by Ingrid Hall
I have always known that I was meant to be a writer. It was the one thing that I dreamed of doing as a child, and it probably stems in part from the fact that I grew up in a household where my mother went out to work part time as a cleaner and my father who had several physical disabilities stayed home and wrote.
So, you could say that writing is in my genes. From the age of four or five I would watch in fascination as my father paced our tiny house, cursing and muttering to himself as he wrestled with the many ideas that were flitting through his head as well as the many injustices of the world. Before finally settling when I was about nine or ten on a biography about the crusading Victorian journalist, W.T Stead. Because we only had a two bedroomed house, and didn’t have the luxury of a dining room or indeed anywhere really where my father could set up a proper writing space then he would just sit himself down in the nearest comfortable seat and before long balls of scrunched up, discarded notepaper would be bouncing around the room.
Dad worked on that one manuscript for the best part of thirty years. Don’t get me wrong, he also immersed himself in numerous good causes and charities and was an ardent campaigner at grassroots level for the Labour Party, but his passion, his primary goal in life was to be a published author. His sudden death a couple of years ago at the age of sixty-nine put paid to that and made me realise that life really is unpredictable and gave me the focus that I needed to start pursuing my own writing dreams.
I was at that time, however, completely delusional as to the route I would need to take in order to secure a publishing deal. While I had heard of self- publishing, or vanity publishing as it was commonly known, It wasn’t an idea that I was willing to countenance as I was firmly entrenched in the belief that the only way to get published is to find yourself an agent and then leave the job of securing a contract to them. Indeed, while writing Granny Irene’s Guide to the Afterlife Revenge – I did have a lot of contact with one particular agent who it turns out was full of promises but whom it would seem was totally intent on leading me down the garden path. She wanted money for this and money for that, and against my better judgement and the advice of my husband and close friends I paid up. Only to be frustrated when she asked for more…and more!
Word to the wise: don’t EVER pay an agent upfront for their services, regardless of how convincing they seem, or tempting it is to get to the top of the pile. There are thousands of reputable agents out there who will work on a commission only basis with no upfront payments. Yes, it might be incredibly hard to get noticed by one of them, but if you are determined to go down the conventional publishing route then you need to be prepared to take the rejections on the chin and keep going. Your mantra being to submit… submit…submit.
It was during a downhearted heart to heart (over a bottle of wine or three) that Lenora suggested that I consider taking a look at Amazon/Create Space. She explained to me that self-publishing had really started to take off and that there was no harm in at least exploring my options.
I am SO glad that she did! Yes, undoubtedly there are numerous hassles when self- publishing and I will go into these a little further with you shortly but for me the complete freedom and control that publishing my own books gives me far outweighs the stress and the hard work that inevitably comes with being an indie author. I can publish my books globally in a heartbeat and as I am getting more savvy, more confident I am also enjoying discovering the numerous other publishing platforms that are available to indie authors.
So what are the main challenges that we face?
Well, number one for me has been BALANCING MY NEED TO WRITE WITH MY FAMILY’S NEED TO EAT.
This is a major problem for a lot of indie authors and is probably (other than an actual failure to write) the biggest threat to a fledgling author’s career. It is so hard to look your partner in the eye when they are working their balls off to keep a roof over your head and food in your children’s bellies and say “Look; I know I am not actually earning anything from my writing now, but trust me, I will be in a few years from now!” It is hard not to give into the pressure and temptation to start looking for a more conventional job. A proper job: one that actually pays a salary at the end of the month and enables you to buy nice clothes and cars and take foreign holidays each year. It is a problem that I have wrestled with over the past few years with various different outcomes. First I was rigid in my determination to stay true to my writing dreams. Then when my husband’s work dried up I had no choice but to take up a part time job in a call centre, and now, once again I am back to doing what I want to do, however, this time I have a backup plan in place, and I am building my Pay As You Go Manuscript Assessment Service alongside my writing. Ultimately everyone must do what is best for their own family, for their own individual circumstances, but I will say this. If you are determined to make it as a writer: if you want to make it a career rather than just a hobby, then somehow you will find a way to write.
The second biggest problem for me has been INVISIBILITY. I don’t know about anyone else, but I sure as hell had it in my head that once I published my first book then that would be it. People would be downloading it in droves, and physical copies would be flying off the printers. Oddly enough, it didn’t work out like that. With Granny Irene, I initially ran a free promotion on Amazon, and while yes, hundreds of people downloaded their free copy, I don’t think they actually took the time to read it. They downloaded the book PURELY because it was free. A crime I am guilty of doing myself, although, I do try now not to fall into that trap. I tend to only download books on free promotions that I am fairly certain that I will like, or there is a strong chance that I will one day get round to reading. Since then, I have tried just about every marketing trick in the book, and while yes, I do have a much stronger online presence these days and yes, I am selling books, I am not by any stretch of the imagination selling them in the quantities that I want, or perhaps should say need to. If anyone has any useful and genuine tips as to how to boost my sales then, I would love to hear from you!
I have touched briefly upon this, but the third big issue for me is MARKETING – OMG – There are so many options out there. Some of them free, most of them requiring a varying amount of financial investment. Just how is a new author meant to navigate the marketing maze? You just have to feel your way, and do what feels right. Start with the free stuff. The Facebook groups and pages etcetera but make sure you don’t fall into the trap of constantly spamming these pages. I don’t read the bulk of my notifications anymore because I know that nine times out of ten they are filled with authors promoting their books. Get a blog. (Check out my ghost blogging service www.ingridhall.com_) However leaving that blatant plug aside, you can set one up yourself relatively easily at either WordPress or Blogger. Blogging is the perfect way to start reaching your target audience. It is also a great way of connecting with other authors. You also need to be getting your book out to reviewers as reviews both good and bad are vital to sales. (Yes, even the bad ones because they often validate your book and pique people’s curiosity) I would much rather have ten three or four star reviews rather than ten five stars, because readers have become suspicious of glowing, perfect reviews. You don’t want people to think that all of your reviews have been written by family and friends. (Obviously some five star reviews are nice to have and one and two stars, well, not so nice, but so long as you learn from them, perfectly valid!) If you are looking to find reviewers then www.theindieview.com is a great place to start. Bear in mind though that you may send twenty requests and only be picked up by one reviewer. As a reviewer, I get swamped daily, and it is not always possible to review every book or even do it in a timely manner. (It frequently takes six months plus for my reviewing team to get to a particular book)
Being an indie author is tough. It is also incredibly fulfilling and satisfying and until I become the next J.K Rowling or E.L James and start selling millions of copies I will keep on learning and growing…and writing!