As we’re well into the New Year, I’ve now found time to evaluate the things I do as part of my business; writing. I have been a published writer since 2009. Before that (as well as playing around with writing) I owned and ran my own businesses; sport-related sailing and skiing holiday companies and I also oversaw and advised two other companies with their own administration. The combined turnover was in excess of a million (£) and during the time I ran the companies (ten years) I thoroughly enjoyed my working day.
Nowadays, my writing is my career. In 2009, my first novel was taken on by a traditional publishing house. But since the beginning of 2011, I have also seen the immense value of independent publishing.
Before I even began writing in earnest, I saw my writing as a career, a way to make a living. I’m so happy to work in an extremely creative profession, and because I’m improving daily with both the creativity and the business side, I am free to write what and when I want to write.
So I’m writing this blog post from the perspective of a professional writer. I define professional as someone who aspires to make her or his living as a writer.
When I first started writing articles and short stories, it was rare to make a living as a self-published writer. Nowadays, everything has changed and most writers can tell you that it IS possible to make a living as a self-published writer. In fact, in the majority of cases you can make more money as a self-published writer than you ever could as a mid-list writer—and occasionally, more than you could make as a bestseller.
Don’t you find that astonishing? I do, and perhaps even more surprising is that this change has happened in just the last couple of years. Traditional publishing astonishes me too, but for different reasons. E.g. – using agents – makes no sense.
After being in retail for numerous years, one thing that was hammered into me was how you treated your customers and how to make these customers your repeat customers. And with this in mind here, I mean readers.
If your readers like your work, they’ll want to read everything you write. If your readers like a series, they’ll want to read the whole of your series. And if it’s a series that has a continuing theme (like a murder mystery series e.g. Diana Rivers mystery thrillers), my readers don’t want to skip an episode in that storyline.
This easy and simple thing has all too often been messed up by traditional publishers – and yet, ironically most traditional publishers seem to succeed in spite of some of their business practices. This says to me, that there is so much money to be made in publishing that even the most useless people can blunder their way into keeping their pub houses going.
So in knowing traditional publishing ignore readers, how does this equate with Indie writers and their readers?
I’ve noticed most writers focus on sales, promotion, how many downloads and making books free above everything else. Many Indie writers have only the one book and they promote it like mad. They give it away for free (I have tried this with 2 novels and it has boosted sales and awareness enormously) and they sell it for 99 cents, thinking that will increase their sales.
But are these writers successful? Supposing they do get thousands of downloads. Out of these, at least some people will read that book, and out of that portion some will like it.
What happens then? Well maybe nothing. Even if they eventually write another book, they have to start all over from scratch again, because the readers who liked their one and only book—that portion of download readers—they will soon have forgotten the Indie writer. There are plenty more writers out there after all.
Do you know what you’re reading now? What did you read before this book? Do you even know the author’s name? I’d be surprised if you do.
When you look at it this way, you can say that Indie writers are actually treating their readers as badly as traditional publishers do. In the same way; by denying your readers the next book. If you only have one book and you give it away for free, promote it heavily and sell a lot of copies, but there is no follow-up book, then you have lost and snubbed your readers.
I truly believe readers expect writers to publish one book, two, then three books. They expect several books from their favourite writers. Readers are willing to wait but they hate to be cheated. Many readers won’t start reading a series of only one book because they’ve been caught before. Why start reading something the writer has no intention of finishing? Would you?
Now I have control of when and where my books come out and this is a lovely challenge. I might have several unfinished series novels which I can finish and put into print. However, I need time to write those books and I’ll feel the pressure from the readers because I know they’re waiting. I can only write as fast as I can!
Unlike so many new writers, I know that I would not be here if it weren’t for my readers. My readers stick with me.
So, Indie writers don’t, for goodness sake do the same thing as traditional publishers. Don’t write a book and then wait over a year before you think about writing something else – you’re discourteous to your readers – who might love you! These people have invested their hard-earned cash and, more importantly, their time in your book. Readers have traditionally been used to writers building a career and knowing it might take a year after the first book to get their hands on the second but modern readers now have greater expectations.
They expect heavy promotion when a writer’s subsequent book/s comes out. Not his first. If a writer gets heavy promotion on his first book, then that first book has to be brilliant. Remember, traditional publishers only spend masses of money on first novelists when that book has the chance of winning a top, coveted book award, is being made into a movie, or has six more books behind it, waiting to be published a few months apart.
My readers expect that rhythm. So if you screw up, when you promote something with no follow-up, you risk making the reader hopping mad – especially if your book is good! The reader can easily move onto writers who have more than one book and will forget you. He will stop trolling through Amazon and look elsewhere for books.
Again, a reader might have downloaded that free eBook, but they won’t read it until they know another book is on the way. This counts for nothing as you haven’t gained a reader.
Studies have shown it takes a reader several books before they will buy a book based on author-name recognition only and traditional publishing made it hard for readers to find an author’s second or fifth book. So many traditional publishers gave up on writers after a second book didn’t do as well as the first and those writers didn’t hang around long enough for a reader to build any loyalty to that writer.
Don’t despair! readers often are dedicated. That’s what traditional publishing misses with its focusing on selling a thousand books in one week instead of five thousand over the year. And readers have a relationship with books. They love the characters or the world the author built.
Traditional publishers call readers “consumers.” This is true as consumers buy goods. Readers buy books. But that’s where the analogy ends. They forget that the consumer is also someone who consumes something by eating it, drinking it, or using it up.
Readers can’t eat or drink a book. Nor do they destroy the book when they’ve read it. They haven’t “used it up,” despite traditional publishing seeming to believe so. Traditional publishers are based on the consumer model by using the definition a ‘reader will use it up’. Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare or Mark Twain readers know that stories last forever. Books can live much longer than their creators and can have a long term relationship with their reader.
When an indie writer gets caught up in the number of sales their only novel has, or they do everything to sell their one book without having another book for the reader, those writers have forgotten what it’s like to be a reader. As a reader, I love to fall in love with a new writer, to read everything that writer has written, and to wait impatiently for the next book.
Don’t ever forget what brought you into writing in the first place. Every writer I’ve met started writing because they loved books. They loved reading books, they loved imaginary worlds, and they loved the experience of being somewhere else without actually physically moving. It is a relationship between the writer and her readers.
I write books because I love to tell stories, and I am grateful that readers want to read them. But if I only told the story that the readers want, then I’d stop being the best writer I can be. I have to grow experiment and stretch my imagination.
Remember free has its limits. If you’re talking about a career, then the free item must be a short-term thing, a loss leader, and there have to be other products that a reader can find. It’s called ‘Fremium Marketing’. (Get one free with the idea that it will lead the reader to look at and buy another in the same line of goods.) The Indie publishing world can correct the mistakes traditional publishing makes. The new Indie world can make books available for a long time and the world of indie publishing is tailor-made for the long-term reader/writer relationship.
Which brings me to the beginning of my blog post. The more readers a writer has on all of her books--all, not “one,” but all—the more money that writer will make. Readers are happy to pay for a book. Now the writer has time to build readership. If a traditional publisher has taken books out of print, the writer can get her rights back and issue the book herself. The writer can continue a series that traditional publishing determines isn’t worth their time. The indie writer has time and please - don’t look only short term.
Money, of course is an important measure - readers who are willing to part with hard-earned cash to read my work. I’m grateful for that and when readers ask about the next book, I am so delighted, so honoured as it means I’m doing something right.
Remember, writers—traditional and indie—your writing career isn’t about kudos for your only book. It’s about building readers, and about maintaining the relationship. Success isn’t all those free downloads in an afternoon. Success is attracting readers and having them come back for years. I found it hard in the beginning. A new writer has no fan base. Writers earn their fan base, one reader and one book at a time. Fans come back and we have to remember that.
I really should be writing my next novel – and yet I’m here writing this blog post! I have hundreds, sometimes thousands of readers who show up for my blog every week, and I value you all.
Thank you and have a great week.
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This blog post was in part taken from the writer, Kristine Kathryn Rusch. I admired what she'd written and took some of her ideas, and put them together with my own findings and thoughts. I should have acknowledged Ms Rusch as the originator of the post. Apologies to Ms Rusch for any misunderstanding.