Once upon a time an author was an amazing, respected and mostly private person. To be an author required a rite of passage that included a degree in English (or language of origin) and a journey of acceptance through an agent and a publisher. When they put the story to page and slapped an author name on the cover the commoners bowed in respect and often readers lined up for signatures. Writers were royalty.
Today the monarchy has ended. Everyone is a writer. The rite of passage is a word processor and an idea. Write a book—good for you—everyone knows someone who has an ebook out there. Where once a person filled with intrigue at the thought of speaking with an “actual author,” today’s reception is much the same as if you mentioned that you sell Amway or offered to guide them to a personal relationship with Jesus.
I’m surprised when people actually have questions about my writing. Their interest is driven more than anything else, by the dichotomy of my life and the content of my fiction. A factual business executive living the American Dream who has time to write fiction? A nice guy—quick to smile—who writes about horrible, dangerous things?
I guess that makes me kind of a side-show—a freaky little mystery to unravel. Their real interest in my writing is a curiosity to discover if perhaps in the off hours I am burying bodies in my backyard. For the truly curious I like to work in a discussion on my expertise in Tarot Card reading…just to really confuse them. Palm reading too, but I never mention it much. It’s a retired skill that I used mostly in place of saying, “Come here often?” Very effective with the added benefit of holding her hand and being close enough to enjoy her alluring perfume…but we’re here to speak on writing and I digress.
I lived in a very closed, uninformed writing world when I penned my first novel. Knowing what I know now, I might never have joined the ranks of self-published writers. In truth, on some days I never want to write again. Not because I spend more than I make to publish a book. Not because I don’t love telling stories. The reason is that figuring out the writing business is like trying to figure out a healthy diet or the BEST EXERCISES TO GAIN MUSCLE. Information overload, differing opinions, self-proclaimed experts, and as many critics as there are keyboards and places to post. It’s exhausting.
Sometimes I want to smack the critics. Their righteous opinions on “how we should write” “what we should write” “how we should market” or obtain reviews and the list of what rules authors MUST follow. On other days I want to smack the authors who do everything in their powers to embarrass the craft or who spend hours doing drive by book promotions—shut the F up and get in line, we’re all waiting for a review.
In this multi-year journey I have learned a few things. If you are an Indie Author you have too. If you’re just starting out…you will. Here are my favorite lessons. The Top 10 things I learned whether I wanted to or not:
1. A thousand people already wrote the book you thought was so unique: That’s right. You thought you had something there. A really great and smart story. An interesting plot and cool characters. Maybe you do, but there is this thing called genre and below it a multitude of sub-genres. It means when you publish your new and unique work it gets tossed under the table loaded with “other” zombie, vampire, chic-lit, romance, spy and Si-Fi books. You’ll find hundreds of people saying “oh god not another…”
2. Typos will get you killed: I’ve read a lot of books. Classics to King. Occasionally there is a mistake or two. I never saw The New York Times or Publishers Weekly devote a paragraph of review to Nora Roberts’ typo on page 35. Independent authors learn that there are readers scanning for typos—and they will slaughter you on the altar of the Chicago Manual of Style.
3. No one will find you: “Well I’m on Amazon. Readers will see my book.” Umm, no they won’t. It’s buried under the other million books. Create a website, business cards, a blog, join Good Reads. That will raise the finding from no one to a hundred…maybe.
4. People part with money easier than reviews: When I was just a reader, I never paid attention to reviews. I figured maybe half the people who read a book wrote a review. Then I published and realized…holy crap even my Mom didn’t write a review. By book two there is a shift in thought – forget the money, I don’t care about book sales…I just want those elusive reviews…well the good ones anyway.
5. Everyone is a critic: Listen I’ve been blessed in the review department. But I have seen some scathing commentary just below raving reviews. My qualifications and merits as a writer will become self-evident for good or for bad based on the words within the pages. I was, however, unaware just how many literary scholars existed until I wrote books. No CV or Resume required. A reader’s opinion is now on par with a MA in literature. And they will tell you…opinion is ALL that matters.
6. Readers feel qualified to suggest changes: The critics Opinion MA extends to a degree in “what would make this book better.” It amazes me when a reader suggests “how this should have gone.” I try not to be too brutish but my first thought is “yeah well why don’t you go write that in your book…mine went exactly the way I wanted it to.”
7. You are now an inmate in the psychiatric ward: Inmates are much like children. They need supervision and guidance. There is a time and a place for them and they don’t share the same rights as other people. Once you become an Indie Author, there is a set of rules set upon you. Where you can visit, what you can say…and when it’s time for the “adults to talk.” Hmm well maybe its less like a ward and more like a Leper Colony…some days so hard to tell.
8. Apparently DNF is a review: I have a few books on my shelf I just couldn’t finish. Some because I didn’t have the time, others because I just didn’t like them enough to continue. For example, Tropic of Cancer and Stephen Kings 11/XX/XX…whatever the date was. I wouldn’t have thought to write a review on these. I didn’t finish so what can I add? One time I didn’t finish a quarter pounder from McDonald’s. Another time I ordered a drink I didn’t like and I didn’t finish it. I didn’t write reviews on them either.
9. Writers should be seen but not heard: Here is a universal truth. The human condition requires a feeling of empowerment. We have a psychological need to feel in control of at least some aspects of our lives. For me empowerment comes from achievement. From setting goals and obtaining results. For others, empowerment comes when they get to make the rules or get to hush others. There is a written law (not unwritten anymore) in the on-line world that when it comes to Your Book and Your Writing, until asked, you should be seen and not heard. I mean I get it…I want to talk about my book, but certainly don’t want to be bored hearing about Your Book.
10. Your book is not the required PLATFORM: The hardest of lessons was that writing a book is just the beginning. A writer must have a platform, a marketing plan, regular interactions, be involved, be out there…good lord I just wanted to write a story not peddle my good name like a water purification system salesmen.
With all this complaining it might sound like I’m ready to quit. Or sound as if I hate readers and hate this business. It may seem as if I’m crying “why can’t it be easy.” That’s not the case. I’m glad it is difficult. I approach each new book with all these thoughts in mind. It makes me strive to be better, to write better…it challenges me to try to win. Mostly it provides a lot of humorous material and reminds me not to take it all too seriously. It’s supposed to be fun and as long as it is, well I’ll keep writing. And besides in all the nonsense I’ve had the privilege of meeting others who are…well…just as crazy as I am.