It seems like everyone is a writer these days. It used to be such an exclusive club only a lucky few could enter if they were deemed worthy by a highly picky and difficult to reach agent, who then had to convince an even pickier, loftier publisher. But once inside the hallowed walls of a publishing house, the dream life of being an author could begin for the lucky 1% who ran the gauntlet. I wish I could say that was all gone now, barriers smashed with the advent and ease of self-publishing, but in so many ways, nothing has changed. While it is easy to get your book published, it is much harder to get someone to read it. Every day on social media, an author begs me to read their latest book, to follow them, to friend them, to just NOTICE them.
There are always those lucky few lottery winners who walk away with commercial success, indy authors like Amanda Hocking or EL James, but for most self-published authors, it is a long, slow climb up a crowded slope. And without a national book deal, it is still very hard to get your book noticed. Barnes and Noble will rarely make a significant buy. Finding shelf space in indy bookstores, or getting into venues like airports or department stores, is next to impossible. Even with hundreds of bloggers flogging title after title, making yours stand out in the crowd is a challenge. The second your book is released, another hundred come out and push yours down the line, like an Instagram post in a popular feed.
So what can an indy author do?
- It’s always about the writing. Take yours to a higher level. Enroll in classes, have your manuscript critiqued by solid editors, and never stop working on craft. There is no replacement for good storytelling.
- Create unique characters that stand out. I recently DNF’d Red Queen, a very popular YA book, because after reading a few chapters I felt like the main character was a rehash of other strong female characters. The echo was so loud, I went online to see if others felt the same way, and sadly, there were many. It’s a good reminder that even successfully published books have their flaws.
- Find something new to add to the genre you write in. Every popular genre has a long list of books that vie to be noticed. There are only so many dystopian worlds that can be rehashed before the reader grows weary of teenagers fighting oppressive battles against totalitarian regimes. Hunger Games, great, Divergent series, good. The rest, well, the same old underlying story starts to wear the reader down. If you write in a popular genre, make your book stand out by turning the genre on its head. Give your characters unique problems, or find a different perspective to tell the story from. I like how in The Maze Runner, the author set the story in a very unique dystopian world that the reader doesn’t really discover much about until the end.
- Lastly, no matter how challenging the road ahead, never stop writing!
Keep an iron jaw.