There’s no reason for you to read my books

The title above is neither a bitter statement nor a request for you to stay away, more a suggestion of a problem that I think affects ninety-nine per cent of writers out there using KDP or some other self-publishing system.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the whole self-publishing experience recently. I’ve learned a few things during my two-plus years on this merry-go-round; enough to know that my books will never be anything more than a sideline for me, much as I’d like them to be something more, because maybe I’m missing some kind of X-factor, because year-on-year my sales haven’t improved but declined. When fanciful dreams get a bucketful of cold, wet reality thrown in their face they often harden into ice. And although my heart isn’t icy-cold yet, there is a certain cooling of interest in the whole self-publishing rigmarole (from a business perspective, at least). I’m not sure if other writers are feeling it yet, maybe they are, maybe they aren’t, but I’ve come to realise that the reason Big Publishing has survived as long as it has is because it knows a few things about its audience – a damn sight more than many of us do.

They know that there’s no reason for anybody to buy their books (you see, there was a reason for that title), but they make an audience want to read the damn things anyway and they do it time and time again. In all honesty, how many self-publishers (or even small presses) can say they’ve done anything even remotely similar. Building a brand takes time, money, good contacts, good luck, and most importantly (although not necessarily the case) good material. Big Publishing generally has the best covers, the best marketing brains, the best contacts, can sometimes make their own damn luck and, most importantly, they have that big fucking cachet – most of the best writers want to be published by them. If you are published by Big Publishing you automatically have something that no self-publisher has – reputation. Before you start harrumphing and disagreeing, think about it.

I’m not saying that going through the whole gate-keeping process of agent selection, editing, publisher, more editing routine necessarily means that the books are better but, let’s face it, in the mind of the book buying public at large this is nearly always the case. Instant reputation. What writer wouldn’t want that for their work?

Self-publishers have to deal with an inbuilt prejudice amongst the reading public – their work is automatically inferior because they aren’t well edited, have shite covers, can’t spell, don’t have, like, good grammar, and stuff, like what those proper authors have – in short, we have no reputation. And it remains this way until we can prove otherwise – meaning it is already harder for us.

If you are really persistent, write the kind of novels the public loves well, and have a certain amount of luck, too, you might be able to succeed at this self-publishing lark (Amanda Hocking, John Locke, Joe Konrath, Stephen Leather, Mark Edwards and Louise Voss, Saffina Desforges’ Sugar and Spice, and Bella Andre spring immediately to mind), but, for most of us, this kind of click with the public in order to create some kind of zeitgeist probably won’t happen.

If, like me, you write stuff that might be considered marginal (too violent, too downbeat, too much swearing, too many unpleasant characters etc.) then you’re screwed from the get-go – and unscrewing yourself is a major job in itself. It’s at this point that you’ll realise that the reason that Big Publishing doesn’t want to know is because your stuff just doesn’t have audience appeal. It comes back to the title – there’s no reason for you to read my books. I have to make you want to read them.

I’ve changed covers, thrown money at advertising, tried guerilla advertising techniques (flyers dropped in public places etc.), put up posters, joined forums (communicated with fellow readers and writers), joined social media outlets, given my books away, asked for reviews, slashed prices, and still every tiny sale feels like it has to be hewn out of a large rock of indifference. I’m doing more for less. And it is getting worse all the time.

Does it mean I’m giving up? No. I love writing, I love creating the kind of stuff that I want to read. But what it does mean is that I can’t be bothered trying to force or coerce people to buy my stuff any more. I loathe advertising all the time. I’m not a salesman, have no real feeling for it, and always feel somewhat embarrassed when sending out please buy my book requests. The only way I’m going to sell more than a handful of sales in a year is through the kind of effort I just can’t afford to do, literally. I’m a freelancer. My time is money. If I don’t work I don’t get paid. Every hour I spend trying to get one sale is an hour I spend not getting paid for my profession – and I get paid a helluva lot more for my profession than I do for my writing. So, from this moment on, I am giving up any kind of concerted marketing effort for my books.

When I eventually get round to releasing something in 2013 I will give it an initial push on Facebook, Twitter, my blog (two to three weeks, at most – because that’s when most sales and interest come in, anyway) but after that I’m going to let my books rise or fall on their own merits (or lack of them). There will be no more Kindle freebies, nor any please buy my book tweets several months after release, and I won’t be doing blog tours or anything of that nature. From now on, I’ll be solely about getting on with the business of writing (books, short stories, reviews, the occasional other blog post), but the sales pitches are a thing of the past.

I have found out that there’s no reason for the public to read my books, and I simply don’t have the time or the money at the moment to change that fact. And, do you know something, I’m actually cool with it.

10 thoughts on “There’s no reason for you to read my books

  1. Fair points indeed, who could argue.It’s the way it is for most of us.
    For the record, Stephen Leather was a best-selling author long before Kindle and was one of the first to see it’s potential and exploit it, which is why everything he writes sells by the bucketload.
    If he put his name on my book it’d be a best seller. If I put my name on his…..well…you get the point.
    I see myself as a pub band writer…yes, I’d love that support slot for the Stones, but it won’t be happening…at least with self-publishing somebody reads my stuff, and I make a few quid if I chased a deal, nobody ever would.

    • Cheers.

      I’m aware that Stephen Leather was a big writer long before self-publishing, but he has certainly used self-publishing his back catalogue to the serious advance of his career. In fact, I’d say he’s probably a bigger author now, in terms of sales because of self-publishing. That is a very good point about his name on your book, though… Hmm, maybe Stephen Leather’s ‘The Gamblers’?

      Pub Band writer! Love it! I’d say that’s exactly what I am, too. I guess I just need to fill up a larger pub venue than I do at the moment.

      • I know Stephen a bit…he has indeed become much bigger via his self-published stuff and has used his name and his marketing skill extremely well.
        You know I’m right about the name thing…put Cheryl Cole or David Beckham on the front of your next one.

  2. Yes! Yes! Yes! It has become clear to me that most books get sold reader to reader, much like the flue. I write because honestly nothing else I do fill that hole, the one I have shaped like a book. I have been reflecting this weekend on the launch of a new book, that’s three for those keeping score, that I am if nothing else getting better at getting ideas from brain to page. I also know I need to do a certain amount of pushing in the first weeks, and then get my ass back to the piece I’m in the middle of. I am blessed to have Snubnose Press helping on this one. But still, if it sells, it will be because a reader tells their friends they have to read this new book.
    “Somebody’s boring me. I think it’s me.” Dylan Thomas said that, and a week into pushing my book, I know what he meant. I’ll be writing, if fame and fortune call, please let them in.

  3. I think you’re right. Many authors do what they do because they’re filling some kind of book-shaped hole that would probably be filled by a vice or other self-destructive trait if they couldn’t write (I know that is how it works for me). Plus, I think we all want to write the book the book we’d most like to read. I doubt many of us have even come close to the book we have in our heads (although, if I’d written your Moses McGuire books I’d be a very happy man).

    I love that self-publishing has allowed me to put my work out there, but I hate the constant ‘Read me, read me, read me’ that I feel I have to do to get people to notice. Besides, there’s only so long you can shout before you simply become part of the background noise. Like you, I think I’ll keep writing until I’ve finished something and it’s time to start shouting again.

  4. you are not just part of the back ground noise. I like what I have read so far of “The Gamblers”, just got too darned busy to read anything at all. please don’t give up. your shout has reminded me that I have a very good book to read now that I am home.

    • Thank you very much for your kind words. They are very much appreciated 🙂

      I have no intention of giving up writing, but I have a feeling I need to work ‘smarter and not harder’ at this whole self-publishing game – build up more of a reputation for myself.

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