When I tell someone I’ve written a book, they usually ask, “What’s your book about?” To which I usually give some longish explanation that I regret not making shorter and more punchy.
The second question they usually ask is, “How are you promoting it?” To which I answer, “I’m not.”
For this, I get a lot of blank stares, or something along the lines of “Why the heck not?”
Because of this I thought I should just write about why I’m focused on production, not promotion.
First, about a year ago, I heard this podcast by Jeff Goins called, There is No Easy Button: Johnny B. Truant & Sean Platt on Self-Publishing.
The light bulb went on over my head! I felt joy in my heart!
Seriously. Despite all the cliches I’m throwing out right now, this podcast really did change my life. For the first time, I heard writing and publishing advice that deeply resonated with me. That advice was to focus on writing as many good books as you can and don’t worry so much about promoting them.
Develop a strong backlist of 7-10 books rather than spending precious months and years promoting each book. If someone discovers one of your books and likes it, they will want to buy the rest of your books. With a strong backlist, in time, you can earn a full-time income from your writing. It made total sense to me. And these guys were doing it!
Second, I heard about this fellow named Hugh Howey.
Maybe you’ve heard of him?
Bestselling self-published author of Wool?
College dropout and multimillionaire?
Generous blogger and advice-giver to indie authors around the world?
Yep, that’s him.
I can’t remember how I found Hugh but when I did, I read his blog post, My Advice to Aspiring Authors, and like Johnny and Sean’s podcast, it blew my mind.
Hugh worked in a bookstore full-time while quietly and diligently writing novels and short stories one by one. I remember reading one of his posts where he admitted he didn’t even tell his friends about his books out of not wanting them to feel compelled to have to read his stuff. Humble man and not bad advice. When his 40-page short story, Wool, blew up and went viral, he had already written about seven to eight novels.
Some key pieces of advice from Hugh.
When I finished my first novel, I was on a complete high. This is when you think your book is the shit and you wonder why Oprah hasn’t called. You’re gonna be rich!
This feeling lasted a few days. That’s when I started writing my next work. My father at the time wondered why I wasn’t spending all of my time promoting that first book. I told him I had my entire life to promote my works. I only had now to write. I stuck to that principle for years, writing and publishing several novels or short stories a year…
…This is going to sound strange, but you are MUCH better off with your 10th work exploding than your 1st work. You’ll never have quiet time to crank out quality material ever again. And when your backlist matches the growth of your first breakout, you’ll do very well for yourself. Be patient. It’s been said by many others, but I’ll repeat it here: self-publishing is a marathon, not a sprint.
Great advice. Makes total sense.
As of this post, Hugh’s sailing around the world on his new yacht (he was a yacht captain before working in a bookstore) but he still makes time to crank out stories on a regular basis and write great articles on self-publishing and the publishing industry. Hugh’s success is helping to change the face of publishing.
Third, I found the bestselling self-publishing czar and irreverent character named JA Konrath. His blog, A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing is full of helpful tips and advice for indie authors. And it’s funny to boot.
Joe’s article on How to Succeed is one of my favorites. Here are some of the gems included in the post.
Q: What’s the secret to selling a lot of ebooks?
Joe: There is no secret. Write good books, with good descriptions, good formatting, and good cover art, sell them cheap, and keep at it until you get lucky.
Q: I have an ebook, but it isn’t selling well. What should I do to market it?
Joe: Write another ebook, and another, and keep at it until you get lucky.
Q: I’ve changed my cover art 56 times, but sales are still flat.
Joe: You need to keep writing until you get lucky.
Q: Joe, I’ve followed your blog, and you’re the reason I decided to self-publish. How did you get so many sales?
Joe: I kept at it until I got lucky.
Q: Joe, you’re a pioneer. A hero. A guru. You deserve all the success you’ve gotten. To what do you attribute your success?
Joe: I simply got lucky.
Q: You talk about luck a lot. How do I improve my chances at getting lucky?
Joe: Keep writing good books, with good descriptions, good formatting, and good cover art, and sell them cheap.
You get the picture. I love Joe’s sense of humor, and like Hugh, his generosity in lifting the veil on self-publishing and the publishing industry is enlightening and empowering. I’m making my way slowly but surely through his blog and I’m learning so much.
So, it might be a bit of a long-winded answer, but now I have this post to refer people to when they give me blank stares, and four indie authors to point to as models of inspiration. I stand by my self-publishing mantra: production, not promotion.
Peg Cheng is the author of The Contenders, a middle-grade novel centered on the question, can enemies become friends? She is also the founder of Prelaw Guru, a law school application consulting company, and the author of The No B.S. Guides for prelaw students.
Photo by Cromemco.