The Loneliness of the Self-Published Writer

Have you ever opened Facebook and not been able to post even a simple “Washed my feet today” and then looked to see successful(!) indie writers, saying clever things like “Tell about your funniest co-worker” or “What are you reading lately?” and getting 187 comments? And what’s with all the Romance writers? My suggested Friends are usually women Romance writers, who would not read and enjoy anything I’ve written, not in a million years. Why does Facebook keep throwing them at me? I’d be better off with Hooters girls, porn stars, junkies.

I am getting to hate social networking, but not for the social part.I can no longer make the association between my writing and my Tweets. Promoting my writing has become so loathsome I can’t do it. Everywhere I see reports of other eBook authors, telling me they’ve sold 234 books on Kindle this month, 4 on Smashwords, and have no idea about Barnes&Noble. Or look at Tonya Plank’s post today at Huffington, about Amanda Hocking, who has sold 187,000 vampire eBooks this past year. Mike Jastrezbski told the Mystery Writers of America Florida chapter about spending 8-10 hours a day on Kindleboards, building up his readership. And it worked. So what’s wrong with me?

There is a despair that comes over me when I try to self-promote, that takes days to get over. Is there a syndrome here, waiting to be researched? Tell me where, and I’ll send my brain right over. Because others can do it, and suffer no consequence. There must be something wrong with me.

I’m not releasing my novel, The Barricades of Heaven, until I learn to deal with my depression. I’ve printed it at Createspace, and I’m seriously considering just a print run of 50, that I pay for myself. Then I can send a signed copy to someone I like, and they can have something unique. And I can feel good about spending all that time writing and re-writing. Because I didn’t do it to track my sales on Facebook or at my blog or to have something to Tweet about.

Maybe I need a really good Widget. Or to pay a company to do the selling for me. I just want to write. What do you think?

  • Well, it’s pretty easy to tell who is lying about their sales and who isn’t. When I read that someone is selling 1000s per month, yet they’re ranked in the 100,000s in Kindle on Amazon…

    • Hope Welsh

      Um, if you’re talking about Amanda Hocking–she’s ranked #1 on Kindle Romance–and has openly posted her sales on her blog.

  • I understand your complaint, but to me this is wrong:

    “Because others can do it, and suffer no consequence. There must be something wrong with me.”

    Independent authors are small-business owners. I have never met the owner of a small business who did not kill themselves in order to make their business even moderately successful. Twelve hour days are the norm, not eight. Eight hour (or nine hour) days are for people who have employers, and writers who have publishers.

    Comparing yourself to people who are marketing themselves as much or more than they are marketing their work is a mistake. Nobody’s telling you the truth about what’s happening to them. There’s a market for self-publishing success stories now, so people are marketing themselves to that market. You don’t know what their days are like, what their lives are like, or — most importantly — how many dollars they spent to make the dollars they’re reporting.

    Writing is hard, it’s lonely, and the only way to survive is if writing is its own reward. Making even a dollar from your work is an entirely different discussion. If you’re jealous of writers who have gotten lucky and hit the jackpot because of a moment in time, skip the writing and buy a few lottery tickets. It will save your soul.

    I don’t like self-promotion. I don’t do much myself — at least directly. I just go about my business and try to be a good writer and a good member of the community, and my hope is that that’s meaningful. Because if self-publishing is only another market full of chest-beating hacks and marketing weasels, that’s not a club I want to belong to. And I get to choose.

  • I certainly feel the despair that you’re talking about. I have a day-job, a mortgage, a wife, and two children. And the bottom line is that after I’m done being the person I need/want to be in those areas of my life, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to be the sucessful author that I’d like to be. With all of the effort it apparently takes to become successful as an indie author, it can seem overwhelming.

    But then I remind myself that I started writing because I had a story burning in my mind, one that I had to get down on paper before it drove me nuts. And in the process, I found a satisfying hobby (that has the potential of turning into something more). As I research and plan the prequel to my first novel, my excitement easily overshadows the despair of running my “small business”.
    Right now, as a “no-name” author, I have the luxury of following my interests instead of the obligation of writing to make a living. At least, that’s what I tell myself when sales are slow 🙂

  • I guess this was kind of inevitable. “Self-publishing” is a new media darling story, like “grunge” et cetera before it. The themes of the story seem to be a) money and b) social media.

    “So-and-so made X amount of dollars using Facebook and Twitter to market her teen vampire sex trilogy!!!”

    Kurt Cobain killed himself over shit like this!

    Since it’s the buzz we have to get used to it. It makes me even more glad that I give away my books for free, because there’s no possible way they can ever become a “success” on those terms.

    Sigh … It’s going to be a long year :}

    (actually, I’m happy for everyone who’s making money this way, making money is good. it’s why i have a job)

  • I just had a long discussion with a young man who’s been in a wheelchair for the past 12 years after a horrific traffic accident. He’s always wanted to tell his story, and the examples I showed him of self-published books made a fire shine in his eyes. That’s good enough for me. I’ll help him edit, revise, and publish his book as an eBook. Thank God he’s a much better marketer than I am. He and his brother have been orphans since they were 12, taking care of each other, working to survive. I hope they sell a million copies.
    This is a project they can share, and get real benefits from.

  • My first question is: how long have you been at the self-promotion? Did you start after you published or well before? I consider the development of a writing career a very long-term project. Second question: are you writing in a popular genre? If not, then you’re going to have to live on hope and patience. Third question: how many books have you published and on how many venues? There’s a chart making the rounds of the net on how sales relate to the number of books you have out there. Sales don’t take off for most writers until they have three or more books out.

    Until you’re known better, self-publishing in print is probably money down the drain. It’s when people start telling you that they want a print copy of one of your books that it will become worthwhile.

  • Oh Neil, we are kindred spirits, so no, you are not alone. I hate marketing and self-promotion. I don’t write mainstream stuff, and I give a lot away with free promos and stuff. I also allow people to share with DRM free ebooks. I’m kind of shy on the net, don’t comment as much as I should, and while I like facebook, I am not so great on huge forums. I just don’t have the time to interject myself into every conversation on the net. I too have a day job, a mortgage, and a family to attend to. I’d rather devote the hours I have free to writing what I love and helping out other Indies.

    Do I get frustrated and wonder why one Indie author is selling scads of books and other Indie authors don’t? Sure, I do, especially when I review author number one and think there is true literary merit in the work. But I can’t get overly angsty about it because there are just too many variables to consider.

    I try to focus on doing what I love, and because I like helping people, I’ve met some really aweseome individuals over the past years I have been with the Pod People blog. Not to mention the ton of friggin fantastic writing I have read as well. You can knock yourself out as a salesperson, but if you are not “that” person, it will only stress you out and block your creativity in the long run, and to me, that’s more depressing than a shabby few sales a month.

  • Some creative people like business and some creative people don’t.

  • I’ve enjoyed this conversation. Thank you for starting it, Neil. I’m obviously not alone in hating self-promotion and regretting I don’t have time enough to do everything I should be doing to gain attention to my writing. I’m not bothered, though, by the bragging of others. If they’ve honestly gotten what they want out of their writing, whether it’s books for family and friends or books for the masses, good for them.

  • Hope Welsh

    “My suggested Friends are usually women Romance writers, who would not read and enjoy anything I’ve written, not in a million years.”

    Here’s your first mistake. Romance writers read more than romance. I read everything from James Patterson to JK Rowling to Amanda Hocking to Stephen King to (insert name here)

    It’s a mistake to assume that because you read the type of thing you write that all other writers do as well.

    Romance has grown hugely as a genre. 40% of ALL books sold in fact. Beautiful young virgin with sexy older man hero went out about 15 years ago. It’s a lot more today.

    As to writing–self-promoting is necessary–even if you’re in a publishing house and not doing self-publishing.

    If you want to offer free stories and novels for friends–or to get that book in print for your own enjoyment, that’s great. If you want to sell to the masses–they have to know you exist.

    Hocking did little more than send her books to online review sites. Her sales speak for themselves–she’s the #1 selling book in the Romance genre–and she writes YA

  • I’m happy to see SelfPublishing Review generating some honest talk from writers. While I don’t agree with all the comments, I’ve learned something from every one.It seems to me there is a major business opportunity for someone to take over the marketing, for dullards like me, charge a fee, and realize residual revenue on book sales. Who is the entrepreneur ready to belly up to the bar?

    • …great idea! After going through the process of publishing a novel, I’ve seen many companies and individuals trying to tap into the dreams of indie authors as a way to make money. Instead of paying an up-front charge for some service that may not produce any results, I’d gladly give a percentage to someone who is confident enough in their abilities to work under such an arrangement. Of course, this marketing person would need to have some acceptance criteria to weed out the stuff that would be a waste of his/her time, but I’d be OK with that as well. I’m confident in my writing; is there anyone out there confident in their marketing abilities?

  • Neil, that’s a good idea. Every day I get offers to put my book on some lists, to send out a ton of press releases announcing its existence, or to place it on racks at library conventions — for hundreds of dollars, almost all of which, I suspect, would be wasted. But if a significant part of the marketing fee came out of sales of the book for the next six months or year (“residual revenue”), the marketing people would have a powerful incentive to focus their efforts on what would work for my specific book.

  • Great discussion. For me it boils down to coming to peace with the whole self-published life. I chose this route for a purpose, and since I’ve released my first book in May of 2009, I’ve never had a month I sold zero. However, I’m still working 40 hours a week, and most of what I do make in royalties gets thrown back into marketing. It’s a vicious cycle. Of course, I went the vanity route with Xlibris, but am about to pull them all and become a true self-publisher. Will it help any? It’s just going to suck up more of my time because how I have to write, make the manuscript ready for print or eBook, and do all the other work associated with getting a book out by myself. My profits will be more, but where will my time go? Down the drain to earn $2.50 more on each book?

    I too get sucked into the world if “they can do it so can I mentality,” when I read all the success stories. I’m not pumping out blood sucking vampires though – just homeless women in 19th century and phantoms. No interest there right now, but then I don’t want to write stories I have no interest in reading or writing just to make a buck. I don’t know about you guys, but I get emotionally attached to the stories birthed in my heart and those characters I create. I’m here to tell a damn good story….not write to please the masses in order to make money. One of these days, the current craze will warp into another one.

    After it’s all said and done, I work 40 hours a week, and then come home to play author. If I get a great review, make somebody cry, get hugs from people at work who love my stories, that makes me happy. I go unnoticed by the masses. I learn to enjoy the accolades of a few, the royalties I throw back into marketing, and I pump ahead to book number four. One of these days, I keep telling myself, this is all going to pay off. If not, I guess I’ve just left a small legacy of my life behind in print. Maybe I’ll make more dead than alive.

  • Vicki stated: “For me it boils down to coming to peace with the whole self-published life.” This too has helped me to stay contented as I plan different avenues to market my small in number books. Put it this way, selling them out of the trunk of the car, so to speak, does yield some results. You know the route such as schools, hair shops,book clubs etc… All the same Neil, if you feel you have a good product, and you do what you can to market without it getting to the point of being sickening, all it takes is a sale to the right group or person. They will enjoy or love your work, in return, they will voluntarily market for you by word of mouth over time. Keep your head up, and take some satisfaction that you produced a masterpiece that only you could have created. “Well done!”

  • I think it happens that some authors think that the value of their art should stand on its own. And, many ‘artists’ aren’t necessarily inclined as business proprietors, which is what becoming an author really is. Especially a self-published author.

    One thing I’ve learned as a business owner is that delegation will take you places (although a good friend always counters – if you want something done right, you must do it yourself).

    At Outskirts Press we like to provide options in all directions, which is why we’ve introduced a personal marketing assistant for authors. There is a price, but it is a value added option for those less eager to self-promote.



  • So you don’t think I’m a quitter or a moron, here’s my story “Land of Opportunity” featured at Stephen Windwalker’s Kindle Nation today, http://campaign.r20.constantcontact.com/render?llr=rbehgxcab&v=001rxOp_4aBK0qG5AWLYF3nmbaXBxm8TD1j5yb9ElsICxLBta1cf-LgfUSX5s3Uozn4yoiOYUWcLzfm3fS9AdzKpMLhXHTWXGNPzKkupNOsgPE%3D
    promoting my collection, Believable Lies.

  • Neil, I read your story “Land of Opportunity” and found it cleverly dark and yet life-affirming. I especially liked the ambiguity of your title and ending. As a result, I bought “Believable Lies” and look forward to reading your other stories.

  • Thanks, Ron. I don’t feel so lonely now. But I think someone can make money doing the marketing for slugs like myself. Let me know if you know anyone doing it for Smashwords, Stephen Windwalker’s is cost-effective, simple and efficient. He has built up quite a network of Kindle users who have opted in on his service.

  • Hope Welsh

    How do we get a hold of Steven Windwalker? The fees outskirt wants are absurd IMHO–as Amazon allows and does all those things absolutely free!