Indie Authors – Common Denominators & Why So Many Fail

I rarely come across authors who I actually click with when it comes to the publishing business. I’ve been around this game for over twenty-five years. I’ve been on both sides of the platform, something which has given me a lot of insight into how the industry has changed, evolved, risen, and floundered. I’ve read so many how-to blogs and followed gurus and read books and researched until I feel like my brain has melted and reformed at least a hundred times over the past two decades. When you have this many years under your belt and have watched the industry like I have, it’s no wonder one of my pet peeves is authors who have been in the game for just a few years who seem to think they are experts on the business. For some reason, people seem to think success equals knowledge – because they managed to get a single book in a huge boxed set to rank it somehow gave them magical knowledge on how the industry truly works. Other authors see the ascension of a literary god who rose above the ranks, a shiny beacon of hope. What I see are authors who haven’t managed to letter outside of those boxed sets. I’m going to repeat this – success does not necessarily equal knowledge, and unfortunately, knowledge does not always equal success.

That’s why it’s refreshing when I come across another author who sees the same patterns I do, who has studied the business like I have, and who is over there shaking his head at the same stupid shit I am, asking the same thought-provoking questions I do, and just realizing there is someone out there other than myself who understands this business on all levels – not just the business end, not just the artistic end, not just on the marketing end, not just on the trendy end – but someone who sees the whole picture and understands the fundamental basics of economics and how other people’s business practices can directly affect everyone else in the industry.

Which brings me to the point of this post. At it’s core, I have noticed only two things which successful authors seem to possess in order to make a name for themselves, and that is money and a support system.

Let’s take a closer look at these. First – money. We’ve all heard the old saying that it takes money to make money. That is equally true in the publishing industry. Even if you do not have the funds to hire fancy PR firms, you will still need to purchase the basics of publishing – an editor, someone to format your manuscripts, and a graphic artist.

But let’s look even deeper. Those who are really successful didn’t get that way out of sheer luck. Someone was funneling money into marketing and promotional resources, regardless of whether it was the publisher or the author. In other words, someone was paying to hire the right PR companies and the right marketing firms to build a buzz around their books. They were investing in marketing ads, and maybe even paying someone to ensure their book got in front of the right people. As much as I hate to keep bringing this damn book up, we can still learn from it. Think about 50 Shades. The publisher managed to convince over a hundred million people that this was the book to buy. Even when readers were leaving scathing reviews and everyone was talking about how bad it was, even when readers were warning other readers to avoid it like the plague, even when book stores literally had tens of thousands of paperbacks which had been returned to them, people were still rushing out by the thousands to purchase it all because of really great marketing and a huge grassroots movement.

Now, most of us can’t do anything about the money side of things. Most authors work full time jobs and are already operating on a virtually non existent budget, and I’m no exception. But what we can do something about is our support system.

Think about it. Having the best PR company in the world isn’t going to help sales if there aren’t enough interested readers. And having the right mix of readers who are eager to share their love of a great book is worth far more than any marketing budget a Big 5 publisher could possibly throw your way. Think about Twilight and how many of your friends were talking about the series. I had friends who were rushing out to Wal-Mart to stand in line for hours just to buy the next book like it was the Black Friday sale to end all sales. I never once saw a stitch of advertising for that book or the movies, but everyone I knew was talking about it for years. The same goes for Harry Potter. It wasn’t until those books starting lettering before you actually saw any advertisement for them.

When was the last time you told all your friends about a really good book, or a really great movie, or a really awesome restaurant? We do it all the time, and by doing so we have become part of a support system which helps push sales.

We all need some type of support system, and it has to start somewhere. We can’t always depend on people in our social media feeds to share our newest release or leave reviews. Bloggers are hit or miss, and newsletters seem to be a fad which are good one year and bad the next. But in order to really be successful, to really build a buzz about our work, we need a support system of readers who are willing to promote our work, leave reviews, and share their experiences with their peers. We all know word of mouth is the absolute best type of promotion but is also the hardest to foster.

And this last common core asset is the reason why most indie authors fail. I’ve seen this and experienced it on many levels firsthand. It’s really no great mystery on how or why the authors in these boxed sets are lettering. When you have 20 to 30 authors pooling their collective resources together and promoting one book together then great things are bound to happen. But this fundamental core asset is the very reason why these same authors can’t letter outside of these sets – individually they lack the support network required to truly market their books. Imagine if these same 30 authors were to stick together and help market/promote the individual’s books? How many of those authors would then be lettering with a single book rather than just a boxed set?

Unfortunately, authors seem to not want to play nicely with anyone else. They want you to help them, but when it comes time to reciprocate they all decide they don’t want anything to do with you.  I’m reminded of toddlers playing in a sandbox – they will happily play with the other kids’ toys but when asked to share, they quickly begin screaming that it’s their toys.

And this is why we can’t have nice things.

No one is willing to put aside their competitive nature to see the larger picture of what they could accomplish if they just worked together. While Anne Rice may be my competition, you can bet your sweet ass I’d team up with her any day of the week. Those authors who have succeeded do so because they have a support network to help share their books and promos. Whether it is a team of readers or a team of bloggers or a team of authors makes no difference. And until we all start working together and stop thinking of this as a one-horse race, we are all doomed to eventually fail.