Honest Answers to Common Writing Questions
Little secret: sometimes I like to go look at the Kindle Community Writing forums just to see what they’re up in arms about. Whether it’s the KU prices going down, frantic speculation about Amazon’s next move with publishing, or the ever-present fear of our royalty rate being shifted, there’s never a shortage of people scrambling about, and it often makes for an interesting read.
However, amidst all the panic and chaos there are usually a few folks trying to get honest information from their peers as they navigate the largely uncharted waters that are indie-publishing. A lot of the questions raised in these discussions tend to repeat themselves as well, almost like a greatest hits list. So today, I decided to give my own responses to those common questions, for the benefit of anyone reading the blog who has always wondered about the answers but didn’t skulk around in forums long enough to find them. And hey, if I’m going to answer, I may as well be truthful about it.
Q: Why aren’t my books selling?
A: Fuck if I know. Yeah, there are a lot of smaller reasons why it might not be catching on, like a bad cover, weak blurb, lack of marketing, and all that jazz. But a lot of the time someone asking this hasn’t skipped or half-assed those elements, and they still aren’t getting traction. In those cases, it’s a genuine mystery as to what’s going on there, because making a book isn’t a formula where you put all the elements together and walk away with a best-seller.
The dirty truth is that none of us really know what works for sure. If we did, none of us would ever have flops, and we’d probably make piles of cash brought to us in gold-plated wheelbarrows. That’s just not the case, though. Sure, we’ve all got strategies that we’ve found work for us specifically, but most of us have seen others use the same techniques to no avail. The publishing game is a shifting, crazy place where what’s hot today could be played out tomorrow, there is no golden strategy that fixes all.
The only honest advice I can give to folks in this situation is to take a shotgun approach. Try everything, until you find a method that bears you fruit. It might not mean it’s a good method overall, but if it works for you then that’s all that matters.
Or, for a funnier and less optimistic thought on the topic, you can Robert Bevan’s answer to pretty much the same question.
Q: What does it take to really feel like I’ve made it as a writer?
A: I’ll let you know when I get there. Look, imposter syndrome is a fucker, and I’ve seen writers far more successful than I am talk about still dealing with it in spite of being pretty widely-renowned. Different people might overcome it at different milestones: maybe when you put your first book out, or sign with a traditional publisher, or make it to a place on Amazon’s ranking list. Or, more likely, there’s no external threshold that will make you feel like a writer, because self-doubt is just a flat-out bastard.
That’s the trouble with adulthood; we don’t get ceremonies and spectacle clearly marking the accomplishment of a goal and the passing of a bar. There’s no “official writer” graduation cap to toss into the air. You’re a real writer when you decide to feel that way; nothing else is going to get you there until you decide you’re ready.
Q: How do I deal with bad reviews?
A: I touched on this one at length already, so I won’t bog the blog down in repeating shit. You just have to accept the fact that people will shit on you and your work. It’s not pretty, or nice, but it’s the truth of this industry. Sometimes the criticism will be pointing out valid mistakes. Sometimes the reader will disagree with specific choices you made. Sometimes you’ll have committed an internet sin like “too many minority characters” or “being a woman.” Deserved or not, the bad reviews come part and parcel with the job, so it’s something we all have to grit our teeth and drink our way through.
Q: What do I do if my book has been pirated?
A: To start with, most book pirating sites never actually have the content they advertise. The vast majority are scams designed to pilfer credit card numbers from people who try to sign up for all the luscious literary goodness. So the Google alert that triggered the worry was likely unfounded, as no one is getting books from those sites.
That said, book pirating does exist, albeit more in the torrenting and file-sharing community than in some shady site openly claiming to have books that would have big publishers filing DMCA’s before the site had been up for an hour. And in these cases… there’s really nothing to be done. People who want to steal it, will. The most you can do, as an author, is make sure that money is the only obstacle that might tempt someone to take that path.
What I mean is that a lot of times, people will pirate as a matter of convenience more than thrift. If your book isn’t available in their country, or on their device, then piracy becomes a more viable option than purchase. I’m not going to condemn or defend piracy as a whole; I was in high school when Napster came out so I clearly wouldn’t have a leg to stand on from those years alone. But once you accept that it’s going to happen no matter what, you can shift from stopping it entirely (impossible) to creating as few motives as possible for someone to go down that path.
Also, one last bit for the actual pirates out there: if you’re going to steal a book, at least leave an honest review on Amazon for it, especially if it’s from an indie author.
Q: Does the crippling self-doubt ever go away?
A: No. That’s why most authors are alcoholics.
Q: Holy shit, we have to pay taxes?
A: This one comes up more than I wish it did, so much so that it really bears addressing. Folks, income from Amazon is still income, and once you pass a certain threshold you’d better fucking believe Uncle Sam wants his cut of the cheddar. Yes, you need to pay taxes on your book sales. Be always aware of that, especially once you have titles that really start moving. Because this isn’t like getting paid by an employer, where most of the government money is yanked out before you can ever touch it. Nope, in this situation you get handed your shares along with Uncle Sam’s, and he expects you to keep his money safe until he comes calling for it in April.
Truth be told, dealing with taxes as an indie-publisher is probably a big enough topic for its own blog, but I’ll leave that to someone else because it sounds boring as hell. Point is, be aware of how much you’re selling, and put back funds appropriately to cover that bill come tax day. Take it from my experience during my first year of doing this gig full-time: you do not want to be caught unprepared when that tax bill arrives.
Let’s just say Past-Drew ate a lot of discount Ramen that month. But now, as a writer who knows about and prepares for the coming of tax day, I’m not nearly so bad off. I can buy my pallet of April Ramen full-price, like a damn adult. And really, isn’t that what we’re all striving for?