Life as an independent author is different than life as an author published by a transnational corporation. You’ll make little money and find few opportunities to travel to promote your work—and if you do, you’ll probably pay for it yourself. You’ll also see little-to-no mainstream exposure. If you’re lucky, your readers will number in the hundreds. With writers publishing more books now than ever before, thanks in large part to self-publishing, your book could disappear in a universe of white noise the moment it’s released.
If you’re not prepared for the realities of existing as an indie writer, the prospects might appear bleak. They might even thrust you into an existential crisis as they did me: I assumed my books would find readers, I assumed I was meant to write, I assumed I could focus on my writing while other people helped me along the way—and I was wrong in every case.
Your Books Won’t Find Readers
Years ago, I encountered a tantalizing idea while reading a book about the French poet Arthur Rimbaud. The author digressed into a discussion about the French writer Lautreamont. During this discussion, he argued that books find their way into the right hands. This idea enchanted me. As a result, I naively assumed it was true and not an unsupported claim contrived to support a shaky thesis.
The reality is brutal and the amount of books published each year is startling. In 2015 alone, more than 700,000 books were self-published. When you factor in the books published by indie publishers and corporations, that number nears one million. With so many books flooding the marketplace each week, it’s easy for the majority to slip into oblivion.
You Must Learn the Basics of Marketing
Perhaps you consider yourself an artist peddling ideas, a person too busy or important to stoop to the level of shameless self-promotion. If you’re like I was, then there’s no mincing words: you’re misguided, even bordering on delusion.
In a sense, all behavior is a form of marketing. We tend to present a version of ourselves that we want to project or that we think others expect us to project. Our online behavior tends to establish narrow personalities, and our posts will often refine or reinforce the facets of our personalities we’re trying to emphasize.
Most of the time this seems to be non-conscious. We tend to do it without realizing we’re doing it or without articulating a plan to ourselves. Marketing and creating a brand is, in a sense, consciously performing tasks that we’re usually performing on non-conscious levels.
There are plenty of resources online to help understand marketing and branding. I learned the hard way—and I’m still learning—to take these resources seriously. In a world where so many books are published each year, few people will hear of your books and fewer still will have a desire to read them. For this reason, marketing and branding are crucial.
If you can accept that you are, to a degree, already practicing both, then learning to harness certain techniques might set you on a path to better informing potential readers.
You Must Pursue Passion Not Money
Most writers these days make less than 5 thousand dollars a year. The majority make less than that. The number of writers making six or seven figures are low. If you desire to make a fortune, then disillusionment might shake your core beliefs about writing books, especially fiction; it might even dampen your passions.
If you’re lucky, you’ll generate some spending money. But you probably won’t reap huge profits. Those able to live off their writing know firsthand that it took a lot of effort to get to that point. Don’t quit your job the minute your book is published. You’ll probably regret it. Fortunately, that’s one mistake I didn’t make.
All creative endeavors require a certain degree of naïveté. A sister to optimism, naïveté could help fuel your ambitions. It could also encourage you to take risks. But you must temper your optimism and naïveté with a modicum of caution. If you go all-in on writing, you’re apt to learn things along the way. Don’t let it discourage you. I was far more naive than I had thought when I leaped into the publishing game. My disillusionment came at a cost: it forced me to question everything, and I lost what little confidence I managed to accumulate over the years. Tread lightly, writers. Don’t make the same mistakes I made. You’ll save yourself a lot of time and hassle.
Daulton Dickey is a novelist, poet, and content creator currently living in Indiana. He’s the author of A Peculiar Arrangement of Atoms: Stories, Still Life with Chattering Teeth and People-Shaped Things, and other stories, Elegiac Machinations: an experimental novella, and Bastard Virtues, a novel. Rooster Republic Press will publish his latest novel, Flesh Made World, later this year. Contact him at daultondickey[at]yahoo[dot]com.