There are—what?—about a million and a half books in the world, and their number is going to be increased by 1 in the next couple of weeks, when WARNING: SOMETHING ELSE IS HAPPENING joins them, first as an ebook and at some point as a print edition. I am perverse in that I pay a professional formatter for the ebook conversions and format the print edition myself. If I had a lick of sense, it would be the other way around. But if I had a lick of sense I wouldn’t be doing this in the first place.
Writing fiction has NOTHING to do with being sensible—that is one of its charms.
The key is what you have to give. With a million and a half books, an authentic voice will stand out when nothing else does.
If self-published, you will have plenty of people eager to tell you that you are nothing. The part that comes after being told that you are nothing is that you might have a chance to be something if you buy what they are selling. No thanks.
A couple years ago, I tried to join a Barnes & Noble online book community; I forget what it was called. Some other indies did, too, and we all were rejected. This was a community of readers, apparently, and it was presumed we would have nothing to say that anyone would want to hear.
It doesn’t work to spam your book to strangers or friends. I had some success with a carefully planned giveaway campaign with the first novel, but the bloom is off that particular rose in self-publishing land. Paid ads for self-published novels in my experience are a waste of money.
What DOES work?
Protect the work. Accept the process. Keep writing. Engage your readers. I’ve gotten a lot of good practical advice from David Gaughran’s two books about getting published and getting noticed: Let’s Get Digital and Let’s Get Visible.
When I think of self-published writers I admire, they have one thing in common: they speak in authentic voices. In a crowd you hear them. Here are some examples:
Mary Pat Hyland
Mary Pat Hyland writes novels set in central/upstate New York, often around Keuka Lake. She lives there. I know that part of the world, which is how I found her books. I like the ones I’ve read, and it is a pleasure to follow her on Facebook. She is an ex-journalist.
Christa Polkinhorn wrote her family series of novels—An Uncommon Family, Love of a Stonemason, and Emilia—from the unique perspective of a Swiss-born woman who now lives in California, after having traveled the world. English is her second language, which will come as a surprise to anyone who reads her books.
The most engaging thing about her books is that they are about good people. Her characters are the kind of people you want to hang out with, have a glass of wine with.
Kate Laity is a writer who resists labeling. She writes sexy crime thrillers (the Chastity Flame series), noir fiction, speculative fiction, and nonfiction. She also blogs and she is almost unbelievably productive.
From one of her blogs I got the single most useful piece of time management advice I’ve ever encountered: Use the Tomato Timer. This is a glorified egg timer that breaks work sessions into realistic segments. It is free.
Gloria Bowman is a Chicago-based writer who wrote a buoyant, passionate novel about love at a particular time (the 1980s) and place (Chicago). Like the other authors I mention, she has a strong voice; you would not mistake her for someone else.
Seumas Gallacher is a Scotsman who speaks six languages, lives in the United Arab Emirates, and writes crime thrillers. He also blogs. He promotes himself in a funny, engaging way. I don’t read crime thrillers as as rule, but I am getting interested in his.
What can you say about Hugh Howey, except that he does everything right including the part about writing lots of good stories people want to read. He and his agent made a groundbreaking deal with Simon & Schuster where S&S bought the rights to print editions of his best-selling WOOL saga. Just the print rights. Howey kept the ebook rights. Yes, he is that good.
So share your playlist
I once likened self-publishing to I’m a Fool, a 38-minute film made in 1976 as part of the PBS American Short Story Collection. It dramatizes a short story by Sherwood Anderson. It stars Ron Howard (yes, that Ron Howard) and Amy Irving, and was directed by Noel Black.
It is a story about a young man named Andy who leaves home to travel through rural Ohio during the summer of 1919 with two harness-racing horses, a sulky, and a cart. At the county fairs, the horses sometimes win and sometimes don’t. It is the greatest summer of Andy’s life.
Almost in passing, it is a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of pretending to be someone you are not. Andy meets and loses Lucy, the girl of his dreams, because he tries to impress Lucy by pretending to be his wealthy boss.