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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Being Indie

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I had a tough moment a few days ago. Ever have a nightmare where you arrive at work only to realize you're not wearing pants? Yeah. Kinda like that. But I was very, very awake.

I attended a book launch of a friend of mine. She's a local favorite, traditionally published by one of the big houses, and knows how to write terrific women's fiction. The bookstore where she has launched many of her six novels is a cornerstone of the community. Combine a local favorite with a trusted bookstore and you get a crowd of book loving folks and avid readers. I recognized more than a few faces of the writing community. Authors, publicists, columnists, and fans dotted the audience.

My friend is a hybrid author. Toward the end of the Q and A segment of her talk, a question prompted a discussion of traditionally versus independently published books. My name came up as an example of independently published. The audience member had read my first book, The Charity, and said she enjoyed it and did not know I was independently published.

This is where I wish I had pinched myself awake.

The discussion touched on editorial quality. When asked if the audience member saw typographical errors in my book versus traditionally published books, she wagged her hand in the air in a pantomime of balance and said, "Well..." The drawn out word and hand gesture sliced into me like a hot knife through butter.

But wait. It gets worse.

The bookstore owner used the opportunity to talk about some of the self-published train wrecks she had declined to put on her shelves. For what seemed like forever, the owner vented on the demise of publishing quality due, in no small way, to the deluge of self-published crap that has flooded the market.

I was guilty by association. In that conversation, in that horrible moment where reality and nightmare merged, in a room filled with my peers, I was lumped together with the crap she wouldn't put on her shelves.

I withered. My pants were no where to be found.

The event ended and the reception and book signing began. Still trying to process exactly what had happened, I immediately went to the owner. I asked if she would prefer my books be removed from her shelves.

The conversations I've had since that moment have nurtured me. The owner said my books wouldn't be on her shelves if they were not good books. I've launched both The Charity and The Troubles at her shop and sold, by her observation, more books than many best-selling and widely known authors did when they have had events with her. To her, my books are not crap. I deserve the right to be on her shelves because I do the work. I make sure I produce a quality product.

At a writers' dinner, my friend approached me and apologized for not defending me right then and there. She confessed that her traditionally published books have typos despite the fact that she has a team of editors, designers, and proof readers at her disposal. Other folks have expressed their support of me. To each one, I am grateful.

I'm not going to thump on a tabletop and proclaim my perfection, nor am I going to pick apart a traditionally published work as not being as good as many independently published works. I understand that in a rapidly changing world, it's easier to find reasons to dismiss than to support.

My books are my business. I put out a damn good product.

Here's the irony. The audience member made a point to speak with me afterwards, expressing surprise. She sensed she had touched off something, but was simply happy to meet me. We chatted for a bit. Her name was familiar.

Turns out she  had reached out to me via my website a year earlier. She had purchased my book at another location. Maybe the version she had did have a typo. I don't know. All I know is that one luxury of being indie is I can upload corrected versions of my books, and do--something traditionally published can't do easily.

She contacted me out of the blue all those months ago because (drum roll please) she loved my book. Her five star review on Amazon is short and sweet.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Indie or Tradional? What Matters is Being Relentless

Have you been reading the press lately? Traditionally published authors are earning less than ever. What has increased? The time spent on marketing.

Don't fool yourself. Whether you have a team through your publisher or you are your team as an indie, positioning your work and your brand to find readers is not easy. Even as a trad, at some point the effort to push will fall at your feet, and your feet only. You may have pushed through the top trending Five Steps to Success and wonder why you're not swimming in readers. You've done what the experts have told you to do, but wonder why success hasn't been bestowed upon you yet. What are you doing wrong?

Most likely, you're doing everything right. The only tweak needed is to become relentless.

Applying business development and marketing skills is not easy for many writers and authors. You've swallowed the castor oil of identifying your core identity (brand), crafted a message, targeted an audience, and reached out via your different platforms. Then you wipe the sweat from your brow and sit back, waiting for the readers to come. When they don't flock in the numbers you want, you fear your process was flawed and you thrash about finding and experimenting with another recipe for the magic sauce.

Stop thrashing for the next Big Idea and adopt an athlete's focus. Success comes from repeating the same sprint, or lifting the same weight, over and over again. The mindset needed is not much different from what we writers do when crafting a paragraph. We go over it again and again. We are relentless in our craft. We just have to apply that mindset to our marketing efforts.

Failure or the word "No" are things that most writers shrink from, but business development professionals take in stride. We writers can be a fragile bunch and yearn to be read and liked, but BD folks know that you learn a lot from rejection and a failure. Failures don't stop them in their tracks. Instead, the reasons why something failed are examined and a new or modified approach is taken. BD folks don't let the Big Account get away just because one pitch on one particular day did not succeed. They circle back, reassess, and re-approach with a refined pitch.

Times have changed and a commitment to writing includes acknowledging it takes time to build a following. 

Don't stop. Keep going. Go back to the beginning again and again. Be relentless.