Writers and publishers generally talk about selling books, choosing a path for printing and distribution, the importance of professional editing and design, and technical matters pertaining to grammar and style. But what about the path one takes to become a writer? Certainly, we must all learn about semicolons and apostrophes, but that journey is often inspired by an earlier and more profound one. From whence comes the call to translate vivid life experiences and ideas—the sublime, the horrific, the transcendent, the transformational, the imagined—into a form that can be shared? What does it mean to live the writer’s life—as opposed to the publisher’s? Continue reading →
One question that loops endlessly on writers’ forums is “How can I sell more books?” The question is a natural one, but for many self-publishers, it betrays a certain lack of awareness about the publishing business. Lest I sound holier than thou, let me clarify that my own book sales stats are probably no better than yours. I write, I publish, I make my books available, and I hang on to my day job. This article isn’t about magic marketing techniques or search engine secrets; it’s about making a realistic assessment of your potential to make money as an indie publisher.
Self-Publishing: Business Basics
Smart product developers—and books are products—start by identifying the needs of a customer group. They develop products specifically to meed those needs and they mitigate risk by using surveys and focus groups to estimate how many people will buy their product at what price. How many kayakers will buy a lightweight folding paddle at $500? How many will buy it at $100. What is the cost to manufacture the item in quantity? Can you sell direct or will you have to sell wholesale to a distributor who will double the price and then pass the item to a retailer who will double it again? What will it cost to advertise? Clearly, the product developer needs more than a great product. Market research and business strategy are key elements of success.
Compare this to the business plan of the average indie novelist: “I just finished a new book. How can I get readers to buy it?” Continue reading →
Self-publishing educators tell you how to sell your book, but very few bother to ask if that’s a worthwhile pursuit. Tacking marketing on as the de facto second phase of writing a book places many worthy artists’ resources in jeopardy. How much time, money and energy should you put into marketing your book? The answer is found in an honest evaluation of where your work lies on the spectrum between art and business.
John is a landscape painter. He has painted for decades, cultivating the skills to complement his talent. He works as a restaurant manager but he’s passionate about his art and maintains a studio in his garage. He has sold several paintings, had some gallery shows, and dreams of gaining enough stature as an artist to quit the food service business and devote himself to painting. After all, he paints at least as well as famous artists who make good money.
Wilma runs a vinyl sign shop out of her own garage. She creates graphics on a computer, exports the files to her vinyl cutter and applies them to shop windows and hanging banners. She studied design and takes her typography seriously, choosing appropriate typefaces and kerning the letters more carefully than her competitors do. Sometimes, she gets tired of doing commercial work; she wishes she could spend more time painting for fun but she’s grateful not to be working in a cubicle.
John is a fine artist. Wilma is a commercial artist. For our purposes, they represent the fiction and the nonfiction writer respectively.
Can a computer analysis of your text help you write better? I gave AutoCrit a spin and became a customer.
It is often difficult to see mistakes in your own manuscript, but overused adverbs, repeated words, passive writing, too much introspection, and other patterns can be easily recognized by a computer. Author, Nina Davies used her background as a computational linguist (someone who works to make computers understand human languages) to develop the AutoCrit Editing Wizard. The wizard automatically finds and highlights potential problems in your text.
According to the AutoCrit site:
AutoCrit is a tool to help you identify weaknesses in your fiction writing. AutoCrit can help you identify:
- Words that weaken your writing, such as too many occurrences of “that” or “it” or LY-adverbs.
- Repetition of similar words.
- Sentences that lack variety due to similar lengths.
- Overuse of dialogue tags such as “she muttered.”
AutoCrit is not a grammar checker or a spell checker. AutoCrit identifies problems that prevent the reader from your enjoying story.
I particularly like this section on dashes, hyphens and dots because it goes beyond typographic aesthetics to explore how we can communicate more effectively as writers. The subtle intricacies of hyphens and dashes affect all authors whether they typeset their own books or not. Knowing how to punctuate correctly empowers you to control emphasis and handle challenging sentences that contain parenthetical asides, omissions or incomplete thoughts. Here, good typography is an extension of good writing.
Many writers are unaware that the simple dash comes in several flavors. Because dashes are often used as alternatives for other types of punctuation, they are explained here in context with the marks they substitute for.
Editing is one of the first hurdles you’ll encounter as an independent writer. Your fan club is your enemy. Encouraging friends who think it’s “wonderful you actually wrote a book” are not unbiased editors. A good editor will put your work under a microscope, analyze it to death and probably make you feel at times like any talent you think you have is imaginary. Good editors do encourage and offer praise for what works, but they’re relentless at tearing your writing apart and making you put it back together the right way. Editing is a grueling, time-consuming process and it’s a task that must be entrusted to someone who will give you “tough love.” We’re all too close to our own work to see the flaws and missing pieces, especially when the writing is fresh.
Poor editing is the number one complaint heard from critics of the independent publishing industry. Though the standards of mainstream publishing houses are overrated, I’ve read many indy books where spotty spelling and lack of polished prose present barriers to enjoyable reading. Moreover, our own well-crafted books get lumped into the “indy” category with this trash. Unedited authors sully the publishing waters for the rest of us.
I have discussed the idea of editing with other writers and heard the reply, “I don’t need an editor; I’m an excellent speller.” An editor is not a proofreader. Though the best of us require proofreaders, a story editor is someone who can comment on the work objectively. Is the story believable? Are there unexpected temporal jumps or unexplained threads in the narrative? Are the article’s assertions properly supported? As with affairs of the heart, it’s easy to understand the problems of others and difficult to acknowledge what we’re too close to see—and if you think writing isn’t an affair of the heart, you haven’t started your book yet. Get that third-party perspective. Continue reading →
Certainly, thesis writing is one of the purest forms of self-publishing which is why I’ve included this post here. In my work as a professor, I regularly encounter students who get “stuck” while writing their thesis papers. A good framework for developing, presenting and supporting a well-developed thesis reveals what to write, how to organize it and how to get it finished without a struggle.
First, it’s important to understand what a thesis is; many students don’t (and many institutions have difficulty explaining it). Two relevant definitions (according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary) are:
1 : a position or proposition that a person (as a candidate for scholastic honors) advances and offers to maintain by argument : a proposition to be proved…
2: a dissertation embodying results of original research and especially substantiating a specific view; especially : one written by a candidate for an academic degree
My only difference with the article is based on the following assertion:
The top-five Kindle selling authors of all-time, over 500,000 copies each, are all fiction writers (including Stieg Larsson, Stephanie Meyer, and others). In the top-50 Kindle bestsellers right now, I counted just three (3!) non-fiction books. If you’re a non-fiction author, I’d think carefully before jumping the gun to all digital.
My challenge, posted as a comment (plenty of excellent commentary on this post worth reading) is as follows.
Great post and excellent commentary following.
I’d like to differ with one perspective. You make conclusions about the fiction vs. non-fiction eBook markets based on statistics for the top 50 books. These are likely to be driven mostly by outside sources such as book reviews. You suggest that since only two non-fiction books are in that top 50, fiction is the better market.
But like local bands who never sign with a record label but bring in the dancers and drinkers night after night, there are excellent opportunities for writers to make decent income well below the #50 slot on the list. It’s not a get rich game, but it can mean decent money and indy writers don’t have to set their sites on the top of a pyramid controlled by mega-industry.
Many eBook selections are made after people search for specific topics, and in these cases, success has to do mostly with your findability on Amazon. My novel is a needle in the fiction haystack, but my One Hour Guide to Self-Publishing shows up near the top on a kindle book search two weeks after being published.
Consider sampling the top 5,000-10,000 books before directing writers towards fiction as their best opportunity. I’m a novelist at heart, but I’m betting my publishing business on nonfiction. Fiction is an art product, while nonfiction provides a solution to a need recognized by a reader in search of an answer. That sounds like a sounder business proposition to me.
All the best and thank you,
Ultimately, while anything is possible, the odds are enormously against an unknown writer producing a blockbuster mega-hit. However, indy writers get to keep a much larger slice of their smaller pie. Selling a few thousand books can bring in some nice financial rewards regardless of whether that places you anywhere near the top-50 list, and Amazon searchability has much to do with whether people will find your answer to their problem or not. Nonfiction has a distinct advantage, here.