My fear isn’t about writing itself, it’s that I’ll write a book that’s passably decent and that I’ll find it impossible to get people to read it. No-one will publish it, I’ll put it up as an e-book but be unable to persuade anyone to read it. That I lack an online community or the ability to build one, or any of the other things that people talk about when it comes to getting word of mouth about books. Is it possible to get it out there and into the hands of people? Is it just a case of sending a manuscript out over and over and getting rejected? Or do I need to spend time working on building a community around me as well as actually writing?
Most writers grapple with these questions, so I’ll try to help.
Nobody will publish your book? Well you’re in good company then (yeah, apparently the Lifesong is unpublishable ;-). Unless you have some direct inside contacts in the industry, I don’t think it’s worth wasting your time. I wasted mine, then self published using my own company to print books and get into the stores (big big bad idea and waste of £10,000) and then (hallelujah!) using Amazon Kindle. You can publish your book, today.
Nobody will read your book? This is a demon every author must learn to ignore. Don’t look it in the eye… Every book can be a sinker. The best you can do is stack the odds in your favour by writing a book based on a compelling idea, then pay for a professional cover design, professional copyediting and blurb and load it up to Amazon Kindle.
That still applies. A free story leading into a main story you sell is the simplest way to get exposure and sales.
How did you afford to write your books? To get started, what I did was focus exclusively on writing my novels, and wrote as long as my savings lasted. That got a bulk of work completed before my time got fragmented. Even so, my first novel took 2 years to complete. The second took 3. I don’t recommend writing the way I do My books are double the length of many. Maybe you’ll find you can write a well-plotted shorter book in a few months, but it will still take a few months after that to self-edit, commission a cover design and work with a copyeditor. Skip those and you’re just going on to stage half-dressed.
Financial hardship kills creativity; limited time restricts creativity. Of the two, I’d choose the second. That’s where I am now, working paid work (luckily I enjoy it) and trying to get a sliver of time in each day to write. It requires immense self-discipline, and I mostly fail. But I reached the limit of what I could endure hoping sales income would suddenly materialise and finance my full-time writing dream.
How much does a fantasy author earn? I’m a low-midlister in fantasy, I suppose – I’ve sold 11,000 copies of Lifesong books (digital) 1,000 (print) and have had 85,000 free downloads. With the exception of occasional 3 month spikes due to advertising/promotions, my books don’t have much visibility on Amazon now, which is what determines sales. I earn about £5,000 a year from my two fantasy novels, and it’s tapering off because I haven’t produced a third book in the series for over three years. You can’t live on that in the UK, or write full time believing it will support your family. If I could produce one book every year that picture would change to a liveable income, as I’d now have 5-6 books instead of 2. You need to be prolific AND good to survive on writing.
Other authors I’ve watched in my niche have uploaded some ordinary-looking books, and some have just taken off (ten times my sales). There are definitely some self-published fantasy authors who are earning enough on Kindle to write full time, and many in the romance, thriller and mystery genres. The ability to publish regularly seems to make a big difference, and some generic story ideas have surprising appeal.
How do you get exposure? You can easily get your book out there using Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing. No need to build a ‘community’, I don’t believe facebook/websites/blogs/tours/book trailers or anything else has any reliable impact on sales that justifies the time. The only things that matter are the idea of the story, the cover and low / free entry price into the series. You can run periodic promotions and very selective advertising to boost the visibility, but they have a short lifespan. The writing itself will determine the reviews, which have a small added impact on the sales. If it shows real promise on Amazon, Amazon automatically increases the visibility.
There’s never been a better time to try – the market is significant, the access is open to you, the chance of getting exposure is good. But the outcome is still as uncertain as ever, so make other financial plans.
Good luck chasing the dream,
Greg Hamerton | Fantasy author