The Independent Author Problem


Ever since that book came out, every day he been shufflin'.

Today I’d like to talk about easily the most difficult and most important part of writing your book: Promoting your work.

Rabbit in the Road will have been out for six months as of March 14th, in digital format, and has been out for 3 months in paperback format. During that time, we have had some amazing things happen that most other independents rarely are fortunate enough to get.

So, with all of those positive marks, you’d think we were rolling in the Scrooge McDuck dollars and having a wonderful time, right?

I don't think anyone has considered how hazardous to your health diving into a pile of gold would actually be.

The truth of the matter is, we’re not. In fact, actual SALES have been pretty much abysmal, if we’re just talking numbers here. Customer satisfaction and retention rate has been amazing, but we can’t get  in the front door to get to an even bigger reader base, so to speak. Why?

We don’t have an agent. We don’t have a publisher. We’ve got a couple of twitter accounts, a blog right here on WordPress, a few facebook pages, and good ol’ fashioned MOXIE.  But sometimes, moxie is not enough.

So what’s happening? Why isn’t the book moving? It’s quite simple, really.

Lack of EXPOSURE. But where does that lack of exposure come from? I’ll tell you, because it’s quite interesting.

Coming from a game journalism background, I can tell you what it’s like on the opposite end. What normally happens in gaming is that you’ve got other press and reviewers climbing over each other, trying to get into a publishers or developers good graces in order to get their hands on a product before anyone else. Being able to get your hands on beta and/or review code is a PRETTY BIG DEAL, namely because it means that you’ve done enough work and you’re generally respected enough in your circles that your opinion actually matters, particularly to the publisher.

Oddly enough, the exact OPPOSITE is true in the literary world.

Here, you’ve got authors who are climbing all over each other, trying to get to reviewers to sit down and read their books so they get exposed to a larger audience. Interesting enough, book reviewers tend to carry a similar type of “snooty” attitude like game publishers do, seeing who is “worth their time” or not. Which is pretty damn odd, if you ask me.

Personal efforts can only go so far in the exposure game. Sure, you’re going to have family and friends who are going to throw you a basic bone here and there, but they’re not as invested in your work as you are, obviously. Needless to say, you have to learn how to get creative in your approach to moving product.

You already have a strike against you because you’re an unknown author. You’ve got a second strike against you because you’re independent. And chances are, if your work sucks and sucks hard, you’ll never get another shot again.

Currently, we have two strikes against us, being both unknowns as well as independents. Thankfully, at least according to our reader base, we don’t suck. So we’re still up at bat… I think. That doesn’t solve anything though when you can’t find anyone willing to give your book the time of day in the first place. It’s already a proven product, so you would think that that would give us an edge. But it doesn’t, at least not by any of my accounts.

Honestly though, I’m starting to run out of ideas, and I don’t know what to do. If I were a game developer though… this wouldn’t be much of a problem. And I guess that’s the Big Joke.

~Oliver

4 comments

  1. Oliver, outstanding post. I really like the realness of your story.

    I’m an aspiring author, and right now my struggle is just trying to finish the book; I’m glad that someone’s giving a candid explanation of life AFTER publishing.

    However, I was a very small time game journalist at one point, and I’ve got to say that the small, independent game studios have a difficult time just like you are right now.

    It’s the big game companies, equivalent to the big names today, that can sit back and let journalists froth at the mouth for an exclusive. Blizzard and Rockstar are the equivalent of JK Rowling and Steven King.

    You–and hopefully I in the near future–are more like . . . iPhone app developers, lol. They try to get as much press as possible, but no one’s looking for them. They have to reach out.

    At this point, I wonder if you’ve spent any money on getting exposure. It seems like you’ve exhausted the free venues (though I didn’t see any mention of a video). Maybe Facebook ads would work? Or traditional marketing.

    Anyway, thanks a lot for sharing; you gained a follower today. I’m curious to see where your journey takes you. 🙂

  2. Oh, we have actually done those things! We’ve actually invested a bit of money into different ad campaigns, including facebook, and even Something Awful. We’re just not seeing a lot of results (even though we’re actually reaching HUGE audiences according to the analytics).

    It’s the strangest thing I’ve seen in a while. We’ve made plenty of review offers, and we actually offer the book in as many different formats as possible to make it easy on the reviewers, but they just aren’t… biting.

    The second that first review came from Kayhynn on Kayhynn Turns The Page, we had a sudden spike in sales (only a handful, really, but it WAS a spike). We just can’t seem to get any consistency.

    And funnily enough, we were JUST in the middle of talking about an interesting way to do video today. Read my mind.

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