Over the years I have become more and more determined in my quest for greater distribution of my work, and along that journey I have had to not just overcome but put to rest many fears that I had about being an independent novelist. I have three novels under my belt at present, and am cooking up a fourth, with a nationally published short story ("Rust") and an article in Short Story Writer as well.
I didn't get here by cowering in a literary corner.
Below is a list of several things that have plagued me over the years, and how I managed to put them to rest:
- Nobody Cares - You write a novel, publish it, then nobody buys it. Every year over 300,000 novels are published worldwide, and many of them get lost in the shuffle. One fear that indie novelists have (which could be the greatest fear in my humble opinion) is the fear of never selling a single copy. I've been to several book signings where the author who had a time slot in front of me in the same store only sold one copy of their book or none at all, living in the dreamworld of "if I write it, they will come". The way I defeated this fear was I made a conscious effort to see what types of books sell well and then wrote something that fit that vein, but was uniquely my own. Right now The Walking Dead has made the zombie genre commonplace, and post-apocalypse fiction is huge. I wrote This Broken Earth, a post-apocalyptic novel, but one that is of my own design, my own end-of-the-world goodness, written about themes dear to my heart yet set in that genre. I sell around three to four copies (digitally) per week, and get regular checks from Amazon. I'm not saying you will have that kind of success (I also blog, podcast and social network like crazy) but if you don't do any of that and expect people to care, they won't.
- I'm Not Any Good - So you've written that novel and sent it off to an editor, only to receive it back dripping in red and you wish you would have paid attention in English class...or at least taken some creative writing courses. The only remedy I have for this one is that you probably need to get some education, friend. I have an English degree from OBU, a minor in creative writing, I've been writing fiction since the age of 15 (I'm 43) and I bounce my stuff off of other writers. Some people are just not cut out to write novels, I'm sad to say. Everybody thinks they have a novel in them, but maybe it isn't your lot in life to write it...or maybe not. If you really want to write, but people keep telling you that your writing isn't any good (and we're not talking about friends and family here because my Mom will think anything I write is good because she's my Mom) you probably shouldn't quit your day job. Sure, the power of positive thinking might work for you, but an apple is not an orange. If you really want to get good, then take some classes at a college not a one week seminar or at a Writer's Digest writing conference (big scam). If you have a heart for it, and really want to learn how to write well, you will write something the average stranger won't pass by with disinterest.
- I Don't Like Criticism - Get used to this. Sure, you might be afraid of someone tearing down the work you have done, but then if they help you get better it is only for your own good. It is important to listen to critics. The best critics will tell you exactly what you need to hear and not what you necessarily want to hear. If you worry about being criticized because you are so thin-skinned that those critical comments hurt, then you need to toughen up and take it. Remember that good criticism is never personal, always a scalpel, and absolutely the best medicine for writers. You need to find a writer's group and share your writing with them. Get them to be brutal and also keep the relationship with them professional. Friends and family are nearly never good critics, and will only pat you on the back when you really need a swift kick in the pants.
- I Don't Know the First Thing About Self-Publishing - Sure, you could go out and spend thousands of dollars at a vanity press (I've done that) but you could learn a few things about the publishing process and do it all yourself (like I'm doing now). Let's face it, designing your own cover might not be the best idea, but anyone can typeset a book using the right software. If you can save a Word file as a PDF, you can at least upload it to Kindle and have a book listed on Amazon. I have learned that YouTube is the greatest and most comprehensive university on the planet. If you want to know how to do anything, and I mean anything, a little searching on YouTube can find a video showing you how to do everything from uploading to CreateSpace, formatting a document, creating a book cover in PhotoShop (or if you are cheap, GIMP) and a million other things. It's really about how much you want to learn and whether or not you want to hire out jobs that are too overwhelming for your current educational level.
- I'll Probably Only Sell To My Family and Friends - If your only aspiration for writing a novel is to be a best seller, then you might as well go spend your money more wisely and buy a lottery ticket. The chances of becoming a best selling author are pretty slim and just as likely. Kristen Lamb wrote a very good breakdown of what it takes over on her blog. The point here is not to get bogged down in the idea of being a best selling author and just write your book, work toward publishing it and marketing it yourself, and above all don't give up. Sure, you'll probably sell to family and friends...even distant Facebook friends...but if you do a few things right you can have a steady Kindle sales check sent to your account every month. It might be $20 here and $30 there, but at least you are selling books. This takes a lot of social networking (where you build relationships with readers and don't just spam) and a lot of helping others with what you know, sharing your knowledge. I am currently building an e-mail list (with medium results) but at least I'm trying. Jonathan Gunson has some great tips over on Best Seller Labs if you need guidance (and we all do). A few of this author's articles have been published on his website, articles about things I have learned along my journey. Perhaps you could kill a few fears by dashing over there.
Above all, don't stop writing. Keep at it. When you can't write a novel, then write a short story or some poetry or something. Don't approach this writing thing as a novice, but learn the trade, take some classes, listen to critics, and if you aren't happy doing this, then by all means do something else.