Earlier this month, I hit the magical publish button at Amazon and became an indie author. I am hugely proud of my book: Kings of Brighton Beach Episode #1. I had an enormous sense of elation and accomplishment when I finally decided the work was done and then again when I saw it all compiled, the text and the formatting and the gorgeous cover. In that happy moment, I was sure I had a future bestseller on my hands. Yet all of those good feelings vanished when I finally self-published. In their place, terror.
I had finally put my project out into the world, and, unlike the first time I published, there was no publishing house behind me, no one saying that they believed in the work and would stand by it and me.
Terror gave way to disappointment when the book finally became available on the Amazon website later that day. I couldn’t find it myself unless I typed in my exact author name (D. B. Shuster) or almost all of the series title (“Kings of Brighton Beach”). If I couldn’t find my book even when I knew it was there, how on earth would anyone else?
There are numerous helpful books and blogs on marketing for authors, and a number of them would have advised me to organize for the launch of the book and build excitement leading up to it. They would also have advised me to arrange for reviews so that there would be something up on the retail websites as soon as my book became available. These are very good ideas and ones I will use for my next release several weeks from now.
In the meantime, I had embraced the advice to wait to spend time and money on marketing and promotion until I had at least three books available (which I’m expecting will happen in the next few months) and, as a result, greater visibility on the retail platforms. Given that I, like so many authors, have to choose where to spend my time and money on projects that currently eat rather than feed, I opted to focus on getting the next episodes in my series finished. As an indie author, I don’t have to worry that poor sales performance at launch will lead to less attention and resources from my publisher or hurt my chances of publishing again. Several writer friends blasted news of my book to their Facebook and Twitter followers, and I thought maybe…
I sent out notices to family, friends, and colleagues—an act that to me felt courageous when few people knew I was writing fiction and fewer knew I had finally decided to go indie. I had spent four years knocking on doors and cooling my heels in the slush pile. I’m sure people wondered whether I had given up or whether my writing just wasn’t that good.
The congratulations have been rolling in. The book sales, not so much. What did I expect? Not this.
I am hopeful that this thriller series will be wildly successful. I couldn’t have gotten this far in the process or justified how much time I’m spending on my writing if I didn’t believe in the potential of this work. At the same time, I’m armed with the statistics on authors’ income and sales, and I know that the kind of success I hope to have is a slim possibility. I belong to writers’ groups where people with more time, talent, and experience than I have are all struggling to get noticed and sell books. Some are finding ways to sell a lot of books and make quite a bit of cash, while others, despite the beautiful quality of their writing and their ingenious and diligent efforts at book marketing, are barely selling any books.
That my wildest dreams didn’t suddenly come true when I hit “publish” should have been an expected outcome. Rationally it was, but emotionally it wasn’t.
Jeremy Greenfield and I co-authored a report for Digital Book World on what traditional publishers offer authors. Writer’s Digest’s Phil Sexton presented some of these results at Digital Book World 2014. One of the most surprising findings was that traditionally published authors weren’t very satisfied with many aspects of their publishing experience, especially their sales. Also surprising, was that self-published authors weren’t all that satisfied either, and there were NOT big differences between the two publishing routes in terms of author satisfaction.
Facing the harsh reality of a market flooded with books and talented authors, I wonder if I haven’t stumbled upon one of the reasons so few self-published authors go on to publish subsequent books and also the reason that so few authors—whether indie, traditional, or hybrid—are highly satisfied with their publishing experience. For most authors, there is such a gap between our big dreams and reality.
I for one intend to keep dreaming, and I strategize daily on changing my reality.