For what seems like ages, I’ve wanted to get back into webcomics. I briefly had one when I aired the first issues of Axiom-man many years back (along with some Canister X Comix stuff), then took everything down for various reasons. Recently, I’ve been wanting to do a comic again but know it’s a long slog and one that may or may not pay off, whether via viewership or compensation. (Ideally both.)
As I mentioned in my Patreon reflections article, if I didn’t have bills to pay, I’d gladly give away my work for free. But I can’t. I have myself and a family to take care of.
I love comics . . . but they take a long time to create. It takes anywhere from approximately eight to twenty-four hours to make a single page depending on your process and how many people you’re working with. Twenty-four hours. A whole day . . . just for the page to be read in a minute or less. And that’s the main hangup with webcomics: Time. Comics take a ton of time and unless you are independently wealthy, a good chunk of that time is taken up by a part- or full-time job so you can fund the basic essentials for life.
The standard model for webcomics–which typically make money from ads and merchandise while the comic itself is on-line for free–only works for a tiny percentage of webcomikers. All those other webcomics you love have someone behind them who stays up to all hours working on pages and making enough money off it for a few items but not enough to make a full-time living (if they make any money at all).
And this is the conundrum: How do I make my webcomic monetarily worthwhile so I have the time to make more of the comic on a regular basis?
I have some ideas, but thus far they all cater to the standard webcomics’ long game. And by “long game” I mean that getting traction can take anywhere from a few months to several years. There is no recipe I can think of that will shrink that time frame, and I’ve done my research.
This blog post isn’t a complaint, by the way. It’s just getting my thoughts on webcomics out in front of me so I can see them.
I’d like to be able to share with you my still-formulating webcomic plan–which incorporates old ideas with [hopefully] new ones–but I can’t because it’s still formulating.
I’ve had a webcomic in my head for coming up on a week–or maybe it has already been a week? I don’t know–that’s slowly being added to every day, my subconscious bringing ideas and notions to my conscious brain and filing them away as both solid form and possibilities. I’m also not overthinking this stuff either because overthinking and painfully analyzing something leads to disaster, if not immediately then inevitably.
All I know is there is room for innovation in webcomics. I think what happened was webcomics came out under a certain model thus that model became the norm for comic readers. It’s going to take time to break that norm.
After being in publishing for sixteen years, I know the industry is constantly changing. What worked for book authors ten years ago doesn’t work now so writers made changes. The same holds true for comics: What worked in the old webcomics model doesn’t work now so it needs an upgrade.
Back to formulating. Will post more thoughts when I have them.
Like all writers, I’ve read countless books over the years. Some were awesome, some so-so, and even the ones that weren’t that great I still appreciated for the story even if the writing needed some work. Out of all those books, some have impacted me in different ways both personally and professionally.
Here is a list of 5 books in no particular order that have influenced my writing. I’ve stuck to fiction for this list instead of any writing how-to book.
1. Stone of Tears by Terry Goodkind – an ultra long read, but worth every page. The dude knows how to paint pictures in your head with his words and, aside from Stone of Tears being a killer story, it was this word-painting that stuck with me and set the bar for how I paint pictures for the reader in my own work. Not saying I’m anywhere near Terry Goodkind’s caliber, but his great description definitely stuck with me over the years.
2. Batman: Knightfall by Dennis O’Neil – The first superhero fiction book I ever read and my favorite book of all time. (Yeah, I have a soft spot for superheroes, as you well know.) This book got me in Batman’s head in a way the comics didn’t, and humanized him in a way I could relate to on different levels. It also showed me superheroes didn’t have to be confined to four-color comics or to movies. Clearly, this influenced me later on when it came time to write The Axiom-man Saga.
3. The Summer I Died by Ryan C. Thomas – Easily the most brutal book I’ve ever read, and I don’t mean brutal as in bad. Not only is it an intense story–people kidnapped by a madman–but the violence level in this thing is through the roof. I loved reading it, and I hated reading it. Ryan made you live each terrifying and painful moment his characters went through. Like live-live. Crazy. But it showed me how to get nasty with violence when needed and how to draw the reader in when it came to someone getting hurt, and it reemphasized for me the importance of ensuring the reader is indeed in your characters’ shoes and not outside of them no matter what is happening.
4. The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks – Such a bittersweet love story, and it was this book that demonstrated the difference between a romance book and a love story book. It was the love story between the characters that impacted me the most, not their romance, and nowadays when I write two characters in love, I play up the love story angle versus the romantic one. I did this in my book, April, written under the name Peter Fox. To me, love stories have so much more heart than romances.
5. Left Behind by Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye – Aside from the entire series being an interesting story of the Earth’s last days before Christ’s return, the writing takeaway from this book–and the rest of the series–were the constant cliffhanger endings to each chapter. It was just non-stop, and since I’ve read them I’ve done my best to cliffhang each scene and each chapter in my own books. Even cliffhang the ending of book one of a series to get the reader pumped for book two. Cliffhangers keep those pages turning.
So there you have it. A quick list of 5 books that impacted me as a writer. There are more, but I’ll save those for another post.
What books have influenced you, whether personally or professionally? Sound off in the comments below.
“Canister X” is an unusual name for a blog. There’s a story behind why that name was chosen. It’s not a terribly exciting story, but perhaps one that’s slightly amusing.
As is required of authors, a website is needed. Most writers use their name as their domain name. I did that, too, once upon a time. But one year–I can’t remember which–I forgot to renew the apfuchs.com domain and then I lost it. I tried to re-register it only to find out someone had snatched it up. The site was in German. I had no idea who this person was and didn’t know how to go about reaching them to see if I could have my domain back, so I had to come up with something else. If memory serves me correctly, I decided to rename the site with something unique. I can’t remember the options I went through but “Canister X” came to mind and I assigned meaning to that name. The “Canister” part is after Ninja Turtles, you know, the container that had the mutagen in it. The “X” part was about the site being about anything and not locking me into a particular idea or theme, and as you can see from the content on this site, it’s fairly varied. Sort of a “you never know what you’re gonna get.”
Later, “Canister X” also became part of the title of my minicomics: Canister X Comix.
I hope to one day get my A.P. Fuchs domain back and then use it to point to here or vice versa, but until then, Canister X is the name of this thing so we’re running with it.
To kick it off, I’m starting a new project. A secret project. One of two secret projects.
These secret projects will be part of NaNoWriMo, which needs to get done because I dropped the ball on NaNoWriMo last year for reasons I don’t remember. (For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month in which writers are supposed to write a book in one month with a minimum of 50,000 words.)
Since I’m notorious for being anti-establishment in so many ways, I’m not putting 50k words into a single project but over the course of two. Those two secret ones I mentioned.
“Wait . . . what?” you say. “If I don’t sell my book, who’s going to read it? Isn’t selling my book and making money what authors are supposed to do after publication?”
I don’t know. Is it?
If you want to ensure your book won’t sell, sell your book.
Here’s what I mean:
The on-line world is loaded with authors whining and begging people to, “Buy my book!” They form groups on Facebook, which amount to nothing more than broke writers marketing their books to other broke writers. They tweet purchase links all day and hit up social networks with ads . . . then cry at night because it did absolutely nothing for them.
How do you get a following these days with everyone and their dog writing a book, publishing it and calling themselves an author?
Or how does someone who starts from scratch come out of nowhere and move copies of their work without shoving it in people’s faces? (And we’ve all seen them: those authors whom we’ve never heard of move a gazillion copies.)
To build a following, marketing your book will get you nowhere. Sure, you might catch a few sales and feel like a success story all your own—and rightly you should, to be honest—but to keep those sales going and to build a readership, you need to switch up your game plan.
You need to start marketing yourself.
Some people call this branding. What are we? Cattle? I don’t want a brand for my books. I don’t want my books to be what I’m known for. I want me to be what I’m known for. When I’m dead and gone, that’s the thing that matters, not how many books I sold.
Stop chasing the almighty dollar and start chasing the reader.
You don’t want to be known as that distant author behind a desk somewhere. You don’t want to be that high-and-lofty literary guest at some convention. You want to be that down-to-earth extra awesome person who’s a familiar face at shows and signings. You want to be that friendly and approachable on-line personality who’s a class act and is genuinely interested in interacting with their readers.
“But all I want to do is write!”
Then get out of the business, frankly. Or, if you must write, then don’t publish. As much as I’m an art-first-money-later guy, I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t want to make a few bucks off what I do. The motivation to make cash isn’t to be rich, though. I don’t care about that stuff. I just want to make enough to live on. But I can’t do that selling my book. I have to sell me.
Let me break it down for you in really simple terms:
When you first started writing, you went through a lot of trial and error and a lot of drafts. As you wrote a few books, you noticed your style started changing and at one point you reached that magical book where everything was different and you found your voice. Since then, your voice has been your style. Writing is easier, editing is easier, coming up with stories is easier, too.
This applies to your marketing efforts. You need to find your voice. You can’t just be another author spamming the world. There are ads everywhere for everything. People ignore that stuff. But they don’t tune out unique voices . . . especially if that voice has something of value to say. This is how followings are made and grown. You become known as the author “who’s like that.” Not the author “who’s like so-and-so . . . and a million others.”
I’ve been publishing since 2003, and indie publishing since 2004. I’ve seen it all. People have come and gone. There’s been successes and failures. Ups and downs. Yet there is one thing that has remained consistent throughout all of it: the authors who found their marketing voice are the ones who are still doing well today, who have a following, and have cultivated loyal readers based on who they are and not just their work.
To be clear, I’m not diminishing the importance of putting out good books. Sometimes that can indeed be enough to build a readership (i.e. it initiates word-of-mouth, etc.). But if you’re an author lost to the din of the flooded publishing world, writing a damn good book is probably not going to cut it. You need to get yourself out there and expose yourself to readers by showing them who you are behind the page.
Some writers niche themselves and become known for a certain thing or a certain personality. Others are more broad-brush. Whatever the case, simply blasting ads everywhere isn’t going to do anything for you. But if you meet people, whether on-line or off-, and not just use it as a means to pitch them your book, you’ll be surprised at how many copies you’ll move.
Put the people first, your book/comic/whatever second. This is so important. This about reputation and, at least for me, I never, ever buy books from people who blatantly shove it in my face. I don’t care how good the cover is or what the synopsis is about. As a reader, I want to be cared for. I want to know this isn’t just a money game to the writer.
Art first, book(s) second.
And if you’ve somehow missed the point of everything above, all I’m saying is be yourself, share yourself, then share info about your book after that.
Connect with readers first, then point them to the page.
With so many writers these days focusing all their marketing efforts on-line, they’re putting themselves in a corner and limiting their exposure. Off-line sales are where the bread and butter is at if you play your cards right.
I’m talking conventions, which are basically glorified book signings.
Since 2007, I’ve been tabling at Central Canada Comic Con here in Winnipeg, a giant comic book convention. This show is also a big part of my paycheck, and my books fit right in because I write nerdy stuff like monster stories, superhero fiction and sci-fi.
A lot has been learned about having a successful show over the years. Here are some basics to get you started:
Have an eye-catching display. When competing against so many other booths and tables, you need to stand out. Bring a tablecloth because not all shows provide them. Use signage, big ones, like 11”x17” set up on stands so folks catch sight of your book’s cover or what the deal of the day is. Want to really stand out? Get a big banner printed up, one you can put behind you. This can display your name and what you do. It can feature your book covers, a web address. Lots of options.
By all means, lay your books flat if you want, but if you prop them up on book stands, all the better. It raises them above the table and draws the eye. Simple picture frame stands work fine. I use iPad ones because they compact better for transport.
Have a series? Lay them out in order of reading.
Write in multiple genres? Organize them as such on the table. Makes it easier to direct the customer to what’s what.
Big sales point. Offer convention-only pricing. I do ten dollars a novel, five bucks a novella. I make sure the customer knows the convention is the only place to get the deal. Get my stuff at a store or on-line and you’ll pay more. Everyone likes saving money.
You can also bundle your books. Have a series? Instead of three books at ten beans each, how about three for twenty-five? You can also do a buy-two-get-one-free thing. Whatever works for you provided you come out in the black all things considered.
3. Book Stock
Better to bring more books than necessary. Nothing worse than selling out and having someone want something. With time and experience, you’ll learn your top sellers and will stock up accordingly. For a first-time show, I recommend at least fifteen copies of each title. If you only have one book out, bring at least twenty.
4. Miscellaneous Items
Scatter bookmarks and business cards around your table. If someone doesn’t buy something, at least you can send them off with a card for a potential after sale.
Be courteous, be nice, give the customer the time of day. Don’t be a fake. Answer their questions honestly. Be active. Don’t squirrel yourself away behind your table. Say hi to people as they walk past. Smile. And, please, don’t do the lonely-author thing where you sit there staring at folks, the look in your eyes saying, “Please come talk to me.” Just be cool. Relax. With time and experience, you’ll find what works for you in your personable approach. Ultimately, be yourself. This isn’t a show.
There’s so much to expand on regarding the above, but space doesn’t allow it. Why not sound off in the comments below and exchange tips and tricks with your fellow authors? I’ll tune in when I can and do the same.
Some call this the Golden Age of Publishing and the best time to be a writer.
Still trying to figure out why. That is, why in the truest sense. Sure, the arguments are it’s easy to get your work out there and some of have made a goldmine. That’s not reason enough to give this era of publishing the labels we have.
For those who don’t know, I started writing my first book in 2000. I published it via a vanity press in 2003. Starting in 2004, I began self-publishing all my novels through my own company, my traditional “outbound” sales being short stories. Being independent back then was considered taboo and the kiss of death. If you publicly declared you published your own work, at least in writing and publishing circles, you weren’t a real writer and eBooks weren’t real books. You weren’t even a real publisher.
It bothered me for a few years, but then I didn’t care and proudly flaunted what I did. If you didn’t like it, too bad.
I made a name for myself in small press circles and became a minor local celebrity. Back in the beginning, back when I was writing that first book, there were a couple of months where I dreamed of fame and fortune. Not anymore. Don’t want it. But that’s another blog entry.
As my career progressed, I’ve seen writers come and go, publishers rise and fall, and the industry drastically change. I’ve made amazing friendships and networked with so many people, some of whom are very well known. I’ve stuck to the small press by choice and have dealt with the major league publishers while my publishing company was in full swing and I worked with other authors.
These days, I’m alone again. By choice. My meltdown in 2014 led to that and, in some ways, I’m still recovering.
That’s a quick history of where I’m coming from.
Back to why I decided to quit the publishing business: to be honest, I won’t no part of it. Not in the way it is right now. Over the past few weeks I’ve spoken to a several writers about how things are going. I’m paraphrasing, but they all said the same thing: not very good. Can’t get readers.
Over the months and recent years leading up to this past little while, I’ve heard the same thing. It’s getting progressively harder and harder to reach people and books can no longer–for most–be one’s sole source of income. And I’m not even talking massive money, to be clear. For many, making a thousand bucks off one’s books in a year is doing well. But to make a livable wage of, say, twenty or thirty thousand? Forget it.
Sure, there are genre exceptions. Erotica’s a big one. I know a guy who’s main love is horror, but that doesn’t pay the bills, so he writes pornographic books to make up the difference. Certain romance genres are also big. But other genre fiction from average Writer Joe? Forget it.
The market is flooded. Everyone is publishing a book these days, quality be damned. And those who do put in the time and effort and monetary investment for quality are just nameless voices on the wind. Some said the cream would rise to the top. I have yet to see it, and that statement was made years ago.
Heck, some readers are stopping reading independent titles altogether because they’ve been let down too many times. You don’t have a name that’s recognizable and one that can be counted on to deliver the goods? Back of the line, please.
That opening line to this entry? It’s true. Here’s what happened:
A certain on-line juggernaut was a good place to get books. There were many others, but this big on-line place was a favorite. They offered a few breaks, saved you some shipping, discounted things by a couple of bucks. It became a common place to refer people to. We all sent them there. Over and over again. The company grew–exploded–and came out with their own publishing platform. That caught like wildfire and stories of near-instant millionaires tickled the ears of writers everywhere. A little more time passed and everybody was publishing and everybody was referring people to this one place. Meanwhile, over the years on the side, other companies couldn’t compete and started shutting down. (Ever wonder why you go into a bookstore and a good chunk of it is dedicated to things other than books? There you go. Or what of the smaller publishing houses whose main bread and butter is government grants and not book sales?) Options became limited. And us writers kept pushing one platform, one retailer. Throw a flooded market on top of that and now things are falling apart.
(And you know it’s bad when you have big shot agents in NY telling you to self-publish instead.)
Writers don’t know what to do and fail to realize they’ve ruined their own careers by betting the majority of their chips on one avenue. Mankind’s shortsightedness, right? Look at other writer blogs that talk about writing and publishing. What are most of the articles about? How to sell books, score big at a certain on-line place, manipulate charts and cheat your way to the top all in the name of the almighty dollar.
Oh sure, even if you’ve scored massive right now–who cares? You’re screwing Future You. If you’re really in this business for the right reasons–that is, you’re an artist and need an outlet and want to share it with people while supporting yourself at the same time–you should know by now this is a marathon not a sprint. Yet writers are sprinting and scrambling and are getting frustrated all the while not paying attention to how their actions today will affect themselves tomorrow.
Samhain Publishing is the recent high profile case of a publisher closing its doors. The reason? Like all businesses that have to say goodbye, they couldn’t fund the operation anymore. If you read their letter, which is on-line, the bulk of their sales came from one place and, when that market became tough, the money was no longer there to keep going.
Side note: Even those who are making a killing at this–it’s not a killing at all because they have one main outlet, even one main format. Take that away and what’s left? Not much else. That’s not success, in my opinion. Yours might be different. Success in publishing comes from doing well in the majority of the markets, not just one. Anyway . . .
Speaking generally, the mad dash for the dollar is the main culprit. Greed is the fall of mankind.
I was at a bookstore recently and I was disgusted by what I saw. Nearly every book on the shelf looked just like the one next to it. Not a single one caught my eye. Sure, some had neat-sounding titles, but strictly the covers? It’s like walking into Moore’s to buy a suit. They’re pretty much all the same save for a few differences in how the lapels are cut. But that’s marketing. That’s the big machine brainwashing people into telling them what they want. Romance covers look like this, thriller covers look like that.
Of course I realize I could very well be alone in this. My tastes are more into the unusual and books with covers that show genuine creativity and break boundaries are what get my attention. This goes for my comic book tastes, too.
So again, the machine, the big ocean of publishing. I’m just one measly fish in all this but everyone else wants to cater to the masses. They forget that we programmed the masses to accept things a certain way by doing things a certain way over and over.
Even books. We have genres. When a book’s genre is a snap to define, it’s marketable. Ask any writer who’s queried an agent or publisher. Have a different style of book where genres–even mediums–merge and it’s much, much harder. Seems we forgot people simply like stories and have instead forced those stories into little boxes. Romance here, thrillers there. This puts writers in boxes, too. Write a book that’s gonna sell. Another common mantra. So you write to genre, even to formula. That’s what readers expect, after all. Don’t shake things up. Don’t create anymore. Just follow the recipe and hopefully your cupcakes will turn out well.
I got into this business all those years ago to tell stories. Being green and naive at the time, I knew about genre but didn’t know about genre. And, yeah, I’ve partly catered to it as time has gone on. Even played the money game and published what was popular. It was all unfulfilling. The extra bucks in my pocket didn’t fill that gap in my heart, the one that needed to express itself through simply telling a story.
Over the years, I’ve tried to do new things in my fiction. Even my zombie stuff has gotten blasted because of some of the non-formulaic stuff I threw in there. Wanna give me a one-star review for that? Put me down. Or the first Axiom-man book. It’s a slow burn because I based it on real life and played it out as if the storyline happened in our world. No fast-paced Hollywood hero stuff.
There were even times over the years where I was obsessed with landing a mass market deal so I could “make it.” There were other times where all the joy and fun of creating was gone and my books became a product and I was a factory. And, man, when a book loses its heart–it’s not a book anymore. Just words on a bunch of pages. That’s empty. That defeats point of even creating to begin with.
These days, all I’m seeing is the majority of those in the business thinking nothing of the craft itself and instead thinking of the endgame, the product, the dollar. Search writers’ groups or your Twitter feed. Article after article on “formulas for success,” or “how to write a book that sells.”
The immediate cash grab.
(These formulas are all BS, by the way. There is no one right way because if there was, the secret would’ve gotten out by now and we’d all be doing it.)
Authors are panicking because most rely on on-line sales and, well, there’s really only one place for those now, isn’t there? You remember whose fault it is.
Just living in the now. Screw the Future You and, for quite a lot of you, you are that Future You right now and you’re taking it hard up you-know-where.
As said, we’re all guilty.
To wrap up, I just don’t want to be part of this business as it is. I don’t want my own creativity to be limited by outlet or genre. I don’t want to be an author brand or that writer who only does one thing. The point of art is to create without limits. Pick your medium. This is where you say, “Well, that might be, A.P., but if you want to survive in this business you have to play by the business’s rules.” And you’re right . . . but you also forget it’s actually us writers who make the rules.
Except no one is going about trying to change them. A publisher is useless without you, remember?
Imagine if we all started doing our own thing. Imagine if we didn’t play to genre or one platform or manipulate systems and writers everywhere flooded publishing offices with manuscripts that were excellent heart-filled stories that didn’t fall into a definable category. Chaos at first. A whole slew of rejections. But if it kept happening? The powers that be would have no choice but to take a second look and revise how they do business.
Or . . .
Imagine if every writer marketing their work got their heads around the truth that fostering box stores–on-line and off- –is a bad idea, and instead of handing their literary destiny over to a single entity, they diversified. Hmm . . . what if they led by example? What if their own purchases for anything in their lives were made outside the giants? What if they steered their readers toward direct sales or other outlets that don’t get as much attention? Small businesses would thrive again. Perhaps, even, people in general wouldn’t be corporate cogs and we’d all have fulfilling lives in terms of how we spent eight hours a day and the rewards we reaped from it beyond just the dollar sign.
For years I said if the publishing industry continued down the path it was on, it would start to break. Now it’s happening. I know many writers who used to support themselves on their writing having to go and work outside the home again. I know of many small presses closing up shop because they can’t sustain themselves off of books.
It seems creators in any medium don’t understand they hold all the cards. We can change this. We’ll need to take hits along the way and some will be financial. You’ll have to part with your precious cash. But in the long term? That Future You? They’ll thank you.
As for me, I’m out. Gonna march completely to my own drummer now. Do things my way. Tell the stories I want to tell genre be damned. Break some rules. Put out books with covers that are simply cool instead of falling into marketing cliches. Even mix mediums and put out illustrated novel/graphic novel hybrids. These days I don’t rely on that on-line empire for my sales. Off-line and direct work very well for me. And this is good. If all my cards were in one deck and that deck goes away–and yeah, it could happen, guys, unless you know the future and aren’t telling me something–I’d have nothing.
Anyway, you might call this career suicide.
I call it career resurrection.
I’m in this to be honest with my work, to be honest with who I am as a person, to be straight up with you and to be the real deal. Might also being the only guy doing it, too, which is fine.
But, man, what a payoff.
I’m not publishing books anymore. I’m making them. To publish them connects me to a business that’s dying. To simply make them and make art connects me to something that’s alive.
Running weekly from May 2014 to May 2015, The Canister X Transmission was sent via email to readers worldwide.
Serving as a source of inspiration for writers and artists everywhere, its impact was made known by the replies sent to A.P. Fuchs’s inbox week-to-week.
The newsletter covered four main topics:
The Creative Thought of the Week, in which Fuchs added his two cents on the ups and downs of being a writer, staying motivated, advice and encouragement, and other topics that were part and parcel of making up stories for a living.
Work Updates, in which readers were informed of works-in-progress and where what stood on the publishing schedule.
Fanboy News, in which was relayed something of interest from the world of pop culture.
Marketing/Publishing Tip of the Week, in which ideas and strategies were conveyed to further one’s reach with their books and comics, and were also advised of some of the traps to avoid.
Exclusive to this collection is a special Issue Zero newsletter unavailable anywhere else.
Self-publishing has been around for a long, long time. In fact, that’s how writers used to publish their work before the whole big trade system came along. Self-publishing has also always—always—been a viable way to make a living as a writer, but the problem was most writers who tried it didn’t execute it properly and ended up losing a ton of money, were taken advantage of by dishonest companies, or simply sat on a pile of books because they didn’t know how to move them.
Or was that just me?
Nowadays, self-publishing is easier than ever before, but like those days long ago, many writers don’t know what to do or where to start, or if they do find information on-line, it’s not always complete. As a ten-year self-publishing veteran and one who has been doing it full time since the spring of 2009 before the indie revolution, there are several truths about long-term self-publishing that I’ve discovered over the years and want to share here.
My Top Ten List of Truths for Self-publishers in no particular order:
1. Self-publishing is completely feasible to make a living at with the proper knowledge.
When I started, I had no idea about the book business, how it worked, who to talk to or what to do other than knew I needed a publisher. After a string of rejection letters, I ended up putting out my first book through a subsidy press. They call themselves “self-publishing houses,” but they’re not. The moment any “publisher” charges a service for a fee, they fall into the category of a subsidy press with you, the writer, subsidizing them. With that press, it cost me around $2500 and all I had to show for it was a badly-written book—with a good story, but terrible writing—and no audience. Despite spamming the news lists in those days—didn’t know any better—nothing really came out of it. Had I done my research into what real self-publishing was, I would’ve found out that it’s not paying someone else to publish your book, but rather covering all the costs yourself, learning how to produce a professional product, and doing all the tasks of a publisher for your own work.
What I should’ve done was:
– spent several evenings combing the Internet researching self-publishing
– read books about self-publishing and learned the requirements
– discovered what legalities might be involved
– learned software
– researched success stories to learn from those who made a go of it and did well, then applied those lessons to my own career
But I didn’t take the time to learn the ropes and paid a high price for it, not just financially, but mentally and emotionally as well.
There’s a cost to self-publishing, but the good news is this cost becomes less and less the more one learns about it. Though I am a firm believer in hands-on learning, even going through trials for some lessons, research and taking one’s time before jumping into the pool is always strongly encouraged.
I wish someone would’ve told me to do the same way back then, so I’m here to tell you—if no one else is—to research, research, research. You’ll save yourself a boatload of headaches and heartaches later if you do.
It’s important to:
– be ready to listen to others who’ve “been there and done that”
– be willing to hear the stuff you want to hear and the stuff you don’t want to hear
– in short, be willing to learn regardless of the lesson. No one is a master right out of the gate, and even those who seem to have perfected a system of publishing are always learning themselves.
2. You need to work hard.
Aside from catching a break and getting caught in Amazon’s “customers who bought this book also bought this other one” loop, or finding yourself a regular on the bestseller lists thus maintaining your visibility, self-publishing is hard work.
Not only do you need to put in the hours to write the actual book, you need to:
– put in the time to perfect the book during the rewrite stages
– the willingness to listen to and work with an editor
– put in the time formatting the book for paperback, eBook and possibly hardcover
– later, to stand out amongst the hundreds of thousands of books published each year, make a solid effort marketing your title so people know about it while you also write and produce the next book
For many writers, if this isn’t their fulltime gig, they find it difficult to maintain a day job, family and put in the time for their writing career. Many quit along the way because the workload-without-always-an-immediate-payoff gets to them and they get discouraged. Understandable, for sure, but sad when they walk away.
You see, the challenges aren’t always a book not selling well.
Sometimes these challenges are:
– the people in our lives, those telling us to get a real job or “it’s fine to dream but make sure you have something stable”
– those who just don’t get why we spend hours upon hours writing stories [hopefully] first for our own amusement and then for the amusement of others.
Their words cut. Their words hurt. Their words sometimes put a stop to things before they even begin.
Their words—even actions—become the challenge and sometimes make the inherent challenges of writing and publishing easy by comparison.
Going into self-publishing knowing you’ll have to make a sincere effort will help make that effort easier. I know many who jump into self-publishing thinking it’ll be a breeze only to quickly get discouraged and overwhelmed when the workload kicks in. Prepping your mental state ahead of time will help see you through those 3 AM rewrite sessions when the coffee brewer runs out.
The good news is as your career grows, this becomes easier because practice makes anything simpler and less time-consuming (our first go-round is always the longest). At the same time, working hard at the writing and production of a book(s) is usually lifelong for any self-publisher and until one’s name can sell books all by themselves, the marketing work needs to be there, too.
3. Diversify, diversify, diversify.
I’ve been self-publishing for ten years and I’ve seen trends come and go, markets come and go, and formats come and go. For the longest time, hardcopy books were all that were available so that’s what people bought. Later, as the Internet grew, non-fiction PDF eBooks were a big deal and folks were making a mint off them while paperbacks were a steady seller. Then—at least in the small press—things were paperback-focused again barring a few markets, but now eReaders have come along and eBooks have taken over. Truth is, this stuff is cyclical and things will either balance out and paperbacks will gain ground again, or might even become the norm once more. We really don’t know, and that’s the truth. This business changes like crazy and has been changing more rapidly since Joe Author has been able to keep up with the big boys with greater and greater ease. What happens next, only time will tell.
And as a self-publisher, you need to be ready for it.
In the realm of independent publishing, the self-publisher needs to diversify their distribution and take advantage of all the outlets and not just focus on one or two. I know those who put all their eggs into the Kindle basket and now their sales have dried up because the market’s flooded. They didn’t diversify and are paying for it. On the other hand, those I know who have their books available via more than a couple channels are just fine because they can afford it when one channel lags behind for one reason or another. It’s like your book(s) is riding a series of rollercoasters simultaneously: some go up while others go down, but at the end of the day, you’re still moving books because readers buy their books from more than one source in more than one format. The more sources and formats you’re in, the more consistent your paycheck will be at the end of the month thus making it easier for you to put in the time to keep the self-publishing machine going.
Case in point, I do the e-market, sure, but also do comic conventions where I net $8-10 a book and sell a lot of books. I can’t hand readers eBooks, but I can hand them paperbacks, and since I use an affordable printer, my per-unit cost is very low and thus make out well come time for direct sales. And I print on demand, too, by the way.
I also had a couple eBook channels go out of business on me, but that was okay because my eBooks were available elsewhere and not just at those two places so the hit wasn’t all that bad.
Bottom line: your paperback venues, eBook venues and even hardcover ones, if you go that route, need to be available in as many places as possible so that when the market fluctuates for good or ill, you’ll still be able to pull through. I’m not suggesting to stretch yourself too thin either and sign up with every distributor on the planet. If you’re a one-person-band, your time and attention only go so far so keep things reasonable, of course, but certainly keep them varied.
4. Write a good book.
The biggest book marketer of all time is word-of-mouth. That’s why when a certain book or series gets popular, it suddenly sees a giant spike in sales: everyone’s talking about it. Sometimes a book is popular because it’s popular since people generally ride bandwagons for their entertainment, but other times it’s because a book is genuinely good that word spreads. Writing a good book helps increase the chances of that and helps encourage those who’ve read it to tell others.
It also serves as a resume of sorts for your other titles.
– if a reader likes Title A, he/she is more apt to try Title B because Title A was written so well
– if you turn them off the first time because of bad writing, then you’re only shooting your backlist in the foot
There is so much to choose from in this competitive market that the reader will move onto someone else in the hopes of a better written book. And let’s be honest, writers—or any artist—are a dime a dozen. You need to do well to rise above the crowd.
Simply put: write a good book, and if you’re thinking of self-publishing your first book, make sure it’s objectively good and isn’t just good because you and your mom think so.
– see what other seasoned writers think
– see what a beta reader group thinks
Most people’s first novels aren’t that great as the writer is still learning their craft. I know mine was a stinker. Great story, but terrible writing.
Best to put a strong foot forward and take your time learning your craft before getting all excited and jumping into the self-publishing pool. That’s one of the reasons the market is so painfully flooded right now. Everyone’s publishing everything. The idea of publishing whatever and finding your audience doesn’t hold any water and the current climate proves that. Publish “whatever,” sure, but make sure it’s a good whatever, you know? If you’re serious about this business, you’ll want to be in it for the long haul and being known as the writer who consistently writes good books—regardless of sales volume—can only help you in the long run.
This business is a marathon, not a sprint.
5. You need to be attractive on the inside and on the outside.
And, no, I’m not talking about your looks.
An exciting and attractive book cover will make your book stand out amongst the rest. Don’t know how to make an attractive book cover? Either learn how or hire someone who does.
There are certain elements that need to be in play in order to hook the reader’s attention, everything from:
– color choice to graphics
– eye flow
– font size
– other items
If you don’t understand these items and how they apply to your genre(s), you need to learn how. This is why you see so many books out on Kindle and elsewhere that have terrible covers. The author cheaped out and didn’t put as much effort into the cover as they did into writing the book. A book’s cover is part of the creative process of a novel. It’s its “clothes,” so to speak. You can have the greatest book in the world, but if the cover stinks, then odds are you and possibly a few others will be the only ones who’ll read it.
Assuming your cover has interested the reader, they’ll pick your book off the shelf or “search inside” it via an on-line retailer, so having an equally nice interior is also important. It’s about creating the whole package for them and a properly formatted interior makes a better reading experience for the reader and, later, will make them more likely to check out your other books because they had such a pleasant experience with that first one. It also demonstrates you take your fiction/non-fiction seriously since evident care was put into the book’s presentation. People pick up on it whether consciously or otherwise.