The next person who tells me to “just keep writing” is going to get a punch in the nose. Okay, maybe that’s a little extreme. Okay, not “maybe,” it is extreme. So don’t worry, I probably won’t punch you if you tell me to keep at what I’m already doing. But here’s the deal, friends. Since setting out on this path last Summer, all official-like, with the intent to make a go of writing as a career, I have written. I have written when I felt sick. I have written when I was tired. I have written, written, written. I have written from odd locations and under unusual circumstances. I have written. And, as a result of all this writing, I’ve got a pile of words. Some of which I have even edited, packaged, and am trying to sell.
Writing (and reading) are what I do. I take care of chores around the house so I can write. I take advantage of opportunities when my son can go play with kids his age in order to write. I move my calendar around, ask for help from friends and relatives, and re-prioritize my finances all so I can write. I’m writing plenty and I will continue to write.
What I’m discovering is that, just like any other small sole proprietorship (save dealing crystal meth), getting this thing off the ground is a lot of hard work and, more importantly, disappointment. And despite constantly stoking the fire of my small business it feels much like I’m blowing on punky, damp wood. I am trying to understand what I am doing wrong, but honestly, this thing sometimes feels a lot like failure.
Being an Indie is Hard, Really Hard
Society has stacked the cards against self-publishing authors. It is possible that you all have way too much to do, too much taking up your time. A friend posted this image on Facebook today and it illustrates at least in part what mean.
As I got closer to getting “The Big Red Buckle” ready for publication I started to think seriously about the many ways I might get the book into the hands of readers. This blog went through an iterative remapping process (still underway), I re-worked my trail running pages into author pages, and started pouring the foundation of my social media presence as an author. I researched different methods of getting my pages to market, considering the pros and cons of a handful of services. I pulled money from savings to finance imprints and editing.
And I guessed that of the 515 friends I have on Facebook I might expect at least 5% of you guys to say “Oh hey, look what Matt did this time. I might try his book just so I have something to tease him about.” So far 2% of you have earned that leverage.
But I understand. I get up in the morning and crawl toward the coffee pot, too. I write to you today at the foot of a mountain of laundry — washed, dried, and folded waiting to be carted off and put away — there are so many thing to be done. So I am eternally thankful to the 2% of you who have bothered to put off your favorite re-run episode of “Breaking Bad” on Netflix in order to spend an evening with my book.
But this next part is for those of you who have expressed interest in this path. If you’re not up for the disappointment of staring day after day at sales numbers that never move, don’t envy me. Not even a little bit. If you’re not interested in trying to find out what will hook people in general, let alone your friends and family, by experiencing failure after attempted failure, then this is not the life for you.
One of the things I’m discovering about indie publishing is that while some doors have been removed there are a lot of closed doors out there still. While the old game of submitting your work to publishers who will only accept something if you’re a “good bet” is a thing of the past, my experience is teaching me that readers may not accept your work. What this means to you as the writer, and the sole risk taker in your own little enterprise, is that the door just got moved. It is still there. The reading public just controls the knob now. And this means that you’re competing with all sorts of entertainments and distractions, head to head, for their attention. The question, “how am I going to get them to open my door?” keeps popping up.
Then there is the traditional publishing segment of the market. This part of the publishing world has its own institutional inertia. While there are cracks in this particular door it still presents a significant barrier to the self-published author.
For instance, North America’s premier genre guild Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America won’t even consider you unless you meet their bar of selling some number of pieces to a select list of traditional publishers.
“To become an Active member of SFWA, applicants must demonstrate either:
- Three Paid Sales of prose fiction (such as short stories) to Qualifying Professional Markets, with each paid at the rate of 5¢/word or higher (3¢/word before 1/1/2004), for a cumulative total of $250, minimum $50 apiece; or
- One Paid Sale of a prose fiction book to a Qualifying Professional Market, for which the author has been paid $2000 or more; or
- One professionally produced full length dramatic script, with credits acceptable to the Membership Committee.”
And, as if often the case, even other authors may exclude indie authors from consideration. As an example, John Scalzi (who I am a big fan of) has been reviewing and promoting other’s fiction via his blog feature “Big Idea“. He only does this if you sell your book traditionally or if you happen to already be a super successful Indie.
“Works must be published by a third party, i.e., not self-published (Amazon Digital Services, Smashwords, et al are distribution platforms, not publishers in the usual sense). This third party publisher must publish more than one author, must have an editorial staff that is not comprised of the author or their immediate family, and have a Web site which includes its current author slate and immediate release schedule.
“In very rare cases self-published work by authors with substantial, successful previous publishing history will be considered.”
In some small way I can understand why SFWA and Scalzi might not want to deal with the zombie hoards of self-published “authors” out there. Quite often I feel that my book, and my voice, are completely drowned out in a sea of other writers all grasping for “brainssssss” of readers. And I’d hate to be on the receiving end of that fire hose of submissions and requests myself. But it’s a door, a closed one, nonetheless, and it makes life out here in the zombie wilds just that much more difficult.
Incidentally, while I’m not eligible to be a SFWA member my work can still be nominated for the Nebula by members in good standing. As a quick aside, if you’re a SFWA member who would like a copy of “The Big Red Buckle” before February 15th, my email is right here.
The Final Issue
Sometimes, what you must necessarily do and say as an Indie feels a whole lot like panhandling. Really, it does. I find myself swallowing my pride very often lately. Begging for reviews. Or just your spare change.
This is an uncomfortable sensation. I deal with it the best way I can, which is often to write more. Usually with a scowl on my face and potentially a chip on my shoulder. But I like to write so eventually the scowl melts away and the chip falls off.
If you have considered writing for a living and you cannot humiliate yourself to close the deal on a $0.99 ebook than this is not the right career path for you. Also, don’t judge me.
Last Wednesday, while I was sitting at a table typing up a storm at the Rec Center, a lady sitting on the couch in the lobby across from me asked a couple of questions. She was being polite and nice, initially all she wanted to know about was the bluetooth keyboard I use with my iPad. It turns out that her Mother, in her eighties if I recall correctly, loves to write and so, as these sorts of conversations go, we ended up chatting about independent publishing.
Since then the topic has been riding me hard. I’ve even been a little grouchy about the current state of my book and ever so reluctant to keep writing more “sports in space” if “no one is ever going to be interested in the topic” (boo hoo for me). Maybe I should focus on teenage vampires or zombie crushing monster truck kids? But for me, that sort of writing would not be very much fun. It is not what I like to read and it is not what I will write (although monster trucks in a zombie story, I mean, why hasn’t this been done?).
I’m about 30% done with “Up Slope“, as of last night, so it is entirely possible that my Fat-Bike, sci-fi, action adventure will be pressed by April. By that measure, I feel like I am an instant success. In a very short period of time I have completely changed how I live my life, and how I write (from technical documentation and project planning to science fiction). It is not a hobby or pastime. And I’m producing a book about every quarter.
Sales, I know, will come with time, and exposure, and with all the help that you guys will lavish on me. If you haven’t already bought my book, maybe some day you will. That is a fairly heartening thought. Something to look forward to.