Freedom isn't Free—5 Common Tactical Errors in Self-Publishing
This business is hard work. There are no shortcuts. I recently self-published my new book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World (and it’s on sale for $7.04 to celebrate Independence Day). Yet, for the record, I had 1) sound business reasons for doing this (NY is too slow to publish anything about technology and I wanted creative control) and 2) I have at least a million and a half words under my belt just in blogs. Granted, I’m new to the whole self-publishing thing. I’ll share as I learn.
It’s great to have independence, but alas, Freedom isn’t free. We need a sound strategy or we can end up toast.
For the Record, I’m Switzerland
When it comes to publishing, I don’t take sides. I feel traditional publishing has a lot to offer. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t spend so much time and effort challenging them to innovate to remain competitive. Indie is not for everyone. A lot has to do with 1) what we are writing 2) our personality 3) our goals. I support writers no matter which path you decide fits your needs.
Self-publishing is not a panacea. Today we are going to talk about the top five tactical errors I feel are killing self-publishing authors.
Tactical Error #1 Publishing Too Soon
The problem with the ease of self-publishing is that it is, well, too easy. When we are new, frankly, most of us are too dumb to know what we don’t know. Just because we made As in English, does not automatically qualify us to write a work spanning 60-100,000 words.
Too many new writers do not properly understand the antagonist. They don’t grasp three-act structure, and most don’t have any idea what I mean when I mention POV, Jungian archetypes, or the phrase, “scene and sequel.”
I have some affordable upcoming classes for most of that, btw (Check Here). Use Wana15 for a 15% discount on any of my craft classes. I see a lot of new writers who believe their story is the exception, that the rules make for “formulaic” writing. No, rules are there for a reason, and, if the writing is too formulaic, it has more to do with execution than the rules.
Three-act structure has been around since Aristotle, and there is a lot of evidence in neuroscience that suggests that three-act structure is actually hard-wired into the human brain. Thus, when we deviate too far from three-act structure, it confuses and frustrates readers.
Stories have clear beginnings, middles and ends.
Yes, we are artists, but we need to understand the fundamentals. I played clarinet for years, and yes it was an art. But this didn’t excuse me from having to learn to read music, the finger positions and proper embouchure (the way to position the mouth to play).
The better we are at the basics, the better we know the rules, the more we become true artists.
I’ve received contest winners whose first pages were filled with newbie errors. Yet, when I sent them my critique filled with pages of corrections, I would then receive a reply telling me that the book had already been self-published.
Sometimes there are reasons we are being rejected and we need to take a hard look and be honest. Self-publishing is suffering a stigma from too many writers publishing before they’re ready. If you really want to self-publish, I’m here to support you and cheer you all the way, but remember, we have to write better than the traditional authors.
Tactical Error #2 No Prepared Platform
The day we decide to do this writing thing for real is the day we need to start creating a platform and brand. Even traditional authors goof this up. I cannot count how many times I get a message saying, “Hey, I have a book coming out next month. I need to do social media. Can you help?”
I’m Kristen Lamb, not Harry Potter.
Tactical Error #3 Believing that, “If We Write it They Will Come”
There are a lot of writers who mistakenly believe that self-publishing is an easier and faster way to fame and success. Yeah, um no. And those magic beans are really just beans. Sorry. I was bummed, too.
Self-publishing is A LOT of work, especially if we are starting out this way. I know Bob Mayer and Joe Konrath lecture writers to do less social media and more writing. To an extent I agree, but here is the thing. These guys were branded traditional authors who could slap New York Times Best-Selling in front of their names when they decided to go it alone.
If you can’t slap New York Times Best-Selling in front of your name and upload a NY vetted backlist longer than your arm? Prepare for a ton of work.
Tactical Error #4 Misusing FREE!
There are a lot of problems with giving books away for FREE! We shouldn’t be giving away our work unless it serves some kind of a strategic advantage. There are ways to effectively harness they power of FREE! but too few writers understand how to do this and they just end up giving away their art for no tangible gain.
Tactical Error #5 Shopping One Book to DEATH
One of the BIGGEST problems I see with self-published writers is that they publish one book and then they focus every bit of energy on selling THAT book.
They fill up #MyWANA and all the writing hashtags with link spam promoting their books. They keep futzing with the cover, the web site, the promotions. They do blog tours until they drop, and they do everything except what is going to help that book sell a ton of copies…write more books.
Here’s the thing. Self-publishing, in many ways, just allows us to accelerate the career path of the author. Even in traditional publishing, it usually takes about three books to gain traction. In traditional publishing, this takes three years because we are dealing with a publisher’s schedule.
In self-publishing, we can make our own schedule, but it still takes THREE BOOKS MINIMUM. I know there are exceptions, but most self-published successes hit at about book three. The ability to offer multiple titles is a huge part of why John Locke became successful.
This is why it is critical to keep writing. Not only will writing more books make you a better writer, but once people discover they love your writing, they have a number of titles to purchase. Being able to offer multiple titles is how we make money at self-publishing. It also helps us maximize the whole FREE! tactic.
Yesterday, I bought six books (1,500 pages) of research. I just published my latest book five days ago…and I’m starting on my next book. Goal is to have the first draft completed by August. I don’t tell you guys to do anything that, I myself, am unwilling to do.
Remember Why We Do This
Self-publishing is a wonderful alternative. Just because we self-publish doesn’t mean we cannot publish other ways, too. I feel the author of the future will actually be a hybrid author, and I do believe that the ability to self-publish is challenging all of us to come up higher. We are striving to be better writers, to be better entrepreneurs, to get better at organization and time-management and to write more books and better books. If we can learn from these mistakes and grow, then the future is ours for the taking.
A little humor…
My own story…
What have been some of your challenges with self-publishing? In what areas is it forcing you to grow? Have you had to outsource? What sacrifices have you made? Tell us your story!
I love hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of July, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.
NOTE: My prior two books are no longer for sale, but I am updating them and will re-release. My new book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE.
I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
Right now, I am flattened with a cold or flu or something that just makes me want to crawl off into a dark place and die, so I will announce last month’s winners sometime this week.
And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.
At the end of July I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!