I’ve published six books – four novels, two non-fiction –via the indie route since 2012, but in the preceding three years I learnt how to write for publication. More importantly, I learnt writing techniques: structure, plot, dialogue; how to delete adverbs, adjectives and over-writing; the techniques needed in the publishing world – proposals, submission packages, approach letters and etiquette in approaching agents and publishers; how the publishing industry worked, who was who and how to make and use opportunities. I’ve attended conferences, courses, fairs, seminars, I read how-to books, joined writers’ groups and associations and talked to other writers, tutors, assessors, publishing experts and mentors. I brought in my business skills: time management, networking, project management, accounting, cost analysis, pricing, marketing, PR and negotiating. And I listened.
Now I’m not some Mary Sue in whose lap Fortuna spilt luck and prosperity. I worked for it all. But along the way, I learnt a great deal including some essential dos and don’ts.
Contrary to the jolly cheerleader ‘you can have it all’ approach, I’m going to be negative, and possibly crushing, because there are a lot of things you shouldn’t do if you want to succeed as an indie author.
Here are five cautions you might like to consider:
1. You are not entitled to inflict rubbish on readers just because you can
In this glorious age of democratisation of publishing – the sheer accessibility of digital and print on demand technologies is exhilarating – anybody can publish a book. Being honest, at least 80% of them shouldn’t.
Grammar, punctuation, gripping prose, a rattling good story edited by a competent experienced editor and a fabulous book jacket are minima. If you DIY publish and many do, learn how to do it properly: read ‘how to’ books, go on courses, research online and read guides, join specialist forums, learn from the experts. Doing anything else is lazy or arrogant.
2. Don’t whinge
The world is unfair. You learnt that in the playground. If you have a plan, work hard, research thoroughly and cultivate people, you will increase your chances of success astronomically.
You will see others get breaks, seem to prosper, receive plaudits, win prizes. Admit it, you’re left feeling resentful and envious. A secret – they’ve been in the exact same place, but slogged on. If you need to whinge, talk to the cat/dog/your critique partner. But don’t do it in public or you’ll be seen as needy. And nobody likes to be seen supporting a needy whinger…
3. Don’t diss others in the food chain
This is a life thing and applies even more to writing and publishing; it’s a village. Be friendly to all whether they’re a stellar bestseller or the newbie in your writing group. Of course, there are people we don’t warm to – the bumptious, the snobby, the unctuous and the darnright obnoxious. They have their own problems and really, we have to feel sorry for them.
As an indie, you have the benefits of freedom, control and the ability to be fully flexible in your PR and marketing. But please don’t sneer at mainstream authors or regard them as ‘sold out.’ They have chosen their way as you have yours. Remember you are all writers, especially if you share a genre.
4. Don’t be a pest
It’s hard, really hard, when you’re clutching your sweated-over manuscript or self-published book to your chest and you see your dream publisher/agent/endorser twenty paces from you not to rush over and gabble about your treasure in a demented über-pitch. This was one agent’s experience.
Now, nobody is more passionate about your book than you and that’s how it should be; you have immersed long hours in it and probably part of your soul. But rein it back and think strategically. Approach people in the terms they find acceptable, be gradual, wear your sensible hat and exert your brain, not your emotions. Publishers and agents outline their requirements on their websites – easy. Endorsers and reviewers, slightly trickier, are often very busy and/or fighting deadlines. Approach politely and if they don’t have time or don’t wish to read your book, thank them and withdraw gracefully. Ditto if you decide to approach agents and publishers and your book is rejected. And please don’t send unreadable files (silly fonts, midget type, badly formatted) to anybody at any stage.
5. Don’t expect to be the great breakthrough author, nor to be rich beyond dreams
More books = more income, but in the ferociously competitive book world, you’re statistically unlikely to become one of the ‘big beasts’. However, with hard work (that expression again), you can enjoy a supplementary, even comfortable income. And as you mature as a writer, people will ask for your opinion, read your blog, ask you to speak and, as long as you produce good content and information, come to regard you as an expert in your field. You may not win the Booker Prize, but you’ll probably be eligible for, and even win, some well-regarded indie ones.
Harsh? Probably. Realistic, certainly.
But being a writer, although creative, is a job. As an indie writer, you just have to show you’re also a professional.
Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines…