I was participating in a forum discussion about self-publishing where the topic starter expressed legitimate concerns about poorly written, poorly edited and poorly designed self-published books ruining the market for those of us who work hard to produce books of the highest quality.
“All the connections, marketing strategies, publicity packages, and so on won’t save a mediocre book from itself.”
I’d like to believe this is true. It’s the writer in me. The good guy should win. And I’m the one always pushing for excellence. Nobody likes a story where the main character struggles to be the best, works hard, overcomes obstacles, gambles it all on a long shot and then…nothing happens.
You can have the best book in the world, but chances are, it’s the best because it was written from the heart, not as a well-placed product for market distribution. The book still has to be excellent, but the big money is in mediocre books that are excellently marketed – not the other way around. If you want a quick parallel, turn on top 40 radio for as long as you can stand it.
Sadly, good marketing saves mediocre books from themselves all the time.
We self-publishers have to be that much better and that much more clever with our marketing strategies and cover designs—and that still may not do the trick.
As a fiction writer, I prefer the fairy-tale ending where my book creates a stir that spreads through the population like a euphoria virus. However, my fiction books weren’t written for a popular market. They’ll sell to their niches and that’ll be it. A mainstream editor would tell me they’re too esoteric, too sophisticated, too philosophical. That’s okay. That’s the nature of art. But, the nature of the artist is such that I take great joy in making that art—whether it sells or not. And if it’s real art, more people will probably hate it than love it. And isn’t that a good measure of art, anyway; whether or not it has enough impact to get people to form an opinion about it one way or the other?
My nonfiction book, on the other hand, was written to serve a community with definite needs and interests. It’s sincere, authentic, well-crafted and useful, but was created as a business product from the day I wrote word one. It’s an easy to cost-justify purchase. Buy The One Hour Guide to Self-Publishing and you’ll save time, much more money than the purchase price, and you’ll mitigate risk. It’s a tool that offers practical, measurable value.
I’m a novelist first and foremost. That’s where my heart is and I’ll keep writing and sharing my work as I can. But, as a publisher, I’m not kidding myself about my chances with a self-published fiction book. Information is easier to sell than inspiration and entertainment. However, when I give self-publishing workshops, some people want my novels, too. In business, that’s called “diversification of holdings.” It’s a longer-term strategy, and it’s still risky, but it beats the hell out of trying to prove I’ve written one excellent novel to one reader at a time. I have two more novels almost finished and I’m working an another nonfiction book, too. Diversify. Diversify. Diversify.
If you want to write, write excellently, package excellently and avail yourself of every possible channel for exposure, but don’t count on being the next Dan Brown or J.K. Rowling unless you’re a celebrity, have great connections or God intervenes. If you want to go into the publishing business, treat it like a business, understand the market value of your product (no matter how inspired you know it to be) and be prepared to work hard towards well-calculated goals.
And if you’d rather write than hock book product all day, you have my profoundest respect and admiration. I don’t mean to discourage anyone. I agree with the premise that shoddy books pull down the market’s perception of self-published books…up until someone infers “if your book is excellently written and excellently produced and excellently distributed and excellently marketed, it’s sure to make it.”
If you want to succeed as a writer, read, write, study and practice. Keep writing and keep getting better. Get coaching or join a writing program if you need a boost. If you’re dedicated, you’ll write something excellent. That’s success.
If you want to succeed as a book producer, learn about typography, typesetting and graphic design or work with a good designer. With the right information and resources, you’ll make a beautiful book that’s legible, evocative and a powerful communicator. That’s success.
If you want to succeed in the retail (publishing) business, identify a need within a community and develop a product to fill that need. Create a marketing plan, understand your distribution channels and calculate the required investment in time and money. Work like hell to move merchandise. The difference here is that any number of factors beyond your control can impact your success—no matter how hard you try. Dedication and diligence can actually get you farther down the road to nowhere if you’re pushing the wrong product, even if it’s an excellent product.
As someone who’s business it is to encourage writers, the last thing I want to do is make The One Hour Guide to Self-Publishing into a fiction writer’s euphemism for The One Hour Guide to Financial Ruin. After spending all those hours writing and editing, get your book properly packaged and distributed, blog, participate in discussion forums, share with local book groups and see what happens. You’ll probably sell a few books. It won’t cost you all that much to make the jump from manuscript to finished, printed novel. But don’t start an underfunded publishing business based on a risky art product at the expense of using your time to continue writing.
Instead, consider the value of what you will have learned about the publishing process and how you might apply your polished writing skills towards creating more market-worthy offerings. If it weren’t for my difficult-to-sell novel, I wouldn’t have written the One Hour Guide and I wouldn’t be writing this article. My fiction isn’t my best product, but it’s what got me started in publishing and seen in the context of the bigger picture, it may yet prove to be a good investment.
As someone who is working hard as both a writer and a publisher/marketer, I can assure you it’s a tough business proposition. But, as a novelist who loves a good story, I can assure you the risk is what makes self-publishing an adventure, and as with many good adventure stories, the treasure we find is not always the treasure we seek.
If you find this note and I haven’t returned, please give a single copy of each of my books to my family and burn the rest.