell, then it’s not the market.  It’s not the subject.  It’s you, the author, who has produced something that isn’t good enough.  Maybe you don’t know why, but you can still make some attempt to change it.  You can try out a new cover, a new blurb (the description of the book on most sites), or you can correct the writing inside.  Those are the top three reasons a book doesn’t sell.  Usually, it’s the first two.

You will not get rich writing crap

mistake-876597.jpgAs an independent author, we have to do it all ourselves.  If you didn’t want that responsibility, then you shouldn’t have published on your own.  There are a zillion small presses and publishing coops that will help you – for a share of the money.  But guess what?  If you’re doing it on your own, you wouldn’t keep that money anyway!  You’d be paying an editor, cover designer, formatter, and other professionals to do… exactly what that publishing house is taking from your royalties.  It’s a wash.  If you thought all that extra moolah was just going to line your pockets?  You were wrong.  People will not flock to the interwebs to buy your cheaply made piece of poop.

Now, if you’re one of those people who thinks, “I just want to share this with the world,” then stop.  Just stop.  Do you really want to share your typos, repetitive words, and improper paragraph structure with complete strangers who won’t be able to see the story for the grammar mistakes?  Do you REALLY want people to grab your free ebook and think, “wow, this author is clueless.”  Is your goal to have people laugh about you behind your back?  No?  Then why aren’t you willing to put some EFFORT into your own masterpiece?

And no, being ignorant is not an excuse.  I hear this all too often.  “I don’t know how to format in Word.”  “No one told me book covers are that size.”  “How was I supposed to know that’s annoying in an ebook?”

You see, no one told me, either.  I took responsibility and decided I want to be a master of my craft.  I didn’t want to be spoonfed.  I’m not some entitled prick who thinks that someone else should do it for me.  I have no doubts in my mind that when I pay for something, I want to get MY money’s worth, so assume that my readers feel the same.  I do not – EVER – think I am entitled to using some excuse to explain away my failure.  I just buckle down and learn how to do it better.

This is a business – and most will fail

entrepreneur-593360.jpgWe authors are selling a product.  We conceptualize it, design it, craft it, market it, and so much more.  It’s no different from making widgets.  This is exactly what our high school teachers tried to explain in that economics class.  The whole magic of book marketing depends on Supply and Demand.

Most small businesses crash and burn in the first year.  Some hang on for a second – then follow suit.  It’s rare for a small business to succeed the first time out.  Why?  People think that it’s going to be easy.  It’s not.  If you want to become profitable with your books, then you’re going to have to work at it.  If you “love” your novel/story as much as you claim, then why wouldn’t you WANT to?  So many people spent years crafting this piece of art.  To just toss it in the gutter like trash doesn’t make sense.  Then to get pissed off when someone believes your OWN assessment of it?

If you want your book to be seen as a masterpiece, then you must present it as one.  You must show it off in its best light.  You must do everything for that book – or accept that you are not an independent author.  You’re just some schlep who wrote some words on a page, did half the job, then wanted all the credit.  Basically, you’re like all the other “self-published” authors out there giving the public a bad impression.  Your business WILL fail.

But it doesn’t have to be like that

fountain-pen-442066.jpgThe only way independent books will get accepted by the public is if the authors dare to prove them wrong.  If we produce books that are as good, if not better than the Big 5 publishers.  We have to take responsibility.

Sure, we’ll never be able to stop the crap from showing up on the lists.  We don’t have to.  Just look at Shake Weights.  What a joke, right?  But no one honestly thinks that ALL small businesses are that silly.  We assume it’s an outlier because most small businesses offer something good.  Even in an industry where the majority fail, we naturally believe that a small business is worthwhile until proven wrong.

As more independent and self-published authors put effort into their books, things are changing.  Just look at your own kindle list.  How many of those books are traditionally published?  How many are small or independent presses?  How many are self-published?  More than you thought, I bet.  You, as a reader, never stopped to check (in most cases) because the book was presented professionally.  It didn’t look like a piece of crap, so you assumed it wasn’t.

And reviews help.  We – especially authors – need to start reviewing books honestly.  Stop worrying about hurting someone’s feelings and start giving them tools to become better.  If you’ve ever given a five star rating to a book with a typo (raises my hand) then you’re a part of the problem.  Five stars should mean perfection.  Personally, I have a simple breakdown that I use:

  • Five star  – this book is perfect.  I wouldn’t change a thing.
  • Four star – this book is worth reading, but has a few acceptable/understandable mistakes
  • Three star – Something about this is good (story or writing) but the other aspect needs work.
  • Two star – I see a glimmer of hope.  There’s a kernel that made me willing to keep reading, but it was not at all ready to be published.
  • One star – Every aspect of this book had a problem.  From cover design through plot and characterization, including grammar and punctuation, the author needs to learn a lot before they try again.  The best option for this book is to take it down and start over.  Consider a full re-write.

Is that harsh?  Yep.  But it also helps.  Oh sure, the author will rant, rage, possibly bawl his eyes out, but in the end, critique is the only way to get better.  We’re all blind to our own flaws.  That’s why we need the help of others.

I also think that if someone is so easily thwarted that they would “just give up and never write again” (something that is said all too often on message boards) then they aren’t really an author.

You see, instead of gatekeepers, rules, and elitist clubs, the best way to make sure that indie and self-published books don’t suck?  Police ourselves.  Rate ourselves honestly.  Take care of our OWN work first, and produce the best books we can.  We are a community of brilliant minds and magnificent dreamers.  The stigma against what we do is already fading.  If we work just a little bit harder, we’ll prove that artists don’t need to sign a contract with a pre-fab corporation to be, well, artists.

 

 

 

All the pretty books!

CyborgI can’t spend all my time editing, but I have enough books in “line” that I should.  It just gets tedious.  After seeing enough stupid mistakes, I want to pull my hair out, and need to feel the creative urge again.

Now, considering that I typically work on at least three books at once, that’s saying something.  Yes, my friends say I’m a freak of nature, that my mind works in crazy ways, and other almost flattering things.  Love you guys, no really.

But trying to plan a release schedule like this is a bit of insanity!  There are a few things I have to take into consideration.  1. How soon can my editor get the book in shape for the public to see it.  2. How long will it take for my cover guy to make something that accurately represents the novel.  3. Do I have a series already in progress?  If so, that bumps it much higher up the list.  4. Should I release books that are similar, or different from, the ones I already have out?

It’s the last one that I can never decide on.  On one hand, my romances seem to be very popular (love my readers!).  On the other hand, I really like writing science fantasy, too.  When I break that down into science fiction and fantasy, it kinda means I have more “make believe” books than I do “make love” books.

So, should I release something like When We Were Kings?  Should I go to the opposite end of the spectrum and bump the cyberpunk series higher in the list?  What about the ones that aren’t so easy to fit into a simple genre, like the almost fantasy, post global warming, genetic engineering based sci-fi?  How about that series where I re-write Romeo and Juliet, but in space with different reasons to be pulled apart?  GAH!

So many pretty books.  So much future waiting for them.  Some are first person, some are third.  Some are from the POV of one character, some are many.  Some have women as the main character, some men.  About the only consistency is that I simply can not write horror or thrillers.  Maybe I should divide all of these up into different pseudonyms, but I don’t want to try and keep track of those!  That means at least 4 different personas, all requiring marketing, publications, and more.

So, my dear fans, I’m always interested to hear what you want to read.  Like shape shifters?  Love androids?  Have a fondness for contemporary romance? Dying to see a good unicorn story?  Let me know!

Waiting for Reviews

airport-923970_1920Sometimes, as an author, it feels like I’m all alone.  I work on the next book.  I stress over the cover.  I try to think up a blurb that is accurate and still enticing.  Between all of that, I wait.

Just me, looking at my phone, my tablet, or my monitor, hoping a review comes in.  Wondering if all those people who read the book even liked it, or if I need to seriously look at what I’m doing.  Hoping that I can get some kinda of hint about how the public feels about my writing.

I’m not alone.  I know that.  All authors deal with this.  Now that Amazon is cracking down on who can review the book, it’s even harder.  To help readers find us, we turn to social media – and yet those people who do follow us are often not eligible to review our books.  Our best fans, our loyal haters, and so many in between have their reviews eaten by the system.  Why?  Because they could be biased.

It’s an infuriating thing, and one that I don’t have a clue how to deal with.  I could go and beg for reviews from well-known reviewers, but would they even get posted?  It’s not like I want people to say my book is good when it isn’t.  I’ve had enough book bloggers tell me they honestly love my work for me to feel a little confident.  But book bloggers aren’t readers.  They chew through so much that they are now looking for different things.

So how am I to know what the average reader wants?  Some of my fans have been kind enough to send emails.  So far, they have all been good (even if a few are honest about pointing out mistakes I missed!).  But I’m pretty much operating at a 1% feedback rate.  Gah!  And I thrive on feedback.  I’m all about making changes (often when I shouldn’t but that’s a different story!)

And, of course, I’m even worse when the editor is done with my work.  After wading through the technicolor vomit of corrections, I can’t help but worry that I need to do more, do it better, and do it NOW.  Hoping for some sign, I’ll click on my books only to see….

Nothing.

Man, I really hate waiting.  Maybe I’ll work on a book, instead.

We have all been trained

life-863148_1920How can you know if a book is good before you read it?  How do you know if that money you are about to spend is worth it?  When you meet an author, how do you know if they are impressive?  What is the “thing” that clues you in?

For generations now, we’ve been taught that it’s the big name publishers.  We’ve been carefully socialized to accept that someone with a contract with a big money press is better than the “starving artist” who tries to make it even when the world is against them.  We just “know” that the author with money is successful because they are “good” while the one writing from the heart must be a “joke” since they are still scraping money to buy from the dollar menu.

But what does any of that have to do with their books?

Not a damned thing.  That’s the truth.  Open up your kindle, look at your favorite authors, and many people will be shocked to find how many indies have snuck right in there.  Tons of those books are perfectly edited, have excellent covers, and look as good, if not better than the traditionally published works which we paid three times as much to enjoy.  Huh.  Isn’t that weird?

And yet I do it myself.  I find my gut reaction to “I’m self-published” is to think, “Oh, so you couldn’t cut it with the real publishers, eh?”  Never mind that I’m technically self-published.  Yes, I have my own publishing company, but I’m in charge, I make the decisions, and I hire the people to do the work.  So, sure, maybe I enjoy the benefits of other people’s labor, but I’m not any better than the teenager scribbling frantically on his iphone to get his book recorded somewhere.

books-1138974_1920My point isn’t that one is better than the other.  What I’m trying to say is that we’ve been trained for too long.  We’ve been conditioned to think this way.  The propaganda has worked, and we’ve all drunk it like the kool-aid.  We’re too busy with too much stuff in our real lives, we just don’t have time to think about crap that doesn’t really matter to us, the readers – and yes, I am a reader, too.

But I’m tired of being someone else’s monkey.  I’m tired of doing what I’m told.  When I reach for a book, I don’t want vampires (sorry, but I’m not a fan of vampire books unless they are terrifying monsters instead of love interests).  I don’t want to read about children.  I don’t fit into the mainstream marketing categories.  Because of this, I find I’m often dying for a good book to read.  I’m struggling to find a piece of literature that will engage my brain without ticking off the top ten list of pop culture.  I’m desperate for a new world, with new problems, where I can lose my daily grind and shoulder someone else’s burdens for a while.  When I walk in another character’s shoes, I want them to be the kind of shoes I couldn’t wear on my own.

And my kindle is filled with indie authors who give me just that.  I have books from self-published writers, small presses, and a few medium sized ones.  Oddly, what I’m missing are the books from the big 5.  Evidently, I don’t like them – or I’m too cheap.  I honestly don’t know which.  I just know what I have in my kindle, and a lot of it is GOOD.  Some of these books I will read over and over again.  Some have opened my eyes to new genres.  Some are crap.  Yeah, that always happens, but I’m ok with it, because the “wow” books outnumber the “crap” books by 10 to 1.

When I stopped worrying about who released the book and started enjoying the story, I found heaven.  I still have to learn to ignore that well-trained voice screaming that a self-published author is somehow less than someone who won the book lottery, but I’m getting there.  I’m learning.

You see, those decades of social conditioning aren’t holding.  I’m slipping the leash.  I’ve found my freedom in the words of authors who dared to take on the system.  I hope every last one of them is winning.

The long road

woman-1081873Have you ever had that feeling that you’re chasing your tail, trying to do it right, but won’t “get there” until you do just one more, or two more, or maybe three more things?

That’s how I feel right now.  I have 2 new series being released, but advertising them is frustrating.  Why dump a lot of money into them until there’s something for the reader to go to next time?  I have a series that will be finished in late summer.  Not releasing the other books won’t make it get done any faster.  I have a stand alone book that is now going to be a part of a series.  I could write in that, but see above.  I feel like a creation that is still a work in progress, and I so badly just want to GET THERE.

I’m debating whether or not I should shift around my upcoming releases.  Should I send out the books that are basically DONE, one right after the other?  That would leave my gamer series to wither for a bit, but that could be ok.  I mean, the book doesn’t exactly end on a cliffhanger (I seriously hate those).

The more I think about it, the better this idea sounds, except for ONE little thing.  I haven’t sent book 2 to the editor for the “last pass” yet.  I don’t have cover art.  I’d have to do a whole lot of groveling to get that done in time.  I have learned from this, though.  From now on, I will not release a series until the entire thing is done.  If that means a few months of publishing nothing, then that’s ok, because that’s how most authors do it.  I just don’t want my book list to get away from me again.

So, while I prepare for the next cover reveal and the one after that, I will be pondering the long road of my career as an independent author.  I will make mistakes.  I will have successes.  Most of all, if I keep treating this like a business, I think that my fan base will stick with me.  At least I hope they will.  I have some amazing fans already, and I certainly don’t want to lose them!

What is Indie Author Success?

refugees-1020163_1280I research my profession – a lot.  Ok, kinda obsessively.  None of the data seems to be consistent, until I realized I was asking the wrong question.

I wanted to know what percentage of independent authors are successful.  Well, that’s a real broad term, isn’t it?  What does that word mean?  Above the median?  Profitable?  Able to quit their day job?  Millionaires?  Until I defined the question better, there’s no way I was going to get a good answer.

So, what does it mean to be successful?  For me, I hope to one day stop working “somewhere else” and focus all my attention on writing.  I’m currently halfway there.  I have a lovely part-time job with a team leader who spends the day talking plot outlines and a boss who checks up on my latest release results.  Saying “I have a book emergency” is a valid excuse for running out the door like my hair is on fire.  I can’t beat this job, but I still would rather write full time.

But still needing to work doesn’t mean I’m not successful.  All of my books are profitable.  They bring in more money than I spend to create them.  That, my friends, is the definition of profit.  I include everything in that calculation, too.  From ad campaigns to design costs and website hosting, if I spend it on the books, then it is an expense.  If it’s vague – like web hosting – then I break the cost evenly among the books.  If it’s specific (like an ad push) then I expect the book to make it back.  So far, my only book in the red is the one that released last Friday, and it’s quickly earning out.
But what kind of money can an author expect from doing this?

To be honest, not much – but what do you expect when you sell something for the price of a cup of coffee?  This game isn’t about making it rich on one book.  It can’t be.  On a book priced at $2.99 (USD) I make less than $2.00, and that money gets divided up by the expenses.  You see, THIS IS A BUSINESS.  I have to treat it like one, and that means volume of sales is the only way to be successful (i.e. a full-time author).

money-1090815_1280So how do I sell a whole lot of books?  Well, it usually helps if there’s a little variety.  I mean, really, how many people are going to rush out to buy a series about some princess turned gladiator?  Not exactly a “high draw” storyline.  Instead, I wrote a novel that hooked the people who DID take a chance on it.  I make them love it enough to want more, then feed it to them like a narcotic.  Once they are addicted, I show them the next shiny thing, then the one after… I mean my books, of course.

Which means I need to keep writing some damned good books.  I can’t put all my eggs in one basket.  I can’t expect that The Rock is going to RT my tweet about a girl fighting cancer.  I certainly can’t sit around and expect my BOOKS to find people to read them!  Sounds silly, right?  But how many people have done exactly that?  How many people think that “if you write it, they will come”?  How many people are so blinded by the passion of their art that they forget that critique is necessary to get better?  They refuse to fix something because the LIKE it like that – and then wonder why it never sells.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I am NOT saying that we authors should sell out and write vampire BDSM magician school stories because those sell like hot cakes.  I’m saying that whatever story we have to tell, we need to treat it as art, and make the best art we can.  We need to LISTEN when someone posts a bad review.  We need to celebrate when we get a good one.  Most of all, in order to be a successful author, we have to work our asses off, because overnight success usually takes a few years to make happen.

And if you’re wondering, I make approximately $125/month/book right now.  With each release that number grows.  The more books I have, the more chances for someone to stumble upon my work and read everything else I wrote.  The more books I have begging for readers, the greater my odds of success are.  Remember, 1 in 4.2 million isn’t as good as 1 in 2.1 million (2 books), or 1 in 1.4 million, or where I’m at now – 1 in 1.05 million (with 4 books available).  Never mind the quality of the books, because if your book sucks, no one will pay you for the torture of reading it.  If you’re not getting sales, look there first.

How I produce a Book/month

still-life-690705_1280So I keep getting asked how I plan to release a FINISHED book each month.  The answer is very simple, really.  I wrote them all years ago.

What, not the answer you wanted to hear?  Probably not.  So many people are trying desperately to crank out work fast enough to bump them up the lists, often thinking only of volume, not quality.  I went the other way.  I had stories to tell, and hoped that one day they’d become “real” books.  Yeah, except that whole “real” part was never well defined in my head.

As a child growing up with only physical books, but an adult who loves her ebooks, I never stopped to think about HOW people would read them.  I just knew I had this story, and I would finish it.  Naturally, when I had the book ready for the public, I contacted an agent, then another, then another.  While waiting for their response, I started researching this whole kindle revolution.

It took time – both for the queries and the research – but I eventually came to a simple conclusion.  I don’t LIKE the direction traditional trade publishing is going.  I DO like the control independent publishing offers.  Unfortunately, by the time I felt confident with dedicating all my hard work to a specific course of action, I’d written so many books I had no idea how to get them to the public!

Kinda people told me to release a book each year.  Uh, if that’s the case, my author career is over!  I have 35 books.  Many of these are book 1 in a series – from trilogies to 10 book epics.  Why would I wait to release them?  They’re DONE (well, my part).  Instead, I began looking at editing, cover art, and how to FINISH a book.

But it’s easy to hem and haw, convincing myself that I need to do something before I release THIS book.  It’s hard to admit that it will never be PERFECT, but can still go out into the world with a missing comma, or in the case of WWWD a “finance” instead of “fiancee”.  No, those mistakes aren’t allowed, but they were missed 5 times.  It happens.  I can still fix them.  And I am/have/will.  But the books are seeing the light of day.  One by one, they are all getting the best polish I can offer, then turned loose on a pre-determined day… because deadlines HELP.

I know, it’s not the fancy “cheat code” people want to know about.  It’s not the miracle cure that you and only you will find on Google.  This is the truth.  If you want to produce a lot of books, then write a lot of books.  Hopefully GOOD ones.  Do everything right.  You see, no matter how many people say the best way to make it big on kindle is to pump out a book/month, they forget one VERY important thing.

You need to release GOOD books.

It doesn’t matter how many books you have if they are all crap.  If there are typos, plots that make no sense, shallow characters… no one will buy them.  That’s just the truth.