Dear writer: don’t give up.

I’ve dealt with the frustrations of indie authors for the last decade.

I’m not generally supportive in the emotional sense. I know publishing and making a living with your writing isn’t easy, so I try to teach them how to do it right and make it easier.

But the overwhelm is so great that many authors feel like throwing in the towel and giving up completely.

Before you do that, please keep this in mind:

  1. They say it takes about a million words before you improve your craft as a writer.
  2. It took me ten years to learn this stuff.
  3. You are not doing “everything right.”

A lot of authors complain that even after years of constant effort and half a dozen books, they are still invisible and not making any money; they have an expensive hobby that is sucking their time and energy away from their “real” lives and feel like they’re working twice as hard as they need to, without seeing any results.

 

 

Knowledge is power

I understand self-publishing is frustrating and there is a lot to learn. It takes a long time to figure everything out. It’s a whole new world of skills. But most authors don’t have the time or the inclination to do things right (by “right” I mean, learning how to position, describe, brand and design books so they sell).

My first books were total failures. The first 5 years were basically a “waste” of time. The last 5 years I was learning how to do everything better. Now after being in this game for 10 years, I can write and publish a bestseller in a few months that will earn income forever. Don’t be one of the authors who gives up too early.

You aren’t doing everything right

A lot of authors say they’re doing “everything right” but still not seeing results. So they think publishing is a crap shoot or gamble, and that some authors just “get lucky” or Amazon is an unfathomable mystery. None of that is true. Readers buy books they want to read. It’s your job to put your book in front of them and make it attractive enough for them to buy. Most indie authors are barely passing the bar and even if they’ve set things up right, they aren’t getting any visibility or traffic to their books. There are so many ways to fix that, and it doesn’t have to take very long – I’m constantly sharing ways to reach your readers. Don’t complain. Get feedback. Figure out what isn’t working. Test things out until you find a winning combination.

*Almost always, the easiest thing to do if you aren’t getting any traction is to put your books on permafree for awhile, at least you’ll be reaching readers.

You probably skipped the most important thing

Publishing success is directly proportional to the size of the target readership who enjoys books like yours. People look at my books and think, “of course he’s doing well, he’s writing popular young adult fantasy… but what about my literary biography?” I’ve chosen to write in popular genres because I’m intentionally trying to satisfy a large audience who will be willing to pay to read my stories. This is a deliberate piece of my publishing plan. I’m not just writing books and then trying to market them later. My marketing and intended audience is a huge factor in what kind of books I decide to write.

 

Don’t give up – pivot!

If what you’re doing isn’t working, don’t quit! Take all your new skills and deliberately try to write and market something that sells. It’ll give you confidence that it’s not you, it’s just them. Maybe nobody appreciated the books you were trying to write. Maybe you didn’t package them right or make them discoverable. Don’t curse and wail into the dark night that nobody appreciates great literature anymore.

This is a business, not a charity. If you want to earn a living, write more books that people are willing to pay for. Experiment with what’s working. Don’t be afraid to start over with something new. It’s true, this stuff isn’t easy. Most authors won’t make it. But there’s always room at the top. See you there!

About Derek Murphy

Derek Murphy is a book designer with a Ph.D. in Literature. He’s been featured on CNN and spoken at dozens of writing conferences around the world. These days he mostly writes young adult fantasy and science fiction, while helping authors build profitable publishing platforms. Find me

  • Maggie P

    This is great! But does it mean you shouldn’t take risks in genres that aren’t currently popular if it’s one of your first few attempts publishing?

    • You can only give it a try. You don’t have to write in only the biggest ‘bandwagons’ – and just work hard on delivering it to the right audience. Smaller niches are good too, you just have to get the book in front of them. Have an intentional plan, package it perfectly. But also accept that the potential audience is going to be smaller, so it’ll probably be a bit harder. (But you’ll also have less competition in that genre.)

      Get a lot of feedback from potential readers first. Test it out in ways that don’t cost you a lot of money to start with to gauge the response.

      And at the end of the day, if it doesn’t work, live and learn, & write something else! 🙂

    • You can do whatever you want, and if you enjoy what you’re doing and aren’t looking to make money writing, it doesn’t matter. And you *can* still make a little money from smaller markets, but it’ll be harder, and never pay as well. The assumption that writers should only write what they love is problematic. But usually you need to get a couple you love out, and if they don’t sell you’ll consider writing something that readers love instead.

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