So you wrote a novel. Now what do you do with it? The life of an indie writer is rife with challenges. When it comes to publishing and marketing a book you’ve written, there are countless decisions to be made and lots of work to be done.
Your book needs a cover and a sales description. You need to correctly categorize it and formulate effective keywords to help readers find it. You need to determine how you will promote it.
All these activities take time and effort, and poor decisions can hamper your book’s performance. What’s more—sometimes, the thing tripping you up the most is yourself.
Lost in Translation
If you’re serious about writing fiction, you’ve likely spent some time digesting one of the best-read memoirs on the subject, Stephen King’s book, On Writing. In it, King says:
“All the arts depend upon telepathy to some degree, but I believe that writing offers the purest distillation.”
What he’s talking about is thought transference. When we write a story, we use black marks on paper—a sort of code—to transfer the story from our head into the heads of our readers.
It’s not an exact science, and no matter how hard we work at it, the story will never arrive perfectly intact. That’s okay. Readers view it through their own frame of reference and color it with their own perspective.
But there’s a problem that can arise when something is transformed during the process and we, as writers, don’t realize it.
The Author Problem
My mentor, Dean Wesley Smith, calls this the Author Problem. It’s when we are too close to our own work to make sound decisions about it after it’s complete. As indie writers, we must wear two hats and act for ourselves in two separate functions.
Smith says we must protect and defend our manuscripts. In other words, while wearing the writer’s hat, it’s all about story and the creative voice—taking chances and telling the best story we know how. Be very cautious during this stage about letting others into your work. This is your story, your voice, your creation.
But when you’ve finished writing, you enter into a new stage and put on the publisher hat. This is where editing and marketing come in, and where writers often get in their own way.
During the writing, the story is a living art form, breathing and growing beneath your fingertips. Once complete, it becomes a product and you have to be able to take a step back and view it that way.
8 Ways to Overcome the Author Problem and Master Publishing
The Author Problem can strike in many ways, but it is usually the result of allowing your writer self, with your own perception of the story you’ve written, into the publisher side of the business. Here are some areas where you’ll most likely encounter it.
It can be difficult to objectively choose well when it comes to your cover. As the writer, you may have a certain part of the story you want depicted on the cover because it’s just so cool.
But readers aren’t looking for plot points when they’re browsing covers. They are looking for an experience. The cover should convey feeling and tone, and be in line with the current bestsellers of the genre.
Writers are notoriously terrible at determining the genre of their own stories. This is an area where you might want to get some help from objective readers. An avid reader of romance will know if you’ve hit the mark or not.
If you think you’ve written a thriller, give it to someone who reads a lot of thrillers and get their take on it. I’ve spoken with many publishers who agree this is a problem area for writers.
3. Sales copy
Otherwise known as the book description, sales copy is another area where writers fall down. It is writing, but it requires a different set of tools than what you used to write your story.
Smith warns to be careful about looking at traditionally published books for examples. Unless the book is a top-seller, the description was likely written by someone fresh out of college with an English degree rather than a professional copywriter.
This is where the indies who are doing it right really shine. Go study the sales copy of successful indie books.
4. Sales expectations
There is no telling how a book will sell. It’s best to take the long tail approach and focus on producing more books, rather than obsessing over the sales of one book. It’s all about critical mass.
You will sell more as your inventory grows, and it all adds up. Focus on writing, not sales.
5. Author name
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need a different pen name for every genre or sub-genre you write in. That critical mass I mentioned above—you’ll be fracturing it.
Instead, use branding to set your books apart by genre, and concentrate on building your inventory under a single name.
That said, there are exceptions. Please don’t write children’s books and erotica under the same pen name.
6. Valuing your own work
Understand your work has extraordinary long term value. Do not sell yourself short.
7. Silly actions
Smith says he’s seen writers commit a lot of silly acts while under the influence of the Author Problem. One that makes him want to bang his head on the table is when writers go to all the trouble to write and publish a book and then end up pulling it off the market because it isn’t selling well or it’s “not up to my current standard.”
Leave it alone!
Update when necessary with new covers, sales descriptions, or keywords, but don’t take it down. You are the worst judge of your own work and you don’t know what readers will enjoy. Leave it up to them.
Smith told me about a conversation he once had with speculative fiction writer Harlan Ellison. Ellison made a statement that resonated with Smith and has informed many of his decisions ever since. He said, “The problems in an author’s life are the problems in their writing.”
Fear is often the stumbling block that keeps us from trying something new or attempting a challenge. Do what you have to do to get over it.
Be in control of your own work, while realizing you might be too close to the story. Ask for help, and be willing to listen in regard to genre, cover, and other aspects—after the writing, when you’re in the publisher seat.
Minimizing Author Problem
The Author Problem can do a lot of damage to your sales and your career. Watch out for it and use your tribe to help you overcome it in all the many ways it can manifest.
Above all, keep honing your craft. As you get better at transferring the story in your head to the head of your readers, your Author Problem will shrink. Clarity of vision goes a long way toward providing solutions.
How about you? Do you recognize the Author Problem in your work? Tell us about it in the comments.
Let’s try a little telepathy. Open a scene from your work in progress, or dream up something new just for this exercise. Give us the opening paragraphs, which should:
- Ground us in the viewpoint character’s head
- Ground us in the setting
- Give us an idea of the problem the character faces
- Impart the feeling and tone of the story
Remember—you are transferring the scene from your head to your reader’s head. Use details that are sensory, specific to your character, express opinion and emotion, and create a consistent feel. Let’s make a little mind magic!
Write for fifteen minutes. When you are finished, post your work in the comments, and be sure to respond to your fellow writers and let them know the vision you received from their writing. Your feedback is essential—telepathy is a two-way thing.