28 August 2014 by Published in: Uncategorized 35 comments

About once a day I get an email from an author saying something to the effect of, “I wrote the best book ever, I put my heart and soul into it, but now that I pushed publish I can’t get it any attention!”

My response: “Life is fundamentally unfair and nobody gives two shits about you, your book, or anything you think or do. You’re welcome. Leave a dollar on the way out.”

If that seems harsh, because, gosh darn it, we spend so much time agonizing over the incredible weight of just being us, remember that everyone else thinks that all this is their movie, and you only exist to the extent that you flicker on their dim screen, which is to say, not at all.

Sorry. That’s how it is.

“But Russell,” you mewl, “I’m earnest and honest and true!”

Well, yes, perhaps you are. But that’s like being the best dressed guy at the bar at 2 am, and there’s only one girl left and she’s waiting for the bartender to get off work. Meaning, you’re hosed. It happens. That’s how life works. You can be special and different and gifted and good, but the meathead muscle builder who packs groceries for a living and lives in his mother’s garage walked out with the hottie at around nine and now all that’s left are five hundred candidates, none of whom have a shot because there are simply no takers, other than each other, and nobody’s got enough to buy that last drink because they’re also all broke.

That’s traditional publishing in a nutshell. One slot, five hundred thousand wannabes. And it’s also self-publishing. A million books, and your epic is just one of them, interchangeable to the masses with Snooki’s, only they have no idea who the F you are because you weren’t on a reality show or had big enough implants.

You want an easy gig? Go be a nuclear physicist. This shit is hard, and you have to be out of your mind to believe you can make it barring a ton of work, incredible luck, and the stamina of Hercules.

I know. Nobody wants to hear that. They want to hear magical thinking about just keep writing and you’ll eventually make it. Uh huh. You and the other million people who are all doing precisely the same thing. It’s akin to the pitch MLMs give their new initiates, wherein they too can own the 200 foot yacht they get to go on as a reward once a year. No, sweetie, you don’t get to do any of that. Not unless you’re first, top of the pyramid, and have exceptional self-promotion skills and the momentum of a landslide.

Which should be your first clue. If you want to make it in this business? Be an exception. Meaning carve out your niche and make yourself relevant to readers. How? Beats me. I only know what I did, and that’s about as useful as saying, “write an amazing serial that catches everyone’s imagination at just the right point in history.” Or maybe, “write BDSM fan fiction of Twilight and start a whole new genre!” Or maybe, “sparkly vampires, f#ckwad, sparkly vampires. Now do it.”

None of that helps you. None of it matters to you. All you’re left with is you, your words, and your ability to matter to people, to reach them, to make them care.

How can you get your book visibility? I have no idea. Wish I did. I’d be conning you out of a fortune in “how to” books and seminars and in-person weekend retreats to learn my platinum-level, inner circle, guaranteed hot-off-the-presses gold rush tips. I can’t do that. It’s like, imagine there are a million people, all of whom decided that after two nights of drunk karaoke they were going to be pro singers, because Mick Jagger can’t really sing but he gets paid a fortune and they’re at least as good as he is. Sound delusional? Replace pro singers with authors, and Mick Jagger with whoever  your favorite hack writer-turned-superstar is, and there you go.

How can you write a bestseller? One word at a time.

See? I’m just no fun.

Hrmph.

I’m sorry there’s no secret formula that I know of to hit indie success. But other than extremely hard work and marathon hours, I haven’t seen any – and that presumes you can actually write. I know that’s not what everyone wants to hear because it’s kind of depressing, just like we don’t want to hear that at the end of this we’re worm food. People will pay a lot of money to hear that’s not it at all, and there’s much more awaiting you on the other side, like trailer parks filled with virgins or whatever the flavor du jour is (but nobody every has the answer to what to the virgins get out of the deal – or is it just paradise for guys? Which would suck for roughly 50% of the planet, but never mind, seems to be selling well). I’m sorry I don’t have any bromides for you to swallow, no anodyne aphorisms to sell.

BTW, my NA series is da bomb. That’s all I’m going to say. If you wait too long to see what I’m talking about you’ll feel like a complete ass hat. Trust me. It’s exciting. Really. And I’m not just saying that. Although clearly it’s me saying that. Never mind. F you, hatahs. Word.

That, and if you don’t watch this, you’ll die of brain ebola while clowns boogarize you and your family. Don’t chance it. They’re everywhere, like Satan living silently in your heart, waiting for the right moment to take control.

 

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Comments

  1. Thu 28th Aug 2014 at 7:31 am

    I was waiting for the big up finish. The “I did it, you can do it too, sweetie” wrap up. But you just stuck with the buzz kill. Nice to start my writing day with a sharp right uppercut. I’m wobbling, but I’ll steady out. I”d say it’s either keep writing and pushing, or do everyone a favor and find something else to do with your time that’s probably going to be much more useful and productive.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 28th Aug 2014 at 11:19 am

      Yup. But here’s the punch line: I did do it. So do dozens every month. But the ones who do it consistently for years work their asses off to sustain their momentum, and never let off the gas. So the notion that at some point it gets easier is a false one. It’s always hard, with peaks and valleys all along the way, and no guarantees. There are people who sold six figures in 2012 due to Select who are lucky if they sell a tenth of that now. They got complacent. They didn’t build a readership, they sold books.

      And yes, the world is in need of more productive people than authors, that’s for sure. Something about curing cancer, or at least inventing better mousetraps or serving a juicier burger or whatnot.

      Reply
  2. Richard Fox
    Thu 28th Aug 2014 at 12:29 pm

    I find this article apropos anytime I feel entitled:
    http://www.cracked.com/blog/6-harsh-truths-that-will-make-you-better-person/

    Russell, thank you for the reality check and congrats on your hard won success. One thing I’ve noticed about successfull Indy authors is that they have plenty of titles to their name. Even the writers I find horrid have great Amazon ranks when they have a dozen or so books.

    Now to find my niche in Werepanda/Centaur erotica.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 28th Aug 2014 at 1:49 pm

      That is the best article ever written.

      Reply
  3. cinisajoy
    Thu 28th Aug 2014 at 4:06 pm

    Russell, darling love, you just broke my heart. What do you mean I am not the most special thing to ever walk the face of the earth and my words are not all 24 karat? How dare you be so mean and insensitive to me. I am gonna go off and cry in a corner now.

    Now back to the regularly scheduled Russell love fest. I was privledged and honored to be chosen as an ARC reader for his new NA series. He’s right it is the bomb. He has done it again folks. Another great book from an EXTRAORDINARY author.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 28th Aug 2014 at 5:18 pm

      Why, thank you. Glad you liked it. Be sure to leave a review at Goodreads, and at Amazon when it releases on Oct. 7th.

      Reply
      • cinisajoy  –  Thu 28th Aug 2014 at 7:16 pm

        Review is up. Hope you like it. Actually hope your readers like it. Obsessed fan girls don’t count. Thanks again Russell. You have made my week.

        Reply
  4. cinisajoy
    Thu 28th Aug 2014 at 4:07 pm

    Great blog post too.

    Reply
  5. Thu 28th Aug 2014 at 5:21 pm

    Couple of points: I do think there are some tips, those you’ve covered in blogs and so have I:
    1) write well in a genre series with room for growth & variation
    2) publish 3-10 titles a year
    3) work it like a pro, 8 hours a day or whatever you can handle. Beat that muse to a pulp. In fact, I’ve reinvented my muse to be a workaholic.
    4) hire really great pros to do all your scut work: editing, proofing, covers, uploading, formatting, etc. DON”T SKIMP here!!! If you can’t go pro, “heart and soul” won’t cut it in today’s marketplace. Don’t waste your valuable time that should be spent writing learning to format, for instance.
    5) cultivate and capture your following through an email list and/or fan club. Put those dedicated fans to work for you spreading the word by asking them to and rewarding them with love and prizes.
    6) Be totally cool in some way, different. Colleen Hoover makes hilarious selfie videos and writes heartstringpullers. Russell is funny and profane and truthful and writes like a motherf*cker. I have beautiful Hawaii images and mental-healthy positivity, and a great series of mystery/love stories. Hugh Howey does dystopia like nobody’s business and is unbelievably nice/kind/fun/helpful…. and we are just a few who have succeeded.
    7) Be willing to work harder than you ever imagined, seven days a week, and keep it up for longer than you ever thought you could, and then, only then, will you have some idea of what it will take to succeed as an indie.
    I reserve the right to reblog this comment, becuase therein are (almost) all my secrets.
    Toby Neal

    Reply
    • cinisajoy  –  Thu 28th Aug 2014 at 5:40 pm

      Great blog post Toby.

      Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 28th Aug 2014 at 5:47 pm

      Yes, Toby, those are all part of the template for how to create a body of work that readers will be drawn to. But alas, it’s no guarantee. That said, there are no guarantees in any of the performing arts, or for that matter, in life, other than the inevitable end of it. I will say that the authors I know who continue to do well all follow that mold, with one additional important caveat: Hold your readership in the highest possible regard, and place their interests above all others.

      Not saying the customer is always right, but the customer always deserves your very best. Not a bad mission statement, I suppose.

      Reply
      • Toby Neal  –  Thu 28th Aug 2014 at 5:53 pm

        Absolutely. My readers totally influence me and are the source of great ideas, titles and inspiration. When I wrote Unsound, my literary suspense, I wasn’t not sure they’d “get it” and some didn’t, but those who did…it was amazing to explore big concepts like the nature of ideas, the double-edged sword that is the infection of hope, and the question of psychopathology… and have them go, “We knew you had more in the tank, Toby!” I’m amazed and honored by my readers on a daily basis. Smart people, they are.

        Reply
  6. Thu 28th Aug 2014 at 5:38 pm

    And once again you’ve been blatantly freaking honest. *sigh* I’d gladly have paid you the $1.298 for the how to book on promoting your way to success.
    I’ve been back to your site several times in the last two months and re-read your blogs about promotion and marketing. I’m finally off the dime and actively working on it for the first time since I published my first book in 2011. I’m trying to be positive and not refer to it as an onerous task, but it’s a sharp learning curve. Meanwhile, I’ll say thanks again for being one of the few guys who doesn’t blow smoke up my skirt about just how tough this will be. I’m a gal that does better with the truth than a pipe dream of easy success. I’ll work for it.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 28th Aug 2014 at 5:48 pm

      The positive news is that every month new names land on the bestseller lists, so it is possible to do it. It just ain’t the tiniest bit easy.

      Nothing worth doing that pays well ever is.

      Reply
  7. cinisajoy
    Thu 28th Aug 2014 at 6:30 pm

    As a reader I think I just found a solution to finding new books. I will just follow this blog. Russell seems to have some good author friends/followers that well actually appreciate the reader and that want to give us good stuff to read.

    Reply
    • lynne scott  –  Fri 29th Aug 2014 at 4:08 pm

      I’ve wound up with some great reads from Russell’s comments section. If you haven’t tried Toby Neal (commented above), you should. I’ve also wound up with some great advice from these folks that I’m trying to put into play now.

      Reply
  8. Thu 28th Aug 2014 at 10:46 pm

    That video was funny. Especially the winged unicorn of delusion part.

    Yes. Your NA books are da bomb. I’m ready to read book three.

    Back to writing…

    Reply
  9. Fri 29th Aug 2014 at 3:47 pm

    Hello Blake,

    You: Blunt, brutally honest, tough as nails, amazing, astounding.

    Me: admiring, fawning, sycophantic, pathetic, oh mama will I ever write like Blake.? Oh woe is me…

    (You need me Blake. Predictability breeds complacency–someone’s gotta juice up this blog…)

    (The dog thing was cute, though)

    Reply
  10. Tue 02nd Sep 2014 at 3:30 pm

    Russell–
    This is one of the rare realpolitik posts on the biz that occasionally appears, but over the last 30 years I’ve learned everything you say here. Even so, I congratulate you on raising your voice to say “The emperor has no clothes!” You do so by calling out the hundreds ginning up how-to manuals and booster-club get-togethers, the coaching sessions, mentoring invitations, the hand-holding with cups of herb tea, weekend or week-long retreats to talk “craft,” the various promises to “drill deep down into the metadata,” etc. Enough already. Those who get a good cover designer and learn how to game the system at Amazon will win, the rest won’t. It has very little to do with the books. And if he were starting out today as an indie writer, that would apply to Clive Cussler.
    BTW, if you want to read another excellent real-world post, take a look at http://updegrove.wordpress.com Andrew Updegrove decided to do a little research into a certain guru/marketer, to see how well she was doing at selling her own stuff. Take a look, it’s worth your time.

    Reply
    • Barry Knister  –  Tue 02nd Sep 2014 at 3:34 pm

      I should add that Updegrove’s post is for August 6, appropriately titled “The Book Promoter Wears No Clothes.”

      Reply
      • lynne scott  –  Tue 02nd Sep 2014 at 3:57 pm

        Well that was interesting, Barry. So, I’m not selling any worse than one of the giant marketing gurus in the industry. That’s amazingly comforting somehow. Lord knows I’ve been called a lot worse by a lot better than Ms. Thompson, but I’d still like to throat punch the twat waffle. I’ve never been looking to be the one-in-a-million that makes it big – I’m simply working towards writing decent stuff that sells enough to keep me in donuts and coffee and lets me get to the Oregon coast for a couple weeks each year. That should be doable with hard work and diligence… and a decent book cover.

        Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 02nd Sep 2014 at 6:02 pm

      Too funny. It’s a shame that so many are so desperate to believe that someone else has the secret sauce, and are willing to part with their hard earned money to discover it simply ain’t so.

      As to gaming the Amazon system, damn, I wish I knew how to do it, because I would love to sell more. Admittedly, back when Select first launched, you could sell a lot of books after a free run, but that wasn’t gaming the system, it was using a tool Amazon gladly provided to hook authors into exclusivity. I used it with great enthusiasm and got the visibility that set me on my path, but what it always comes down to the books. If you write books a substantial audience wants to read, and you’re persistent in making it your life’s mission to let them know you have the books they want, eventually you will build a readership. The problem comes in when you write books they don’t want to read, for whatever reason, or when you fail to do whatever it takes to reach that readership. At that point, you fail.

      I think we’re in agreement. Snake oil salesmen abound. I have nothing to sell other than books. That’s plenty for me.

      Reply
      • Barry Knister  –  Tue 02nd Sep 2014 at 11:15 pm

        Russell–
        You have better things to do, and so do I, but I want to add one more thing. “Gaming the system” doesn’t mean for you what it does for me. Gaming the system is my way of characterizing the process of mastering the complex skill sets unrelated to writing that the writing life now requires. In your words, that would be “making it your life’s mission to let them [readers] know” about your books = public relations/marketing. Never before have writers been expected to make this their “life’s mission.” And the skill that IS required relative to writing books is a kind of hyperthyroid productivity. I argue that only certain kinds of easily produced “product” lends itself to this system. Pump out two or three title a year, develop e-mail lists and newsletters, make use of price-pulsing and freebie offerings timed with the precision of a missile launch–it’s all driven by mastery of technology. What this means is that older writers like me, long in the trenches and schooled to take literature seriously, but not raised in a world swirling with electrons are pretty much out of luck. We are also vulnerable to the growing ranks of hucksters and how-to experts promising to guide us to “visibility.”
        Call it sour grapes if you like, but I resent it. I suppose you could call it the Buggy Whip Writer’s Lament. But often–not always–when I “look inside” books that have succeeded in this new climate, what I find is meretricious crap. Please know that I haven’t read your work, so I’m definitely not referring to you. You may well be a fine writer. If so, more power to you.

        Reply
        • Russell Blake  –  Wed 03rd Sep 2014 at 12:00 pm

          Ah. I see what you mean.

          Yes, those who can and do write relatively quickly have better odds in this environment than those who don’t. More product equates to increased visibility. More shelf space you occupy, the more chances you have of being discovered.

          It’s funny, because I hear older writers lament the good old days and how publishers used to do everything for the author, but that ignores that there were no publishers as we think of them until relatively recently. Up until then, authors pretty much had to do everything themselves. Dickens, Shakespeare, Dumas, etc. all had to hawk their wares and find an audience for their work. So never before is not quite right. Perhaps more accurate might be “not since legacy publishers convinced authors that all they had to do was write.”

          I don’t mind it, because I view it as evolution. I’m able to operate a cottage industry and do very well with the differentiators I have: I’m prolific, my quality’s not bad, and having operated businesses before, I understand what’s required in order to be successful.

          I think that’s what gets lost for many authors, perhaps yourself included. This new environment is nothing more than where the oligopaly of the NY publishers has been disrupted, and smaller self-publishers can compete with them. The old environment is still there for those that don’t wish to operate a publishing company – they can still take years to craft their prose, shop to agents, hope to find a publisher, and years later, see their book in print. But for those willing to go the extra mile, the choice isn’t limited to that. In that environment, only a handful of authors made more than beer money. It’s why I chose not to participate – not worth my time. In this new one, more authors than ever before are making good, or great, money, disintermediating the trad publisher and going direct to the reader.

          And the reader apparently couldn’t care less about all the things that a few MFAs in NY believe are heralds of good books. The readers, the ultimate consumers of the product, are voting with their wallets, and I think that’s good and healthy. It removes a layer of unnecessary gatekeeping that takes the lion’s share of profit out of the pocket of the author, and puts it into theirs. I prefer one where the readers get to determine what they like, and pays a reasonable price for it. It may be dross, or not, but “serious” writers have been lamenting the low quality of popular books for hundreds of years, so seems like that never changes.

          No hard feelings, BTW. I may be good, or may be terrible. But tens of thousands of readers find my prose to their liking, and in my mind that’s all that matters. I recall Ludlum getting slammed every book by the NY critics, who decried his books as garbage of the lowest order. I long ago decided I’d rather be Ludlum than one of the critics.

          Reply
          • Barry Knister  –  Wed 03rd Sep 2014 at 3:15 pm

            Russell–I must have hit a nerve without meaning to. Oligopaly? Nasty NY critics trashing Robert Ludlum? Elitist MFAs turning up their noses at genre fiction? Nowhere will you find me defending any of that, nor “lamenting the good old days.” I write genre fiction, and I know far better than you ever can what the sleeper hold that legacy publishing had on writers meant to those writers. Or years wasted at the hands of complacent, inept agents.
            So let’s be straight on that. I absolutely welcome how self-publishing has released writers from such bondage. I also know that, then as now, crappy books often become success stories. But to have legacy publishing’s stranglehold removed, only to realize a new “gatekeeper” has taken it’s place is a heavy blow. I’m talking about the skills writers are now expected to have that are completely unrelated to writing. That’s the new gatekeeper. And please don’t suggest that Shakespeare & Co “hawking their wares” is remotely similar to the current scene. It’s not.
            I am delighted for you that tens of thousands of readers find your prose to their liking. But I’m reasonably sure they came to learn about it because of your mastery of marketing technology and social media. Or your access to someone with that mastery.
            Talk about evolution in publishing if you want to, Russell. Just be sure to tell the whole story about Natural Selection.

          • Russell Blake  –  Wed 03rd Sep 2014 at 6:19 pm

            Well, yes and no. As with all things.

            Mastering skills other than writing is what being a publisher is all about. A publishing business requires a completely different skillset than being an author. To be a successful self-publisher, you have to both be adept at the author part of the equation, as well as the publisher part. One is the business of content creation. The other is the business of packaging that content and marketing it.

            Now, it’s absolutely true that learning the skills of being a publisher are a deal killer for many. They can still do the trad pub route, wherein the publisher does what publishers do, and they stick to content creation. The problem is that’s a very limited market, and it’s damned hard, as you know, to get your content sold. Which leaves us with the choice of learning to be publishers, or bemoaning that those skills are too difficult to learn. I opted for learning, mainly because it seemed that the reward would justify the investment of time and money. Fortunately for me, it did.

            You might want to revisit your certainty that I did well because of mastering marketing technology and social media. I’m somewhat of a Luddite, and my mastery of social media consisted of creating a twitter account, which I rarely use now, and creating a facebook account two years later. And getting a guy off O-desk for $50 to create this blog.

            If that represents insurmountable hurdles, we can agree that self-publishing ain’t for you. It’s an entrepreneurial endeavor, and not everyone enjoys the workload that goes with being an entrepreneur. There is no shame in that. It’s a question of disposition and desperation.

            I’ve counseled regularly on this blog that there is no magic bullet, that no amount of social media BS or gimmicks will assure you of any success, and that you’re best off dividing your time 25% marketing/promoting/packaging (i.e. non-writing tasks) and 75% writing. I also advise hiring a pro to do your covers and formatting, as it’s inefficient to do that yourself.

            The biggest mistake I see writers make is insufficient production speed, writing in genres that don’t have sufficient depth to support them, genre hopping, and wasting their time on things that don’t sell books or produce them. You’ll note that none of those are marketing related. Now, one could argue that being aware that it takes two to three books a year to build momentum, ideally in a series, is marketing technology, but it’s no more marketing when I say it than when a good agent says it. Just as when I say genre hopping is a bad idea, it’s not marketing technology – it’s awareness of the trends in the market in which you wish to compete.

            The truth is that I broke big once I had a dozen books out, and started a series that caught, on conjunction with the timing of Select’s free program – for about six months, you could get serious visibility by running a free promo – but that only required the technological sophistication to read about the results, and enroll in select with a mouse click.

            Up until then, all the tweeting, blogging, etc. did nothing I can see other than suck my time. I’m up front about that. Social media doesn’t sell books, at least not the way most of the gurus say it does. It’s a way of interacting with readers, nothing more. Using it to try to sell them shit is like attending parties and trying to sell everyone there insurance. You are the most hated guy there after a short period of time.

            No, the frustrating truth is that 99% of all authors regardless of talent or work ethic won’t make any real money at this. It’s always been that way. Probably always will be. But if you can create five to ten quality genre fiction tomes per year, in a series, in a genre that’s popular, as a self-publisher you have a much better chance of making decent money than as a trad. True, you’ll also have to operate your publishing company, but it’s not particularly different than operating any other company. It requires long hours, dedication, flexibility, constant awareness of the competitive landscape, and some luck.

            I’ve found that authors hate the reality that most won’t make it, and engage in either magical thinking (god damn it, I SHOULD make it because I’m GOOD!) or denial of that reality (but I’m DIFFERENT!). Most won’t, that’s the odds, and if you want to craft a plan that will narrow them, you need an edge – mine being 12 to 15 hour days I spend writing, seven days a week. Those that do well in self-publishing tend to be outliers, but I’ve noticed something about almost all of them – they put in 12 hour days, seven days a week, too.

            Most authors can’t or won’t do that. Then again, there may be a correlation between most not succeeding, and most not working 12 hour days to succeed. I happen to think there is, because this is the third company I’ve built from scratch that succeeded (fifth total, but two didn’t do well because I wouldn’t put in the requisite time). I’ve noticed that while there are no guarantees in life, those willing to make it their life’s mission to succeed at whatever endeavor they are trying to succeed in do better than those who bemoan the kind of application that’s required.

            It’s not fair, it’s not even sane, but it’s my observation that if you want to make a career out of self-publishing, you need to be prepared to invest massive time and effort in BOTH the writing part, and the book selling (publishing) part. If you can’t, or lack the skills to do so and don’t want to learn them, then the only real option is to go trad and hope the publisher does its job well, or self-publish and watch your books languish because there’s someone else in the genre who is working their ass off to get the visibility you’re not getting.

            All of which is a long-winded way of saying no, it’s not the technology. It’s the back-breaking hours and the single-minded focus, if anything.

            Which, BTW, I’m not recommending. But it is what it is.

  11. Wed 03rd Sep 2014 at 8:38 am

    There is some truth in Mr. Knister’s comments, but it also pretty much neglects/disdains the habits, preferences, desires of the average reader. I too have been dismayed by some of the writing inside “bestselling” books, both Indie & Traditionally published, but this has been the case for hundreds of years. An ‘expert” (a former editor of the Atlantic) that I worked with estimated that there are roughly 50,000 readers of literary fiction in this country. If true, a quite amazing number. Most people want escape, entertainment, genre fiction. Some of this genre fiction provides much more but it’s not why readers download a novel. But, like me, there are plenty of readers who read all sorts of texts–genre & literary–and writers of all stripes are better off now in this new crazy environment & its demands that they were before. But lots of writers don’t yet realize that. My nickel’s worth anyway.

    Reply
  12. cinisajoy
    Wed 03rd Sep 2014 at 4:54 pm

    As a reader I can say that I am loving this new way of publishing. Yes there are some crap books out there but there are also some really fabulous books. I love that if I want a “new” book at 3AM, it is easy to obtain. I am also loving the lower prices.
    Now I would disagree with Mr. Knister in the fact that learning new skills is a gatekeeper. The fact is no one is keeping you from learning those skills. A gatekeeper is only when someone is preventing you from doing something at all.

    Otherwise enjoying this discussion.

    Reply
    • Barry Knister  –  Wed 03rd Sep 2014 at 5:44 pm

      Cinisajoy–
      A gatekeeper is a person–or a bar-code scanner, or a retina scanner–that admits some, and denies entrance to others. That’s exactly what current technology and social media represent, and both are in a state of constant flux. To say “no one is keeping you from learning those skills” is a little like telling a CPA that in order to compete in his field, he’ll now need to learn plumbing–but no one is stopping him from doing so. If this makes no sense to you, that probably means you are young enough to have grown up with social media. Those of us who didn’t live–literally–in a different world.

      Reply
      • cinisajoy  –  Wed 03rd Sep 2014 at 6:25 pm

        Oh now I see what you are saying. I remember when social media was going outside to see what everyone else was doing.
        I love your CPA analogy but is there any reason a CPA cannot learn plumbing? That was my point. No one is keeping you from learning a new skill other than maybe your brain saying no I don’t want to have to do this.
        Mr. Knister, I am not buying your lines as my mom who is on medicare is in college right now. This semester is meteorology and sociology. But she is adapting and learning new things all the time.
        I will give you it is a very different world than the one we grew up in.

        You know we both forgot there is one other option available if you do not want to learn marketing skills and that is to hire someone that does marketing. I mean Coke, Pepsi, all the car dealers hire marketing (advertising) agencies to get the word out.

        Though now that you have peaked, piqued and peeked my interest, what genre do you write in and do you have any e-books?

        Reply
        • Barry Knister  –  Wed 03rd Sep 2014 at 6:45 pm

          Cinisajoy–
          Hats off to your mom, and I mean it. I truly admire people who take on challenges. You say your mother is on Medicare. This means she’s probably not young. So, I have a question for you: is your mother in college out of choice or necessity? That makes a huge difference.
          About no one standing in the way of a CPA apprenticing himself to a master plumber: stop and think about it. Why did the CPA learn accounting? Because he wanted to be an accountant. Same for the plumber. Neither had any interest in the other’s career.
          As to your suggestion that I hire someone to handle marketing for my work, I’ve tried that. I lost thousands in the process–paid to a very famous and highly thought-of professional Internet marketing guru–whose “efforts” turned out to be worthless.
          Finally, you ask what I write. Currently, I have two Kindle ebooks, very different from each other. One is a book for dog nuts, called Just Bill. This is a fable for adults about dogs living with their owners on a golf course. It’s not for anyone who isn’t big on dogs. The other book is the first in a suspense series, called The Anything Goes Girl.
          You can “Look Inside” at Amazon, or read a sample or hear me read from both stories at my website.
          Thanks for asking.

          Reply
          • cinisajoy  –  Wed 03rd Sep 2014 at 7:08 pm

            Please call me cin.
            It is mom’s choice to be going to college. She worked in a refinery for 20 years before she retired.
            I am sorry you lost money on marketing. It was just an idea. And I really do see your point on the CPA and plumbing. I remember when a bunch of older HVAC guys had to go take a test so they could keep doing what they had been doing for 20 plus years. They were not happy with that at all. And that was within their field.
            I will check out your books.

          • Barry Knister  –  Wed 03rd Sep 2014 at 10:13 pm

            Russell:
            You troubled yourself, yet again, somewhere in the midst of your twelve-hour day during your seven-day work week to reply at length. You are obviously passionate about your views, and although you provide no “reply” button, you deserve some response.
            “I opted for learning [the skills needed to become a publisher], mainly because it seemed that the reward would justify the commitment of time and money.”
            “…if you can create five or ten quality genre fiction tomes per year, in a series, in a genre that’s popular….”
            “…this is the third company I’ve built from scratch….”
            All these statements from your reply identify a clear position: like James Patterson, you make no claims regarding literature. Your intent is to exploit a special gift for generating lots of saleable product, the way anyone who produces widgets or Subway sandwiches seeks to do. More power to you. Another comparison might be made with models, both male and female. They have attributes that can be monetized–physical good looks. What sane person who believes in capitalism is going to argue with that?
            But: “The biggest mistake I see writers make is insufficient production speed, writing in genres that don’t have sufficient depth to support them [I assume you mean the writers, not the genres], genre hopping, and wasting their time on things that don’t sell books or produce them. You’ll note that none of these are marketing related.”
            Please. Every one of them is marketing related. Never mind being moved by something so naïve as inspiration or intellect to tell a story. Be moved by decisions driven exclusively by the marketplace. Early in this long exchange, you made passing reference to MFAs who look down on popular fiction. I would say you look down on anyone who doesn’t take his marching orders from MBAs.
            But you are a stand-up guy to open your site to this kind of discussion. It has to be a good thing, and I thank you for it.

          • Russell Blake  –  Thu 04th Sep 2014 at 1:01 pm

            If you want to be a starving artist, think like a starving artist. My favorite authors are people like David Foster Wallace and James Lee Burke. These are men who write magnificent prose. But I recognize that my tastes as an author have no relevance to my choices as a publisher.

            I think that’s what you’re missing: Every word you speak sounds like a defensive justification as an author, not a pursuit of how to be successful as a PUBLISHER, which is what you are doing when you self-publish. I’ll clarify my position further: The single biggest mistake most authors make, which results in them failing, is thinking like authors, not publishers, once they set out to be successful publishers/booksellers. They place value on all the things that have zero relevance to selling books, and everything to do with validating their author existence.

            When you put on your publishing hat, you need to park your author ego outside, or you’ll fail. It’s that simple.

            As I said earlier, the skills required to be a successful author (writing marvelous books) have zero to do with being a successful publisher (the ability to gauge marketability of a product, craft a promotional message that resonates, take effective, vs. ineffective steps to market the product, etc.).

            I didn’t realize you wanted to have a discussion about writing. About inspiration and intellect and storytelling, all of which are essential to being a compelling author, but have little or nothing to do with operating a successful book selling business. I’d propose that you read a few of the look inside features of my more popular work, like JET, or King of Swords, or BLACK, of since you favor animal books, An Angel With Fur, and then we can discuss the literary merit or lack thereof of my books. Everyone’s got an opinion, however I should state up front that I value those of the folks who are willing to shell out $6 by the tens of thousands over the opinions of self-declared experts with a degree who have never written a bestseller in their lives. I mean, yes, I admire anyone who can sit through all the courses to get an MFA, and there are some who are insightful and good at what they do, but most fall along bell curve distribution, which is to say are average, albeit with inflated notions as to the value of their opinions. Only as an acquisitions editor can you be wrong 99% of the time about what will sell and still consider yourself an expert. Even a weatherman, or god forbid, a politician, has to have a better track record. I suppose it’s the smug sense of superiority exuded by those with MFA degrees that rankles, although I preface that with the observation that it could be I’ve just run across the most objectionable of them.

            That said, if you wish to improve your odds of selling your work, you would be best to heed the counsel of someone closing in on a million books sold over three years, coming from nowhere. I understand that’s an argument from authority, but it’s a compelling one. Alternatively you can convince yourself that my advice has no value, which is also fine by me – it’s your career, not mine. If what you’re doing is generating the results you seek, don’t waste your time with my blog. If it’s not, you might want to remove the “defense of your approach” hat, and consider donning the “WTF do I need to do to sell books” hat, unless you want to spend your time commiserating with the 99% who don’t sell books. I say that with all kindness. While there are no guarantees, I have dozens of friends who are all self-published authors, who all work the same hours I do. I have none who refuse to do the work and lament their circumstance.

            Put simply, to be successful as a self-published author over a span of years, it is necessary to generate a large body of work of sufficient quality to engage, if not enthrall, a significant readership. If you wish to argue why that’s not good, or philosophically right, you may, but it falls on deaf ears here. I am concerned with results, not hyperbole or rhetoric. That is the business of book selling, which is a commercial enterprise devoted to selling a product: Books. Being an author, most of whom are starving, is a different enterprise, an artistic pursuit, where discussions of literary merit and being moved are appropriate.

            Confounding the two, again and again, as you are doing, is a recipe for disaster. I say that with all due respect. But just because you dislike the message that operating a successful startup publishing business requires close to 100 hours a week for the first three years, doesn’t mean that it isn’t true. I’d venture a guess that you’re not clocking anywhere near those kinds of hours, nor should you, frankly. As with all outliers, their results typically come at great sacrifice, and with a publishing business like mine, it’s spare time to do anything but write the next one and focusing on interacting with readers.

            Operating a successful self-publishing is to being an author what operating a successful restaurant is to being a cook. While it’s helpful to be a master chef, what will ultimately determine your restaurant’s success is your skill operating a restaurant, not your love of cooking. Now take that one step further – if you are only a master chef in your own mind, but fancy that critiquing the recipes of other chefs is much the same thing, your odds of operating a successful restaurant are even lower. That’s why authors should work to master their craft before trying to open their publishing business, and need to learn what it takes to operate a restaurant as well, not gripe about how tough it is.

            Bluntly, if you put in part time hours, expect to make what any part time worker makes. To have any other expectation is engaging in magical thinking, wherein you take a year or two to write your magnum opus an hour here, an hour there, and then a leprechaun rides up on a winged unicorn and deposits a bag of money in your lap. That’s not how it works. You want to make the kind of money a highly skilled professional makes as a successful business owner, then put in the 12-15 hour days for three years to become that highly skilled professional. Otherwise, adjust your expectations to be commiserate with the effort you are willing to devote to the business, which if a few hours here and there, will pay about what a coffee house waitress might make, if that. Obviously, this blog doesn’t target how to achieve that outcome.

            The reason I take time to reply at such length is because I feel it’s important for new authors to fully understand the odds stacked against them, and to further get a feeling for what will be required if they want to have a reasonable shot at it as a self-pubbed author. If as a trad pubbed author, they’re likely to see a $5-$15K advance for their 2-3 years of query/find agent/get deal/revise/release ordeal, which might translate into $2-$5K a year for their time, minus 15% for their agent, and taxes. To me that’s not worth discussing, hence my blog, which is focused on how to make good money operating a publishing business that features your own work.

            For more on my thoughts on how to operate a successful publishing business as a self-pubbed author, I refer you to my How To Sell Loads Of Books blog.

            Your mileage, as always, may vary.

  13. cinisajoy
    Wed 03rd Sep 2014 at 11:57 pm

    Mr. Knister,
    You keep mentioning literature. If I want literature and a discussion on it I will head to my nearest college. If I want entertainment I will head to Amazon and pick up someone like Russell. He is pretty much guaranteed to keep me occupied for a few hours. Plus he is good looking, has great booze and loves his readers.

    Reply

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