Monday, December 22, 2014

Looking Back on 2014 and 4 Years of Self-Publishing

I started this self-publishing journey approximately four years ago.  Before I put my first book on Amazon at the tail-end of 2010, I had spent years writing novels and trying to get traditionally published via the usual channels.

It's amazing to me now, looking back at the beginning of this blog and what my hopes and dreams were, what I hoped to accomplish and how I tried to get there.  A lot of it is surprising to me because, although I started out with some mediocre books and bad covers, I was very driven and I saw that this indie publishing transition would be my ticket out of cubicle hell.

And it was.  It really was.

Eventually, I started getting better covers, writing better books, and even transitioning my genre of choice from thrillers/horror over to contemporary romance.

I write under various pen names, which I try not to make public if at all possible.  But I will say that self-publishing has been very, very kind to me.

If you read this blog from the beginning, I believe you'll have a fine template to draw from as to how to do this yourself, how to make a career as a writer.  Mostly it takes the willingness to work hard, and write quite a few words.  No doubt, just in the last few years I've written well over a million words, likely close to two million.

I have hundreds of titles out in various combinations; stand-alones, series, boxed sets, you name it.  The name of the game is volume, and I don't anticipate that ever changing.  As long as you let me put out as much content as I like, I'm going to flood the market.

So what's changed since I started this journey into the self-pub landscape?

Things have tightened up.  The big boys (as in the big 5 publishers) actually adjusted a little bit better than I gave them credit for.  They're hanging in nicely and providing a fair bit of competition, as are other authors who've entered the fray.  A lot more competition is happening in the marketplace today, then was the case three or four years ago.

In the early days, even with a crappy cover, terrible blurb and a mediocre book, you could price at 99 cents and sell a fair number of copies.  It's not quite as easy today.  Covers and blurbs and books are more sophisticated, everyone's cheap, and you need to be much more tuned into the market.

Knowing how to really target key words, doing a tiny bit of Facebooking and Twitter and some ads can really help to boost visibility.  Ultimately, you also need to write in a genre that has a large audience in order to better your chances at breaking out.

Craft comes into it as well.  I write a lot in series format, and I use cliffhangers.  I treat each book like a television episode and try to keep people tuning in from week to week, so I watch a lot of great TV (like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Sex in the City, etc).  I study the masters and try and learn from them to see what they do well and how I can improve my storytelling.

There have been some large swings in revenue, tremendous highs and some stomach-churning lows, but mostly its been beyond imagining.  I don't like or intend to give exact numbers these days for a lot of reasons.  Eventually, talking too much about numbers becomes bragging and elicits the wrong kind of emotions from others who are not experiencing this kind of success.

Let me just say that we're doing fine.  No plans to return to cubicle hell anytime this decade or the next, or the next…

If anyone is reading this now and finds themselves where I was just a few short years ago, remember that it is possible.  If you want it bad enough that you wake up in the middle of the night thinking about writing stories, dreaming of getting out of your shitty corporate gig (or your shitty non-corporate gig).

If you are willing to do whatever it takes, write any kind of book or story or play or screenplay or article to make it happen, write as many words, and do it over and over again until your eyes feel like they're going to bleed and your fingers falls off…well, actually, it's not nearly that bad.

But you do need serious dedication and you have to be willing to take the hits, whether it's a bad review, a family member telling you you'll fail, a book getting no sales…you have to be willing to push forward when the going gets tough.

You have to be willing and excited to learn all areas of the industry.

You have to be willing to treat this as a business and a craft and an art all at once.

Now, that might sound like a lot, but in reality it's not so hard.  It's even fun if you let it be.

I hope anyone who comes across this remembers that any dream that's worth having is worth doing.

Good luck in 2015!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Rising Tide of Self-Publishing

They say a rising tide lifts all boats.

That may be true--but a tide that rises too big and too fast can also drown you if you're not prepared.

Way back at near the beginning of this blog, I wrote a post about what would happen as more and more self-published authors got into the game and began to saturate the market.

What I said back then was that it was a land grab, for those of us ahead of the trend, we needed to grab as much virtual space as humanly possible before the hordes of ebook writers overwhelmed us with their books.  My theory was that once the saturation began, gaining visibility in the ever more crowded marketplace would become difficult…

I believe that prediction has come true, and the days of easy visibility are all but over.  One day soon it may be not just difficult, but nearly impossible.

I don't say this to be all doom and gloom about the ebook business.  As of right now, I am still succeeding far beyond my wildest dreams.

But it's getting tougher every day.

My books don't launch as high anymore, and they come down much quicker.  There's a lot of competition and people are getting better and smarter.  Ebook covers are slicker, blurbs are tighter, the niches that used to be extremely profitable are becoming less so.

What I was right about two or three years ago was that if you could build a big enough boat, you'd be able to partially withstand some of the massive waves and survive this fast rising tide that threatens to overwhelm a smaller ship.

If you're on land, you have to somehow get to higher ground or risk the worst.

I think that it's proven to be the case so far.  I've got hundreds of titles out now on multiple platforms.  Some of these titles are shorter works, some longer, most of the ones that do well are part of a series of some sort.

But even though I've built my bigger boat, I'm not immune to the massive sea changes within this shifting industry.  There are wars being fought that toss my relatively small craft all over the place, nearly upending it at times.  Huge rogue waves come out of nowhere and drench us, scare us, make me wonder how much longer we can last…

I'm exaggerating a bit for effect here of course (gotta tell a good story even now).  And yet even though I may be exaggerating slightly, the truth is that this business is very tricky.  I reckon we may have another couple of good years left of relatively smooth sailing in these self-publishing oceans.

And then, I think things will REALLY tighten up out there. The future will make todays waters look like a kiddie pool by comparison.

If you're only getting started now, I would tell you to be VERY AGGRESSIVE in your publishing schedule.  Two or three years from now, it may be nearly impossible to be discovered as a new writer.  The amount of material out there and the churning of new stuff up to the top of lists constantly will make it so that a book can come out and sell a few hundred or maybe a couple of thousand copies before abruptly dropping like a stone to the bottom of the Atlantic.

The authors and publishers who will survive such a state of affairs are the ones with backlists huge enough to make money off of a handful of sales per book per day.  In other words, if you have a backlist of hundreds or hopefully thousands of books (or novellas), you can still make your money off of the small sales numbers that each individual book will generate.

It will be purely a game of volume, of having enough product on the market to offset the tremendous volatility, wherein your new books will sell big numbers for only a very short while (perhaps a day or two) before falling into backlist territory.  That might sound insane, but it's where I believe we are headed right now.

For writers who are slow in coming out with new material, the future looks bleak, I have to admit.  A new novel simply won't make a lot of money on its own, and it won't be visible for long, due to the sheer number of other competing products also being launched at the same time.

This is already happening now, albeit in a smaller way.  The amount of books crowding into the marketplace every day is absolutely mind boggling.  And many of them are professional quality, and so it makes it harder to stand out.

Two years from now?  Yikes, it's going to be brutal.

But two years is still a long time, plenty of time to those with the proper mindset and motivation.  I'm still motivated, still chomping at the bit 3 years after going full-time at this gig.

I've been a successful full-time writer for 3 years and before that I struggled for years as a part-time writer who made no money, simply trying to break into the business before e-publishing took off.  That's a lot of years doing this thing, and it's taught me that at the end of the day, this is a BUSINESS.

Not an art.

It's a business.  Writing is business, and it's creative and fun--but it's still dollars and cents.

That means you need to produce and you need to understand that the hard work will be difficult and hard and brutal, but if you go all out you can really make something happen.

So I tell all who may read this post and still want that dream of writing as a job, that dream of striking out on your own as an entrepreneur and having your own business (that is at once also a creative endeavor)--I tell you to work harder than you've ever worked.  Write fast.  Write more.

Put the work out and out and out.  Build your boat as big as you can!

The tide is rising.  The tide is rising very fast indeed.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Prediction for 2014: The Best Writers Will Self-Publish

My oh my, how things have changed since I started this blog.

In the beginning, there was just my naive sense that something absolutely amazing had begun.

I put out my backlist of fiction that had never sold through traditional publishing houses, and at first the sales were just a small trickle.

But I was happy.

I was happy because I felt myself starting to ride a wave, and sensing that the wave beneath my surfboard was small, but with the potential to grow absolutely enormous.

I couldn't get a full night's sleep for the first month or so that I started self-publishing.  Writing this blog, messing around with covers, reading JA Konrath and Kindleboards, watching as my small trickle of sales began to increase month by month by month...

The exponential increase happened relatively quickly, to the point where in the summer of 2011, I was able to take a somewhat risky leap and quit my corporate job to write full-time.

In those early days of self-publishing, it still wasn't completely clear just which way the wind was blowing.  Many people said that it was nearly impossible to sell a lot of books unless you'd already gained some notoriety through traditional routes, or maybe if you were a marketing genius.

I wasn't sure if that was true.  What I did find, early on, was that when I started to publish the kinds of genre bending tales (under a pen name) that really tickled my fancy--I sold more books.

The novels I'd originally written to charm the Big Six gatekeepers had failed to get me a publishing deal and then they'd failed to sell as well as I'd hoped once they were self-published too.

Sure, my old trunk novels made me some money at first, and gave me a bit of confidence too, but it was when I began writing in a new way for this modern technology that things really took off for me.  I wrote twisted dark comedic tales with sex and violence and humor, things that I could NEVER have sold to traditional publishers in a million years.

I wrote with total freedom and utter abandon, and shockingly, I started making more money.  It turned out that the stuff I'd been "taught" to write by books and classes and agent blogs was not necessarily the stuff that my new audience wanted.  They wanted stuff that felt fresh and raw and immediate.

With this new perspective in mind, I decided to write in different genres, including romance and erotica--things I'd never had the confidence to tackle until I'd decided that I wanted to really see how I could do firing on all cylinders.

I did plenty.  I'm still doing plenty.

But that is rather beside the point in some ways.  Because mine is not really that unique a story anymore.  So many formerly unpublished or under published authors have begun making a great living by taking their destiny in their own hands.  The stories keep piling up, and the evidence mounts that self-publishing is absolutely the wave of not just the future--but the wave of right now.

That small wave I began riding back in the tail end of 2010 has now become a veritable tidal wave.  It is enormous and it is still growing.  Strangely, there are those who are far enough away from the wave that they've mistaken it for a tiny ripple on the ocean's surface.

Whether it be publishers, agents or even big name authors, many of these people are far removed from the wave, and their perspective is so limited as to be completely worthless.

They're trying to say this hundred fifty foot wave is nothing but a splash against their big ships.  But the thing is, by the time our wave reaches their ships, it won't even be a hundred and fifty feet anymore.  It will be towering high above, and it will crush them effortlessly and without anger or retribution.

I don't control the wave of this technology anymore than the next person, but my job is to try and get on it and let it take me where it's going.

The smart writers are starting to do that in greater and greater numbers, and although agents and publishers are seeing this shift, they think they can beat it back.  They believe that with the right talking points and propaganda, they can essentially shift the tides.

But mother nature is much, much bigger and more powerful than they are.

Writers will continue to self-publish, and the very best ones will begin to see how clear the decision is.  Why take a small percentage of an ever-shrinking pie when they can have almost the whole pie to themselves, control it themselves, and be in charge of their own destinies?

For smart, business savvy authors, this will be a no-brainer.  More and more, the ones trying to bang down the doors of the big publishing houses will be the authors who are less educated, less current, and less desirable.

But there is absolutely NOTHING that the industry can do to change this trend.  Only you, the individual writer, can change--you can change YOUR course.  Get on board, jump on the wave.  The water's fine, I promise.  Yeah, you might get banged around some, you might get bruised, but it's quite thrilling, I assure you.

And the view is something else...

Best of luck to you in 2014!