Jenny Bravo asked: "I was wondering if you have any sort of advice about how to really set yourself up for success in self-publishing. I have a blog and a Twitter and all that jazz, but I wondered if you knew of any specific way that I can take those to the next level? That sounds super cheesy and slimy, but yeah. Basically, teach me your awesome ways, oh wise one."
And I shall do exactly that. Teach you my awesome ways. Because I do what my readers ask me to do. Because. That's exactly it. The key. The secret magic ingredient people keep searching for. See? I'm giving it to you for free, no cookies, no vodka, nothing. Take it. Take it and use it. And the name for it is.
THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS RIGHT.
Not what you expected? Let's take a look at this, at what this means and at what success means. Oh, this magnificent word we all covet. Success. Success! It’s such an interesting word, isn’t it? It means different things to different people, and it’s both broad and narrow. Broad in a sense that so many big things could be called SUCCESS, and narrow because so many little things could mean SUCCESS as well. It amuses me, actually, that people consider me successful. I would get an occasional email or someone would walk up to me at a book fair or something, saying, wow, I wish I could be as successful as you. But in my mind I’m not, or, rather, I am, but not in a way many people know, so the people who tell me this would hardly know.
There is the preconceived trodden path that has been ingrained in our minds from childhood, perhaps from reading traditionally published books and seeing what it means, to be a successful author. The New York Times Best Sellers list, of course. The book adapted into a movie by a major Hollywood studio, of course. The celebrity status of the author in the media, of course. The astronomical amounts of money that author must make, of course. Notice how all these things revolve around much fanfare and material gain. It's what we have come to associate with success in general, regardless of occupation.
Websters says that success is:
- The fact of getting or achieving wealth, respect, or fame.
- The correct or desired result of an attempt.
I would say for me it's the second part. The unmeasurable success that goes on behind the scenes, quietly, in the form of letters I receive from my readers, like from a teenage boy who opened up about wanting to commit suicide after reading SIREN SUICIDES, like a writer who told me my books pulled her out of depression and inspired her to write again, like a kid in my son's school who ran up to me to say that ROSEHEAD was awesome (shouting in my face) and ran off, all in the matter of minutes. THAT is success to me. THAT is why I write. THAT, however, is me sharing my heart and not making much money. In fact, I'm running out of money in 2 months and I'm scared shitless, because I will do a Kickstarter and I don't if I will get funded or not...but I'm boring you. Let's get to the 1st part of that lovely definition, shall we? It's what you're after, right? Wealth. Respect. Fame. Readership. Books in bookstores, in people's hands, money in your pocket, food in your belly, maybe even nice vacations and all the lovely stuff that comes with being comfortable and making enough money with your art to afford a little splurge here there. Mind you, I have yet to get to that place, so take the following with a grain of salt. Or with a cookie. Everything is always better with a cookie.
Success in self-publishing (took me long enough to get to the main point, finally) rules:
1. The customer is always right.
I would love it if you could print this out and plaster it all over your house and in front of your computer and remind yourself about this every day. If you are an indie like me, meaning, if you self-publish your own books, you are operating your own business. That is the fundamental difference between traditionally published authors and self-published authors, although lately big publishing houses have less and less hands to help out their writers as much as they used to in the past. The publishing world is changing rapidly, but this is a whole another topic (I'm not going to touch upon the fiery debates that are going on right now, so don't hold your breath). Back to the basics. And the basics are, you are a business. Everything you do, you do with your customer in mind, because you are at the mercy of your customer. If your customer won't pay you money, your business will go down the drain, end of story.
You have to learn to stop moaning. If you do moan, of course. Stop pretending that you're a free artist and you can do whatever the hell you want. Sure you can, but if you're not a well established business, nobody will buy your genius art. Sorry. It's the reality of life. That is not to say that you shouldn't write what you want to write. On the contrary, you SHOULD write ONLY what you want to write, because that is why people will come to you, again, and again, and again. For YOUR stories. But you need to listen to your customer. To listen. Let me repeat again. TO LISTEN. I can't stress this enough. Your customer is a genius. Your customer will tell you want she wants, she will even tell you what she will give you her money for. Your job is to listen and to do what she wants, WHILE continuing doing your art. I'll give you a few examples.
My readers asked me to do a book of my tweets. I did it. It's doing surprisingly well.
My readers asked me for custom t-shirts. I did them. They are not doing very well.
My readers teased me about how much I love talking pets. I've written a talking dog into ROSEHEAD, and I plan on writing a book about a magical cat who was supposed to be a dog, but turned out a cat, because the universe on that particular day was a bitch. It's not like they commanded me to do this, they simply noticed my affinity towards cats and dogs (and who wouldn't love them?) and it kind of grew from there.
My readers asked me to do dance videos. I did them. They do moderately well.
My readers asked me for a collection of my short stories. I have compiled them, and although they have not been edited professionally (and I'm warning people about it), they're still doing pretty well.
My readers asked me to put my books on Wattpad. I did it. They are doing very well!
Should I keep going? I can, you know. This shows you that not everything works, but by listening to your readers, you will find things that do, and they will stick, and they will become YOUR thing, the thing your readers know you for, like my silly dances. (I know, I know.)
2. Package your fucking book right, damned.
This is the thing number two that you have to print out and memorize and be able to recite by memory, if I were to show up in your bedroom in the middle of the night and to wake you up with my awful badgering voice (I can do that, I know where you live). The thing is, you're a business, a damned business. Would you buy a package of pasta if it was in a slimy disintegrating cellophane sack that looked like it has been mauled by your neighbor's corpulent pit bull? No, of course not. Or would you buy it if the name of the pasta, let us say, FETTUCHANNA, was both spelled wrong and illegible? Of course not. Would you buy it if it was $100? Whoever the fuck buys pasta for $100 a package? Right. Would you buy it for $20? Still no. Would you get it for free? You might, but only because it's free.
Same with your books. Don't expect the reader to shell out real hard cash for a book that looks ugly, has not been professionally edited, is priced wrong, and is drawling at you in a deep annoying voice that it's awesome, when you can plainly see that it's not, and you conclude that whoever selling it is a despicable liar and you will never ever glance in the direction of THAT AWFUL PERSON'S books. Yikes. Sounds rough. Sounds rude. Sounds scary. It's true. I don't want to hear any moaning. Think about yourself the last time you bought an indie book. When was it? How much was it? Did the cover look good? Was the story good? Did you review it? Did you give it 4 or 5 stars? Or did you quietly set it aside? You get the point.
Invest money (or time, if you have no money) and edit your book professionally, format it professionally, do a professional cover, and all that product packaging jazz. If you can't pay for any of these things, do it yourself, stick to staying simple, like do the cover that is clean and plain, with your name and title, publish it and move on. Write the next book, you will learn. I hear from some writers how they are afraid to publish something they think is not ready or not good. I beg to differ.
YOU ARE A BUSINESS.
Without making mistakes, you won't learn shit. You have to get out there and fail. Nobody will do it for you. You risk oblivion. You have to produce and self-publish as many books as you can. That's the only way for you to survive on your own.
3. Be human.
Oh, here we go. This is my favorite part. The secret sauce people sometimes ask me for, usually in regards to my readership. Actually, my readership is not all that big, but it's awfully loyal (and I awfully love you all for that!!!), and despite the fact that you are a business, you need to be human. Be yourself. Share your successes, but also share your failures. Share everything. Made a mistake? No biggie! We all make mistakes. Apologize, learn from it, and move on. It's as simple as that, and yet sometimes so hard to do, isn't it? To swallow our fucking pride, our fucking ego. Doubting why you should do it?
Refer to point number one.
THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS RIGHT.
I think I've shouted it enough, didn't it? But really, that's all there is to it. Your customer is always right (listen to your customer), your product should be sellable (package your book right), you really are no better than the rest of us poor oafs (be human). This is it. Anything else I left out? Ah, yes! Of course. Two more points.
4. Write every day.
5. Read every day.