Why most authors are doomed to fail in 2016 (current problems with the publishing industry)

I’ve thinking about this post already, but then saw someone in the Nanowrimo group share this article:

Alan Moore Advises New Writers to Self-Publish Because Big Publishers Suck

Alan Moore says:

“Publishing today is a complete mess. I know brilliant authors who can’t get their books published. Publish yourself. Don’t rely upon other people.”

People who have already adopted self-publishing are embracing the benefits of going indie: more freedom, control and earnings.

But people who are still writing their book are nervous about stepping into the arena. At all the writing conferences I’ve been too, most first time authors want to find an agent and a publisher, because they don’t know how to design, publish and market books (and want someone to do it for them).

Plus, the majority of authors are terrified about marketing. They don’t want to set up a website and spend time on social media. They’re worried book marketing will “take time away from writing.”

It gets worse from here

Traditional publishers

Big publishers have stopped taking risks on new writers, and focus on what’s going to sell. Good writing doesn’t sell; great stories that LOTS of people enjoy do. They’re looking for a low-risk book they can make pretty and is going to sell like crazy. They aren’t in the business of doing favors or helping writers (and they’re losing money, which makes them cautious).

That’s not to say big publishing is bad: if you can get a deal (a real deal – not one you pay for), then you might want to consider it. It’s a great credibility and platform builder. But it’s also really, really difficult to get a deal if you’re a first time author with no platform (it still happens, so don’t give up yet).

But even if you get a deal, it will take a year or two to publish, and you probably won’t be using that time well – you should be building your platform, email list and followers. You want to control your relationship with the readers, which insures your future as a writers. Giving up control to some one else can be a big risk (I know traditionally published authors who have done well, but then have to start over from zero and have no idea how to reach their own readers).

Indie Champions

The two biggest champions of indie authors, in my mind, are Smashwords and Nanowrimo. Smashwords makes it easy to publish your book. Nanowrimo is a community of positive encouragement that helps you finish the work.

But both Smashwords and Nanowrimo have been adamant about refusing to move into author services. They are skeptical about anybody selling anything to authors, or taking their money. Die hard indie authors want to do everything themselves, for free. Smashwords and Nanowrimo encourage them to do so.

And that’s exciting – but we do judge books on their covers, and on the web design of the author, and how many followers they have, and how many book reviews they’ve got. That means, after the writing is done, authors have to A) learn book design B) learn web design C) figure out social media, book marketing, Amazon ranking and all the other stuff. It’s a lot to learn.

Most authors are doing it all very, very poorly.

I think it’s great that there are major platforms where authors are protected from author service sellers who are just trying to take advantage of authors.

Big publishing companies have recently been forming relationships with Author Services, Xlibris and other Vanity Presses to sell even more overpriced, lowquality services to unsuspecting authors, charging as much as $25,000 for things that absolutely will not help sell your book. It’s a huge money maker, and it’s exactly why Smashwords and Nanowrimo are so defensive about allowing these kinds of services into their community.

(Instead, Smashwords provides a list of low cost providers but doesn’t get involved. Nanowrimo only allows official sponsors who pay to be there, but can’t post promotional or spammy messages in the forums).

What’s happening in the middle

Here’s the problem: if authors do their research, they may figure out that they should avoid Vanity Presses – although those businesses spend so much on advertising it’s hard to avoid.

But maybe they’ve been rejected by a few dozen agents, understand that they shouldn’t work with Vanity Presses, but they still want to publish. What should they do? There’s so much self-publishing help out there: products and courses and articles. It’s overwhelming. Where do they start?

They might try to make their own cover and do their own formatting, and publish on Kindle. That’s unlikely to go very well.

They might spend some money on services: paying someone to make them a better cover and formatting, maybe paying for an author website. That could cost a couple thousand dollars – and if they find a great book editor, it might be a couple more thousand. Suddenly those Vanity Press package start looking reasonable (they aren’t – because they are farming out the services and paying less for them).

There are also a WHOLE BUNCH of new, “small presses” or “micro presses” that mean well, and have noble aspirations, but don’t really understand book design or marketing. So you’ll partner together but won’t be able to get your book off the ground.

It’s nice to have a team that’s invested in the book (which means, they profit if the book sells), but that doesn’t guarantee sales. Look up the other books they’ve published on Amazon. Are they selling well or is their sales rank in the millions. Ask them what they’re doing to promote it.

Book marketing takes time or money

(I’m including book design as part of book marketing).

You can throw a book up with a crappy cover and it could take off and do well. That still happens. Certainly, go for it. It’s better than never publishing. Finish your book and put it out there. Put it on Wattpad. Make it free.

Don’t try making money from it until you’re getting excellent reviews from total strangers. Once you have 25 or so, set it to 99cents and see if you can sell any. If not, it’s probably your cover design. Get a new one and try again.

If you get reviews that say your book is full of grammar mistakes and typos, FIX IT. And make sure you’ve set up something to capture emails. You can use Mailchimp and set up a page with just an optin box, even if you don’t have a website (and it’s free – until you get 2,000 subscribers).

If you have money, spend the money. If you don’t have money, it’s going to take time. Nobody else is going to do it for you. Book marketing takes effort. Luckily, most authors are doing things that don’t work at all, and it’s really easy to do things right if you get inventive. I grew a new email list to 5K young adult readers this week with giveaways. It took me an hour to set up.

The real reason authors fail

Successful authors write books that readers enjoy.

Are you writing a book? Have you thought about the readers? Have you talked to any of them and asked for feedback? Or do you believe the fancy notion that “real art” isn’t written with a marketplace in mind? If you do, it’s OK – most authors would agree. That’s why most authors are writing books for themselves, that nobody else is going to want to read.

Have you studied story architecture and plotting? No? If you built a house and decided to throw it together, without learning the basics of construction, how well do you think you’d do? Would it keep the rain out? Would anybody want to live in it?

Is this your first book? Did you just finish writing the rough draft? It isn’t ready. Ever heard of the “thousand hour rule”? It takes about a thousand hours of practice to get good at something. Most writers agree, that’s about a million words worth of writing, or in other words, about 10 novels.

It’s fine to publish your first book, but just keep in mind, you probably won’t be producing really good, quality work until you’ve written nine more. You can pay a lot for an editor, but even an editor won’t fix the basic story construction (which is the easy part, if you’ve studied plotting!)

Most authors fail because they don’t care enough about their readers to write a story worth reading. And if they did, then they probably fail because of amateur book design, an ugly website, and zero platform (when they publish, nobody sees it, and it disappears immediately on Amazon).

I know some very frustrated writers who complain because they’ve tried everything and nothing is working, but this is true:

  1. If you write books readers enjoy
  2. If you find a way to thank readers and build a relationship with them so they are loyal to you personally
  3. If you have them on an email list so they can help out with your next book launch…

Then it can be a very good time to be an author.

About Derek Murphy

I help authors and artists turn their passions into full-time businesses, make a bigger impact, and blaze a luminous trail of creative independence. Right now I'm in Taiwan finishing a PHD in Literature, writing several books, and managing a handful of online businesses. Find me

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