Sunday, 4 March 2012

Trials and Tribulations of a Self-Published Author – Internet Sharks, the FBI and Reviews.

My first bit of advice is to write a novel because you want to. If you are writing to make money then that’s a far bigger hurdle. Self publishing is not for the faint hearted. You will need to gain expertise across a broad range of skills, such as book cover design/artwork, editing, proof reading, publishing, marketing, web design, etc etc.

Of course you can pay others to do some of this for you, but for each pound/dollar you spend you may have to sell two books to cover your costs. This is also where you will meet the first of many Internet sharks. Authors are outnumbered by people making money on the back of self-published book sales. There are a plethora of these selling the skills I described above. Most are trustworthy and offer a good service, but many more exist to simply rip you off.

My first experience with sharks was a lady literary agent in the US. Her costs were reasonable and her letters sounded sincere. There was no rush to trap me which made it feel all the more genuine. The first letter said that my novel had to go in front of the board before a decision could be made. The next letter was the successful acceptance of my work. I paid, fortunately a small sum of money, then had my doubts. I should have done the next step first, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. Upon conducting an Internet search of her name, there were lots of hits warning me about her. Indeed, almost immediately there were messages that the FBI had caught up with this individual and were investigating her. She was shortly found guilty and some of my money was repaid to me. No doubt she is now back on the Internet, offering the same service, but under a pseudonym.

A point to make is – if it sounds too good to be true then it probably is. My advice is to check and double check everything that you do on the Internet. Seek advice from others. There are loads of useful websites offering sound advice. Find Author Forums and chat with others to find out who is trustworthy, and who is not.

It is strange that in writing an article about my experiences, as a self-published author, I have immediately launched into experiences other than writing! The writing part is relatively easy. In effect I am assuming that you can do this. But, not everyone can write successfully. Can I? I think this is the next stage of testing the waters, so to speak. It’s easier to dip a toe in the water of authorship than immersing oneself fully. It would also help you to establish your credentials early on and build up a following. I think this is the soundest advice I can offer.

Start by writing short stories or articles for magazines. This will help to establish you and will also earmark whether you have sufficient quality to make it as an author. Short stories are quite difficult to write as they need to have an impact in only a few pages. Joining a creative writing class can help you to develop skills in short story writing. It also helps to get your early endeavours peer reviewed. As a warning, be very careful in getting family and friends to review your work.

I had a very strange conversation with a literary agent (LA) that went like this:

Me: Hello, I have a manuscript that you might be interested in.

LA: Hello dear. Are you an established author?

Me: No.

LA: Then it will be rubbish, dear.

Me: My friends and family enjoyed it.

LA: They would say that. Wouldn’t they dear?

I felt that her comments were grossly unfair. But upon reflection, she had a point. I then went on the works Internet and asked for 10 volunteers. People I did not know, who might give me an unbiased view on my books. The response was overall good, with one or two who did not give an opinion. Since then I have found that getting reviews is very, very hard work. Look at your own experiences. How many times have you reviewed other people’s work? We have all read outstanding books, but we rarely bother giving a review, so why should we expect that of others?

Last year I sold one-thousand ebooks and from that number I had just one review, which was negative. That’s the other side of the coin, poor reviews. I have had enough reviews from independent readers to know that my book will appeal to some people. One of my favourite reviews said, “I slowed down reading the book towards the end because I didn’t want it to finish.” That was so heart-felt that it really made me feel that my work was genuinely appreciated. You need a review like that once in a while to counter the negative reviews.

The most negative reviews I have ever received were all from one website. I gave away free books and I suspect that these people entered the give away, regardless of the genre. This was the first time that I got a one-star review with the comment twaddle. You cannot easily dismiss a comment like that and nor should you. Not everyone is going to like your books. Even the best authors get negative reviews. You also need to face the truth that your work may simply not be up to standard. The writing has to be very good with no errors. This is very difficult to achieve; especially on a budget. I paid for two people to edit my recent book and one of the first readers spotted two quite glaring errors where I had used the wrong names in the wrong place.

 This again comes back to sharks. I count myself lucky that I have encountered few and the people I have used have been very genuine. Remember though that this is a business. People reviewing your work will want to turn a profit and will want to be reviewing the next book as soon as possible. Also, if your work is full of errors, even the best editor will lose heart. You need to get the manuscript up to a very good standard before submitting it for review.

Good luck in your writing

David

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