The titans of the self-publishing world were created in these early, heady days. They were the crafty, savvy, early adopters. They made it look easy, which (again, arguably) it was. It’s an issue of “volume” and “market saturation” in ebooks. Neither existed then, and these folks were able to carve out serious niches for themselves on their own. It’s well noted that most if not all of them, are now represented by agents and many have traditional publishing credits to their name. When you are first to colonize, you get the pick of the land, so to speak.
Since then, many more of us, myself included have jumped onto this train. In 2013 there were, approximately, a million (that’s 1,000,000,000) books published every year. It is estimated that over half of these were of the self-published variety. That means somewhere around 500,000 other folks flailing around alongside you to find readers outside their immediate family. If you pay any attention at all to the industry these days, you’re probably with me in guessing that the number is significantly higher as the “quick bucks in self publishing” myth has abounded in the past couple of years.
Entire industries are built on it. A quick check of my twitter feed proves that. “Hire me to tweet for you!” “We promise you a million sales!” “Our promo services have a money-back guarantee!” “Join our community (for a fee)!” And of course the now-outed “Want instant best seller status? Just pay us for hundreds of ‘reviews!’” scam.
Once Facebook figured out some authors had achieved major success promoting on their platform they changed their entire fan page algorithm so that if you have one of these things, you must pay so that your own fans can read your posts.
It’s a real rat race. Not terribly far removed from other types of creative industries, but somehow ramped up, thanks to the easy access we all have to calling ourselves authors. Even blogging is oversubscribed and potentially obsolete thanks to platforms like Facebook, twitter, reddit and others. It seems as though there is no new way to be heard above the cacophony of “buy my best selling vampire zombie dinosaur erotica and I’ll send you a swag bag of goodies” with your simple message of “Hey, I wrote a book, had it professionally edited and covered and would appreciate it if you’d, you know, buy it and review it. By the way did I mention it’s only three bucks?”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against this in principal. Flattening out the playing field was overdue. Letting a few lofty folks in Manhattan skyscrapers determine the books we got to read was a system begging for adjustment. There was too much power in the hands of too few, which as we all know because we paid attention in middle school social studies is a recipe for anarchy.
But I can tell you right now, right here, without hesitation that it is an uphill battle most of us will lose. The one or two out of a million success stories are exactly that: one or two out of a million. I get it. I understand it. And I am slowly coming to accept it.
First of all, it’s bloody expensive. That’s right. Self publishing IS a business and as any avid stalker of the guys who wrote APE – How To Publish A Book realize, “writing the book” is the easiest bit. Once that’s done you owe it to your craft to pay for edits. I fully realize that many (some of them best selling) books have skipped this step but I don’t. You also shell out for a great cover. My one self published series, The Love Brothers went one step beyond that—a custom photo shoot using my choice of model so that I got EXACTLY the shots I wanted, which I then turned over to a top-notch graphic/cover artist. All of this cost a fair bit of pesos, no lie.
Okay so assume you can cover that by eating ramen a few nights a month. You’ll just push that publish button (after you’ve paid to have the book properly formatted of course) and the money shall pour forth from Amazon’s coffers into your dwindling bank account. Uh, no. Because remember if you divide that million (number of books published a year) by “365” you get 273,972. That would be the number of books about to compete directly with your soul’s outpouring, your baby, your creation just on the day you release it—the next day there’ll be another 273,972 of ‘em ready for readers and their ever-elusive disposable reading income.
You have your third job ahead of you, the most daunting, and potentially the most expensive one of all: the marketing and promotion of your book (and of you, of course, but you knew that, right?)
If I had a buck for every email, Facebook message and tweet I get every single day telling me I WILL BE A BEST SELLER if I would only send the sender some money, I’d be rich enough not to be having this conversation with you, kind and gentle fellow scribbler. In this arena I also have some significant experience. I have paid for ads on various platforms including the expensive/selective ones. I have bought “virtual book tours.” I have purchased placements on something like a zillion daily “book bargain” emails. I have contracted with publishers who’ve promised me promotions as part of the bargain. I have paid for a publicist. I’ve hosted my own Facebook parties and filled in on other authors’ events just for the shot at a fresh reader or two. I have made a few trips out of town, out of pocket on table fees, gas, hotels, and food plus swag just for the opportunity to get face time with new readers. I am in seven (7) multi author anthologies and I promoted the living hell out of all of them (see above).
I don’t believe that there is a single gimmick or previously super successful for someone else effort that I haven’t tried. But that was all right because sales of The Love Brothers were gang busters right out of the gate. All I had to do? Finish the series with the longest, most heartfelt book of them all (Family Love) and then I could be the CEO/Marketing VP of my own Liz Self Publishes And Rocks It Multi National Corporation. And that ultimate crown: The New York Times Best Selling Author set of letters I am dying to plaster across the fronts of my books were obviously well within my grasp.
And then, summer of 2015 happened. Again, I’m an industry junkie. I make it a point in all my many lives (real estate, books, craft beer) to remain abreast of trends and happenings, successes and failures. And if you kept up with things this summer you know that “summer of 2015” in “publishing” was akin to “virtual Armageddon.”
In short, sales slipped, slumped, and slid for everyone, even those sneaky best selling authors making “surprise releases.” It was, in short a crappy set of months for everyone, yours truly included.
But I have this reality thing: I need my existing self published books to support the next set. If I don’t make enough off of The Love Brothers I cannot dip into “household funds” such as they are to support a new book or series of books. Income needs to exceed Outgo when at all possible and that stopped happening, big time.
I got super mad. I bitched and moaned (but in private, of course). I ragged and railed and sulked and cried some too. “I have never,” I would say, a lot, usually to myself. “Never, ever worked so bleeping hard and failed so utterly at something. Ever.” And I have “tried” a lot of things and succeeded at them, trust me. I am no stranger or averse to hard word. Somewhere in the middle of all this “poor Liz whose books are a thousand times better than at least half of the garbage on the best seller list today,” pity-partying, I lost the joy.
That’s right. Because writing, like singing or sculpting or painting or playing the piano, is a JOY first and foremost. I caught myself scowling at a half finished manuscript (I have lots of these now) and saying “screw it. No one’s gonna read it. What’s the point?”
Well, I’m here to tell you that I know for a stone cold fact that I will likely never be able to use that NYTBSA set of letters after my name. And I honestly do not think, after a long hard study of the industry and my place in it, that the LSPARIMNCorp will ever come to fruition. But I will be damned if that keeps me from writing.
In September, I wrote what most people would consider a near full length novel at 46,000 words. I had such fun writing it, it poured out of me in something like three weeks. I paid for proofreading and a cover … and I have decided that it, and its follow up that is currently percolating along as my first ever NaNoWriMo project (it will be, for the record, the 5th novel I’ve written in 2015) will be 100% Free. To everyone. And not via any retailing platform either. So you know I’m dead serious about not trying to “freebie” my way onto a best seller list.
APPRAISED is now available only to subscribers of my monthly, spam-free newsletter. It released to those lucky folks yesterday (11/17) but I’ll make the link available again in December’s issue, on my “29+20 birthday edition” 12/17/15 when I unveil something even cooler that will show my dedication to taking my hat out of the silly, utterly unwinnable “Amazon rat race.” The follow up (NaNo) novel CONTINGENT will release free on January 1, 2016. Sign up for the newsletter if you like, but do me a favor, and never lose the joy.
Happy Freebie New Year! Because ... why not?
Excerpt #1 (rated R for language):
It was a buzz writing up offers and listings practically on the hood of my car. But the fall-throughs from all the fakers and porch pissers were, by statistical necessity, also increasing.
Maddening, I thought as I ran my hands down my torso, studying my almost-forty imperfections with a critical eye. I’d never be skinny. I never had been. I was almost five foot ten flatfooted and had broad shoulders thanks to my years spent in the pool as a kid and teenager. I’d never, ever been anything less than a size eight, which as I’d been told by the helpful and knowledgeable Ashley was “the new ten” or something equally depressing.
At the moment, I bordered on “the new twelve or fourteen” I supposed, being the ten going on twelve I bounced between no matter how little I ate or how many hours I sold my soul to the cycle. Ashley again—she’d insisted that I’d change my entire perspective on the universe if I tortured myself three times a week with her on those stupid stationary bikes. I did like it. It made me forget everything but the extreme urge to jump off the bike, declare everyone in the room full of shit, and stomp out. The three hours a week I spent forcing myself not to do that were hours well spent, if they kept me under the deadly number twelve on the clothes tags, I figured.
“You’re truly statuesque,” Ashley always insisted. “Womanly. In perfect proportion. No wonder all the guys tent their tighty-whities every time you walk into a room.”
I didn’t bother reminding her of the basic simplicity of men. No, I wasn’t hard to look at. My thick auburn hair was exotic. I had huge, expressive green eyes and had lived enough years to know how to use them. I had decent tits, full hips, natch. And did two hundred crunches every fucking night to keep my unruly belly in check. But my basic shape was, in a word, larger than what was considered perfect in this snake-hipped, ironing-board stomach obsessed world. I’d learned to live with it.
No, men sensed something else about me—either an eagerness or desperation for their direct, most personal attention. That was what kept them all salivating in my presence. I put out. And I didn’t want anything more than that. It wasn’t rocket science.
But I wasn’t taken advantage of, oh no. No man left my bed—or empty house, office, or broom closet—without having satisfied me. I came first. And often. That much was understood and I had not met a guy yet who wasn’t willing to fulfill that basic, simple order of operations. I’d spent way too many years thinking I’d had an orgasm at the inept and self-centered hands of my husband. Those days were over.
Thanks to my Las Vegas friend, I mused, letting my mind wander to him—he of the amazing skill set, the beautiful face, the lovely laugh, the generous lips and hands. He was a trained masseur, he’d claimed when we first met. He’d just “relax” me. And we’d see where it took us.
I shivered at the memory of that first week I spent with him. He’d taught me about the triggers, the zones, the way I could use my body to please my partner. I think I fell in deep love with the man that week, but I refused it, rejected it. I’d paid him after all. He’d taken my money that first time. The other times—all the deeply erotic experiences we’d shared since—were free of charge, he’d claimed.
With stories set in the not-so-common worlds of breweries, on the soccer pitch, in successful real estate offices and at times in exotic locales like Istanbul, Turkey, her books are unique and told with a fresh voice. The Liz Crowe backlist has something for any reader seeking complex storylines with humor and complete casts of characters that will delight, frustrate and linger in the imagination long after the book is finished.
Don’t ever ask her for anything “like a Budweiser” or risk bodily injury.
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