As someone who’s spent the better part of the past 20 years making his living as a writer, I definitely have some opinions on what works and what doesn’t in this business. However, there is a subset of that 20 years, and that’s the novelist part of the equation. Some of my author income for the past six years has been that of a writer of fiction. In short, I’m what’s casually called an “indie author” these days.
My adventure toward becoming an indie author wasn’t entirely my own idea. Thanks to my literature background—a Master of Arts in English from a university with a fairly prestigious Creative Writing program—I knew I wasn’t going to be creating light reading or escapist fiction. The idea of literary excellence on which Sahno Publishing was founded goes back to a high school education in classics, which my university years only solidified. I might miss, but I’d always shoot for greatness.
Unfortunately, the book business is a highly commercial one. Writers who aren’t already somehow known quantities (i.e., celebrities) may not find it so easy to get book deals of any kind. After years of rejection letters from traditional publishers who just didn’t think they could make a buck off my work, I found myself reading a book about starting your own publishing company and thereby being the one to pay yourself the royalties. This concept fascinated me.
And one of the reasons the indie author approach fascinated me so much was that the author of the above mentioned book was, in fact, a known quantity. He’d written for major publications for years, but couldn’t get a single traditional publisher to pay him an advance for a book he’d written. Even that guy’s impressive byline meant nothing in the world of commercial publishing.
So I launched Sahno Publishing, which serves not only as my own imprint but also as the corporate entity I use for the freelance writing and editing side of my business.
Not Just A Journalist
Bob Dylan infamously told fellow songwriter Phil Ochs, “You’re just a journalist,” during the time Bob was expanding his art while Phil continued to write “topical” songs. With all due respect to the journalism field, I have a little story about an actual journalist I’d like to share.
When I started Sahno Publishing as a new business entity, I did so with press releases and the simultaneous release of my first three novels. My fifteen years of marketing writing experience would serve me well, I reasoned. If you’re going to make a splash, you’ve got to make a big splash. Get people’s attention. If you publish it, they will read.
Ever see someone jump into the deep end of an empty pool?
Yes, it was an epic failure. I sold some books, but not nearly enough to even cover the costs I’d incurred for an editor and designer, much less the press releases or other marketing.
To add insult to injury, I also made enemies right out of the gate. An embittered former journalist who’d written one unsuccessful book discovered me on social media or via my press releases, and decided to write all sorts of horrible things about me and the work I was doing. He had the effrontery to call me a “hack writer,” since I wasn’t already a known literary quantity and all my bylines were for marketing articles.
It probably didn’t help when I noted that all my submitted article drafts had to be camera-ready when clients received them, unlike a journalist whose articles would automatically go to an editor—and, therefore, my experience as a writer was far more valuable than his—a position that didn’t exactly turn my new enemy into a friend.
The Big Six
From the beginning, I’ve tried to help my fellow indie authors by passing on my experiences, good and bad alike. With that, here are six things I’ve learned as an indie author.
1) Nobody cares about your book except people who like that kind of book—and even a lot of them don’t give a damn.
It’s easy to say, but hard to comprehend. The wonderful book that cost you years of sweat is not for everyone. In fact, it’s probably only going to be found, bought, read and loved by a select audience. Find that audience.
2) If you don’t write serial fiction, be prepared to adjust your sales expectations accordingly.
Serial fiction is all the rage these days. But if you write something that falls more into categories similar to what I write (literary, metaphysical, and so on), you can’t expect every reader to buy every book. Your mileage may vary.
3) Don’t be a jack of all trades, master of none. Find your niche, and stick with it if you can.
As much as my wife probably wishes I would, I can’t bend myself into the shape of a potboiler writer. Literature is where I was born, and it’s where I’ll die. Some is comic, some is tragic, but I know what I am and what I can—and, more importantly, can’t—do.
4) Ultimately, you are the head of your own Marketing Department.
Even if you were traditionally published, you’d still have to do a lot of the heavy marketing lifting. As an indie, be prepared to do it all. You can hire someone for some things, but not everything. Which leads me to…
5) There’s only so much you can do.
Every book is a little business entity of its own. At some point, some may have to be more or less abandoned as you focus on your latest and/or next book. It’s part of the game. I relate it to music: few people are working hard to promote music that came out ten years ago. It’s always about the present or the future.
6) Your family, friends and colleagues are not your audience. People who like that kind of book—maybe—are your audience.
This brings me back to point #1. If there’s an audience for your book, you’ll need to find it…and keep looking to expand it. The majority of your best, most loyal readers will be people you’ve never met. That’s as it should be.
Sure, you can host a book launch event like the one pictured above. Invite all your friends if you like. But once that’s over, forget about the “friends and family” plan. Find your readers where they already hang out, and entice them to check out your work.
That’s it. Have a great week, everyone!