Advice for a Novice Self-Published Author

We are so headstrong when our dreams are unfastened from reality. The novice soldier in his mind sees only the glories of war the first time he marches on parade. The novice lover in his mind sees only rainbows and roses when he first looks into the eyes of that blushing girl beside him. The novice writer in his mind sees a PhD student two hundred years from now doing his dissertation on the book he is about to write. The dream sets us apart from the other animals. It is in equal measures a blessing and a curse.

Sometime, I shall write more about this dream. No one will read it. A smattering of souls read my poems principally because they are short enough not to demand too much time and attention. In the modern context a “long essay” is pretty much anything longer than a Tweet, and these go unread altogether unless penned by someone the marketplace determines to be a “celebrated writer.” Long essays are “liked.” Indeed, I have no doubt this one here will be “liked” by an accumulation of people and algorithms. Nevertheless, none of the people who have “liked” this essay actually will have read it, and as for those algorithms I do not believe as of yet they even can read. Algorithms can find words, and “like” posts that have certain words in them, but that is not the same as comprehensive reading. Perhaps, that will change someday as artificial intelligence improves. Perhaps, in the near future, bloggers like myself will find actual readers from among the myriad of artificial intelligence programs out there.

Returning a moment to the people who will “like” this essay, but who will not have read or even skimmed it, the question I have is why? Why “like” something just because you happen to stumble upon it in your feed? I suppose the answer is obvious: You hope that I shall “like” your post in return, and the more “liked” posts we get from one another the better our websites perform with Internet search algorithms. But why do we care about how well we perform with Internet search algorithms, unless we have set ourselves up as a commercial website? Internet traffic matters if we are trying to monetize ourselves, but what if we are not selling ads or promoting self-published books? It is like trying to construct the illusion we are “celebrated writers” in the hope that that illusion will steer our minds away from the unwelcome fact that, indeed, we are toiling still in anonymity. Sugar cookies taste good, even when we know at the time that we are stuffing our faces that we are just feeding our diabetes. Ignorance is bliss, but in a way so is consciously feeding the monster. So much time and energy is spent in feeding that beast inside our heads. We pen beautiful odes to the illusion that our words actually matter. As Ernest Hemingway wrote, “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

Someone on Facebook asked for advice for a first time, self-published writer; a list of the do’s and the dont’s. Since we who have been asked to provide advice are in fact no more celebrated that this anonymous, first time writer, I wonder then if this is not a case of the blind leading the blind. Regardless, here is what I wrote in response:

If you are self-publishing, then make sure to find an editor. No matter how much you try to be objective about your own work you really cannot be unless you are willing to set it aside for a few years. I have reread works I wrote years ago and have had enough distance from those works to be able to look at them objectively. I could not have done so, if I had reread them shortly after writing them.

Once your work is published, be sure to elicit thoughtful and well written reviews. You do not want the kind of “reviews” you get when posting something on FB. “Nice Write” and “Good Ink” reviews are worthless, and potential buyers will see them for what they are.

Hire a publicist who can get your book into the hands of book reviewers/bloggers who will take the time actually to read it and to pen something substantive.

Try to get someone with even a little bit of name recognition to give you a “one liner” recommendation you can put on your back cover and in your promotional materials.

Enter your book in any applicable book contest. It really does not matter if the “contest” is little more than a scam. If you “win” the “contest,” then make sure you put that into your promotional materials.

Assuming you are an unknown author, no one apart from your family and friends is going to buy your book, unless you can indicate some “buzz” in the marketplace – hence the necessity of book reviews and contests. Reviews and contests suggest to a potential buyer that you have some talent at least and will be worth their hard earned money and time in flipping through your pages.

In terms of “do nots,” do not publish a book so long that the Amazon price is in the double digits. It is hard enough simply being an “unknown author.” The difficulty is compounded when the book is considered too pricey. I was given the opposite advice years ago. The “Helpful Heloise” told me that if my books are too cheap then buyers will presume they are not particularly good. It is the old “we get what we pay for” idea, but experience has proven that this bit of advice is wrong at least with respect to unknown authors like myself.

Also, avoid any subject that is too broad to fit nicely into a specified genre, such as horror, fantasy, or romance. Genre fans will buy a book by an “unknown author,” if the book title, cover, and synopsis suggest familiar genre territory for them. By all means, do not write something that is too “literary.” When you are an “unknown author,” no one at this point outside of your own family thinks that you are the next James Joyce or Fyodor Dostoevsky. Until you are a “celebrated writer,” no one is going to think you are brilliant, even if indeed you are, so set aside literary pretension for entertainment.

Published by Michael Sean Erickson

I write, act, and produce films in Los Angeles. Everything else is conjecture.

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