Beware Unreal Expectations

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With the year-end looming, I thought a productive exercise would be to  reflect on the past year – my first as a self-published author.

I came to fiction writing with pretty decent chops in the reading and writing departments – I’ve been a lifelong reader and I’m the author of a number of academic articles. Aside from the obvious growing pains that came with switching from nonfiction to fiction, writing my debut novel was nothing short of exhilarating. Then the rubber hit the road as the expression goes. I decided to self-publish, even though I had no experience with or understanding of the ins and outs of promoting and marketing a self-published book. The learning curve has been a steep one.

If you’re lucky, a few kind people will give you some far-from-glamorous advice early on in the self-publishing journey. It will go something like this – you have to be in this game for the long haul. Don’t expect overnight success. Selling your self-published book is going to be more like a slow burn than a super nova blazing through the sky. Plug away, write the next book and hang in there.

And if you’re anything like me, you’ll nod your head and try to integrate such sage advice into your promotion and marketing plan. You’ll tell yourself to be patient and you’ll really try. But who among us doesn’t have a fantasy buried somewhere that says maybe, just maybe, I’ll be the one to make it big on Amazon right out of the chute?

The fuel that steadily feeds this fantasy is everywhere on social media. Posts claim that all a self-published author has to do is read the latest how-to book on cracking Amazon’s algorithms and sub-categories to sell thousands of e-books. Facebook sites and tweets brag that the author in question turned his or her book into a best seller in five easy steps. These messages are hard to ignore.

Maybe one day, when you’re feeling low about your drastically falling book sales, you’ll weaken. You may succumb to the temptation to throw some money at the problem. This is probably going to happen, so when the glitzy internet ad page, the Facebook boosts, or the blog tour don’t amount to much in terms of sales, don’t be too hard on yourself. We all go through this learning curve.

The entire self-publishing industry is moving incredibly fast. By the time you hear about the next best way to sell a ridiculous number of e-books it’s already going to be too late – everyone else has hopped on the bandwagon and saturated the market. I recently read a discussion thread that said putting books up for free on Amazon doesn’t work nearly as well as it used to. The market is overflowing with free e-books all the time. It’s getting as hard to stand out in the free e-book market as anywhere else. Go figure. Ditto for advertising on BookBub and several other previously go-to promotion sites.

In 2013 Amazon changed the manner in which giving away books affects the all-important ranking system. No longer is it a piece of cake to see a peak in sales after having had your book up listed as free for a period of time. Add to this the fact that publishing houses have allowed a significant drop in the price of e-books by their big name authors and you start to get the idea of what an uphill slog this whole self-publishing thing is going to be. The edge indie authors had when we set the prices of our e-books from 1.99 to 3.99 is quickly disappearing.

Given all of the above, here’s my 2014 go-to plan. I’ll write good stories. Then I’ll rewrite those stories so many times I won’t believe I could have done that many drafts. I’ll get them edited by someone who knows what they’re doing. I’ll make sure I have good covers and my books are properly formatted. Then I’ll put my books out there and let the public decide. I’ll do promotion that feels right to me. I know what suits me, what I can afford and what passes the smell test. I don’t have to spend money I don’t have, or give my hard work away for nothing, or spam out on Facebook and Twitter twenty-four hours a day. It isn’t a glamorous or glitzy plan but I’m pretty sure it is a long haul plan.

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One last thing – a disclaimer – I’m still in the early stages of working on what I’m calling my slow burn plan to becoming a successful indie author. I’m hoping that all I’ve said will prove to be true. My gut says yes! Come back and ask me in 2018. Please! By then I hope to have written and self-published five novels.

I’m an eternal optimist at heart. The above picture is of a poinsettia we had hanging around the cabin since last Christmas. We didn’t do anything special to ensure it would rejuvenate, but all on its own it decided to come back this year, beautiful and bright-red just in time for the holidays. When something like that happens, I can’t help but be optimistic.

33 comments on “Beware Unreal Expectations

  1. smilecalm says:

    wise advice, Francis!
    I expect that all
    will be neither different
    nor the same 🙂

  2. Christine Penhale says:

    I love that it is snowing on your blog – how festive! Are you going to blog a set of New Year’s resolutions for writing? That would be fun! (well, I would have fun reading them lol!)

  3. Debbie Young says:

    Optimism + realism + a beautiful poinsettia = a great way to start the New Year and the second year of your self-publishing career. Congratulations on all your success in 2013 and here’s to a terrific, well-balanced, increasingly successful 2014, Francis!

  4. jackiemallon says:

    Good luck for 2014! Let’s keep the dream alive like the poinsettia because good writing is a girl’s best calling card!

  5. We are so on the same wavelength, Fran. I was just about to write this very post, and coming to the same conclusion. Now I might just refer people to you!

    It’s true that the options for promoting a self-published book are many, and often costly, but it’s also true that their effectiveness is unknown. In my own experience, while I haven’t paid much yet, nothing has really had an impact. This could be a genre issue more than the fault of the marketing outlets themselves, but it does point out that writers need to be aware of the cost/benefit factor before plunking down a lot of money.

    In the end, I think you have the right attitude and time frame. It’s a building process, and 2018 is not as far off as it might seem today!

    Thanks for your thoughtful analysis.

    • The unknowns certainly give me pause for thought and concern – especially when it comes to investing hard-to-come-by cash. I appreciate that we are on the same wavelength, Kevin. As you say – 2018 is not as far away as we think. I better get writing. Thanks for the comment and any direction to my site.

  6. Deb McEwan says:

    Great article Francis, that so many of us can relate to – and beautiful poinsettia!

  7. That’s such an interesting insight into your journey into self-publishing. It’s also got moments of ‘reality-check’ and exhilaration. Thanks for taking the time to publish your thoughts.

  8. Good luck, Francis! And thank you for your insight into the self-publishing experience.

  9. your work is good! hang in there!

  10. P. C. Zick says:

    Perfectly sizes up my thoughts. Also it gives me renewed faith after a day of doubt. I fixed it by writing a few pages and reading your post. Thank you for confirmation.

    • I’m honoured that my thoughts on this subject could be reassuring. And doubly glad to see more than one commenter seconding the conclusions I am drawing about self-publishing and the path I am charting for myself. I wont’ say misery loves company because self-publishing is far from a miserable endeavour (even though it may feel that way at times) but I’m all for the company part. Best wishes for writing success in 2014.

  11. Jane Fritz says:

    These are important reflections. Having read and thoroughly enjoyed your book and having followed with admiration the quantity and quality of effort you’ve put into getting your novel ‘out there’, I’m really impressed with your resolve. Having 5 books out there by 2018 is a stellar resolution, Fran. I look forward to following your progress!

    • It makes this scary journey just that much easier knowing the fan base is growing and populated by generous people like yourself, Jane. Happy New Year’s over on the other side of this wonderful country – from sea to shining sea.

  12. Gwen Stephens says:

    Hey Fran – even though I’m on a self-imposed holiday from writing and blogging (a little R & R) I couldn’t resist reading your post when it popped up in my email inbox. As usual, you have lots of tell-it-like-it-is advice to share with your readers. I love that you’re so optimistic but at the same time, realistic. I think you have an ideal marketing strategy, and if I ever make it to the point of having a manuscript worthy of publication, I will likely take a similar approach. I’m one of those readers who’s in for the long haul with you. I’m sure I’ll still be around in 2018 to tell you what I think.

    Cheers and Happy New Year!

    • High praise indeed to be irresistible during a self-imposed break from the blogging world. Thanks so much, Gwen. I’m counting on you for 2018 🙂 and know that I will be returning your support as I read your published works.

  13. Megan.S says:

    Francis,

    This post is very inspiring for those writing their first books, and self-publishing is now something that has become very mainstream, but still hard to navigate. The advice you have shared will help many budding authors, and I hope to hear more advice on this subject in the new year. Thank you for your words and I wish you the best in the coming years and that you achieve all you set out to accomplish!

    Happy New Year 🙂

    • I appreciate that you took the time to comment, Megan and thanks for the kudos. You can count on more of my experience related to self-publishing in the new year as I move into taking a much more directed role with the publishing of my 2nd novel. Best wishes for 2014.

  14. KL Wagoner says:

    I like your wise and practical plan for 2014. I’ll try to incorporate the same in my own.

  15. Reblogged this on What The Hell and commented:
    These ideas are much on my mind as I enter the third month of Yesterday Road’s availability. Francis is spot on: a long-term view is the only way to approach this business (if you want to stay sane, that is!).

  16. 1WriteWay says:

    I love your slow-burner plan, if mainly because it fits in with my own observations of self-published authors. Too many of them seem to approach marketing the same way some approach playing the Lottery: the idea that you have to pay to play and that if you play it right, you might win big. That attitude actually says nothing about the quality of the self-published book, but sees self-publication as a gamble, to win or lose based on the skill and timeliness of one’s marketing, not necessarily on the quality of one’s work.

    Part of me freezes at the thought of publishing, whether self-publishing or traditional, not just because of my own tendency to have high expectations, but also because I know my family and friends would share those expectations. It’s one thing to talk myself down to a slow-burner plan, but it’s another to ask those closest to me to “please don’t pass judgment just because my book is drowning in a churning sea of similar self-published novels.”

  17. I self-published my first book before Amazon entered the scene, before ebooks were popular, before old fashioned publishing knew they had to make a change to survive. It’s been a roller coaster ride that I did not ride well, because I keep getting caught between “marketing” and “writing” ~ the two don’t seem to coexist in my psyche. Not to mention trying to keep up with changing technology. Now, sometimes I regret not doing it the old fashioned way. Still, your post inspires me. Slow burn or not, it sounds to me like you’re listening to yourself – not the screaming culture around you. I believe, in the end, that is the only thing that works for anyone. I intend to to follow your lead and continue to do it my way – which means writing from my heart and sharing it as I can along the way with those who want to read it. Thank you!

    • Thanks for sharing a bit of your self-publishing story. What can we do – right? We have to write. Our stories need to be told so we just have to find a way to do that. No choice. I am clapping for your do-it-your-way attitude. Cue up old blue-eyes so we can sing along.

  18. Hi Francis! This is a great post. I find it inspirational. I’m an eternal optimist too! (I get made fun of all the time) Ha,ha, but that’s okay. Good luck with your future plans. I have no doubt you’ll reach your goals. Happy writing!

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