The 7 Sins of Writing and (Self) Publishing

I would like to preface this post by stating that I am in no way an expert on either writing or self-publishing. This is an article merely sharing what I’ve discovered in the past four years.

For a quick bit of background to new readers, I’m the self-published author the Soul Trilogy, but have written another two books on top of these three. In addition to doing my own marketing and publicising, I’ve been on Goodreads for the past six years and witnessed the rise and fall of many careers. I only write this post in an effort to share my experiences.

7. Setting a Release Date Before the First Draft is Complete

First up, a big no no that I learned the hard way. Soul Blaze (#2) came out on March 31st, 2014, and is subsequently my biggest regret. While my editors and beta readers managed to help mould it into something readable, I messed up big time.

Impatient with a lack of progress, I thought that setting a release date would be the ultimate motivator. Instead, I maintain to this day that it was the dumbest thing I’ve ever done. My writing suffered for it, my confidence suffered for it, and basically I wish I’d just held my horses and done it properly.

I understand that self-publishing is really exciting – you’re your own boss, and you set the dates, you make the announcements. This isn’t always a great thing. Rein yourself in, and give yourself space to be happy with your book. You will be grateful that you did.

6. Using Paint to Design a Book Cover

Guilty. I have used paint before to design covers for my creative writing works. They looked shabby, but the thumbnail was tiny and covered up any impurities in the work, and so I (wrongly) got the impression that this was okay to do.

No.

NO.

Please don’t use Paint. You are doing yourself, and your book, a disservice. Can you imagine if a film company spent millions making an awesome movie and then used Paint to make the poster?

movie cover with paint

Holy shit, that is the most art I’ve ever done in my life. Anyway, would you go see this movie? (well… I might… because it seems like a curious art choice to me, but this undercuts the point I’m trying to make). One of the biggest stigmas about indie work is the low quality. Don’t give this false impression a jump start by wrapping your book in a sub-standard cover. Get yourself a copy of Photoshop, a membership to a stock photo site, and start designing. Or, if you’re anything like me and can’t draw to save your life (that is seriously the best artwork I’ve produced in my entire life), hire a designer. In fact, the girls over at Yonderworldly do up premade covers and take orders on request – check out their work here. The quality is incredible and they’re a great bunch of people. In fact, there are a lot of awesome peeps out there, ready to give your book the first impression it deserves. You just gotta be willing to spend the cash.

5. Waiting for the ‘Writing Mood’ to Strike

Trust me, you can do everything to create an inspiring environment to get the creative juices flowing. I’m talking incense, good music, a comfortable desk and a full mug of coffee. More often than not, you’ll come up with nothing. You’ll stare at that damn blinking cursor and feel the sinking realisation of ‘nope’.

This usually happens. You can wait and wait and wait for the words to come, but they just won’t. If you keep waiting, that book is just going to remain an idea in your head and the only person who gets to enjoy it is you.

TOUGH LOVE WARNING. DO IT. Sit down and write. Force your fingers onto the keyboard and struggle through that first 100 words. It will feel wrong. But it works. Re-read your last paragraph, edit, and then continue the story. And if you’re staring at the shortcut icon, DOUBLE-CLICK DAMNIT. Go through the motions. Don’t let yourself think about the long road you’re starting down.

Do this enough and it becomes habit. Aka, the ‘Writing Mood’.

4. Assuming that Self-Pubbing Will Automatically Lead to a Traditional Contract

We’ve all heard the success stories, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with aspiring to be the next Amanda Hocking. But please don’t think this is a given. Don’t go into self-pubbing with the mindset of ‘I’ll do this for a few months, and then when I sign-‘

No. There is no ‘when’… but there is a ‘might’. There is a ‘maybe’. Working hard and working smart are your best friends in this industry. Seeing self-publishing as a stepping stone to your ‘owed’ success  will only damage your career and mindset when it comes to writing.

TOUGH LOVE WARNING. You have written a book – awesome! Readers owe you nothing. They don’t owe you sales. They don’t owe you good reviews. They don’t owe you shit. Traditional publishers don’t owe you a contract. It’s a tough world, but keeping your shit together and your mind on the goal will help you carve a path through this crazy crazy land of self-publishing.

3. Spamming Others

Hokai, so, you’ve just hit publish on Amazon KDP. You’ve got a handful of print copies that look epic. You want people to read them.

That’s basically the backbone of every author. You want people to read your book. Great! Why else would you have published? But there are ways to go about this. Do not send unsolicited messages to people who have never approached you before – you will end up on a blacklist, blocked, or they will share their experience with others and you’ll get a bad reputation before you even had a chance to give a first impression. If you’ve done your job well – marketing, designing, formatting – the readers will come to you.

‘But Aprille!’ You cry. ‘You just said marketing. Surely sending emails out is a form of marketing?’

Sure it is. If people have signed up for them. Mailing lists are coming back in, and are a great way to build a reader platform. Look into how to set one up as part of your marketing plan and go nuts. What I’m saying is, don’t do this:

spam (black out)

I’ve blacked out the details of who sent it to me, because honestly, it wasn’t bad spam and it didn’t make me annoyed enough to reveal the sender. But I wouldn’t go about marketing this way. For one, isn’t this really time consuming? How many people got a similar email? How many people actually acted on it? There are better, and more accepted, ways to spread the word about your book.

Try contacting reviewers – they exist for every genre and will take books on a case by case basis. If they like your synopsis, they’ll ask for a copy. Find reviewers who suit your genre and be prepared to go through their submissions process. Sometimes they’re happy to read an electronic copy of your book if they accept it, but some will only read paperbacks. Make sure you understand what the reviewer wants before contacting them. It will save everyone’s time.

Plugging your own books falls under this category, I guess, and so I will touch briefly on some things that annoy me, personally, and I would’ve liked to have heard about before publishing. Goodreads is a great site for authors, and plugging is essential for what we do. But there is such thing as ‘too much’, and for me, I draw the line at rating and reviewing my own books. I don’t think I can be objective about something I’ve written and rewritten, then slaved countless hours over editing. How can I ever look at that with fresh eyes? Sure, I can be proud of it. But I wouldn’t go so far as to rate my own books 5-stars.

And there is a time for plugging, and there is a time for not. You can give it a rest every once in a while. Too much, and people won’t want to interact with you for fear of having your book shoved into their face. Take the time to read some other works, invest in some other authors who are fighting the same battle you are, and enjoy the camraderie between colleagues. You might learn something new.

2. Responding To Negative Reviews

Oi, okay. Anyone who’s been in the writing community (mostly Goodreads) will instinctively know where this point is headed. But I feel like people who are reading this article may want to be forewarned.

Over the last few years, there has been a rising trend in authors commenting on the (usually) negative reviews of their books to try and defend/explain either (a) themselves, or (b) their work. Neither works. Reviewers will always band together and defend their reviews. This is fair. This is okay. Book reviews are someone’s personal opinion, and therefore cannot be wrong. Aches, right? But it’s true. You, as a writer, have put your work into the public eye, as a professional, and you must be prepared to take critiscm. It hurts. You’ll cry. You’ll want to lash out and make the reviewer feel as upset as you.

There is no faster way to destroy your career.

I’ve mentioned this before in my previous post after a particularly nasty incident. In it, I advised to walk away and make a cup of tea, or something similar. You will be grateful that you did.

I have spotted a few authors using their Facebook page to share the negative reviews, sometimes with a derogatory comment, and I cringe. Those pages are public, and the reviewer could easily locate your post. I’ve never seen this happen, but I know I wouldn’t want to tempt fate.

Above all, my advice is to remember that you, as an author, have placed your work into the public eye. You’re gonna get some good stuff. You might even get some great stuff! But there is a flipside to everything, and in the case of writing, it is usually negative reviews. TOUGH LOVE WARNING – you agreed to this when you published, and have therefore basically agreed not to be a pissant when someone doesn’t like your work. Breathe, and move forward.

1. Taking Too Much Advice From Others

Yep, that’s right. I’m bagging this entire article on the last point. Because you know what? People suck. People are wrong. We don’t like to admit it, but it’s true. You know what works for you. The internet tries, and the people on it try even harder, but reading too much into it will take away the magic, the natural instincts that you’ve developed over the years. It will make you analyse and second-guess everything you do – you don’t want this. It is not conducive to a productive environment.

For example, I was recently reading a few articles of self-published authors seeking traditional representation; read into this what you will. But I gave up and shut the whole browser down after reading one post which declared that you shouldn’t even query unless your self-published book has sold between 10,000 -20,000 copies and/or you’d been featured on a morning television program.

Oh wow, even writing that out makes me want to tell this guy to jam that somewhere real uncomfortable. However, that seems to be where this idea originated from, because it is SHIT. First off, if I’ve been on Sunrise or similar, that’s some fan-fooking-tastic advertising, and I (being my own publisher) will want to be raking in every cent, because you would’ve had to work your butt off to get on national TV. I wouldn’t necessarily want a publisher swooping in there just in time for me to hit the best-sellers lists.

Another ‘writing advice’ article had similar scary terminoloy. Along the lines of ‘if you can’t dedicate your life to writing, don’t even bother’. (imagine me giving the finger to all of these people by the way). I’d love to know which lucky bastard inherited enough money to sit on his arse and tap away all day. Sorry, bro, but us mere mortals have to work.

DO NOT LET THESE PEOPLE SCARE YOU. If you write ten words a day or one thousand, you’ve got what it takes. If you’ve got a story that plays in your head every opportunity it gets, you’ve got what it takes. If you think up a single line that sounds awesome, you’ve got what it takes. If you muse to yourself one day, ‘I’d like to be a writer’, YOU’VE GOT WHAT IT TAKES.

Sit down. Open Word. Start writing.

That’s all there is to it, my dumplings. Don’t let anyone scare you off of this. We are all different, and our voices won’t all be the same. That’s what makes this so DAMN EXCITING.

 

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