Three years ago today, I launched my first book Shadow’s Talent. As well as drinking bourbon and coffee like I did that night, to the tune of the same CD (Clannad’s Pastpresent), I thought I’d take on a nice simple topic: why I chose the indie route and why I still like it.
I’m not the sales wolf at your book-writing door here. Some go indie, others don’t. I’m not selling you a package, I just see this question come up on forums a lot and figured the answer might need a longer than average post. This is me, after all, the man of wordcounts that become doorstoppers. As quick as I can then…
It’s all about the trial and error
There are many different ways to successfully build a business on writing and selling your work without the backing of an agent or publishing house. I’ve talked to many successful authors (in terms of both readership and acclaim, not just how much money they make) and the ones I keep talking to are the ones who say words to the effect of ‘Here’s how I do it but take my advice with a pinch of salt.’ I also like the ones who nail the basics live great covers, hooky blurbs and hone your craft to, y’know, help create a book that kicks ass like the Randy Couture of prose. Then after that, these authors will tell you ‘Get out there and hustle like the streets are you ring and you’ve got a bet laid on your own book.’
I love trying new stuff in that hustle. Every promo I try, every title I release, it all has that ‘Will this be the one that brings the ship in?’ kind of thing you sometimes get from buying a lottery ticket or laying down your money on a blackjack hand. And even then, a win in the short-run doesn’t mean I can stop. It’s all about rinse-repeat. But at least…
I can do it all according to my own schedule
In my day job, I like working for an organisation and never went down the self employment route, even though in my line of work it’s possible. But I’m good at being my own boss for a side venture like self publishing, because I hear that ‘You’ve gotta make stuff happen’ voice all the time.
And I can shut it up when I want, because nobody’s telling me when I’ve got to release that book, or when I’ve got to get promoting, or when to sit down and just write. There are trees to fell, miles to run, guitars to be played, and this week I dug my mothballed Nintendo Wii out of its dusty box because I just felt the need to. My life, my balance. Better off without a publisher constantly on the phone going ‘Where’s the book where’s the books where’s the book?!’
On that note…
I just never got anywhere submitting to publishers or agents
Don’t want my manuscript? No big deal, because all I really want is to get it out there into the hands of readers. Is it good enough? I’ve had enough reviews that say so without having to go through gatekeepers for validation. I’ve also left writing communities where the lemming mentality was ‘If you can’t get your stuff accepted then it’s not good enough yet and I’m going to carry on submitting and be like that fuckwit Sisywhatshisname who kept pushing his rock uphill and wondering why it rolled back down every time; I’m never self publishing and my rock will STAY THERE one day dammit!’
Seriously, I actually did see one guy compare the whole thing to Sysyphus and his rock. I wish I could say I understood, but I don’t. It’s fine to chase a book deal with a publisher if you want to, not so fine to spread the idea that we should all be martyrs because we need them to validate us. We have readers for that these days, not redundant gatekeepers. I feel sorry for anyone who won’t at least entertain the idea that there’s more than one route to being a writing success.
Okay, maybe that’s unfair and just me wanting an excuse for my usual foul-mouthed brand of snark, because I can’t fault those guys for their determination really. But I’ve come to find…
Being determined to produce fiction people want to read works just as well when you’re targeting readers directly rather than an agent or publisher
Or at least it does for me. I no longer believe in needing a book deal to validate the quality of my work. It actually is pretty hard to get people reading your stuff, no matter how many free or cheap copies you give away. But that’s all part of the challenge, right? So’s finding a blog reviewer who’ll give you a shot, or even another author (shock horror, authors actually can review fairly and honestly for each other without turning Goodreads into the Battle of Agincourt. I’ve been there, I’ve seen it and done it and it’s on my T-shirt.)
I can write what I want
This is my favourite one, and I quite happily get people’s hackles up with it sometimes.
I’ve heard the ‘You can’t just write what you want, you have to write what readers want’ and the many variations, so let me clarify: right now I’m happy just to work with the series in front of me that most will say is a niche blend of genres and tropes and doesn’t have much commercial appeal. Tell me I’m one of the many polluting Amazon’s shelves with books that never shift if you want to, but the fact is there aint a goddamn thing you can do to stop me. I’m quite happy to try the ‘Readers don’t know they want this until they see it’ kind of approach, and then experiment with how I can make them see it and persuade them to try it. It’s risky, and probably won’t give me a return of investment for years. I don’t care, I like the risk, I like trusting that the unexpected might come good for me.
What else am I going to spend my pocket money on anyway, bigger and better versions of what everyone else owns? Most of them don’t have books to call their own. Most of them never took a risk that involved countless hours at a keyboard wondering who the hell would ever read the dirge they were hammering into it. Me? It’s become second nature, along with the rollercoaster of thoughts that go with it.
Maybe what I want in a year’s time will be completely different and I’ll experiment with a more targeted approach. But I’ve heard even that fails to work for a lot of people who do it. There’s a certain amount of ‘Pick a tactic and just go for it’ that I like about self-publishing. The best observation I think I ever read from someone in traditional publishing it that however long you’ve been doing it, you cannot predict the surprises nor the trends. That was also the moment I decided not to try, and just write stuff. Get it out into the world and don’t worry about the naysayers.
Three years ago today, I launched the first ship. I wrote 4000 words of the next one today, and I feel like the writing’s changed a little, but my approach is mostly the same: just make stuff happen, for real and in fiction.