My Experience as an Indie Writer: Part One

If you are an aspiring writer and are looking to publish your work on Kindle, Nook, Smashwords, or any e-book platform, keep these things in mind: nobody will care about you, expect anything to happen, and be prepared to walk-the-walk alone. I say this because I, too, became infatuated with the internet’s cost-effective resources authors have to write and distribute their fiction these days. Not only is it tempting, but remarkably user-friendly. Like other writers, I have also received rejection letters, had doors shut, and opportunities slimming for me to get my work published or produced by established firms; yet I still famished to get my opuses out in the open and, hopefully, make some money off of it. So, I said to myself: “why shouldn’t I give this venture a try?” In my case, it has been an uphill battle to get readers’ attention and build a reputation on the internet. As I began my marketing crossing to promote my book, I realized there were things I should have done long ago that might have helped make more sales from the get-go. Shortly after I uploaded the last draft of my novel, Oh My Holy Phone, I did the right thing to treat myself with two glasses of whiskey at a friend’s house because I literally had no idea what was about to come.

First of all, I did my research to figure out how I could promote my book without spending too much or, preferably, nothing at all. As I dried my eyes out surfing for credible information, I found a pattern of ideas within hundreds of blogs, newspapers articles, and Youtube videos that sought to help aspiring writers. Most of them emphasized the importance of opening up a Facebook and Twitter page, a blog or website, and a Goodreads account to function as a base for the author. That, to a great extent, is absolutely necessary. There is no better tool than social media to engage potential fans by providing updated information and have folks share your posts or tweets. Nonetheless, you still need to find your own customers, hope the story description fascinates them enough to buy your novel, read it entirely, and then consider you worthy to follow you online. But that is all too obvious to even keep discussing. As I continued exploring other marketing ideas, it was then that things began to get a little weird.

In cyberspace, there are a variety of websites where amateur writers can upload their work and receive feedback from readers all over the world. Those include wattpad.com, fanfiction.com, fictionpress.com, among others. Bestselling novels like Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight saw their beginnings there, and the immense traffic of avid readers commenting on hundreds of stories was evident. The “e-book marketing experts” suggested that one should open an account, publish two or three chapters, and then leave a link in case anybody was interested in purchasing the full novel. Everything sounds logical and promising, doesn’t it? Well, there was a catch. I noticed many writers were attacked for using those spots as a promotional instrument because people who visit those sites like to read stories for free—plain and simple. In fact, authors who received the most amount of feedback uploaded their stories more than two years ago, giving them plenty of time to gain attention. I had the first two chapters of Oh My Holy Phone available in some of those sites for two months, and, as I expected, got very few views. I’m not even sure if it actually helped make any sale. My advise is don’t waste your time using those services if you plan to make money off of your story.

Another detail mentioned several times during my research was the use of forums. Goodreads, Amazon’s KDP community, LinkedIn, and even the cyber bulletin board Reddit, were the ones most cited. The purpose is to network with other indie writers, exchange ideas that might help each other, request feedback, among other things relevant. In my experience, it has done little to help market my work. Why? Because most forums limit threads to do such thing, and those where you are allowed to promote your book gets crammed with other posts making everything get lost in so much material flowing around. Also, let me ask you this: do the vast majority of web surfers, which include the readers market, constantly search for what is new from indie writers? Of course not! If anything, they are busy scouting the New York Times’ arts and literature section, the Barnes and Noble newsletter, or the Bestsellers list. If you can get your books in those pages, then good for you! Otherwise, how are you going to beat that sort of competition? I’m not implying that forums don’t work at all. As I mentioned earlier, networking is key, and forums help get you noticed to some extent. It may be the best resource to promote your work for free, so I wouldn’t discard it just yet.

An interesting dot to note is that, as I toured forums, writers posted lists of websites that offer authors the chance to promote their piece. The way they work differs from one another. Some write a review for your book, titles are posted in their newsletters and social media pages, and, if you are lucky, someone’s work is selected as “the book of the month” or things of the sort. I won’t get into an extended discussion on this subject but I will say this: those services do cost, I didn’t feel comfortable sharing my book with sites that have a limited number of subscribers, and, lastly, there are so, so, so many to choose that, if you decide to invest money to give it a try, by the end you will have spent hundreds of dollars that surpasses any profit you could have made executing a different strategy. Should you invest some money to get your work promoted? Yes, but don’t you think there are plenty of techniques on the internet that allows you to do it for free?

With the most “talked about” ideas I researched and tried, little did they help with sales because in no way does it reach the broad spectrum of readers who are willing to buy your book. I believe it is almost insulting that many journalists and columnists (from highly reputable newspapers) have every reason to suggest that the independent publishing industry stands on a strong and reliable structure when, the fact is, it isn’t; and yet, the same information is being recycled throughout the press presented in a way that makes it look as if their methods work. Herein, I recount one of the three things I told you to keep in mind from the beginning: “be prepared to walk-the-walk on your own,” because, in the fabulously unpredictable enterprise of indie publishing, it is much more like the tale of a lonely businessman who opened up his shop yet no passerby, at least in the beginning, bothers to let his curiosity take him on a short visit through the store.

After spending two months following the pattern of e-book marketing ideas, I decided to change course and look for schemes that have actually worked. I didn’t need to look up additional information, but, rather, glance at experience. For three years, I worked as an on-air promo producer and copywriter for television. Daily, I would screen movies, series, pre-recorded shows, and seek information from live showbiz producers to inform the public on what the channel would broadcast at such day and time. Even though my job was to sell content to the public, what actually sustained or augmented the network’s audience were not my less-than-a-minute promos. A single show isn’t going to help a TV station increase its ratings. It is an endless attempt to expand their variety of entertainment which, if successful, will make audiences want more and stay loyal to their favorite entertainment producer. One product, movie, TV show, or book, might not be the lucky winner at the beginning, but perhaps the second, third, or fourth attempt, could do the trick. Currently, all I have available to the public is one book and my blog page which, at the moment, is as dry as the Sahara. Does this mean that, instead of focusing on promoting one work, I should continue creating new material, use my blog, social media pages, and Goodreads account as my main vessel, and move along with it?

Constant content-making has actually helped some well-established writers. Hugh Howie, the indie champion and bestselling author of Wool, is the best living example. In an interview he gave on Youtube, he emphasized his need to continue writing. Months later, his sales skyrocketed. How did the magic work for him? Well, there is a flipside to Mr. Howie’s stroke of luck. He released his story in the summer of 2011 before the indie publishing world boomed. Also, Wool wasn’t the first narrative he put out, meaning that time helped him grow his audience. Today, a vast amount of new authors are uploading books, short stories, poems, and even graphic novels raising the competition to unfathomable levels. Instead of one work shelved along with the many others on the internet, why not create more work so we could build our own shelves? Is that a better way to look at it?

You must be thinking that the reasons why my novel has made few sales is because it may not be that good, I only published it a short while ago and need to let time expand my reach, or simply nobody cares. Just to be clear, I honestly do not know if my book is any good. So far, I have only received three reviews (which have all been positive, thankfully), yet I crave for more feedback. Word-of-mouth is probably the best resource any entrepreneur, writer, or someone with a vision has to let his community know about his endeavor. Whether Oh My Holy Phone was wroth writing it, or whether or not it will expand into other territories, at the moment I have to believe it held some importance for me. Hopefully in the long run, I will know what its ultimate purpose was, and I’m certain every indie writer will soon realize why they once felt the urge to write and publish as well.

What are the things I wish I had done before publishing my first novel? Perhaps I should have opened up my blog years ago and build content related to subjects I enjoy discussing. That way I, maybe, could have gained some followers and expand my platform. The reason why I didn’t do it earlier was because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write about, but now I do. Not only will I continue to upload more stories, but also do my best to grow my blog that pertains to “writes’ concerns” (like a jillion others out there). Will it work for me? I don’t know, but I can’t wait to figure out. Regardless of the results, I look forward to share my experience with all of you in Part Two. And, before concluding, I leave to you the one suggestion my writing instructors reminded me to do every day: keep writing. Good day!

 

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2 thoughts on “My Experience as an Indie Writer: Part One

  1. Don, thank you for sharing your experiences. As an indie author preparing to put my work out there for the first time I found this very helpful. I look forward to following your blog and reading your book soon. I will give it a spot in one of my upcoming posts on Indie Writer News. Give me a shout on Twitter if you want to connect: @zbwrites or @indiewriternews. Thanks!

  2. Hello, Zach B! I am glad my article helped (and hopefully will help) you in some way. I looked you up on Twitter and now I’m following you. My Twitter is @DonLuisZavala. You can drop me a message there or in my blog if you have any further questions, thoughts, or have a joke to share. Doesn’t matter. Also, your Indie Writer News platform looks very promising! Sorry I have not heard of it before but I certainly will navigate through it. I look forward for your feedback with regards my novel and I have no doubt that getting a spot on your news site will be more than helpful. Please, keep me updated on your book. Anything I can do to help, don’t hesitate to give me a shout.

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