Recently I read an article from Books Go Social, a company dedicated to helping self-published authors better market their books, titled “6 Ways You are Destroying Your Chances of Finding Readers.” Feel free to click on the link, but in a nutshell, the six ways are listed as follows:
- Not having a professional cover
- Not having your manuscript professionally edited
- Pricing your ebook too high
- Having a poor synopsis/description of your book
- Not having enough reviews on Amazon
- Not learning, or interested in learning, how to market your book
At a first-read, this article gives sage advice. I’m not going to argue with it; they’re not wrong. But after reading it again something just didn’t sit right with me. Because in each description in this list, Books Go Social offers the reader services to “help” aspiring writers accomplish these six necessities. Book cover designs starting at $49 (but in truth, especially since they just warned you about not having a professional one, you’re looking at $200 if you want to have a GOOD cover for both your print version and ebook version). Editing services starting at $250 for a complete novel. A FREE service that edits your blurb/synopsis (but only if you’re a paid member of BGS).
Before I continue, it should be noted, in my experience, that any time someone tells you what you need to do in order to accomplish your dream, and it just so happens that the things they tell you are the exact things they offer for a price, you have to take what they’re saying with a grain of salt. But again, the experts at Books Go Social aren’t wrong. These aspects are important, but this article can unfortunately leave any aspiring writer who reads it with negative feelings. Because, lets be honest. There’s no guarantee that, even if you follow all the steps advised in this article, that you’re going to have great success with your book, especially these days in which there are hundreds of thousands of self-published books online. Will your chances increase? Yes. But basically what the article comes down to is that having just a CHANCE to have a successful selling self-published book is only available to those who can afford to pay for it. And that’s a pretty penny for just a small chance in such a saturated market. I don’t know about everyone else’s situation, but for a guy like me, raising three children (initially five as my two oldest have moved on), on a teacher’s salary, reading the article left a discouraging pit in my stomach.
In truth, I felt like an outcast in a world of the privileged, where everyone in this elite group has no problem racing right along the track as they follow these guidelines, while a starving artist such as myself is left in their dust. I know the BGS people mean well, but the message I got from this article: “If you’re unable to abide by these guidelines, you’re screwed.” Whether that was their intention or not, I still didn’t like how I felt about myself after reading it.
Some of you may feel the same way: “I’ve worked for months (maybe years) on my manuscript,” you may say. “It’s ready to go. But I can’t afford to pay for an editor and a cover artist yet. Guess I’ll have to wait…” It can be such a downer. Listen, I get it. If you’re a writer, you write because you love it. But then comes the point when you finish your manuscript and are now faced with the frustrating obstacles of actually publishing. And, as the article states, going the traditional route can be just as unnerving as publishers are taking fewer manuscripts and paying out little. Yes, they can take care of editing, providing a cover, and help with marketing. But first you have to get a publisher to accept your work, and even then it could take a couple years before your book is actually released.
Before you get too distraught, first you need to accept the cold, hard truth that self-publishing is similar to starting a new business. There are costs for success, or at least a chance at success. But if you can’t pay the costs, you’re not necessarily screwed. It’s not an insurmountable wall. It’s more like a mountain that you have to climb or go around. Where you can’t pay to have something done (like a cover or an editor), you have to roll up your sleeves, research like hell, and work your butt off to find other ways to make these things happen.
In my experience, the alternative is NETWORKING!
First, I’d find like-minded folks in your area. A lot of towns and communities have a writers’ group that meets up (usually once a month). We used to have one in my town, which I found out about through a friend. I also made sure that anyone I befriended or had gotten to know would soon find out I was writing a novel. Because you never know who else they know. And there’s a good chance your friends and acquaintances can get you hooked up with or introduced to other authors in your area: some who have already found success, and those who are still searching. Get to know these kindred spirits and keep in touch with them. Learn as much as you can from each other. And keep expanding your network of friends.
Through Cause & Effect, I happened to have the cover of my first novel done for free by a friend (I know the article by BGS advises against this, but he’s a professional. Don’t believe me? Check out the cover of my novel on the “Buy My Books” tab) in exchange for my own talents with his project. He happens to be into independent film and asked that I edit his script when it’s ready. Fortunately, editing and proofreading is something I do, and I do it well. I understand that many of you don’t have this skill. I will be writing a future blurb on the importance of editing, but how to get your book edited/proofread for next to nothing as well, but it still comes down to networking.
The biggest part of this: asking for help where you lack, and offering help where you’re skilled.
Is it easier to just pay for services? Of course! But not everyone has the luxury to shell out hundreds, maybe even thousands of hard-earned cash just to get their first book, which may never get noticed, in contention with the millions of others on Amazon. And even if you do, it can be quite vexing to spend that money, only to watch your self-published book fall deeper and deeper in the sales rankings. For my first novel, The Keepers of White, Book I: Agents of Shadow, I paid for an online ebook formatting program, an editor, and a few promotion websites to have my novel promoted to their subscriber lists whenever I ran a countdown deal on Amazon. For a guy in my predicament, I shelled out a good amount for my first book. Regardless, in the past six months, I’ve had just over 60 purchases, and the book currently ranks in the 500,000’s. I’ve gotten paid by Amazon/Createspace three times in the amount of $6 and some change, $9 and some change, and the last one was a whopping $32 and some change. Kinda hard to swallow.
But like I said, it’s like starting a business, and there are cold hard truths you either accept, or you hang it up. But if you’re passionate about writing, then don’t stop writing. And if you’re not able to shell money out to help you avoid these “six ways of destroying your chances,” don’t let that stop you from doing what you love. Network like hell. When money is not available, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with resorting to the barter system!