I know I spent the majority of July blogging about the harsh reality of being an indie author but after exposing you to the awful truth, I thought I’d expose you to another truth, this one sweeter and, believe or not, just as possible. I haven’t sold enough books to make writing my full-time gig just yet. In fact, on top of writing every day I also work sixty hours a week between my two jobs. It’s exhausting and I long for the day when I can give it all up and just live in my yoga pants in front of my laptop. But even though that might sound like a pipe dream coming from someone who has sold less than a hundred books in the past two years, the truth is it’s not. The truth is being a successful mid-list writer isn’t just attainable, but if I continue to put out quality books and build my readership one person at a time, it’s actually inevitable.
If you’re a follower of The Passive Voice then you’re probably already aware of their popular post, Indie Authors Quitting Their Day Jobs. It’s pretty infamous among aspiring and experienced writers alike because it’s a running list of indie writers who have had the pleasure of leaving the drudgery of nine to five behind. More than 500 comments have accumulated just in the past couple of months from indie authors who not only make a living wage from their writing but from writers who were able to pay off their mortgage, or bless their spouse with an early retirement, or build their dream home, or get out of debt all because they took a risk. Because they had the guts to publish their work on their own. Because they had the guts to believe in themselves.
I know I’ve often warned those new to self-publishing not to let their expectations get out of control or to craft a dream that relies more on luck than hard work but I also don’t want any of us to stop hoping. Because this is what can happen when we hope. When we believe in something so strongly that we’re willing to risk everything in order to make it happen. Not all of these indie authors are mega-rich. In fact, most of them don’t make much more than what’s required to pay their bills. But whether they’re selling thousands of copies a month or just a few hundred, these authors are still living the dream. Because they’re writing every day and no one is telling them what they should write about or how or when or to hurry or slow down or change this or change that. They are in control of their words and because they’ve stayed so true to them, they are in control of their lives.
Creative and financial freedom can go hand in hand, all it takes is a lot of drive and a lot of patience. For some of these authors it took years to build their readership, their backlists in the double digits before they finally started generating steady sales. For others it took even longer. But they kept going, hoping for success but never wishing for it. And then it happened. It can happen for us too. If we just keep writing, every single day, it can happen for us too.
In approximately two weeks I will begin the arduous and soul crushing process of asking strangers to review my books. I’ve been through this song and dance before and over the last two years I’ve probably sent out almost a thousand emails. Yes, there are in fact that many unique bloggers out there and yes most of them have rejected me. After sending out all of those emails they’ve resulted in exactly 26 reviews. 26. I don’t even want to do the math on what minuscule percentage that is because it would be absolutely pointless. And yet I’m about to begin this process all over again.
Different authors have different methods when it comes to marketing. Some do absolutely nothing and sell hundreds of copies right out of the gate. Some do paid advertising, spending a small fortune and then don’t even sell one copy. But usually after failing to get the proper results, a smart author would reexamine their methodology and decide to try a different route next time.
I didn’t do that. At least not the first three times. In fact, after failing to gain any traction after sending out hundreds of review requests for my first book I decided not to do anything at all for my second. No review requests, no free chapter Fridays, no giveaways. You could say I gave up before failure could even be an option just to save myself from the heartbreak. It wasn’t until the release of my third book that I decided to give it another try. But rather than try another marketing route like a sane person might do I decided to send out review requests again, only this time I decided to send out 600 emails instead of 300.
It was another disappointment and despite the fact that I should have seen it coming I still had the audacity to be surprised. Now that I’m approaching the release of my first series (the first three novels I plan to publish consecutively this fall) I’m faced with a dilemma. Either I stick to begging for reviews the old fashioned way or I consider going another route, maybe one that costs actual money. In other words I don’t want to make the same mistake twice. The only problem is…I’m not sure what exactly was the mistake.
Was it hoping too much and creating these ridiculously unrealistic expectations? Was it believing too much in the stories themselves? In myself? Was it thinking that asking people to give up their time in exchange for a review was all it would take to create some momentum and that I could just send out all of these emails and then leave the leg work to someone else? I think all writers are guilty of straddling this line between total self-loathing and total self-righteousness. One day we think that our book is amazing and that everyone should read it and the next we think it’s the worst thing ever written and should be burned immediately. It’s an exhausting way to live but the truth is it’s also necessary. Because it’s within this very tug of war where our passion truly ignites.
So maybe I won’t send out hundreds of emails. Maybe I won’t give away hundreds of free copies. Or maybe I will. Because maybe the mistake wasn’t in the trying. Maybe the mistake wasn’t even in the hoping. Maybe the real mistake would be to not approach this project with the same unwavering belief that this story is good enough and that it is powerful enough to speak for itself.