According to Mr. Wikipedia, “‘Had I but known’ is a form of foreshadowing that hints at some looming disaster in which the main character laments his or her course of action that came before some other series of unfortunate events or actions and classically, the narrator never makes explicit the nature of the mistake until both the narrator and the reader have realized the consequence of the error. If done well, this literary device can add suspense or dramatic irony; if overdone, it invites comparison of the story to Victorian melodrama and sub-standard popular fiction.”
And if I had but known that Indie publishing that would lead me on a roller coaster ride of euphoria, despair, anxiety, and relief (in no particular order) I most likely wouldn’t have bothered.
Most likely and yet here I am! 🙂
Dark Night of the Soul
The phrase, “dark night of the soul” has evolved into meaning the difficulties of life. And writers often use it to describe the hard time they’re having writing. And Indie authors like myself use it to reflect the struggle we experience trying to be recognized on the same plane as traditionally published writers.
Indie Publishing isn’t for the faint of heart. It isn’t for the hobbyists that dabbles in writing and doesn’t care about gaining readers and making money off of their literary works. And that’s fine. But I’m a believer that doing what you love for a living is the best of both worlds.
As I research ways of becoming noticeable and gaining more clout, I noticed that financially successful authors provide lots of gimmicks that have worked for them and share these tips with less prosperous writers (sometimes for a price):
Free book giveaways
$0.99 Book deals
Dedication and Drive
And so many more bits of advice. To someone new to Indie publishing, like me, it is overwhelming. Especially when you have to juggle important factors — family, a spouse, and a full-time job — to name a few.
But even after implementing these strategies, some authors still can’t sell a single book. Or even break even with how much money they had invested in their work. For example, I’ve invested close to $2,000 in my career as an Indie author. The dollar amount includes:
- Book covers (custom designed)
- Editing and proofreading
- Marketing (business cards, flyers, promotions)
- Author website (hosting)
- Paperback copies of book
Self-publishing isn’t free and it most certainly isn’t cheap.
Which brings me to an interesting statistic. As of 2016, close to 40 authors on Amazon have sold over 1,000,000 ebooks. Yes, you read that correctly. FORTY!
40 self-published authors “make money”, all the others, and they number in the hundreds of thousands, don’t. This interesting statistic, recently revealed in a New York Times article, applies to the Kindle Store, but since Amazon is in fact the largest digital publishing platform in the world, it is a safe bet that self-published authors are not doing much better anywhere else. (from https://claudenougat.wordpress.com/2016/02/07/only-40-self-published-authors-are-a-success-says-amazon/)
With statistics like this, one could just throw up their hands and give up. Statistics like this are demoralizing.
On the other hand, when you read articles like this, the future of Indie publishing looks more promising than ever. According to the linked article, almost a decade ago, writers who self-published were viewed as failures. Fast-forward to present day and now many of these Indie authors are making a fortune. Whether these authors have earned a quarter of a million dollars or even $10,000 they’re making more money doing it alone than relying on gate-keeping publishers and their contracts.
$10,000! Wow, I’d be happy if I made even $1,000. So, I shall carry on.
For Art or Money? Or Both?
Let’s revisit the argument on why writers write. Is it less noble to expect payment as starving artist believe? I write for pleasure. I write to vent. I write because I’m compelled to. If I don’t write, I don’t feel right.
Likewise, once I’ve published a book – one of my literary creations – and place it for sale, I expect to get something in return. I expect recognition in some way, shape, or form for all of the time I invested into that book. Money, for example, is a primary indicator of success in many societies. So, my motivation is a little bit of both – art and money. Nothing wrong with that.
Cave of Obscurity
Amazon is like a vast rain forest filled with merchandise that consumers go spelunking for. As an Indie author, braving the cyberspace landscape, (most likely on Amazon.com) you want exploring customers (potential readers) to discover YOU and quit clicking for something else. Unfortunately, rain forests, (like the actual geographical Amazonian rain forest) also possess caves where explorers can get lost. And on Amazon.com, you’re competing with other books that have more marketing clout and exposure than you do.
It doesn’t take long to realize that due to the residual stigma of self-publishing, most Indie authors are at a disadvantage.
Forget the so-called gatekeepers of publishing. Flesh-eating trolls who stalk the many cave tunnels are a much bigger threat.
And each year, the amount of titles increases, thus raising the likelihood that your precious literary baby will end up in the cave of obscurity – a place where no one will find it. Ever.
Heck, all the hours of writing, researching, building a platform, etc. don’t mean much if readers can’t find the culminating product of your effort, and read it, then share it.
As of 2016, over 4 million titles are available compared with 600,000 (amount of titles six years ago). The market is overly saturated with books. Notice I didn’t say “good books”, but books in general. Not all books are created equal. So, in order for readers to discover your book, you have to stand out in the crowd! For example, I published my first middle-grade fiction book on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I wanted to have it available with as many distributors I could gain. I plan to add more distributors and vendors in the months to come. To test Barnes & Nobles’ search engines, I typed in the key words I had laboriously chosen so readers could find my book.
Not one of the words worked.
Even when I typed in my author name with the title, I couldn’t find the book. 😦
And even when I typed in the title of the book, the subtitle, and my author name: nothing! I learned from other authors who published with B&N that the search engine is setup “like that” and I wondered why. I contacted B&N and asked for an explanation. I was given a sprawling response that went in a hundred different directions, but not an answer to my question.
Perhaps, B&N wants to keep Indie authors like me in the cave of obscurity.
There’s a good argument for that conclusion. I had planned on doing a book signing at the B&N close to my home and now I’m not so sure I want to commit to that. Why? Because after speaking with the manager of an actual brick-and-mortar store, I learned that as an Indie author, you have to sell your books on consignment. In other words, you purchase the paperback copies, bring them to the store and then have B&N customers purchase the book with a cashier at the front of the store. And this is the part that pisses me off. It can take up to six months for B&N to pay you the 40% that they OWE YOU. Sometimes longer.
Time will tell whether or not I will work with them. Will I recommend publishing books to other authors with Barnes & Noble? At this time, based on what happened . . . most likely not.
You Gotta Be . . .
On another note, I recently read a book on free promotion after seeing it on Facebook. And when I learned the author was an Indie author like myself, I felt even more indebted to help the said author out! However, when I read the first page, disappointment seized me and I had to set the book aside. For the past two weeks, I return to the book occasionally to remind myself of what not to do. The book was published in 2011 and has not a single review. I feel bad for the writer because I think he/she (I won’t specify the gender) thinks the book was publishable. Even though, there were hundreds of grammar and spelling errors. Even sadder, I think he or she was so excited to even have a book published that he/she threw caution to the wind and clicked the published button as soon as possible. I’ve been there! Done that! But, due to the amount of competition, readers will pass your book by and move onto one they deem better and worth an investment of their time.
Number of Book Sales doesn’t = Talent
The amount of book sales doesn’t reflect how talented an author is. If book sales were an indicator then the strange phenomena of crappy books selling millions of copies wouldn’t occur or wonderful books only selling few or none.
Don’t Quit Your Day Job. Yet.
Writing is a poor man’s job where only a minority of writers are able to pursue their craft full-time and make a living from it. I laugh when my students ask me, “So, are you rich now?” after they learned I’ve published two books. The first book I had to republish because I lost my publisher when they went out of business. My students assume that every writer can be J.K. Rowling, a rags-to-riches single mother who created a $15 million dollar brand and has a net worth estimated to be less than $1 billion.
I can only aspire to reach that status.
I love writing and will most likely continue to do so. However, “had I but known” that the art of writing would change, I would have focused more on creating manga and graphic novels. So, I may have to change venues and write for television series, video games, Netflix, et cetera. You know, societies latest panacea for their social ills.
In the meantime, I’ll keep my day job and work, write, work, write, work.
Get some motivation by listening to the talented and beautiful, Des’ree’s song “You Gotta Be“.