A Focus on Craft for Self-publishers

Book marketing is great, but…

It’s become clear that it’s only part of what you need. I’ve had a lot of thoughts on this subject for a while, and needed to type them out. Hope that’s okay to share them here.

I’ve seen a lot of doom and gloom from various authors about how selling books is not as easy as it used to be, or how it’s now a pay to play industry, etc. and so forth. And from my own experience, and everything I’ve seen, I’d say it’s probably true.

And yet, I’ve been bothered by one thing.

Moaning and groaning about the apparent decline of the industry does nothing to improve the situation. Not saying that anyone here is guilty of this. I’m sure most of you are doing everything you can. Indeed, many are working so hard, they’re pumping out novels left and right, and they’re working themselves to the bone to become the best book business people out there.

Now I love business, and I love to write. But I also value my family life. I don’t want to work 70 hours a week. That’s not worth it to me. Not everyone works that hard, obviously, but many do, and many will actually suggest that you have to put out 6-12 books a year to really carry a sustainable income for that year. But one of the problems with that is that the industry simply becomes more and more inundated with books.

A Solution

So what do we do?

Now let me preface this by saying this is all my opinion, and you are all welcome to disagree. Please start a conversation in the comments if you want, and I’m happy to engage in any CIVIL discourse on the subject.

I personally believe that the next stage of innovation in self-publishing will have to do with craft. Self-publishers are all decently good at the business side. In fact, many of us are great at it. But if you read the top books on the charts, you will begin to see one thing in common with most of them (emphasis on most). They are genuinely good books.

Now before you come at me with pitchforks, let me say that I think there are a lot of good books coming from self-publishers. Tons of them. In fact, I think there might be so many that being good isn’t quite enough. We have to be better than good. We have to be the best.

Business is essential these days for anyone who wants to make a living at their books. Otherwise it can be very difficult to find readers. But craft will continue to become more and more important as the supply of books (even well-marketed books) increases. We might have the best cover, the best blurb, we might even have the a big budget for advertising, but if our book isn’t 1000% amazing, we are unlikely to see any lasting success.

There are plenty of indies out there who have books that stay in the top 1,000 for months or even years, just because it’s genuinely good. One of the books that first showed me what indie authors were capable of was a book called The Wakening, by Jonathan Renshaw. The guy only has one book out! But it’s an enormous, Brandon Sanderson-worthy fantasy tome, and it’s amazing! That book has sold thousands of copies, has over 4,000 reviews, and is still ranked in the top 10,000 even four years after its release, and he hasn’t even released the sequel yet! Now, I don’t recommend this approach, people need their sequels. But we have to get in the mindset of not only writing good books, we need to write the best books, books that can get national media attention.

Getting Started on Writing Craft

So how do we do this?

I’ve written 10 books. 8 are in my first series (side note: if you’re a beginning author, don’t write 8 books in your first series), 2 are books I threw away and will be re-writing in the near future. All of them have taught me A LOT about the craft of writing. So my first advice is to write.

I’m assuming most of you are like me, and have a million story ideas in your head. If you’re just starting out as an author, I cannot recommend enough that you write to learn how to write. Start with some of those ideas that are easier to write to market. DO NOT start with your greatest idea, your magnum opus, your Mona Lisa.

Because your first novels will suck.

There’s just no getting around it. Even if you get a proper developmental editor (like I did), spend months editing (like I did), it will still suck. And you will figure it out once you’ve written 10 books and look back and read what you did at the beginning (did I mention that I’m re-writing 2 of my books?).

Side note on writing to market: I’m not a write-to-market purist. I absolutely see the need for branching out, bending the expectations, trying new things. But when you’re just starting out, I do recommend writing to market. It’s much more effective to break the rules after you’ve exhaustively familiarized yourself with the rules. Trust me, you’ll have a much better idea of what will work and what won’t. But only after you’ve immersed yourself in your genre.

The Future

Now I’m not a full-time writer yet. But that is my goal. And as part of that, my immediate goal is to practice craft. Right now my tactic is to read a book on craft, and then write a book practicing that specific aspect of my craft.

And it’s hard. Sometimes it feels like I’m trying to juggle a million things at once. Because not only do I have to worry about craft, but I can’t forget about the business side of things either! I have to do both, if I want any chance of being a full-time author. And I also can’t forget about all the other aspects of craft while I’m studying one specific part of it.

But I’m currently writing another first-in-a-series right now, and I can already tell it’s miles ahead of my first complete series.

In summary, in order to keep up with the competition, we must focus on craft. Read books on craft, take part in writer’s groups, take a course or a class at your local college, listen to podcasts on craft, outline like crazy, edit like crazy, get developmental editors to help with your plot structure and characters, and above all write, write, write!

Let’s go out there and not only write page turners, let’s go out there and write the kind of books that will live on for years and years after they’re written. Let’s not write good books. Let’s write the best books!

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