Writing, promotion, tips, and opinion. Pour a cuppa your favorite poison and join in.

Monday, March 17, 2014

A Week of Self-Published Authors: Motivation and Positioning

In 2013
Over 300,000 books traditionally published
Over 200,000 eBooks added to Amazon
25% of all eBook sales from Indie authors

These are big numbers. Scary numbers for an unknown author with a $0 budget trying to get noticed. On Amazon, our books are a needle in a haystack and our marketing tactics equate to a single voice being drowned out by a 200,000-strong crowd of people all screaming the same message at the top of their lungs.

BUT—that last statistic, the one that tells you only 25% all eBook sales were from Indie authors? To me, that’s good news. To me, that’s a challenge that I want to accept. Current working Indie authors far outnumber current traditionally published authors, so why shouldn’t we work toward carrying the lion’s share of the market, too?

Forrester Research group says eBook sales could come close to 3 buh-buh-buh-billion dollars in 2015. So what that tells me is even if we (Indie authors) only retain that 25% of the market we're currently realizing, that's still $750 million in sales. Would I like to get my hands on some of that?

Yes, please.

Remember—the big six want us to fail. We are an infringement on their bottom line. So of course they will use some of their advertising clout to further the perception that self-published authors are all hacks, and to a lot of readers that's exactly their perception of us.


No. I say we flip that number around. All we have to do is write great stories and find a way to get them in readers' hands. And we can do that, right? Right? I accept that challenge.

But we have to be realistic. We have to recognize that we don't have the resources that publishing houses do. For any one of us to climb out of obscurity, it takes time and perseverance. Writing a great novel certainly helps, but even that sometimes doesn't matter simply because of the needle-in-a-haystack analogy. Your great novel can get buried at the bottom of the proverbial pile, no matter how good it is.

It's easy to give up, especially after your first book doesn't take off. So first thing is first: get your head straight. You're not one in a million, you're one of millions. Someday, yes, you very well could be that one-in-a-million author that everyone has heard of. But today? Today it will have to be enough to love what you do... and that ain't such a bad thing. In fact, it's pretty freakin fabulous because I'll wager 10 to 1 that you hate your day job.

So... let's talk bare-bones basics.

When I published my first book, I thought, “This is it!” I was on my way. Days went by, then weeks, and then a month. I sold less than a dozen copies. I was crestfallen and felt like a failure—even more so than when I received 7 rejection letters from the 50+ queries I sent out to agents in New York (the rest never bothered to answer). My book was good, or so I thought. So did my wife and mom.


I think most self-pubbies go through this same process. I know the ones I’ve become friends with have shared nearly identical stories. You hit the ‘PUBLISH’ button on that first novel and you get the same level of desperate hope people get when they buy a Mega Millions ticket at the gas station. They're already planning what they’re going to spend the money on before they pull away from the pump.

It can be depressing, especially because that 'refresh' button on the KDP reports page is so easy to obsess over. It was for me. It can drive you insane.

But now… a year later, here’s what's changed for me: my expectations, and the recognition that my "second job" is the greatest job in the world.

It doesn’t matter how many books I sell. Well… let’s be clear, here. I would like to be a best-selling author, but I’ve learned to have very realistic expectations with regard to that. By doing that, I've taken all the stress out of writing. I have a day job that provides a solid income—I don’t need to sell my books to make ends meet. (If you do, if this is your only outlet for income, stop reading now and go put in some applications). I don’t cater to any agent or publisher’s whims nor am I bound by any time constraints due to a contract. When I write, I write because I’m feeling it, and it makes me feel good. It gives me the same high as when the band and I are all in synch jamming out. It’s creation. That’s why I write. I write for me.

Realize what your motivation really is. Planning to become a Dean Koontz or a JK Rowling is like planning to become a rock star. It could happen, but probably not. But you can achieve success and find joy in what you do. Stop worrying about whether people will like your stories and write what makes you happy. When you do that, you will write with passion and your work will personify that passion. That is the foundation for success.

Dreams. That's my niche. That's what I write about.

I could have written about the end of the world because it’s popular right now, or I could have written the smuttiest smut to ever put color in a woman’s cheeks because it’s popular right now. And maybe that wouldn’t have been a bad idea. If at all possible, certainly the current market should be kept in mind when writing a book, I get that.

But I have to think long-term. This isn't a 'lark' for me, I'm in it for the long haul. I’m not trying to get rich quick, I’m trying to build a brand and a career. And most of all, referencing what I said earlier—the part about writing what makes me happy—I have to position myself in a genre/category that I know will never become old or boring for me. If that ever happens, I'm screwed. I’ll have to start all over.

Positioning really goes right back to same main aspect of knowing your motivation, which is: as an Indie author, first and foremost, you have to like what you write and you have to like why you write. 


In my opinion, these two aspects of writing are the cornerstones for a career in writing. They’re obvious and simplistic, but for a lot of authors they're not easy choices to make. The implication of "how long" you’ll be placing yourself on a particular path is tough, especially considering that “how long” could equate to the rest of your life.


Sean McLachlan said...

Persistence is the key to success in writing just like everything else. Like many full-tine writers, I'm a hybrid, with my nonfiction and magazine work traditionally published and my fiction indie published. I'm in for the long haul (read: life) and I think that helps my day-to-day attitude. You have to think of writing as a career if you want to be around ten years from now.

mshatch said...

Great post, I'll just add that another way Indie authors can boost their success is to not write like a hack and throw your first draft up. I've bought a few self-pubbed books and thus far I've been mostly disappointed, which makes me leery of self-pubbing because I don't want to get lumped in to a group of so called hackers. So, what does that mean? Get crit partners, revise, polish, practice, and above all, don't rush.

Charity Bradford said...

Wonderful post! I was sitting here muttering "Amen!" to every paragraph. I especially love "Stop worrying about whether people will like your stories and write what makes you happy."

This is true no matter how you publish. If you aren't writing for yourself you will lose the desire to keep writing. No amount of money will ever make you happy if you don't enjoy the journey.

Liz A. said...

It's so true. You have to write what you love. Otherwise, it's just another way to hate your job.

Kristin Smith said...

Love your post Matthew!! I agree with all of your points. It's so true. You have to write what you love and what will make YOU happy, not anyone else. It took me awhile to get to that point, but once I did, I felt free.

blankenship.louise said...

(nodding) You have to love your writing. It helps to also love the relentless pursuit of perfection, too (if I can borrow an ad phrase from elsewhere.)

Unknown said...

Beautiful post and so true especially for a non-fiction indie like myself.