My name is Andrew Mackay and I publish great books.
I thought this post was going to be longer.
A Blank Canvas
My name is Andrew Mackay and I publish great books.
I thought this post was going to be longer.
This is a 6 part series called What I Hate About Self Publishing. Part One: The Overview. Part Two: Scams. Part Three: The Education Challenge. Part Four: Time. Part Five: Quality Assurance. Part Six: Lack of Marketing. This is the conclusion.
Thanks for sticking with me. It’d be easy to conclude from this series of rants that I hate Indie publishing. I really don’t — I love it! I think it can be a powerful way to start creating real products that serve your audience.
I hate watching authors with good intentions and hope fall into these potholes that result in disappointment and despair.
This is the part in a series like this where a clever web entrepreneur is supposed to offer a $700 course to help you do it successfully and happily. But you know, I don’t have it in me to want to build that sort of a business. I want to publish great books. I want you to do that too, and I believe that you can.
In the coming weeks, at a much slower pace, I’m going to write some “What I love about self publishing” posts and some “How to Self Publish Well” posts. I hope they’ll be helpful to you. I hope the cautionary tale of What I Hate About Self Publishing has helped to open your eyes to some potential problems and get closer to successfully publishing. I’m andrew@ andrewmackay . net (remove the spaces, eh). If I can help you, please drop me a note.
This is a 6 part series called What I Hate About Self Publishing. Part One: The Overview. Part Two: Scams. Part Three: The Education Challenge. Part Four: Time. Part Five: Quality Assurance. This is Part Six: Lack of Marketing. The conclusion.
“I just want to put it out there and see what happens” may be the most dangerous words to ever come out of an author’s mouth. I’m given to hyperbole, so just to be clear: This is a terrible publishing strategy. And so many authors think it’s the right plan.
Oh, to write full time and not worry about marketing. That is, as they say, the dream. Except, I’m not sure it was ever that way. If it was, it was that way for a very short period of time. In older times, if you were lucky, you had a patron or several patrons (not to be confused with patronuses, from Harry Potter). You worried about keeping them happy. Many of the greats were teachers or had other professions. The “full-time writer” who didn’t have to worry about audience building… well, if that ever existed, it was for a very short amount of time.
Every writer has to wrestle with why they write. Is it “For the sake of writing?” That’s seriously the only answer I can think of that doesn’t involve worrying about marketing. Want to tell great stories? Tell implies audience. Audience is reached by marketing. Want to inspire people? That’s people other than yourself, right? That implies audience. And again, audience is reached through marketing.
It’s not dirty. It’s not unfortunate. It’s simply part of the work. Michael Hyatt, the former CEO at Thomas Nelson, said it best:
I assumed personal responsibility. I wasn’t expecting the publishing company to make me famous or make my book successful. I’ve been in this business a long time, and that’s not how it works. If you expect this, you will be disappointed.
It’s just how it is. It’s on you. If your publisher happens to help, awesome, but at the end of the day, if your book doesn’t sell, it’s first and foremost on you.
I have somewhat a knack for marketing. I’m not the best in the world, I confess, but it comes a little bit naturally. For whatever reason, that’s not the case for many indie authors. True fact, the average book sells fewer than 100 copies. I have never met an author who set out to sell under 100 copies.
The average indie author has a brief outline of a marketing plan at best. They describe their audience in vague terms. They aren’t thinking about the steps they need to take in order to connect to that audience. If that describes you, you shouldn’t be surprised when you end up selling next-to-no books.
It is hard work to build a platform that reaches a specific group of people who will be likely to want to buy your book. It’s easier than it has ever been, but easier than it has ever been doesn’t mean easy.
It’s an easy thing to torpedo a publishing career, or at least to put big roadblocks in your own way. If you’re going to indie publish, it should be as a result of a thorough evaluation of the audience for the book and your ability to reach them. If you can’t, don’t self publish. It really is that simple.
This is a 6 part series called What I Hate About Self Publishing. Part One: The Overview. Part Two: Scams. Part Three: The Education Challenge. Part Four: Time. This is Part Five: Quality Assurance. Part Six: Lack of Marketing. The conclusion.
This is a tough post to write. In my experience, there are two kinds of writers: there’s the “nothing I ever do is good enough” writer, and the “everything I do is a stroke of genius” writer. I deal with both, although lately (maybe in keeping with our increasingly American Idol-ed society), it feels like there’s an upsurge in the “Stroke of Genius” category.
Here’s the thing: there are simply very, very few people who can churn out genius. The rest of us need to put our work through rounds of evaluation, feedback, development, and revision in order for the work to be great.
I think one of the challenges is that it DOES take a little bit of craziness to want to share a piece of your soul with the world. So every writer who has passed from “I just write for the sake of writing,” to “I want to be read,” is going to have a nugget of insanity somewhere in them.
This comes to the fore in Indie publishing. “I have the best idea in the world. All my friends are blown away by it.” I hear that sentence, not infrequently. The thing is, I bet your friends are blown away by it. They should be — even if it’s not yet as refined as it needs to be. Why? Because you wrote a flipping book! That’s amazing. You had the follow-through to complete a book.
But it breaks my heart when an author stops at that point. When there’s not intense editing, great design, good typesetting or eBook formatting, your audience will not grow. People who have a personal connection to you will give you the benefit of the doubt. But when you want to reach an audience beyond just people you know, you’re planning on your book reaching the point where everything about the book has to be awesome.
It HAS to be great. Say that to yourself twelve times. Write it on your white board. It HAS to be great.
That means you need great editors. Not your aunt Martha, the English teacher. Editors who work in the book industry have, as Liam Neeson said, a particular set of skills. You need those skills. They will find you, and they will… red ink you?
You need great cover design. Like, not okay, not mediocre, great. It has to reflect your genre, your content, and your audience. You need great typesetting, great eBook files, great printing. It just all has to be great. If it’s not, your audience will disengage.
And here’s the really hard part: It can be great and still fail to connect with the audience.
There’s not a perfect formula for any of this. If there were, legacy publishers would never have a down year. They would never publish a project that didn’t earn out. In reality, if you do your research, you’ll know that they publish many projects that don’t earn out. It happens to them, so surely it can happen to you.
So, quality assurance is no guarantee of success, but lack of it is a virtual guarantee of failure. No one ever wants to say it. I still occasionally struggle to point out the clearly apparent problems to an author. But we don’t serve one another by not telling the truth. There are aspects of this that are subjective: I love sci fi, you might not. But there are elements that are not the least bit subjective: obvious editing issues, a cover that screams sci-fi from its design on a historical fiction novel, or really bad typesetting.
What it comes down to, if you’re the publisher (and believe you me, if you’re footing the bill, you are the publisher), you have to push with all your might to ensure that the book is great. If you fail to surround yourself with a team that will help you get there, you have no one to blame but yourself. The bad-audition episodes of those reality television programs are supremely uncomfortable for me. I sit there wondering, does no one love them enough to tell them they aren’t that good?
Indie publishing could do with a good dose of honesty when it comes to defining work that is good enough, work that is great, and work that just won’t pass muster. Until that happens, we deserve the reputation we have among serious readers and traditional publishers. It’s getting better, but I don’t think we’re all the way there yet.
This is a 6 part series called What I Hate About Self Publishing. Part One: The Overview. Part Two: Scams. Part Three: The Education Challenge. This is Part Four: Time. Part Five: Quality Assurance. Part Six: Lack of Marketing. The conclusion.
This post is sad to me because I’m going to identify the challenge, but from the outset I’m painfully aware that I don’t have a slick solution to the problem.
It’s a resource, like money, like water, and you have to make decisions to use it wisely.
Here’s what I mean:
The authors who are successfully indie publishing right now seem to be doing it in part on the back of prolific output. Like, multiple novel-length manuscripts a year, with shorter pieces in between. It’s super awesome, but not every author can keep up with that pace.
Some of you have families. Most of you have real jobs. Hopefully you have things outside of work that you need to give time to, too. We all know you can’t be a great writer if you’re not a great reader. Oh, yeah, if you’re going to indie publish, there’s all the work that goes along with being a publisher, too.
In order to indie publish, though, it requires a significant investment of that resource. You need to be monitoring things like sales, marketing, inventories, and cashflow for your business. You need to be creating new product. You need to be remembering to talk about old product. You need to be envisioning the next three titles you’re going to release. You need to be connecting to fans and other venues the prospective fans might be paying attention to.
So, what do you do with that? I think there are some things that help. I don’t think there are easy solutions, but there are these things: