Is Self Publishing Really the Wild West?

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As an indie author, I try to keep up with trends in the industry. Since self publishing is so new, it seems like a “trend” is anything that’s been going on for a month or two, or at least that how it seems. There are some really good people doing some really good research into what’s happening in indie-author land, and these people are certainly more in the know than I am. You can read Joe Konrath’s blog, A Newbie’s Guide to Self-Publishing, and get a ton of really useful information, plus Joe is incredibly open about his sales figures. Dean Wesley Smith and his wife Kristine Kathryn Rush have very different ideas on self publishing than Konrath does, especially when it comes to offering (or not offering) free promotions. All of them are successful and full of information, and the indie author needs to take away what suits their personality, style, and willingness to work on areas other than writing.

I read this article yesterday written by Jane Friedman, which was posted in my Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) group, called “5 Industry Trends Requiring Every Writer’s Attention.” One of the suggestions is counter to most advice these days — she suggests that writers do NOT work to build a platform. Here’s the pull quote:

“If you’re a totally new, unpublished writer who is focused on fiction, memoir, poetry, or any type of narrative-driven work, forget you ever heard the word platform. I think it’s causing more damage than good. It’s causing writers to do things that they dislike (even hate), and that are unnatural for them at an early stage of their careers. They’re confused, for good reason, and platform building grows into a raging distraction from the work at hand—the writing.

Therefore, build your platform by writing and publishing in outlets that are a good fit for you, lead to professional growth, and build your network. The other pieces will start to fall into place. It might take longer, but who cares if you’re feeling productive and enjoying yourself? Go be a writer and take a chance on the writing. Writing and publishing good work always supports the growth of your platform—and I’m willing to bet more valuable platform building will get done that way, especially for narrative-driven writers.”

Today, Jane’s friend Dan Blank posted this article called “The Dirty Secret of the Author Platform (Hint: It’s Difficult)” and while he doesn’t totally disagree with Jane, he says this, “No one is more motivated to communicate the value of your book more than you, the author. Why should you consider building an author platform now? Because it takes time to develop meaningful relationships and trust with others.

Should this only be pursued by serious writers? Yes, because this is hard work. Establishing an author platform is about ensuring your book is not just “published,” but finds readers and has an impact in their lives. It is about thinking about a book beyond just an object whose effect is measured by a publication date or a point of sale. That the book is something that lives in the hearts and minds of readers long after it is read.

This is what an author platform delivers.”

So… Platform or no platform? Free books or no free books? Sell only on Amazon, or put your book into every possible outlet the world over? These are only a few of the conflicting questions out there; they barely scratch the surface of the debate going on in this new wild, wild west arena of indie publishing. And don’t even get me started on the vast and varying opinions of Amazon and their ever-changing algorithms.

As a new author — my first book won’t be a year old until July — I can, at times, feel overwhelmed with all of this advice, certainty, even dogma. It’s a lot like when I first started homeschooling my kids. There was so much conflicting information out there, and everyone was sure that they were right. What I came to learn over the years is that a lot of them were right… For their own family and children. For mine? Not so much.

We have to sift through the vast, amazing, and generous treasure trove of shared information out there and seek out those nuggets that really speak to us. Just like we don’t all write the same books, we also can’t run our indie author business the same way. For some people, only listing their books for sale on Amazon works. 99% of their sales come from Amazon, the advertising and promotion outlets for any other book platform is sorely lacking to non-existent, and it’s one thing to check each day. For others, they can’t imagine not having their book on B&N, Kobo, Smashwords, iBookstore, their own website, and print copies available to drop off at libraries and independent bookstores within a two hundred mile radius of their house. They don’t look at low sales on any one channel as a nuisance, but rather see those small numbers adding up to large ones.

Neither one of these is wrong. The Amazon-only person is happy because they don’t have so much to keep up with, and (potentially) they can spend more of their time writing. The be-everywhere author is happy because there is virtually no corner of the globe where his or her book is unavailable.

The same goes for platform building. For me personally, I do three things: this blog, Facebook and Twitter. Yes, I am on Goodreads, too, but I check it about once a month. I find the site difficult to use both as a reader and as a writer, and, at least in my genres, the forums not very active. I do Giveaways on them periodically, and am thrilled they let me do that, and I accept all friend requests, but that’s about it. I joined Triberr and couldn’t figure it out. I get asked to do things on Linkedin all the time, but I have no interest there. Google+… I just don’t get it. I know there are other things that people have had great success with, but for me, either the learning curve is too high (like Triberr) or I just can’t get into it. Even the few things I do sometimes seem like too much work, so I’ve decided that I’m okay with my three things.

But if you love social media, and keeping up with a large author platform is fun for you, then you should do it! Just because I don’t, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.

Marketing and promotion? Same thing. Blog tours work for me. I know writing guest posts and doing interviews is a big time committment, but I genuinely love to teach and explain and clarify, and blogs let me do that much better than a 140 character Tweet. I don’t put a lot about my books on Twitter or Facebook, mostly just status reports on new projects and word counts, cover reveals, and free day promotions. The rest is about writing. I’m not great at selling things… hopefully, I’m okay at selling myself. I do paid advertising pretty aggressively, and spend a good amount of time on it. Could I find more free stuff? Probably. Honestly, it’s just too much work, when a guaranteed feature is only $5 on so many sites. But is it the wrong way to go? Absolutely not! Free is great when you can get it, and there’s a lot of ways to do it if you’re patient and persistent.

Okay, one caveat. Please, please, please… Do not use Twitter as a scrolling billboard. Honestly. I, and most others, will unfriend you. I try to retweet a couple of things a day, and sometimes it is next to impossible to find something, anything, that isn’t an ad. Do us all a favor (including yourself) and save 90% of your ads for places ads are supposed to go!

The bottom line? No matter what you do, success isn’t a sprint. As my fortune cookie so wisely said, “Success is a planned event.” And true success doesn’t come overnight. It comes with perseverance, with days and weeks and months, and yes, even years, of consistent work. It comes with writing the best books you can write, putting the best covers on them you can find, and doing the best you can to get it in the hands of readers. Amazon change their algorithms just before you were going to put your first book in KDP Select? If you have another book coming soon, do it anyway. It won’t generate a lot of follow-up sales these days, but you’ll get some people who love your work and will buy the next one. If someone tells you not to do it, and you still feel like it’s the right thing to do, then do it! What’s the worst that can happen? You get a bunch of free books into other people’s hands, and you tie up your ebook for 90 days with Amazon. That’s all. The sky won’t fall. The indie author police won’t come to your house.

Be brave and courageous, and stay true to yourself. After all, you published a novel! How awesome is that? You’ve already done an amazing thing by following your heart. Keep doing that, keep taking the advice that speaks to you, and forge your own path. You’re as unique as your book!

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Filed under Publishing, Self publishing, Writing

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