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Monday, August 8, 2011

Indie authors--a reality check!!

I have been talking and emailing with some of my fellow independently published authors about the problem of making it in the writing world, about selling books, getting some cold cash, climbing up the ladder of the giant Amazon or whatever other venue we have chosen. I can tell you, it has been a sob & whine fest (not wine, that would be a lot better), to say the least. I think we all need a reality check.

1) Writing books is hard. We are confronted with our demons of inferiority, doubt—does anybody really want to read this crap? Then there are moments of elation. Yes, yes, yes, I did it, I like it. If we don’t have these occasional warm feelings pulsing through our veins and arteries, we would give up sooner or later.

2) Publishing books the traditional way. That’s even harder, unless you have at least ten years to find an agent and the agent will need another ten years to find a publisher (if the agent lasts that long and doesn’t decide to quit and go bag groceries—there is nothing wrong with bagging groceries by the way). Okay, so perhaps I exaggerate a little. I haven’t tried that route for very long, so I’m not an expert here.

3) Publishing books as an independent author—fairly easy these days. BUT here is the clincher: promotion. It can be done BUT IT TAKES TIME. And that’s where many indie authors dive into a world of illusions. You write an excellent novel or two (that’s the bottom line), you do everything right, hire an editor, spend some money on a cover design, post in Amazon, B&N or other venue, blog about it, go on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, Google+, collect reviews and expect to sell books like hot cakes, quit your day job (big trouble), and live happily ever after. It doesn’t happen that way.

The competition is fierce. There are thousands of independent authors fighting for a spot in the limelight and on Amazon bestseller list. I’m not saying it can’t happen. There are independently published authors who are successful and are able to support themselves that way and there will be more in the future. I personally know of a couple, one of them is Scott Nicholson, my editor. If you study the background of the authors who made the jump successfully, you will notice several common elements.

1) Most of these authors have written and published many books, anywhere from 10 to 20 or more.
2) They tend to write in a popular genre (thrillers, romance, YA).
3) Some have been published traditionally before going indie.
4) They know something about promotion and if they don’t, they are willing to learn.
5) They work their butts off and have been doing it for many years, often without much external or monetary reward.
6) They got lucky (important factor).

So, what are we newbies who have perhaps one or two novels under our belt and published them last year and perhaps this year supposed to do? Well, I can’t tell you what you have to do; I can only tell you what I plan to do.

I don’t depend on my writing to make a living, at least not yet. That doesn't mean it couldn't happen one day, but I am not holding my breath. And not depending on the income from my books gives me more freedom to explore and experiment with my writing, and it takes that awful pressure away of having to sell books all the time. I make my money as a freelance translator, I do odd jobs, I work temp jobs at a university. I know, I know, I hear you. Then you don’t have enough time to write. I wrote and published two novels and I translated one into German. I get up at five in the morning (okay, so sometimes it’s six), I don’t watch much TV, I have no social life, at least none to speak of. If you write one page a day, you have a 365-page novel in one year (which is much too long for readers with today’s limited attention span).

I sell a few books here and there, get some royalty checks that make me feel great. And I am the happiest person on earth if someone likes my books. That’s the greatest feeling of all. That’s why I try to write reviews of books I like to tell other authors that they made a difference in my life, that they touched me in a deep way.

And isn’t that what writing is all about, what art in general is all about? To go beyond the surface of things, to dig a little deeper than the glitzy veneer of “success,” and to share something meaningful with others. Do I sound like an old-fashioned fuddy-duddy idealist? Perhaps.

See, my background is in poetry, so I am used to not making any money as a writer. Poets—even famous poets or poet laureates—can usually not support themselves through their poetry alone. They either have a university job, they translate if they know more than one language, they teach, they have workshops, they bag groceries.

But there will always be times, in spite of all the wonderful things I just listed, when we feel down, misunderstood, discouraged, just simply rotten. IT’S CALLED LIFE. Get it? If we feel that way, it helps to connect with other authors, blog about your whine fest. It’s always good to know, we are not alone. Perhaps do something nice for someone else, it makes us feel better. Perhaps read a book—writers are supposed to read! And then let’s get back to work.

Happy writing—and reading!


  1. Good post, Christa. I think that the time commitment is a big wake-up call to many Indie authors. Even if the writing is top-notch, it takes time for readers to discover books. Unless you're Stephen King, finding readers usually doesn't happen overnight.


  2. Thanks Laura and Neal. I guess it's okay to dream, it's even important, otherwise we would give up, BUT once in a while, we have to wake up and face reality.

  3. Reality indeed!

    Thank you for patiently being the recipient of many of my whines.

  4. Linda, whines are okay, as long as you temper them with an occasional glass of wine. LOL!

  5. Amen, Sister Christa! I believe you'll get there, though, and I'll get to watch it happen. I think the "many book" factor is one of the biggest ones. I started working on a review blog because I came to understand what it means to authors. I haven't uploaded that blog, yet, but will. I don't watch television, either. Here's to us (whines clinking...eventually wines clinking).

  6. Amen indeed, ha, ha.
    Hi Brenda, thanks for stopping by. What about "wines clinking" right away. Why wait?

  7. I have had a huge reality check this year. I'm okay with it. I had hoped for better since I got such good feedback. Even had a go at a an agent who apparently decided bagging groceries would make her more writing than my literary drivel. It's a roller-coaster ride from hell and I'm looking for a job to support my editor needs and my graphic artist so I can get my next book out.
    Splendid article though, thank you Christa.

  8. Autumn, you write beautifully, and you will make it one way or the other. Enjoy the process of creating these wonderful characters. They brought me a lot of joy.

  9. great post, Christa--I always tell people if they don't love writing, they should quit, because the writing is the only thing you may get out of this.

    and Neal, Stephen King was getting rejection slips at the age of 10. He was an overnight success at around 27. That's one long night...

  10. Thanks, Scott,and thanks for pointing out the "higher an editor" thingy. Just proves again: I certainly need an editor--to get up "higher" on the scale. LOL. That's why I have you and Neal.

  11. Great blog. I think it's okay to whine a little bit in private, with your close friends. It's a public no-no, though. We have to remember how lucky we are that we get to be writers!

  12. Yeah, I worded my comment about King incorrectly. I know he was rejected for a long time; I was referring to him now, when people will jump at the chance to buy his grocery list.


  13. Hi Margaret, yes whining with your friend is all right. Sometimes, it helps to realize we are in the same boat or, as the German saying goes: "Geteiltes Leid ist halbes Leid" meaning "Shared sorrow is half the sorrow" - I know there is an English equivalent, but I can't remember what it is.