To get in the right mood for this blog, I want you to think of the famous music from the Jaws movie. Just get that sinister “duh- duh, duh-duh” thing into your head. Got it? Good. Because the sharks are coming – to an indie author near you.
I’ve always hated the idea of ‘vanity’ publishing. I don’t even like the phrase itself. It’s not because I’m averse to spending money (ask anyone who knows me!). But that whole ‘pay-me-to-publish-your-work’ racket seems to me so exploitative as to be borderline criminal.
The phrase ‘vanity publishing’, with its connotations of low-quality writers with more money than sense, was coined by Johnathon Clifford in 1959, after he spotted publishers charging for poems to be published in an anthology. Presumably the rise of literacy from the 1960s onwards increased the numbers of people with aspirations to be published, and those numbers never seem to decrease year-on-year. But most writers know that any outfit which asks you to pay to be published is to be treated with extreme caution.
It’s easy for those of us who’ve never fallen prey to such a scam to dismiss its victims as gullible at best and delusional at worst. Yet I can also understand why some frustrated authors felt that they would never break into the cabal that is the traditional publishing world, and so ended up trying to do it for themselves. So many hopeful writers ended up as prey to an industry that fed on people’s dreams.
One of the attractions of e-publishing is that a writer can do it for no cost at all – apart from time and effort, of course. And because of the various high-profile platforms on which you can be e-published, there’s a reasonable chance that your work could reach a fair number of readers and be judged on its merits, which I think is what writers most desire. It seems so simple, so democratic and revolutionary.
But obviously I’m very naive, because when I joined the indie author ranks a few weeks ago, it came as quite a shock to see how many sharks are already circling the e-publishing waters. My novel Kill and Tell was written and had already been ‘tested’, in the sense that it was shortlisted for two high profile national writing competitions. But that was the easy part. The whole idea of self-promotion and marketing is new to me and I’m not entirely sure how to go about it.
Social networking – particularly twitter* – means that some friendly support is out there. But sharks are out there too. In the great democratic world of e-publishing, no one seems to want to share their knowledge on how to get your work noticed without charging a whopping great fee.
A short twitter trawl, for example, found a hugely repetitive series of tweets encouraging authors to sign up for a “free” tele-class in online marketing. A click on the link, through, revealed that the class is actually priced at almost $300 – the “free” part is something called a “preview call.” Writing magazines advertise “courses” telling you how to publish on Amazon – although of course the instructions are laughably simple and can be found free of charge on the site. Even some of the most recommended sites for promoting e-books are charging steep daily advertising rates. We’re told by those who’ve had e-book success that reviewers are out there, who will read the work for free, judge it on its merits and post reviews. But I’m struggling to find them. Anyone any ideas about what I’m doing wrong?
I have asked some successful e-publishers for some hints, but whatever they did right seems to be something they want to keep to themselves. Which is odd, I think – after all, it’s not like I’m asking for their ideas for their next novel. I asked one writer with a phenomenal number of twitter followers – which is essential - for a hint on how to build up numbers. He told me he has followers “because [he] is awesome”. Thanks for that. Another just advised me to “network.” No clues as to where to start or what exactly that may involve, in the e-publishing sense. I asked another how she attracted 25,000 subscribers to her blog. “Write interesting stuff,” was the reply. Really? And then readers will find it by osmosis or something?
So while the people who’ve made it work are keeping their methods close to their chests, rather than sharing them, the waters are left open for the sharks who promise to help you with all that promotion stuff – as long as you have a big budget. There are also all sorts of people who want to charge you for things that you can (and maybe should) learn to do yourself, such as formatting and designing basic covers. At least here, if you want to have someone else do the work, you are buying some expertise – but remember there are some very poor practitioners out there too, so be sure you know what you’re paying for. A possible exception to this is paying a professional to do your proof-reading. There certainly is an argument for this, because the pickiest of us read what we think we’ve written, rather than what’s actually on the page, which may still contain some embarrassing errors (Scroll down to my earlier post on this, The Perils of Proofreading, for a most salutary tale).
I’ve just started on this whole e-publishing journey. So far I have spent £0.00 on the process, but that’s because I haven’t charged myself for my own time and labour. Everything I do that works, I promise I’ll share it here on this blog. And everything that turns out to be a waste of time, I’ll warn against. And I won’t even ask you to sign up for a tele-class. But maybe you’ll also add your helpful hints and tips too? Let’s send the sharks off to circle some other waters.
(*Oh, twitter - why don't you use a capital T? You make me go against all my instincts!).