Now, don’t get me wrong, I can do my fair share of whining. Everybody can because, well, we’re human and human beings aren’t infallible. Or inflatable, but that’s neither here nor there.
Everybody has their ups and downs. Everybody has been through hard times where it was too difficult to see through the tears and believe something good would come at the end – I’m still there, though I am trying my damndest to fight through those tears and aim for that happy ending.
Everybody has a sob story. Everybody, unless they are the 1%, has been through hell and lived to tell the tale. But that has no bearing on your professionalism as an author when it comes to the process you use to publish books.
I have been self-publishing for five years. I have scraped by, unable to pay bills, and have had to hold down a terrible day job for the majority of those five years because my royalties are so minuscule to even use the word “royalties” is laughable.
I bitch about that all the time. OH MAN, how I can bitch about that. My poor husband goes cross-eyed during those bitch sessions – I’m a hack, I’m a loser, I’m never going to make it, I suck as a writer, I’m never going to publish another book, How have I been doing this for so long yet can’t even buy more than dinner and a tank of gas on my books?
But I try to keep those conversations among friends and off the internet, because frankly, who cares? Nobody but me. I am my own success; I set that bar, and I keep reaching, even when it feels like the distance is further than I could ever make it in a lifetime. Yes, I do complain about my mental illness on this blog, but that’s because our public is too damn silent about mental illness and I don’t believe that’s the way to get help.
But I don’t complain about my sales or my career.
My frustrations don’t mean I give up, either. I throw every penny I have into my books. I hire great cover artists to give beautiful faces to my work. I hire kind but firm editors who aren’t afraid to tell me NO, THIS ISN’T WORKING. TRY AGAIN. I painstakingly format every one of my novels to ensure they’re laid out beautifully. If a reader were to pick up one of my novels and compare it to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, they would find no inconsistencies.
My books are just as professional as any put out by a big publishing company. (Though I will admit, my blog is seriously overdue for a face lift. Too busy writing.)
Why are my books professional? Because I’m proud of them. I take tremendous pride in ensuring they look their best. In September, I paid $450 dollars for editing I couldn’t afford – almost two weeks late to my poor editor because when she billed me, I had pennies to my name and bills to pay. I cried over it. It terrified the piss out of me. But I did it anyway. And I’ll do it again. OVER AND OVER. Until something sticks.
You don’t make cover art in Microsoft Paint and call it a day.
You don’t “self-edit” and let your grade school English teacher who earned her education degree in the 80s “proofread.”
You don’t slap a Word doc into KDP and expect the Next Great American Novel to emerge from the other side.
You don’t tell everybody who will listen how you did all of the above, and you don’t care because you can’t justify spending the money on books that won’t earn it back.
And you sure as heck don’t go on social media and act like everybody else is picking on you because editing is “too expensive” and your life is “too hard” to spend money on events or ensuring your product is high quality.
Expecting the public to reward you with sales and a living when your product is low quality is not professional. Nobody owes you a living.
Businesses do not blossom overnight without up-front costs and heavy work loads. That’s why a saddening amount of small businesses don’t make it – you have to be willing to put in the time and effort and money involved in competing to be as professional as the best in your specific field.
In the four years I’ve paid taxes on my books, I’ve never made money when all is said and done. I throw everything I have into getting exposure – putting my books out there in public physical events, purchasing ads, jumping onto giveaways and online events where you might give away more than you’ll earn back at the moment. My day job funds my writing career, and honestly, that’s how it works for every successful author out there in the years before they finally hit it big enough to become a full time author.
The more you put in. The more you care, the more you learn, the more you begin to treat your books as a business and strive for as close to perfection as you can reach, the more likely your chances of success go up.
Persistence + Hard Word + LUCK = success.
If you put out crap, you’re gonna get crap back. The law of equivalent exchange might come from one of the greatest anime series of all time, but it’s also true.
I haven’t hit my lucky stride. And yeah, that hurts. It hurts every day, and I won’t pretend it doesn’t. But the thing I DON’T do is give up or cut corners on my books. If it means I don’t get a new pair of tennis shoes or a dinner out, so be it. I’d go without cable, internet, or even ELECTRICITY, before I’d publish a book that is less than the industry’s expectation.
So for those authors out there seeking reassurance that you can get away with amateur covers, Great-Aunt Maudie’s shaky red-line editing, and your ten-year-old’s Microsoft Word file, I don’t have that for you.
Self-publishing is a business, and it should be treated as such whether you’re making thirty cents or
thirty thousand a month.
So what I do have for you is DO BETTER. Be better. Go read Joe Konrath’s blog. Put in exactly what you want to get from your books, and eventually – maybe not today, tomorrow, or next year, but eventually – it is going to reward you. And if you aren’t willing to put your time, money, effort, blood, sweat, DNA, and tears into being the best, then this isn’t the business for you and you’re not going to make it.
I honestly could not say it better myself, Nike.