Independent Publishing

Figuring It Out

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Completely ignored by constabulary at roadblocks from here to Harare and back again, I was unable to test my willpower in the spitting department, although the long trip did give rise to several new thoughts of other things I could try that are a little out of the ordinary, and possibly fineable. At this rate I’m sure to be arrested at some point. I got back late enough for the feathered horde to have taken themselves off to bed in a huff, and have been properly chastised this morning. I’m thinking that whoever made doves the spokescreatures for peace obviously never had any angelic looking birds as pets. Two inches of feathered rage can have a seriously painful effect on your earlobes. Having a big sleep doesn’t make them forget either. Little buggers.

One thing that I especially love about my monthly trips to Harare are all the new shops that always spring up around and about during my four week absences. Remembering the hunger and the sadness on the faces of the people so few years ago, now I get a real kick out of seeing those same faces laughing, munching down on fast food, and generally embracing and enjoying the new pleasures available. I hate seeing suffering. I always want to take hurt or broken people home with me and fix them. Yesterday, although I know that there really still is a lot of suffering in this country, I didn’t see a bit of it.

What I did find though, was a brand new book shop. Full of brand new books. I haven’t seen such a shop here in years, so I wandered around like an utter dork, mouth hanging open and drooling for far too long. This was also the first time that I’ve been into a bookshop since I started writing, so knowing what I now know, it was the most amazing feeling to pick up an actual paper copy of Hugh Howey’s Wool and flick through the pages. I check out his blog, watch his trip, and read his advice and opinions. He is one of those guys that makes a real effort to answer comments, no matter how busy he really must be. It was sorely tempting to buy piles of paper books because to me they were reasonably priced at $12, but I showed great restraint for once. I wondered if these authors even knew that their books were being avidly read by so many people in Zimbabwe, for many of whom a $12 outlay would be quite a big deal. Here these books will be treasures to be read, re-read, and passed around to many others who can’t afford the outlay at all. The unfairness of it all kind of hit me right between the eyes then. Us indies frantically trying to give our books away for free to people who don’t really want them, and then all of the thousands of less fortunate people around the world with three or four treasured books to last them a lifetime of reading, who would really love to have our books, but never will.

This writing trip has kicked up a notch for me in the excitement department after that. Now I realise just how very fortunate us indies really are, to be given the opportunity to be part of this great game. The joyful side of publishing has suddenly became real to me, regardless of the actual work involved in getting to your destination. African Me will be available in paperback at the same time that it goes live on Amazon, with a bit of luck, the fates being what they are, and all that. The very possibility of some reader guy sitting on a park bench in London, or Tennessee, or any other spot in the world, holding something in his hands that I made, reading words that I wrote, just blows me away.

I’m not sure what the shopkeeper thought, having some odd woman fondling Hugh Howey’s book, drooling a bit, and staring off into space, but people here are mostly gentle, kind souls, so she left me to my epiphany. I have nothing to complain about being an indie writer. I’m lucky to have the opportunity to even access Amazon, and plonk any bit of writing I want to on there. I’m lucky to have the opportunity to be able to market my book. Lucky to be able to even open Twitter – although that’s got more to do with the bastard internet signal. I’m lucky to have the time to write, without worrying about what I’ll eat for dinner. I’m lucky to have a computer to type my scribbles on. In the same vein, I’m lucky to be able to download hundreds of books, paid or free, and then leave them lounging unread, when so many would do so much to be able to read just one of them now and then, but will never have a chance to.

I won’t be complaining about any part of my trip. I now see it for the real gift that it is. Whether my book sells millions, or just one – to me, all the work getting it produced and marketed will be worth every minute spent. I will have published a book. And what a fantastic thing to have done that will be. Because somewhere, everywhere, there is another soul, more creative than me, sitting in some shabby, sad place, trying very hard to squish the silly dream he has of writing down the stories clamouring to get out of his head, because he knows that that’s a dream too high, and all that will ever be on his daily to do list will be survival. Gratitude, not whingeing, will be the order of my trip to the end. So indie guys, so.

Till next time friends. xxx

How Hard Is Too Hard

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There are million-selling legendary authors, like those genius scribes of such modern literary classics as Duncton Wood, or Clan of the Cave Bear. Not to mention the not so literary but still million-sellers, because not all readers enjoy literary books. There are bloggers that have so much cool stuff to talk about that they have tens of thousands of followers. There are Google and SEO geniuses, like Guy Kawasaki. There are marketing wizards that could sell ice to an Eskimo. There are huge publishing houses, crumbling a little now, but still – who would refuse a contract with one of the big five? Wizard computer technicians. IT specialists that have actually studied the subject. People are Twitter heroes with thousands of adoring fans, hanging on to their every tweet. People with Facebook pages that are so “Liked” that I wonder how their owners ever find the time to read all the comments on them.

And then there are the Indie Authors. They have to be all of these things. I think that any sort of gentle, creative soul would have difficulty facing any one of these things, but if they want to succeed, and be one hundred percent independent, they have to not only face, but conquer every single one of them. Even though Amazon really is still young, in the last couple of years millions of books have been loaded on to their site. I think that the marketing strategies of even one year ago might not all be effective any more, purely because of the sheer volume of people all doing the same things. The next great marketing idea hasn’t been found yet. In the beginning posting your book links on Facebook, in groups or events, would probably have got you lots of sales. Now I doubt that you would get many at all that way. Constant hard sell drop and run indie authors confuse me a little. I very seldom click their links, purely because I don’t like having things constantly lobbed at me. Hard sell marketing is a dodgy way to go with any product. Sales people who do that for a living are generally taught how to go about that sort of strategy, and it involves a bit more than just constant bombarding of the same people with the same book link.

Now there’s just mainly a white noise of millions of book links flying around, and only a handful of true success stories. New authors jumping on the bandwagon now are going to have to find new ways to market themselves and their books. The old channels are all clogged up, and I’m beginning to wonder if we’re not heading back to the way things were before the advent of self publishing, with a lot of the books on Amazon seen as “submission to agent”, to languish there until, or if, it’s ever spotted by someone who loves it enough to start a fever of sales. Word of mouth praise is your best marketing tool after all. No matter how well your book is written, there is still an element of luck involved in it gaining real readership. Thousands of books downloaded on free days are never actually read by those who download them. Thousands of books have brilliant reviews. But. Not all of those books deserve all their praise. If these reviews have been written by friends and family, who at the end of the day are never going to give you a crap review, and then people buy your book on the strength of them, and then don’t like what they read, they are not going to buy any more of your books anyway. So it seems to me that no matter what people say about how important having loads of fantastic reviews up the minute you publish is, the best way to get them is to wait for them to come in from people who have read your book, liked or hated it, and get the urge to leave their opinion of it honestly. I could very easily ask all my buddies for honest reviews and get lots of them posted in days, but I won’t, because I know how difficult it would be to tell a buddy that I really didn’t like what they wrote. At some point the real honest reviews will come, good or bad. Maybe a little worse than they would be if someone has been misled into buying a book by glowing buddy reviews that maybe aren’t entirely true.

That’s just my opinion, and I’m more than likely going to get shot down for it. I could be wrong anyway. Indie publishing is a journey of learning, and I’m still taking my first steps. Either way. I’d rather be patient, get my books into the hands of potential readers as gently as I can, and hope that some of them will like what they read enough to want to read more. That doesn’t mean I’m going to recline on the couch eating grapes. As an indie writer, it’s my job to sell my scribbles. Of course I’ll carry on learning all I can about getting those scribbles under new eyeballs, I just won’t camp out on doorsteps, and leap out of bushes waving any of my tomes under unsuspecting nostrils, and yelling, “Oi, you!!! Buy my book!” The only platform for that sort of hard sell is possibly Twitter, but even then, it’s not going to work if all you do is post your links. I honestly believe that without a bit of support from Lady Luck, it’s not reasonable to expect overnight bestseller status anyway, no matter how hard you work. At the end of the day, if what you’ve written is liked by those who read it, you will eventually achieve some sort of success, big or small. And if it’s not, you won’t, no matter how often or how hard you wave it under nostrils. Just saying.