Three Obstacles for Indie Authors

How many times have you felt that if only you could muster the energy to write your book, it would be a bestseller? Now, let’s say you actually wrote your book; that had to be the hard part right? Think Again. While writing the book is one of the top obstacles for publishing success, there are some others that stand tall and scary before it.

Top Three Obstacles for Indie Authors

1. Promoting Your Book

Ok, so you wrote your book. Your husband or wife even read it for you. They like it. So that’s enough to send you on your way. The next thing you realize, months have gone by and no one new has read your book. Is it because the book stinks? No, not at all. Is it hard to get? Not at all, if people actually wanted to get a copy from you. The reason no one is flocking to your book is because no one has heard of it, other than your close friends, relatives, or loved ones. They may read it for you, and possibly spread good word of mouth too, but their reach is miniscule, and their time isn’t dedicated to helping you achieve your literary dreams. The main problem is reaching a larger audience and getting their attention long enough to do a number of things: 1. Read the title and author of your book 2. Read the blurb 3. Find out where to get a copy of the book if they are interested AND 4. Actually read the book.

The above problems may be solved easier if you can get an agent or a publishing house to sign a contract with you. That is extremely hard in today’s market. No, it’s not impossible, but it requires an extraordinary amount of time and effort, and even then it’s a gamble. See, the process for getting someone to publish and promote your book for you requires that you query agents, send synopses, wait for them to request three chapters, send three chapters, wait for them to read and respond to the chapters and request the whole book. Then, you’ve got a while to go, waiting for them to read the book and decide if it’s a right fit for them. With the advent of 0.99 cent e-book revolution, novels are destined to go the way of music and apps. That means it is very difficult for someone to sign on with an unknown author, regardless of how good their work is. Again, it can be done, but it is a long process of diminishing returns in today’s marketplace.

So how can the obstacle be overcome, given the grimness of the modern fiction and non-fiction market? Believe it or not, the answer is to self-publish and promote your book yourself, and to do so for free. Ok, so now you believe that what I’m saying is even harder than the agent query submission process I described above—and it might be—but it is a method that works. I can cite E.L. James: she published Twilight fan-fiction for free on fanfiction.net, gave away her e-book, eventually charged a dollar for it, and now today she charges 10 dollars. I forgot to mention that she has the fastest selling e-book around. Does this mean her story is a literary masterwork? No. Does it even mean it’s good? I can’t tell you—what I can tell you is that she took a structure that worked (Twilight first-person) and put a harlequin romance inside of it. This formula has earned her millions. When it comes down to it, an author has to be his own promoter.

Remember, image and advertising mean a lot. There are so many ways to promote through social media, but if you haven’t developed a strong, powerful image for your book, it won’t matter. You need to get the words and images in front of a potential readers eyes long enough for them to care to click on what you’re offering. With boring, or even average to slightly above-average artwork, there is a low chance you will get them to experience your writing.

Yes, all of this means you have to become savvy to social media if you are not already—you will have to develop a Facebook page, a Twitter page, a Tumblr page, an official novel website. All of it is time consuming, but it can be a labor of love. Take your time, polish your product, and then give it away for free. Promote it in forums, through social media, through paid advertising if that is within your budget. Hell, get a bumber sticker with your novel’s name on it and put it on the back of your car. Call your local shops (comic book, game store, or whatever fits your books niche), and ask to sell your book at half-cost. Buy a book display, make it look very pretty, and put it in their shop. Get to know the store owners and offer them half of the money. What I am talking about is grassroots indie book promotion. If you think you have what it takes to surmount this first obstacle to getting published, read on.

2. Revising and Editing Your Book

Harder than getting your book written is editing and revising your book. It takes a long, consistent stretch of time to finish writing the book, but that is really only the beginning. A finished product, something worthy of being promoted with an expectation of success, requires many thorough revisions and edits. Most articles on the subject will suggest without question that indie authors hire an editor. They will tell you this means not to use a friend or relative. Keep in mind that editing and revising are two different things. Revising is when you alter what you are writing, changing up what you say; editing is when you adjust what’s on the page, primarily through fixing syntax, grammar, punctuation, diction, etc. My process is generally to write an entire book straight through, but keep a notepad open that correlates to the book with general questions I might have. So, rather than getting bogged down with plot consistency on the first write-through, I just make note of questions I have. Is this plot element consistent with this one? What type of measurement did I use here vs. there? These questions can be handled in the revision. Once you are ready to revise, which I would suggest happen several weeks later after finishing the book at the minimum (revision requires a fresh perspective hard to get if you remain entrenched in your creation straight through), you should simply start at the beginning of your book and reread it. But don’t just reread: rewrite it. The sagest advice I ever heard for the revision of my book was to give my “prose the attention of poetry.” If you haven’t studied poetry much, as I’ve had the privilege to at  Rutgers graduate school, you might get the meaning of my revision advice. Here it is in layman’s: scrutinize over the necessity of every word in every sentence. Now you’re thinking, are you nuts? That would lead to madness. Ok, you’re right. It does lead to madness. And you will likely have to live in that mad world for some time. But when all is said and done, you have a product worth polishing, worth editing. Other things to keep in mind: Don’t be a passive voice. Research what passive and active voice are on Google and apply the concept to your writing, trying to be as active as possible. Show things instead of describing them. Example: He was walking across the street when a car being driven by a drunk swerved into him. < That is bad writing. The least you can do is make it active: A drunk driver swerved his car into him as he crossed the street.

Once you have rewritten your entire manuscript, it is time to again let it rest. Come back to it in a week or two. Read the actual printed text, or at least read it on a good e-reader that does highlighting. Fix every known error you can find. You won’t find them all, but that’s ok, your human. You could shell out the money for an editor, but make sure you do research and get one with a great reputation, otherwise you’ll be wasting your money. Either way, the long process of editing and revising is hard, but know that the end product is something that you can open to any given page, which then you can read without finding a single grammatical flaw or typo. A beautiful place to be. Oh wait, is that a capital where there shouldn’t be one? Don’t worry. It is said that the best editors correct 90 something percent of the works they edit. Even professionals are not perfect.

3. Writing Your Book

OK, so at a measly third, the task of actually writing your book. Don’t get me wrong—this is the hurdle most will never overcome. Not because it is the hardest on the road to successful publication, but because it requires such a sustained caliber of writing consistency. To write a good book, you have to achieve writing rhythm. What does that mean? Well, it means you write every day on the same story, until you finish it. How long does it take? Well, if you’re like me, and you write novels, you’ll end up with at least a 70k word count. My latest book totaled 135k. Something around 60k straddles the line between novel and novella. So getting all the creative ideas that are the foundation of your book is actually the easiest part of the process, the most enjoyable. If you didn’t have great ideas and creativity running through your brain, you wouldn’t be interested in the journey of writing and publishing something in the first place, right? So decide upon exactly what your story is, or at least its premise. If its non-fiction, start your research, because it will be a key to your success. Then, set to the task—start writing! Don’t analyze what you’re writing, don’t even worry much about it. Just go. Write. Read every day that you’re writing too, the two acts are synergistic, and I’ve often found that what I’m reading can have a subtle effect upon my writing style while I’m reading it. There is nothing better than finishing the book you’re writing, even if it’s a steaming pile of garbage at first, which most of the time it will be. That’s ok, it hasn’t had the careful attention of the revising and editing process yet. If you really need help with basic writing technique and grammar, join an online writing community. There are plenty out there, just Google to find one you like.

If you want to see the product of my most recent literary and artistic labor, head over to www.novelfantasy.com.

2 Thoughts on “Three Obstacles for Indie Authors

  1. At this point, my biggest obstacle is finding my target audience. I’ve exhausted all of the places I thought would work. I’ve asked experienced published authors if I missed something I wasn’t doing, and even they said no. They scratch their heads unsure of how else I could market myself.

    But despite it all, it doesn’t discourage me from writing. This is more of a hobby for me, but I would like to share my stories with the world, if I could.

  2. Pingback: Joseph A. Turkot | Am I Allowed to Disagree with J.A. Konrath?

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