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.