Self-publishing, morphic resonance and why I’m never going to be a businesswoman

Self-publishing, morphic resonance and why I’m never going to be a businesswoman

I’ve been fretting about writing this for some time. It’s churned and turned and roiled and boiled inside me for ages and I’m never going to get any peace if I don’t try and sort my thoughts into order.

The last two years have been a very interesting ride. In that time I have published three novels, two short story collections and a non fiction book of meditations. I’m not counting the eighteen months where Strangers and Pilgrims was available as a paperback, because I had little or nothing to do with that side of things. For me self publishing began when I put that novel onto Kindle. As self published authors go, I’m doing quite well, I guess. Still mid-list, which is what you can generally expect for the kind of vaguely literary fiction I write. I have books consistently in the top 100 for their category; I have some excellent reviews. And I’ve had some fun.

But the last six months or so something has begun niggling at me, and the niggles have become more than occasional discomfort and have begun to really cause me some distress.

It’s this: the constant pressure to do better.

I don’t mean write better. I like to think I work hard at that anyway. I mean, to sell better. I spend a lot of time on social media, and I follow links and I read articles and it’s making me ill.

The nub of it is that self-published writers still generally wish to be taken seriously, to be counted as the equals of those who have a contract with a legacy publisher, and to sell as well and to live the so-called writer lifestyle. To do so, there is endless discussions about what you must do to compete with the Big Guns. Professional covers, formatting, editing, proofreading, book trailers, book tours, signing tours, being on every available e-reader format, having a professional website (God forbid you use a bog standard WordPress blog!) There are sites that shame amateur looking book covers. I won’t go on. I’m sure you’ve seen the same kind of things if you’re a writer. This constant pressure to show you are as good as a ‘proper author’. And in doing so, there’s a trap that’s become more and more obvious.

Equal and identical are different things. In the rush to prove we’re as good as authors who have a publisher, we’ve missed the point of the revolutionary nature of self publishing. We’re trying to do what the Big Guns do, reproduce the same sort of books, the same sort of covers, and sell at the same level. And get paid a substantial amount more for the work we’d have had to have done anyway in terms now of the promotion every author is obliged to do. (unless they’re Stephen King etc).

So, this has been getting me down. It’s been interfering with my creative flow like a bloody great dam. I can’t write now without the ghost of a thought of, “Will this sell? Will this be the one that tips the balance into making me a massively successful best seller?”. It seeps into the whole process, and I’ve only just pinned it down.

It’s not wrong to want to sell lots of books, make a living from them. It’s not wrong to want to share your words with thousands of people, entertain and inform them.

But surely it should not be that energy that is unconsciously directing my writing? If there were a formula to what will sell, and how to do it, believe me it would be a closely guarded and very expensive secret. There isn’t and there can’t be because it’s something so nebulous that it’s even harder to predict than long range weather forecasts for Britain.

When self publishing first began to be a phenomenon, there was a great deal of excitement about it. You might do anything, publish anything. Niche books. Experimental books. ANYTHING at all. There were endless possibilities, all waiting for people to leap in and try them. What has changed it is the need to sell, to make money, to make back what you shelled out to produce a work, to be compensated for the time and tears it took to produce a book. We all have bills to pay, debts too, and day jobs that can be stultifying and depressing; the dream that someday you may earn enough from writing to quit the day job is very seductive, and the thing that can make that dream a reality is MONEY. So morphic resonance kicks in: the path of self publishing has been set now to be like publishing but without the publishers. The lists are chocka with excellent and not-so-excellent books that are in the main, pretty like the books you might find in a book-store packed with the latest blockbusters, must-reads and the latest from your favourite mystery authors.

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with any of this; please don’t get me wrong. But the whole drive for independence was originally about freedom. Freedom from the constraints of genre and of commercial viability, so there would be new worlds to explore.

I read with increasing dismay and depression the exhortations to be professional, to do things a certain way. To see writing as a business. To have five year plans and to keep to them. And all the many articles covering these subjects all end with the veiled threat that if you do not follow these paths, then your work will never sell, and you will never achieve your dream of leaving the day job behind. You’ll never be interviewed on breakfast TV with your latest runaway best seller; you’ll never mingle with the great and the good in the world of literature and books. You’ll never win prizes and accolades and be lionised as an example of how a self-published author can prove the nay-sayers wrong.

Well, bugger that for a game of soldiers. It’s not going to happen. I don’t want to chase a dream someone else (some tens of thousands of others in fact) seem to think I ought to be chasing. Even thinking about it is getting in the way of writing. And that’s all I am: a writer. I’m not an entrepreneur, nor a business woman nor a graphic designer or a marketing guru or any of the other things it seems one has to have some skills at. I write. I write stories that come to me, or which I chisel out of the bedrock of my being, and that’s it. To try and transform myself into this superwoman figure is wrong on some many levels. I was given gifts, which I have worked hard at honing and honouring, and they’re gifts that (without being immodest) many would sell their souls for. It’s entirely churlish to demand that somehow I turn my back on that, demand that I transform myself into another animal.

One of the most moving and powerful things in my life is the feedback I get from people about my writing (whether it is the books, the poetry or articles here). I know that my writing has made a difference, changed people’s lives in some ways, and the reason it can do that is because I’ve kept a hold of who I am and what I do. But the last six months I have felt my grip loosening, the compulsion to conform becoming almost unbearable. I imagine some might read this and think, “Oh poor dear, she thinks she’s a speshul snowflake!” . To those, I will say simply, yes, I do think I am a speshul snowflake and the reason I think it is because this is MY life and I get one chance to live it the way I choose to.

So I am choosing to live it (and to write) according to my own definitions of integrity and being true to myself and my gifts.

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30 thoughts on “Self-publishing, morphic resonance and why I’m never going to be a businesswoman

  1. Hurrah! Couldn’t agree more with all of this. And I think it’s soummed up perfectly in

    “Equal and identical are different things.”

    I think the problem is when people lump all self-publishers together. It’s like feminism, the civil rights movement, the gay rights movement – when such movements are born there is such an overwhelming need for visibility that all agendas are swept aside in the need for unity. At a certain point, it becomes clear that those differences are at least as important as the commonalities.

    For me self-publishing has always been about the differences from the mainstream – and yes, I REALLY resent the implication that because I want to be different I should hide in a corner and accept that I shouldn’t ever want media attention, reviews, even readers. What I want is a media sophisticated enough to cover what I do for its own innate qualities, just as it covers the “me-too-I-wanna-be-like-published-authors” crowd for theirs. And if they aren’t able to do that, I’m damned if it’s going to be me who apologises and vows to change.

    • Yes, I do know what you mean. I’ve been watching things very closely for the last year or so and I’ve been unconsciously influenced, almost brainwashed.
      I do want readers, reviews and what not. But twisting myself into a total Gordian knot about following the *rules* about how to get them is only going to backfire. If I can’t be me, I will become no-one.

  2. I’m sitting here nodding my head.
    Each one of us is a ‘special snowflake’ (love your speshul ☼) though few are witnessed before they melt back into life’s cycle.
    The pressure to scream and shout ‘here I am, I’m a writer,’ is detrimental to the work, and draining. Storytellers and artists, and I mean the ones that are driven from within to express their experiences creatively, need time, a devoted concentration span. Given the speeding up of everything, they are becoming endangered species. Our creations, be they music, poetry, novels, paintings, installations, photographs … , have become products for packaging and distribution enterprises. Their priority is a quick turnover. Can’t blame them.
    It’s down to a stroke of luck, a champion, or cash, to have one’s work noticed.
    Many otherwise talented artists and writers have opted for teaching and the ‘how to do’ industry. Their advice benefits some people, but it also feeds the pressure and the promise that there is a ‘right way.’ to succeed. There isn’t. However, what cannot be devalued is the fulfilling process of creating, which, I think, expands consciousness in ways we can’t fathom.

    • “.. what cannot be devalued is the fulfilling process of creating, which, I think, expands consciousness in ways we can’t fathom.”
      Did you ever see The Imaginarium of Dr Parnasus? I loved that film and its message. It chimes with what you said, Ashen. Stories and creation turn the world.

  3. You are indeed a ‘speshul snowflake’ and speak for many of us (very eloquently) in this piece. The one book I am keen to see sell thousands is DABHD because it isn’t just for me, but like you I don’t think it is wrong to want to get your words out there. As long as it doesn’t drive you to places where you lose what makes you unique. I have just read ‘2,000 to 10,000’ a book about increasing your word count. Some good tips, but the overall ‘project planning’ focus was depressing….

    • Dandelions ought to do well but it will take time. I know what you mean.
      I read your review of that book on Goodreads and that’s just the kind of thing I am meaning.
      xxx

  4. Thank you for this. I’ve never understood this “go big or go home” attitude. It uthatsed to be quite respectable to be a midlist author, and I think it still is quite respectable, so long as people get off the bestseller bandwagon.

    The snobbery towards the self-published is really getting me down. There are tons of Big Publisher books with horrid covers, or that needed further editing, or that simply don’t sell well. That a single person working alone (notwithstanding what they contract out for) can compete with them at all is impressive.

    It’s a bit like when independent music took hold. People were, and are, sniffing someone released something they recorded in their garage or basement. So what? It turned out there’s a market for lo-fi, and even if there wasn’t, there’s nothing wrong with DIY.

    • Oh the snobbery, yes indeed.
      When it comes to numbers, I have sold more books that many mid list authors with a *proper* publisher. Yet some still snub me because I did it myself.
      Nice to see you, here; thank you!

  5. Well said Viv, I couldn’t agree more. Writing comes first and sales second, even so it would be nice to more recognised, but I don’t want to sell out. Though like you I have spent time thinking must sell more, do more etc, but that takes away from my time and like you say this is my life! And if I can’t and don’t appreciate myself and what I do, no amount of reviews or money will make up for that.

    • I admit that when I am low, Andy, much of my self-esteem gets caught up in sales and reviews. This has to stop.
      I believe that talent is likely to find an audience, eventually, but what worries me is whether it will be in time to stop the inevitable decline in enthusiasm for writing.

      • You are not alone there and I hope you find a way for you that helps you stop as you are very talented. I agree with you there, there is a sense that as much as writing is personal it does require an audience to feed off.

      • I read your article and i find some common things with you. Sometimes time is the problem and i think to be reckless and enthusiasm cannot disable your skills. If you are writer in your blood nothing cannot turn off your enthusiasm. This is inevitable.

      • Hadas, sorry for the delay but this comment went into spam because of the link to your book.
        I would agree that being a writer is in the blood but I do also think you can kill the enthusiasm in the end. That’s what I am trying to avoid. Thank you for visiting.

  6. Pingback: Self-publishing – be a “Speshul Snowflake”! | KungFuPreacherMan

  7. I self-published my SF novel. I also designed the cover, printed the text block, collated it by hand, glued the covers on, then I took it to local booksellers who stocked it on their shelves. I arranged book-signings, went on local TV, walked the streets & neighbourhoods knocking on doors to promote said book-signings. I’ve sold 252 copies at $10 a piece as of yesterday and have earned over $2000. I’m assembling 10 more copies freshly printed yesterday as I type this. Writing is the easy part. Selling the book is work, but it is rewarding work getting out to meet readers who, for the most part, are thrilled to meet an author and readily part with $10 for a signed copy. To earn $2000 from a traditional publisher may require 2000 sales, or more. Who gets royalties of $1 a book? Sunday afternoon I sold 13 copies in 3 hours and pocketed $130. I’ve had a website for the book for 4 or 5 years and it has yielded no sales whatsoever. I have done no i-Net marketing. You can Google Tetroid geoff White and check it out. I’m #1 on Google for that search, obviously. But that has yet to yield a single sale. So I continue to sell my book 1-on-1.

  8. Andy, a big thank you for the praise. I’ll find a way in the end. But I did stop writing entirely for over 8 years as a result of discouragement so I don’t want to go back to that.

    • Hi Juliet, good to see you hear as well as on Twitter.
      I think there’s a LOT of writers feeling just this way and I wonder if the much needed changes will be coming. I’ve seen four posts now from various people saying the same thing.
      So there is hope.xx

  9. Hey Viv,

    Very personal post, thank you for sharing what troubles you regarding the leap into self-publishing.

    I think many of these fears (which are very common amongst indie authors and artists) would be mitigated if you learn to step away from the big picture and look at the little one in front of you.

    In other words, instead of focusing on how you are going to get 1,000 thriving and engaged readers (a monumental task for most), focus on getting one new reader/customer TODAY.

    You can do it! And it will change your life.

    -Dan

    • Thanks for the thought, Dan. Of course, one by one is the way, but even that is down to factors I can’t or don’t wish to control. I’m very much starting to believe it’s all irrelevant to the real core of what success means to me.

  10. Forgive me, Vivienne but I had to smile when I read this, for the simple reason that I cannot call myself a writer, even though I have written oodles of stuff, because I haven’t published anything and can’t even say that I have (as most on this site appear to) many people even vaguely interested in what I write. In contrast, I see you, and others here as ‘proper writers’ because you have completed and published works which are selling, plus a band of interested blog followers. I know you’re proud of your position in the rating, and it’s something to be proud of, and your frustration at not reaping financial rewards equal to the work you have put in is completely understandable. But you can at least put hand on heart and say “I am a writer”.

    I have always wanted to write, in fact it’s a need, but I lack direction. I just have a head of thoughts that needs emptying from time to time. I have written some poetry, short stories and have a few half written ideas for novels languishing on the backburner. I finished a co-written novel but the less said about that the better. My first two blogs here remain unread by anyone other than myself (I read them again with the idea of deleting them). It occurred to me that if I followed other writers, they, or their fans, might follow me too. I read a few blogs, followed a couple of writers I enjoyed, then gave up after finding most a bit long-winded – nothing wrong with their style, just not to my taste. I wore myself out trying to figure out how to get people to read my stuff, when all I really wanted to do in the first place was write, and gave up.

    It strikes me that, at whatever level we put ourselves in the pecking order, maybe we shouldn’t need affirmation or some form of recognisable success to justify why we write. I touched on this in a Facebook post recently. The fact two people, other than my husband (who likes everything I post), was nice but the reason behind posting it in the first was to let my thoughts loose, not for nods of approval.

    My only experience of coming even close to self-publishing was a disaster that put me off altogether. I said at the time that if I ever write anything I feel is worth publishing, I’ll take my chances with the publishing houses. However, I have the utmost admiration for any self-published authors. I see them as independent writers, similar to independent musicians, thumbing their nose at the industry and doing their own thing regardless of what’s supposed to be commercially popular. I expect the business side of things are similar in that it’s more about how much money it will make, than calibre. If this weren’t the case, Katie Price wouldn’t have sold a single copy of her ghost written trash. The music industry is gradually becoming less powerful, perhaps one day the book publishing industry will also follow suit.

    Bravo! I’m glad you finally got it off your chest.

    • A couple of years back, I got very upset when someone on Twitter told me in no uncertain terms I couldn’t call myself an AUTHOR because I’d published myself. I had to take a big step back and let it flow over me. The person in question had been picked up by a small publisher via Twitter, and had never once been through the utterly soul-destroying process of submission to publishers; her books were published by this small publisher and though the claim is they are best sellers, the truth is probably very far from the case.
      A writer is someone who consistently puts words down- you ARE a writer. You may not be a published writer, but a writer you are. It drives you, despite everything.
      But writing is also a kind of alchemy, and the words themselves need to be read, even if by a single person other than their writer, so sharing is an important part of writing. It’s also one of the hardest, because the opinions of others can shift the words. This can be good and it can be a part of growth for the writer, but it puts us into the vulnerable position of being open to criticism and worse.
      I am glad I did go through the process of trying to find a publisher, and even though at the time it was devastating, getting so close, and collecting so many lines of warm praise, means that I feel more able to let stuff go, put it out there, and feel assured enough that it’s good. Would I do it again? No, probably not.
      As for Katie Price and her ilk, the books may be trash but certain people do enjoy them. The more specialised the niche, the fewer folks you can reach as potential readers.
      Don’t give up blogging. Write for yourself, share it, and let it find its way. It is harder now than it was when I began simply because there are that many more blogs around. But there’s no reason not to try. You’ll never know who you might touch and reach if you don’t.

    • Concerning blogs, better to find followers who are interested in what you write about than other writers, as such. The biggest of the blogs are food blogs and mummy blogs; writing blogs are pretty small by comparison.

  11. Excellent article, Viv, and one that clearly resonates with many. However, you might say plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. In the days when I was first published, statistics showed that a mere 1% of authors earned their millions (or equivalent) while only 4% earned a living. For the rest of us – me included, despite my having a No. 4 bestseller – we earned what was referred to as ‘pin money’.
    True, we had no money to shell out in the first place, as with self-publishing. But boy, were we expected to contribute to the marketing. As I recall, I did the equivalent of a gig a week one year – usually in clusters, back to back around the country. It was enjoyable meeting one’s potential readers, and it sold the books, but it was physically exhausting doing all the travelling and speaking and, for an introvert like me, draining having to stay overnight with people you didn’t know.
    As you say, we have only one life and must live it as we see fit. For you, for me, and for many others, that means using our gifts by scattering seed, hoping for a harvest, and hoping that it will nourish others.

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