The Hard Road of Independent Publishing
The independent publishing business is one of the toughest rackets out there. I’ve been on the self-publishing side of things, and I’m currently on the small press side of things. Both require persistence, self-motivation, and a never say die attitude that few can maintain long enough to become successful.
When I originally self-published my novel Disease, I did everything ‘right’. I wrote a dynamite story, I hired a professional editor, I paid an illustrator to create an amazing book cover for me, and I got a top-notch book trailer created. I scrimped and saved to get the money together to do these things because I considered it an investment in my career, and because I wanted to do things properly.
I researched how to market my book. I researched, and I researched, and I researched. When I was done with that I implemented a marketing plan across social media, as well as podcasts and blogs with a targeted audience. I was so well prepared I felt confident that it wasn’t a matter of ‘if’ Disease would do well, it was a matter of ‘when’.
Two years later I was still waiting for an explosion in my fan base. I was still waiting for Disease to make it big. It took me longer than it should have to realize that “making it big”, even if I did everything right, wasn’t a short-term plan.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I never expected overnight success. I’m a realistic person, or so I thought, and I knew then, as I do now, that suddenly selling fifty thousand copies of my book would be like winning the lottery. Still, I thought that selling a few thousand in a few years would be easily achievable.
The hard truth about self-publishing is that it’s difficult to reach readers. Sure, I may have done everything right. Sure I was getting fantastic reviews, including great reviews from critics, but I was just one author in a rolling, violent sea of authors. In addition to that, most of the work put out by self-publishers lacks quality, and readers are wary of spending their hard earned money on junk. In fact, it can often be hard to get readers to purchase a book at all, even if it’s gold.
In today’s age of easily accessible information, free books abound, and not all of them are bad. Many authors, such as myself, feel pressured to price a book much below what it’s worth. After hundreds of hours of work writing, and hundreds more marketing it, not to mention the time away from friends and family, and the cold hard cash that goes into hiring editors, cover designers, etc… It can be down right disheartening when readers want a professionally created book for less than a cheap cup of coffee.
There are some people that are successful with self-publishing right off the bat, but now that I’ve been in the game for little bit, I see that those that really excel at going it alone are authors that already have an establish fan base. I hadn’t expected to win the lottery, but I had expected to be well on my way to making a living two years in, and I hadn’t accounted for how hard building a fan base would be.
After two years killing myself to get sales, I went back to the drawing board. I figured at that point I had nothing to lose by putting Disease up on Wattpad, one of the largest free reading platforms in the world. Although I wouldn’t be selling any books, here I thought at least I could expand my fan base. At least there, although I’d literally be giving my hard work away, I could interact with readers and find out what they really thought.
After being on Wattpad for a while Disease became a featured book, which is a great honor, and I then secured a publishing deal for it through Stitched Smile Publications. To say that was exciting would be an understatement. Disease will be re-released in 2017, and then the hard work really begins.
I’ve only been with my publisher for a short while, but being with a small press is very similar to self-publishing, except you’re not doing it alone anymore. A small press is a mom and pop business, and like any small business they have limited resources. Let’s be honest though, even the big publishing houses are extremely limited on what they’ll spend to market an unknown author.
When an author is with a small press, or any press really, they still have to push to be seen, they still have to market themselves, and they have to be on top of their game if they want to expand their fan base. The only thing that changes from self-publishing is that with a small press you have someone to lean on, someone else’s expertise to back you up, and someone else to help with the finances.
The big thing I’ve learned about independent publishing is that writing the story is only half the battle. Writers often bemoan the fact that so much time, energy, and money, must be spent on marketing, but it’s part of the job. Sure, it takes time away from writing, but without it that writing never finds a reader. Of course, the one thing that will keep the readers coming back is to keep writing, and I’ve never stopped.
Self-publishing may be like being the ruler of your own (probably very small) kingdom, but joining a small press is like joining a family. For me, it’s been like finding a life raft after drifting for so long at sea.
For more information about M.F. Wahl or her novel Disease find her on social media: