28 Aug 2017
It’s getting on late Sunday and I’m not sure if I’ll have enough time to get another installment of the Career Indie Author written. We spent most of last week in Rochester, N.Y., enrolling our son in the university. It’s been the culmination of more than a year of planning, researching, executing, and sheer bloody work, and I learned so much about the college admissions system that I’m [thisclose] to writing another book! Sanity and the realization that I hadn’t published a book of my own this year saved me for the moment, but I think there’s a niche for a general guide to the process in these crazy years that will help and reassure parents of finding a good affordable school for their little ones, one that won’t break the bank.
But that’s another rant for another day. This one came about while I was researching for authors who want to get actionable information out of Google Analytics. (An article for next week).
Not surprisingly, the rise in indie publishing spurred an increase in books, courses, podcasts, and for all I know rock groups offering advice. Some of them are excellent, some are clearly fraudulent, and some are in-between. Some offer advice that used to work when traditional publishing was all there was, and some are so full of effluent that I’m surprised the smell didn’t knock me out.
Separating the cheat from the wheat may be difficult, but I can tell you one sure-fire word that, if it appears in their marketing, should raise enough red flags to outfit the Chinese Army.
If you see this word, close the tab and never visit that site again.
That word is:
If they guarantee that their advice will earn you $10,000 a month, don’t believe them.
If they guarantee to refund your money if their course doesn’t put your book on the best-sellers list, keep your Paypal account locked.
They’re either lying their asses off, or too delusional about the realities of the marketplace to know they’re peddling taffy.
Without looking for it, I came across two guaranteed offers this past week. I didn’t even go looking for it.
The first was a fellow who says he did very well with sales for a couple of months and wanted to sell you the secret of how he did it so you can do it as well. He even adopted the old author brag, usually seen in ads in Writer’s Digest, of writing in bucolic locations, usually a beach. This always makes me wonder more how the “writer” could see the screen, let alone how to deal with sand in the gears, but that’s me.
A check of this guy’s novels shows Kindle sales of between 15,000 and 30,000, which isn’t bad. If the Author Earnings report is correct, these four books are bringing in maybe $8,000 a year, far below what he’s claiming he did.
As for his advice, he offers a YouTube video which summarizes his “three secrets.” They are:
1. Write a good book
2. Spend money to make it look nice
3. Publicize it
Again, nothing wrong here. At least it’s not as bad as this outfit, which offers a money-back guarantee if you’re not satisfied.
The trick with them is that you have to wait five years before you can claim your refund. The cost, which they advertise as “the cost of a cup of coffee each year” is $50. They had offered their course for $25, bumped up the price, and forgot to correct their ad copy (or else coffee has gotten a lot more expensive).
Why Guarantees Are Worthless
For many years, I have seen products appear that claim to offer a map to literary riches. There have been books that break down the qualities found in best-selling novels such as Gone With the Wind and The Bridges of Madison County. There are agents who describe how to write the “breakout” book. Then there’s the guy who banks big bucks telling the secrets of screenwriting. His book has spawned an subgenre of “how to” books and courses, such as Save the Cat.
And, yes, I’m writing a “how to” book of my own, although I’m focusing more on the business aspects than the creative side. When The Career Indie Author finally appears, it will not claim that using it will make your teeth brighter, your hair longer, and your book will appear on the USA Today list.
There are two reasons why any “guaranteed success” promise is worthless:
1. No one knows what makes a book hit with the public.
Look at the publishers, who have thrown big advances at books they were sure were going to score, only to be disappointed. The latest example is Chloe Esposito. She was given an advance of $2 million pounds for her trilogy of novels about a beautiful, psychopathic twin who discovers a love of killing, starting with her sister (the first book is “Mad,” and yes the other two are “Bad” and “Dangerous to Know”).
Despite the glowing reviews and blurbs, the first book is tanking. Ten weeks after its publication, and the book ranks far down on Amazon: 660,000 (U.S. hardcover); 123,000 (U.S. kindle); 21,635 (U.K. hardcover, after Amazon cut the price to five pounds) and 14,172 (U.K. kindle, with the price cut to 5.99).
Worse, the people’s reviews are dismal. Many of them were put off by the heroine’s unpleasant, vulgar, crude personality.
Believe me, if publishers knew how to publish best-sellers, they’d be publishing more best-sellers. If agents had a sure-fire formula for a successful fiction career, they’d have a lot more successful authors on his list. (I checked; they don’t.)
And the reason they don’t and can’t is because of this:
2. Creativity and imagination cannot be taught.
Let me explain with an example of Twyla Tharp’s book “The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life.” I love this book, because she takes us inside her world, the way she lives, and how she thinks.
One of the simple techniques she uses is the power of habit to get her into the mode for creating. She discusses her morning routine: getting up, making her coffee, taking a cab to the studio. The same habit, performed daily, sends a signal to her brain. It is time for work. It is time to create.
But what she doesn’t teach, and what she can’t teach, is how to create something that will resonate with an audience. She can’t teach you what to think, only how to put yourself into a mental space where the imagination is free to work.
What comes out, well, is what comes out. Will it be popular? Who knows? But that’s not her point. It’s to create something.
See, we don’t all think the same. We don’t approach our lives the same way. When it comes to writing, there are people who outlines and those who firmly resist doing so. Those who have to develop an idea into something bigger, and those who have characters in their head chattering away nineteen-to-the-dozen and demanding, demanding to have their stories told.
There are writers who have the mental stamina to pursue a story through multiple rewrites, and those who give up before they can finish the first draft. Those who seem to see the shape of a story as they are creating it, and those who forget they’re writing a mystery and hare off into romance or science-fiction territory, like a dog chasing a squirrel.
There are writers who know how people actually talk, and those who don’t. Those from a cultural background who know their people intimately, and those who have moved from place to place and don’t have much knowledge of any one culture.
There are too many factors involved to “guarantee” that what a person produces will be a legitimate best-selling book.
If it was possible, publishers would have had far more best-sellers than they have. If they knew what made a good book, 12 publishers would have picked up J.K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter book before she found #13. (I know: one is not a data point. Just work with me here.)
There is one good thing that comes out of all this: Since no one knows for sure what will sell, your book might be one of those.
And there’s only one way to find out.