Indie Authors & Writers: Are We All Fools?

Is indie publishing a fool’s errand? A big April Fool’s Day prank?

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April Fool’s Day traces back to ancient civilizations like the Hindus and Romans who celebrated the New Year on April 1 which closely follows the vernal equinox. After Pope Gregory ordered a new calendar, the Gregorian Calendar (of course being the pontiff he was able to name the calendar after himself) to replace the old Julian Calendar, New Year’s Day was moved from the old April 1st date to January 1st.

Most people associate April 1st as the end of winter and spring fever kicks into high gear. Spring is a time of rebirth and for many of us reevaluation. We shed our winter sweaters and boots for breezy summer fabrics and flip flops, we stare in the mirror and hope a beach umbrella is wide enough to hide our backside! Writing is a solitary profession, someone should warn you it’s also sedentary. To make matters worse, but who are we kidding what’s worse than the thought of putting on a swimsuit, it’s also tax season! Every year at tax time, while trying to come up with a valid reason why the Vikings S2 DVD is a business expense, this writer considers what she can accomplish with the rest of the writing year. I mean the first quarter has just slipped through my fingers like gold coins through Viking fingers. I feel like I’ve accomplished zilch for 2016 other than just figuring out that write off.

Maybe, for many of us, indie publishing is April Fool’s Day everyday. A successful April Fool’s Day can be accomplished in three simple steps. Step 1: send someone on a fool’s errand looking for something that doesn’t exist. Step 2: play pranks. Step 3: make people believe in ridiculous things or something that’s false. I have to wonder if my indie publishing journey doesn’t follow this three step fool proof method.

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Step 1: Sending someone on a fool’s errand looking for something that doesn’t exist.

Every indie author has bought into this concept: write a good book and readers will come. We’re all looking for an audience to love our work, someone who’ll call our heroes book boyfriends and envy our heroines ability to tame the unattainable playboy. We’re not looking for a few people to read and admire our work, let’s be honest, we’re hoping that thousands will and if we’re truly honest, we’re seeking ‘buzzillions’ of people to read, review and buzz about our books. Since I’ve started my indie journey I’ve sent over 754,014 users to my various books on Amazon, I know this because I can track the clicks on my titles through BookLinker. These are just the people I’ve sent via social media to Amazon in the last five years, I’ve probably sent another 250K to other sites like B&N, KOBO, iBooks, etc. That’s over a million clicks and I haven’t sold a million books, I’d be happy right now if I’d sold 20% of that, but I haven’t! If this isn’t that the epitome of a fool’s errand I don’t know what is.

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Step 2: Playing pranks.

There are a lot of pranks and pranksters in indie publishing. Let’s talk Amazon, the largest retailer of indie books, most recently we learned that Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited Program doesn’t actually count the number of pages read. An author or publisher can put a link on the opening page of a title and if the reader clicks on the link it takes them to the end of the ebook and then the author is automatically paid a whopping half penny for each page of the book, even though the reader didn’t read a single page. A blogger recently exposed a 15 year old boy who loaded ‘books’ containing these type of links at the front of all his ‘titles’ which took readers immediately to the end of the book. He got paid! The figures on his KDP payout page were staggering. Unethical much? Yes, but you have to admit, as pranks go, this is an awesome and profitable way to stick it to Amazon. Speaking of shenanigans, there are authors who broke up their full length novels into three or four, or possibly a dozen, shorter books and uploaded them all to Amazon so that they got paid for each completed book read under the original version of Kindle Unlimited. Is this gaming the system or being a smart marketer? If you think these pranks don’t effect you as an indie author, you’d be wrong. The reason Kindle Unlimited writers are being paid such a tiny amount per page read (I use that term loosely) now is because all those short works who got paid out at full length pricing under the original Kindle Unlimited program. Did they prank Amazon or rip them off? Amazon is all about making a profit and they need to recover those losses. So in this regard, all the honest, hard-working authors who don’t try to manipulate the Amazon system are the one’s that got pranked. But Amazon isn’t the only place where indie authors are being pranked, every day book pirates load our manuscripts onto illegal sites and distribute them for free, or worse yet, make money off our work with little or no regard to our intellectual property rights. Readers who are kindly given ARC’s for review resell them on eBay. There has been a huge spike in plagiarism, and if stealing another author’s words isn’t the ultimate prank, I don’t know what is. That is until Amazon launches it’s ebook resale site!

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Step 3: Making people believe in ridiculous things or something that’s false.

Every publishing expert tells authors to write a good book, then rewrite it, write as many drafts as necessary to create a masterpiece. Get it professionally edited, get it copyedited, get it beta tested and mother approved! Put professional artwork on the cover, write a kick ass blurb, market the sh*t out of it. Splatter it on Facebook and have little birds sing it’s praises on Twitter. Instagram your cat cuddling your book baby to your four ‘buzzillion’ followers. Create Goodreads giveaways and build your newsletter subscribers lists. Write blog posts and send out timely newsletters. Do all this and they will come! This is where my personal belief in ridiculous things comes to fruition, I’ve done all these things, and I’ve done it for some time now and it’s getting me no where. Maybe the bottom line is my work isn’t good enough to make it. Someone close to me recently pointed this out to me, it’s a person I trust and it will always be in the back of my mind now, of course it hurts, but as is so often the case, the truth usually does.

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Maybe this person’s advice is correct and maybe it’s not, maybe I’m a fool for holding onto my good reviews like a leaky life preserver in a tsunami of books. Or maybe I’m just a magical thinker, hoping that someday something I write will strike a nerve, hit a cord and hit the NY Times bestseller’s list. Or scarier still, maybe I’ve been on a fool’s errand all these years.

Maybe I’m just an April Fool! How about you?

Happy reading, writing, & reviewing!
Elizabeth

40 thoughts on “Indie Authors & Writers: Are We All Fools?”

  1. I sometimes wonder about that, too. It’s hard work for little return. I do like your writing, though, and wouldn’t agree it isn’t good enough. A lot of your readers think the same. Connecting to an audience is tough. It comes down to whether or not you want to do it for yourself or as a career. Even traditionally published authors often do not find an audience.
    I for one hope you continue on your fools errand!

    1. Christoph,
      Thank for taking the time to comment! You’re so right, it’s a lot of hard work for little return. Thanks for your support and I’ll keep on keeping on, trying to reach the “buzzillion”, maybe it’s a fools errand but I’m committed to seeing where the road leads!
      Thanks,
      E

  2. My thoughts exactly, Elizabeth. And in my case I don’t even get that many reviews either, so I’m convinced I’m invisible… (or my books are, that I guess amounts to the same). For more entertainment I do everything both in Spanish and in English…
    Let’s keep smiling.

    1. Olga,
      Thanks for stopping by & commenting! I’m not down about it and I’m going to try to stick with it as long as I can but it’s like I said I sometimes feel like I’m in a tsunami of books and mine is being swept out to sea.
      Keep up the great work!
      E

  3. I have no doubt Elizabeth that we are all fools on a fool’s errand, but I still maintain, despite the pain, the suffering, the hardship and the loneliness…writing and publishing your own books is still the best fun you can have with your trousers on. The beauty of writing is that if you have your setup right, you can even work with your trousers off.

    My only defence to this awful truth you speak of is to not care what happens to my sales. I will view myself as the archetypal struggling artist and convince myself it is good fro my character. Would I rather be doing anything else in my life… NO! Would I give up my dreams… NO! I’ll just keep on trucking, keep on hoping and loving every second of “living my dream”. It’s the only way to keep sane.

    Great article.

    1. Grant,
      Thanks for stopping by. Firstly, I agree writing is the most fun you can have with your pants on! LOL! That made my day.
      I wouldn’t rather do anything more than writing, I love it and even if I did have to do something else it would be artistic. I went to design school so I’m an artist to the bone.
      Unfortunately, though, you can’t pay your child’s college tuition on your dreams! When it comes to your child’s dreams your dreams become a shadow in a dark room.
      Thanks for stopping by!
      E

  4. I have felt these things too, but then had ‘successful’ indie books that have come along and restored my faith in the system. The democracy of being able to publish whatever we want – within reason! – whenever we want is the most wonderful freedom, and I strenuously disagree that writers must be fools to take advantage of that freedom. And I think you’re wrong to assume a book that doesn’t sell well is necessarily a bad book. Many bad books sell very well indeed. (FSOG, anyone?) Sometimes it’s about not having written a book that is perfect for the current market or zeitgeist, and sometimes it’s simply about not having reached the right people who would want to buy your book. The best way, in my opinion, as someone who does now make a good living from indie publishing, to get self-published books to sell is to keep writing more and build up a readership base. But you can do all that and still not succeed. Good luck!

    1. Hi Jane,
      Thanks for stopping by & leaving a comment. I in no way think indie authors are fools for taking advantage of the opportunity to self-publish, where the ‘foolishness’ come into play is to assume that you will have success if you stick with it. Some voices, even well written voices, don’t sell, they never find a audience for their work. I don’t believe in good or bad books, but unfortunately our main measure of success is commercial sales. Thanks for your wonderful insight and congratulations on your success. Keep up the great work!
      E

  5. As a newbie Indie author I can wholeheartedly agree with your angst. I am finding your experiences to be true in my case, too. I hope most of us keep writing, and someday readers will find us. Hopefully before our obits are published.

    1. Myron,
      Thanks for stopping by! Keep on writing and hope for the best. BTW, I’m now writing my obit, at least I’ll have the last word! Or laugh!
      E

  6. Thanks for your insightful comments, Elizabeth. It IS a lot of hard work for little return, but as one person who was sitting next to me at an author reading said, after a mutual talk about how everyone wants everything for free nowadays and how unprofitable it is for us creative types, “Yes, but you can also look at it this way. That will weed out the people who are just in it for the money, and leave more room for us who are compelled to do it for the joy of it.”
    That got me thinking. . .

    1. Hi Sarah,
      Thanks for stopping by & leaving a comment!
      I think part of the problem is that there are a lot of people who are just in it for quick money and I agree that those people eventually drop off. The problem is that their books still stay on Amazon which creates a glut of material that makes it all harder to sift through. So it makes readers have to dig deeper for an author they like and who will continue to provide content that those readers are interested in consuming.
      Keep on keeping on!
      E

  7. Discouraging isn’t it. Take solace in that you are not alone. We all get discouraged but keep hoping for that lucky break where our books will be read by an influencer and take off like FSOG. Except we hope our books will be better written of course. It’s kind of like playing the lottery. You know you are unlikely to win, but if you don’t play, you have no chance of winning.
    So keep writing, write off those expenses on your tax returns too and keep hoping for that break. What’s the alternative? Sitting in front of a TV watching reality shows? Writing, even without sales, is infinitely better.

  8. The publishing world has changed so much. It seems authors are no longer valued for their work but the, why are the publishers still publishing if they are making no money? Hmmmm? So unfair to the authors.

  9. I’m definitely an April Fool. I vacillate between giving up writing and carrying on. So far I haven’t given up. I must say it can be very frustrating at times.

    On another note, the graphic on your website is stellar. I just LOVE it.

    Thanks for the well thought out blog post.

    1. Blakely,
      Thanks for stopping by & commenting!
      I’m with you on the vacillation train! Thanks for the compliment on the graphics. I have a wonderful graphic artist and rocked it on the banner image!
      E

  10. It takes a long time to become a good writer (for 99% of us). Yes, one needs talent in the first place, but a lot of becoming a good writer is about sweat. Before Indie publishing, people used to sweat it out in private because their work – often for good reasons – kept getting rejected. With Indie publishing, writers now have the opportunity to evolve with a readership. To read reviews from real readers, and improve on voice, style and plot creation. Again, for 99% of us, we’re not going to hit it out of the park from the get-go. Maybe our first endeavors will even suck. But that’s the nature of what we do, and part of what I love about being a writer is having the chance each time I sit at my computer to do better, be better, write more compelling characters. To try to make a reader cry, gasp, laugh out loud, scream. What else is there?

    1. Victoria,
      Thanks for stopping by and I think your right 99% of have to work at it…and then work at it some more before we ever get there. I also like the chance to reach for something more each time and I work hard to make my readers laugh, cry and all the emotions in between!
      Happy writing,
      E

  11. You are definitely not a fool. The market is flooded with authors. It is so flooded that readers cannot find the good ones. Most of the authors who make it are the ones who know how to market their books best. Look at James Patterson. He is not a good writer. Some of his stories are ridiculous. He is the best marketer. I’m sure he hasn’t won one award. And if he has, he most probably paid for it. If your readers like your work, then you are a good author. If you win awards, then this reinforces this truth. If you ask someone, like a husband, whether you’re a good writer, then you’re asking for disappointment. First, they most probably don’t read your genre. And second, they most probably don’t read book or enough books. So follow your gut and your dreams and not someone’s silly advice.

    1. Susanne,
      Thanks for stopping by and the kind words of encouragement. I agree the market is flooded with a tsunami of books & it’s hard to find the right way to stand out!
      E

  12. Writing–whether it be traditional or self-published–isn’t a sane way of making a living, but it’s what we do. If we’re in for fame and fortune, we’ll probably fall flat on our face, but if we’re looking to create that work of art with those unforgettable characters, writing becomes an obsession that raises above all the bull happening around you.

    1. Murielle,
      Thanks for stopping by. I agree, writing or almost any artistic endeavor isn’t a sane way of making a living. I’m not seeking fame and fortune, but I would like to be compensated to a level equal to what I’ve invested in it, I don’t think that’s too much to ask for, otherwise writing is just a hobby not a job.
      E

  13. You got a lot of interesting responses here. I’m glad to see so much encouragement for your very worthy books. Keep going!

    1. The “fool” thing hits me at about 10:00 every night–just as I’m finishing my 280 thousandth tweet or something like that. In part, I think it’s fatigue, but there’s also all that angst about not doing enough, not being good enough, and coming up short against some intangible measure floating out there. In the morning, I get up and do it all over again. I try to console myself by the fact that in my 30 years of academic work one of the most frustrating issues was the small audiences for published work. Readers rarely number in the hundreds. There are a few big name journals with lots of subscribers but most are small. On the order of a couple hundred subscribers and only a minority will read your article when you publish it. I guess my point is that however small the numbers seem, you are likely to have touched about as many people as your typical rocket scientist. So, go for it!

      1. Anna,
        Thanks for stopping by. I love this “you are likely to have touched about as many people as your typical rocket scientist.” Now if only I could blast off! LOL!
        E

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  15. Nice blog post, Elizabeth. I have often felt the same way.
    Having said that, a month or so ago, I started looking at writing in a whole new and more optimistic light.
    It’s like this. Writing gives me a goal (did I ever mention I’m totally goal-oriented and possibly a tad OCD). With this tiny shift in perspective, I realized I’m actually writing for myself instead of others.
    I also came to the conclusion that my books are part of the legacy I’ll leave behind, part of my ‘footprint’ so to speak, and I wanted something more tangible than ebooks. For that reason, I’m springing to re-publish my two existing books plus my newly finished novel as print editions as well as ebooks.
    Don’t get me wrong. If others enjoy my books, that’s a bonus. It would be lovely if I did sell a bazillion of those babies.

    1. Maureen,
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I commend your outlook and the idea of leaving your books as a part of your legacy is a wonderful way of thinking of it. Good luck with the print editions, it’s a lot of work and I wish you well!

      E

      1. Thanks, Elizabeth. The covers are nearly ready, I’ve lined up a formatter, and I’m taking this opportunity to do an in depth copy edit on the previously-published ones before they go live under a new edition.

  16. I hear you, Elizabeth! However, I don’t want to lose my heart. I want to keep writing and believing in what I write, and in my marketing capabilities.
    The sea is full of fish but it doesn’t mean we don’t deserve the praise and the warming feeling of a reader saying they liked our books. Life is also about little things, isn’t it?

    I’m pretty sure I won’t be the next Stephen King, and I can live with that. Writing makes me feel alive and there’s anything in the world that will stop me in my storytelling adventure. And you should be thinking the same! Baci!

  17. Writing books may not be a sustainable career as evidenced by so many traditional and indie authors having “day” jobs. But I also think authors need to diversify if writing is truly what they want to do full-time. Copy writing for companies can pay well and there are other freelance writing gigs that can pay well if you step out of the literary community (though some literary magazines do pay for short stories and articles).

    It also may mean that to write full-time, then one has to learn to live with less.(There is truth to the phrase “starving artist”). Freelance writers are competing with people in India who will work for less. However, I think people in the US can live on lower annual salaries – one might not have the latest and greatest, but which is more important enjoying what you do or having a plethora of material things?

    1. Donna,
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Trust me I understand ‘starving artist’ but I have to wonder if it doesn’t infer that as a creative person you have suffer for your art. Perhaps, as creatives we strive to fulfill the right side of the brain and many of us have to use the left side as well!
      E

    1. c,
      I don’t think Amazon is evil, I think they’re out of touch with their own technology and algorithms and depend on it for making marketing decisions for book sales. I’ve often thought they’d be better off if they had an indie author advisory board so they had physical contact with real live authors.
      Elizabeth Marx

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