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The Return of Self-Publishing

April 12, 2012

Indie authors are carrying on a great tradition from the past.  One of my all-time favorite authors, Edgar Rice Burroughs, was self-published.  After being rejected countless times, Burroughs’ son convinced him to self-publish Tarzan of the Apes, and the rest is history.

In the early days of speculative fiction, it was a common practice to self-publish your own work.  It was the advent of large publishing houses that changed the face of the book world.  Until recently, it was conventional wisdom that great authors got book deals and everything else was vanity publishing.  Luckily, many of today’s best-selling authors are coming out of the indie world, and the stigma of self-publishing is falling by the wayside.

A search of Amazon and Smashwords brings up thousands of titles under fantasy and speculative fiction.  Granted, not everything is high quality, but a portion of those results are indie authors that produce good work that sells consistently and makes the author a decent living.  There are breakouts on a regular basis, and the income for those writers takes a leap into five and six digits.  Not bad for “vanity” work.

Self-published writers of the past offered quality stories, and the same rule applies to today’s market.  Readers are smart and easily bored.  If we, as writers, offer a substandard product, the reader will move on quickly.  It is important in the current market to write well, tell a good story, and convince the reader to stay for the full ride.  Tarzan will probably never be considered high literature, but Burroughs wrote a good story, and he wrote it well. That’s what gained him a loyal readership, and we should strive to do the same.

Self-publishing can only move forward.  The savvy houses are adding e-books to their inventory and getting on board to gain their piece of the market share, so indie writers are in direct competition, not only with other indie authors, but also against large firms with ridiculous resources.  To succeed in the marketplace, indies will have to fight for their audience, and that begins with a quality product.

To be competitive will take a full-out effort to reach our audience and hold them against all odds.  Here are some ways that self-published authors can take control and realize their goals.

  1. Tell a good story.  It is not enough to have a good idea, the storytelling must capture the audience and keep them wanting more.  That is the only way to bring them back to buy the next book.
  2. Edit.  Please.  Nothing spells “amateur” as much as grammatical errors.  Our fans may not know the rules of grammar, but they are avid readers, and they know when they hit something that doesn’t work.  Punctuation, verb agreement, and word use are the common errors that I see when editing the work of other writers.  Take the time to learn your craft, and push the spell-check button.
  3. Write good blurbs.  We spend a tremendous amount of time writing our books, and then we take ten minutes to write the blurb that posts on the sales page.  This is your pitch, so take the time to make it good, it’s the only shot you will get.  Look at what heavy sellers in your genre are writing for their own books and fashion yours accordingly.
  4. Market constantly.  Tell everyone you know about your new book.  Use Twitter and Facebook.  Set up author pages at your retail sites.  Participate in relevant forums.  Make business cards, and post flyers on every community board that you can find.  Your fans are out there, but they have to know how to find you.

If we follow the rules of good writing and market effectively, we should be able to enjoy the same success as our self-publishing predecessors.  If Burroughs can do it, so can we, and did I mention that Mark Twain self-published much of his own work?

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