Self-Publishing: You as an Author

Translight is ready for upload to Amazon. I have a new cover using the original cover art so people will not think I’ve released a new book. I’m aiming for a consistent look and feel across the entire Galactic Alliance series. It should be uploaded this week. I’ve been playing around with some inexpensive desktop publishing programs in an attempt to get my print interior formatted properly. I’ve not had any luck.

One would think that Microsoft Publisher would be an easy choice. It reads docx files and builds a pub document. Unfortunately, it inserted blank pages where none were before and – even more frustrating – put them back after I deleted them! It also didn’t seem to know how to deal with some of the other more common formatting I already had in place. I tried Scribus but it does not read docx and it refused to read the PDF file that Word created. I downloaded a trial version of PagePlus but with only 5 pages to work with I can’t tell if it would work. I’m not going to pay $95.00 just to find out I can’t use it. LaTex will take too long to figure out.

I guess, I’m just going to have to do the best I can with Word.

You as an Author / Conventions, Awards, and Professional Organizations
I’ve decided to combine these two topics because they go hand-in-hand with each other. That means I’m all out of the topics I came up with at the start of this new series. If anyone has an idea for another one please let me know. If nobody has a suggestion, I think I'll be writing about time management.

What is an Author? Based on the reaction I get from the large majority of people, an author is very much like a mystical wizard who walks among the people unseen and ignored but possessing the power to influence thousands with a simple wave of his wand. When someone I don’t know discovers I’m a published author, their eyes light up and suddenly they want to know all about my business. If you just tell them that you’re a writer and not yet published, you are instantly downgraded to the rank of wanna-be. Everyone wants to be a writer and everyone, it seems, is working on a story. Once you’ve published one, now you’re a powerful wizard.

When someone learns you’re an author, how you present yourself to that person can result in a sale. If you’ve written a series and they like it, you have a new fan. I know it’s a pain to set aside your writing to answer a few questions, but please do it. That person might read your book and tell her friends. If they do the same, now you have a geometric increase in sales. It’s possible, so don’t pass up the opportunity. Your words are out there for the entire world to see, the rest of you should be out there as well.

As a self-published author, you are not only the writer, you are also the public relations manager and primary marketer. Who you are and how you behave around other people can influence your sales. It’s possible to write and promote your story without interacting much with the public. If your stories are good and the writing has been properly edited with a good cover, there’s a good chance you can remain isolated, write your heart out, and watch the money roll in. But, I’ll bet that sooner or later you’re going to have to make a public showing.

But being in the public eye is not all you need to worry about. Readers love to interact with the authors they enjoy reading. They will send you emails, write comments and reviews of your books, and discuss your novel on forums or Twitter. How you react to these, will determine how the public perceives you and ultimately how good your sales are. There are some authors who can thrive on being cantankerous or who are revered for having a sharp criticizing tongue, but these are rare.

There are two camps authors fall into when it comes to reading reviews. Some read them and some never do. Those who do not are usually those who have signed on with a traditional publisher. I’m not sure why this is the way it is, but it’s a pattern I’ve noticed over the years. Those who refuse to read their reviews believe the sales will show how well the book is doing. Perhaps they rely only on their editor and publisher for feedback. Negative reviews can be hard to swallow and it’s very tempting to respond to an obvious troll with a negative and argumentative reply. But, doing so gives an author a bad reputation. If you can’t resist the urge, then by all means never read a review!

I, on the other hand, believe reviews are an important feedback mechanism from concerned readers. I have learned how to ignore the obvious troll. If a reader does not like my book and they have a specific reason, then perhaps hearing about it can influence my next story. Even if someone likes your story, they may feel compelled to say something about the content. These are learning opportunities. I have had readers who were quite vocal and were detailed in the feedback they presented. One such reader is now my content-editor. I have learned a great deal from reading my reviews. I’ve learned where I need to focus my learning to make myself a better writer.

Eventually, you’re going to want to interact with other writers and authors. If you meet a well-known author, treat her with respect and not as a stepping stone to getting your work promoted. Before they became a well-known author they were just like you and I. If you’ve published, don’t brag about it. Nobody likes a person who has the “look at me!” attitude. So how do you meet other writers and authors? This was covered in an earlier post. Conventions and professional organizations are two ways I’m going to go into more detail here.

I’m a science fiction author and becoming a member of SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) has always been a dream of mine. I was a bit shocked to learn that many self-published authors do not feel the same. They view SFWA as a group of holier than thou authors who look down at indies with disgust. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. I know many authors who are members of SFWA and they respect me as a fellow author. Granted, if you’re a self-published author who refuses to follow the guidelines of getting your work properly edited, then other authors are going to look down on you. But SFWA does not single out self-published authors.

Should you join? It depends. SFWA admits that if you are an author (not just self-published) and you are doing well, they have little to offer you. But, being a part of an organization like SFWA can have benefits. Just being able to interact with the other members in the forums is something to look forward to. One possible benefit for a self-published author is SFWA contract review. If you sign up with a publisher, SFWA will review your contract if you want. If you meet the eligibility requirements, please join, get engaged, and see how you feel after your first year’s membership runs out. A word of caution, I would avoid talking bad about traditional publishers. For those authors who have a good relationship with them, it’s working out well for them. Traditional publishers and self-publishers are slowly learning to respect each other. Help this process along.

There are organizations out there specifically designed for the self-published author. I’ve signed up for a few of them. Other than being able to interact with the other members, I have not found them to be very useful. It might be because I don’t sit in front of my computer looking at the various forums every week. I just don’t have the time.

I’m going to close with a short discussion about awards. In the science fiction field, the top awards are the Nebula and the Hugo. Simply being nominated for one of these is a big deal for many authors. Publishers also make a big deal of this and they will use this to promote a novel. But what would being nominated for an award mean to a self-published author? Recognition! It would be a very uplifting experience. But will it increase sales? Traditional publishers think so and they will crank up their marketing engine to promote a book that hits the nomination list. But a self-published author does not have a multi-million dollar, world-spanning marketing department.

The next time you’re out and about, ask a few people you know who read science fiction if they know who won the Hugo award for best novel or the Nebula award this (or any) year. You might be surprised to find out that they’ve never heard of the awards before! If they don’t know about these awards, then they won’t care if the cover says the book was nominated for one. They don’t seek out novels that were on the nomination list. They buy books based on what their friends say and other factors. Awards are mostly for publishers, editors, and other writers. It provides recognition within this rather small group of people.

I’m not downgrading how important these awards are though.  I was in the audience for the 2015 Hugo awards and I watched at least one friend of mine walk up on the stage. I felt very happy for her. I would like to be on that stage myself someday. I would love to sit at my writing desk and stare at a shiny rocket ship with my name on it. But realize this, there are hundreds of thousands of books out there and only a tiny handful can be nominated. What are your odds? I am just as happy to see my sales continuing to be steady – that’s recognition enough for me.