What Self-Publishing Has Taught Me

It’s important to preface this essay with a caveat: I have various mental health issues, and cogent reasoning has been only marginally possible through a thick treacle of fatigue, anxiety, depression and myriad other maladies that have messed with my head for quite some time now. It’s very possible many of the issues and problems outlined below have been the result of normal things perceived through the frosted wobbly haze of my “challenges”, and the process of self-publishing is indeed a profitable breeze for most normal people. I’m afraid without a guide or proxy to assist, I’ve been on my own and had to work my own way through as best I can, which frankly isn’t saying much.

Anyway … to begin…

I wrote a book.

Then I wrote another and another, and before I knew it I had several novels done and dusted. Much of the time the words came easily, especially when I wasn’t battling foggy medication-induced mind-mangling. I learned the specifics of beta reading, editing and proof-reading, and before long I was performing said duties on not just client work but my own projects as well. I had colleagues who read what I wrote, and liked it a lot. Not neighbourly types or family members who humour you with platitudes—genuine dyed-in-the-wool critical eyes who’d point out all the pitfalls and shortcomings I’d missed, and before I knew it I had not just writing, but genuine literature on my hands.

It was therapeutic. It was good.

I felt as if I had accomplished something, which when you’re drifting on a tumultuous dark sea of confusion and illness, is a Really Good Thing™.

I sent one of my manuscripts off to an agent. I just knew they’d love it, love my writing, and one of their ranks would take my work under their wing and champion it to the right publisher, who would make it soar. I felt confidence for the first time in a long time.

Weeks turned into months, and finally there was the rejection slip. Oh well. Next crowd. Rejection slip. A year passed and the rejection slip pile simply grew. I remained confident. The trick was to find that special someone who was searching for a voice like mine. More rejection slips. Enough to dry my frustrated eyes. What were they seeing that I couldn’t? Or what was I seeing they couldn’t? I live off welfare and can’t do much in the way of “normal” work—writing seemed one way I could earn an income. Why were these people failing to see the commercial value of what I was sending them?

Something had to give, so I decided to delve into the challenge of self-publishing. There were plenty of companies advertising services for self-publishers. I researched. Sent emails. Even received phone calls. For the first time, I was grateful I had no money and couldn’t afford the services on offer—what a load of rubbish I came across. So many promises, such spin, execrable amounts of expensive nonsense. I was in this to make money, not spend it (especially seeing as I didn’t have any to spend anyway). So many snake-oil salesmen prowling the wings for unwary prey.

With the prospect of pay from a publisher via an agent rapidly diminishing, I chose to use my background in desktop publishing and go it alone. I created cover art, page layout and design to make my novel work as a printed book, before reformatting it to suit being an eBook. Job done, and uploaded to Smashwords for the eBook and Createspace for the hardcopy

Boom—one of my novels was out there in the big wide world.

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There’s something special about getting your first ISBN, something quite magical about a barcode assigned just for your creation. I had hoped validation as an author would have come in the form of a contract with an agent, but instead it arrived in the mail as a hardcopy from Createspace. There it was—my creation made manifest. I thought it looked quite handsome, the pages a crisp white and filled with my words designed to shape thoughts, form characters, excite and entertain, so haughtily rejected by myriad would-be agents.

I’m not a salesman. Not for me the straw boater and cane, peddling to the masses. My mental health makes me appallingly shy (I genuinely have Social Anxiety Disorder, which largely condemns me to the house and away from dread “other people”), so rushing up to strangers and extolling the virtues of what I have to offer just isn’t one of my faculties. Nevertheless, in this day and age, the self-publishing author—like the painter or film-maker, or frankly any other creative profession—becomes the salesman. I don’t want to sell books, I want to write them. I’m an author, not a retailer! How does someone stuck at home sell books? I turned to Twitter and Facebook. I promoted. I found people who would spruik on my behalf. Thousands of people were reached. It was amazing. Thanks to Smashwords, my book was in every online retailer of eBooks, from Nook to Apple iBooks, Kobo to Scribd and beyond. Thanks to Createspace, my book was firmly ensconced in the Amazon universe, available in the US and UK and Australia, as well as Japan and Brazil and France, but not in Japanese or Portuguese or French, as I don’t have the kind of resources to afford a translation service. Coverage had been attained (in English anyway), success seemed assured.

Think again.

There are literally millions of new books out there, and it’s inevitable getting lost in the noise. Any author might have a Unique Selling Point (USP) for their novel, but it’s going to remain unheard unless a sales voice also has cut-through. In a sea of clamouring authors and publishers, that kind of cut-through is going to cost the kind of bucks that in many cases just makes it not worth it.

In the months since launch, I’ve spent $95 on paid promotions on both Twitter and Facebook. For that trouble, I’ve earned tens of thousands of “impressions” and $12 cash (after all up less than a dozen sales). I’m behind, and by the looks of things, getting into profit just isn’t going to happen despite continued promoting. Someone might suggest spending a bit more—say, $700—however not only do I not have $700 to piss against the advertising wall, and given everything I’ve researched, I remain unconvinced that kind of spend would return over $700 in revenue anyway. “You’ve got to spend money to make money”—yay, unless you don’t have any money to spend to begin with. Is that it? Is it not enough to slave over creating a book in the first place?

In the world of self-publishing: absolutely not. The book itself is only a minor cog in a much larger machine that still only maybe sees a return at the end.

Not that my book would win any prizes, but it’s not rubbish, either. Yet, I can’t convince folks to part with a measly dollar to read it. Is my writing truly worthless? Are people not interested in the thriller genre any more? I guess all they need for their fix is to turn on the TV news these days. Oh well.

So, I can only conclude it’s my fault (it always is, it seems), and I’ve screwed up somewhere. Maybe I can write good narrative prose of car chases, gunfights and terrorist attacks, only to suck at writing sales copy. It’s probably true—I never wanted to be a copywriter for magazines or newspapers flogging stuff, and attempting to write spin to sell my book seems to be a weakness or blindness on my part. Nobody’s sent me a demand notice ordering me to cease my wilful acts of promoting, so it can’t be that bad, but translating spin into sales just isn’t me.

Here’s the worst part: all this promoting, all this sales hustling, and I’m not writing. Not a word. I started on a sequel, but I’ve been spending all my time online, trying to find people who will buy my book, and my sequel (and other works) remains untouched. Self-publishing has transformed me from capable author into incompetent hustler. I’m not a salesman, I’m an author (I have a barcode and everything to prove it, too). I want to earn money from what I write, to lift me from below the poverty line, off welfare and into the guise of a self-reliant individual. My mental health needs it, and my ability to buy groceries needs it, too.

I need an agent who understands what I am as well as who I am, who believes in what I write and its ability—armed with cut-through in promotions designed by professionals who are sensational at promoting—to sell. Too many agents judge a writer’s ability on a few paragraphs or pages from a single manuscript. What if what I’ve written elsewhere is what’s needed to convince? It’s insane, it’s blinkered and it’s self-defeating. There are some extraordinarily wonderful authors out there who do very well. There are also some atrocious hacks who make good money, not because they’re lucky, but because they’re backed by agents and publishers who know how to sell, even if what they’re selling is really bad. I don’t know how to sell. I’m an author, not a salesman, and selling is not my job. I need a salesman—an agent who can work with a publisher to translate my writing into sales. Even if I’m a hack, surely it isn’t that hard? It’s done all the time. What’s another hack? Am I a hack? I didn’t think I was, and neither did my manuscript assessors, but maybe they’re wrong and I’m wrong and it turns out I’m the hackiest hack who ever hacked. That doesn’t mean what I write is unsellable. In some cases, quite the opposite.

Something else I have learned is to stick with it. Despite the disheartening lack of response, despite the shortcomings when it comes to alternatives to social media promoting (I don’t have mailing lists or any ability to cold-turkey contact bookstores to ask them to stock my book which I’d have to pay money I don’t have to get manufactured and shipped), I’m determined to not give up, either. Stay the course. I have to believe in the fullness of time word will continue to trickle out, and those individuals out there anxious to read something like what I’ve written will finally track my book down, buy it and enjoy it. Maybe some of them will leave reviews, and with those to hand, some of the best kind of cut-through might be achieved. Everyone who has reviewed it so far has been deeply appreciative and impressed, so there’s hope.

Don’t give up. Don’t lose hope. Just keep going.

My mental health is in such a state at the moment that I can’t write prose fiction even if I wanted to. It’s a kind-of writer’s block, and comes and goes to varying degrees. It’s my particular demon I have to bear. I’d love to get on with the sequel. I have it all mapped out, and reckon it’d be a corker of a read. Then again I thought the first was a corker to read as well, and all I get to see of it is languishing in a too-quiet corner of the world, pining for some love.

I guess the self-publishing route is good if you’re well resourced, well-connected and a natural at selling. For me it has been a route of frustration and expense I can’t afford, and the chances of me trying it again are extremely remote. The frustration has been nothing compared to the Quest for an Agent®, but I remain convinced that special someone is out there. Like readers, it’s about finding them, and helping them to find you.

Whither Writing? Or is that Wither Writing?

The autotelic creator is someone who creates for the sake of creation. The painter who paints without regard for selling. The musician who performs even if there is no-one to listen. The writing who can’t help but pour out their heart and mind onto a page that could remain unread.

Even an autotelic creator needs to eat, so sometimes they dip their oar into the mainstream and turn their hand to something they feel the “market” might like. For many, it’s not a place they either like or feel any sense of belonging, but still respect as a necessary evil so their own existence may be perpetuated or more comprehensive resources afforded.

A fortunate autotelic creator is one whose creations align closely with the commercially attractive. Tragically, there are also those who lived their whole lives creating wonders, only to be “discovered” long after their death (e.g. Vincent van Gogh). The worst are the ones who are never discovered—their anonymity in life continuing after their death.

Now in our own time, the accessibility and ‘democratisation’ of information has arisen, providing new curses (e.g. ‘alternative facts’) as well as new blessings (e.g. online art galleries, self-publishing eBooks and YouTube). Never before have creatives had access to potential audiences as they do now.

The flipside to that accessibility is economics. Never before has there been pressure applied to authors, musicians and artists to provide their creativity free of charge. The perpetual argument is to provide something for free is to raise awareness of that creative amongst a potential market.

Long ago I was told in no uncertain terms to never give anything away, as to do so was to undervalue my own work. A small sample was fine, but an entire work? Never!

I’ve adhered to that principle since, knowing full well there are numerous individuals out there who consider anything other than free as too expensive, and the world owes them a living. They’re welcome to live in that fantasy land if it makes them happy, but going to a restaurant and asking for a free meal is not only a slap in the face for the individuals responsible for cultivating, harvesting, refining, transporting ingredients, and then all the actual preparation, it’s just plain rude. Why should a work of art or writing or music be any different?

Again—free samples are fine, but not an entire work.

I write and I create art. Music and I parted ways a long time ago, but I still listen to it with a passion that frequently rivals my passion for art and writing. I will continue to write and create art. There have been instances where I have been paid by a person for my art and my writing. There is hope. I haven’t earned nearly enough to make a living off that creativity, but I continue my efforts in the hope that goal may one day be realised.

Perhaps my greatest fear is one day my energies will decline and I can no long write or draw or paint. I’ve already gone through horrific dry-spells thanks to depression, anxiety and a raft full of medical problems, and it has only been through tremendous effort I’ve been able to emerge through the other side of those tribulations. The old saying “use it or lose it” only makes me anxious about every time my hand is stayed—I fear the withering effect of demoralisation. Regardless, I will continue to create. My hope is what I create continues to be worth creating.

Terror in the Ranks: Book Review

Review by Marisse Lee, aka Harping By A Pixie on Niume.com – Source: Terror in the Ranks: Book Review


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Terror in the Ranks by R Munro

Author: ROB MUNRO

Genre: Conspiracy, Betrayal, Terrorism

OVERVIEW

The book centered on the character of a middle-aged spook, Superintendent Lemuel Aaron, who was caught in the power games of some delusional white supremacist character, Mister G, in cohorts with some government officials/politicians in the high echelon as well as rich and influential people plus the terrorist group ISIL.

The main focus of the story is to save the stolen nuke from reaching the hands of ISIL. The biggest hurdle in his work to save the world, though, is how he will navigate through the web of conspiracy and betrayal set by his enemies. Different branches of the government have been intelligently infiltrated that his opponent seems to be always a step ahead of him in the game. As in any story, of course, both protagonist and the antagonist have a battery of goal supporters that help them to carry out their plans and counterplans.

EVALUATION

Plus Point: I am a fan of the Jason Bourne series regardless if the sequel is written by its original creator, Robert Ludlum, or the new author holding the franchise, Eric Van Lustbader. I also liked a lot Tom Clancy and Dan Brown and have read several James Patterson’s novels. Suffice it to say, therefore, that when I accepted the request to review the book I do not have expectations as it is the first time I will be reading a work by a new writer (and the first time, I will actually write a book review).

I liked the fact that Rob Munro was able to convincingly create an atmosphere of chaos and fear. He was likewise able to illustrate how the underhand and shadowy works of certain politicians, government officials as well as influential private people could affect world events. Both of these points showed he has researched enough before writing his piece.

The chase scenes did not put me on the edge of my chair, true, and it is not the type that will unconsciously make you hold your breath; BUT, it did not bore me at all. Let us say, I consider it more close to reality for, after all, you cannot expect a middle-aged spook to leap from a helicopter and land on his feet on top of a ship.

Minus Point (at least, for me): I have recently visited Australia which is the setting of the story. I have trouble imagining that Sydney and Melbourne could undergo such destruction and that the friendly Australians would actually do such despicable acts against immigrants. However, a reader who can get past that fact will not have any problem.

Another thing, the first meeting between Aaron and Carlyle in Chapter 9 where the latter has a very long speech is, I think, overboard despite the fact that the author has good intention in doing so (to highlight Carlyle’s character). I mean, in real life, and under such grave situation, the tendency of the speaker would be to be as concise as possible. Time is gold, after all, and didactic opinions should be saved for later.

RECOMMENDATION TO THE READERS

Try reading it, really. It is, of course, tempting to stay with the famous names but venturing into someone new would never hurt your reading experience.

You know what they say, if you read only one book, you only get to see one perspective. Thus, the more authors you read, the more viewpoints you will learn.

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics!

When I first came to self-publish, I continually came across how-to guides, pretty much unanimously cautioning against developing a habit of checking sales metrics.

“Don’t let sales bother you, just promote, promote, promote while you’re writing your next book!” was the basic message. I thought to myself for morale purposes that was probably sensible, as poor sales (or no sales) can impact momentum or even incentives to continue working. After all, why bother writing a book for the purpose of publishing if no-one is going to read it?

So … I didn’t let metrics worry me. Ever so occasionally someone would pipe up and ask how the book was doing, and I would go to Smashwords dashboard or Amazon Author to see rankings, but despite my author ranking and book ranking being line graphs with a few serious ups and downs and ups again, Nielsen Bookscan data was insisting I hadn’t sold anything, which given a couple of folks have told me they’ve bought my book, alongside the author and sales rankings roller coasters, isn’t actually true. Talk about confused.

Smashwords tells me how many visits I’ve had to the page, how many sales and how many previews there have been downloaded. Not many. I didn’t think there would be – for promotion I’m relying solely on what I can muster for free, except a single paid book promotion that started in mid-November flooding Twitter for a month with links to the book’s page on Amazon, not Smashwords. It was an interesting experiment, especially considering Amazon don’t provide page-view metrics. My author ranking went up, my book ranking went up, but Nielsen Bookscan continued to insist not one book had sold. To this day I have absolutely no idea whether my paid promotions yielded any results. Until that far-flung day arrives when someone breaks down to tell me, I won’t be paying anyone anywhere for more paid promotions. I have far better things to spend money on.

Someone muttered something about Ingram, which I understand is an alternative to Nielsen, but I’m stumped how to find out data from that source. It doesn’t matter anyway, I hark back to that original advice – don’t sweat the metrics. Just write.

I used Smashwords to start with, as they distribute to pretty much every ebook retailer except Amazon Kindle. Ebook sites I’d never heard of before were reportedly stocking my novel and became potential sales sites. Woo! I used Createspace for the hardcopy of my book, as they’re a part of the Amazon empire, and thus handled the hardcopy for Amazon and the ebook version for Kindle. Createspace also have the infrastructure to supply libraries, bookstores and all the rest, though I have no way of telling which bookstores and where. Their reckoning on up to six weeks has passed, and there’s no sign of my book in any bookstore in Australia. Maybe it’s just America, but I have no way of knowing. So there’s the frustration, and the wisdom in that original advice of ignoring the metrics, and just keep writing.

I don’t have the resources to advertise my book the way some people do. If only I could sell something, I’d have the money to promote my book. Hmmm … I wonder what I could be selling? How about some books?

Aargh.

There’s a little voice in the back of my head telling me I’m wasting my time worrying about earning anything from all this – if they’re not going to admit how many they’ve sold then there’s no way to tell how much of potentially my money they’re pocketing for themselves, after all, they’ve got hungry shareholders to feed or some other excuse. It’s tricky to not become cynical, because ultimately it’s about placing one’s trust in a large company, and if anything, large companies are even less trustworthy than gangsters, drug dealers, politicians and others involved in organised crime.

Still … ignore the metrics and just keep on writing. Just keep producing properties. Content is king.

Bollocks – selling is king. Just look at the “music” industry.

It has been a very educational journey, and while agent after agent completely fail to recognise my writing ability, boldly confessing so with every rejection slip they send me, some day someone will “get” my work well enough to want to represent me so I don’t have to worry so much about all this silly “self-selling” nonsense. No folks, my responsibility isn’t to sell, it’s to create. If you’re not up to the selling part and want me to do it, then I don’t want you in my circle, and you can do without the percentages. I want someone who will take my work and make it sing, and they can take a percentage of the resulting sales as their payment. It’s a system that has worked for centuries. It’s not a system that’s broken, so anyone trying to “fix” it is in effect attempting to game it for their own predatory proclivities, by my reckoning.

I check my metrics again. Still nothing. Stop checking metrics! Just keep writing.

Why do I feel I’m like a hamster on a wheel? All effort but going nowhere?

Just keep writing. Just keep running.

Oh well, at least it’s keeping those spectators outside my cage amused.

Book Review

Maramatanga, maramatanga: Poems from the pastMaramatanga, maramatanga: Poems from the past by Joss Morey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Author Joss Morey has within these pages tapped into the lifeblood of a noble people. This poetry sings to the heart, celebrating and mourning the dynamic voices of those long vanished but still alive in memories and the landscape of the remarkable Maori.
From the chilling “Leukaemia” to the joyous “The Message”, the horrifying “What Brings This Evil to This Land” to the simple yet profound “Oneness”, Morey provides a lush glimpse into the heart. Each poem should be savoured like a fine wine. For anyone never having encountered the Maori or New Zealand in general, this collection should be at the forefront of research before visiting.
Beautiful, profound, moving. Thank you Joss Morey.

View all my reviews