It’s been nearly ninety days since I self-published my first novel on Amazon, and it’s time to take stock of what I have learned.
I have a lot of nice people in my circle of friends and family. Let’s face it; I haven’t sold much to anyone outside of that circle. But people have been so sweet about supporting me in this, from old school chums to distant relatives I’ve never even met. A few have even been brave enough to point out ways for me to improve my work for the next novel.
I should never trust myself to edit my own work. I’m a good editor on other people’s work, but I miss a lot on my own. I’m not talking about your run-of-the-mill typos or missing words; there were plenty of those, but I missed some biggies. Like the fact that I called my hero “Evan” in Chapter six.
Which would have been fine, except that I called him “Ethan” in all of the other chapters.
Whoops. Fixed that.
I have no idea what I’m doing when it comes to marketing. ‘Nuff said.
I’ve learned lots of new words, like “Scamphlet.” A scamphlet is a very short how-to guide slapped together and vomited into e-book format for the sole purpose of scamming people into wasting their money. It is copy-and-paste nonsense that helps no one but the author, which leads to my next lesson learned.
Fake reviews run rampant on Amazon.com. Holy cow, that situation is out of control! Anyone who has ever purchased anything from Amazon is allowed to leave a review on any book, regardless of whether that reviewer purchased that book or not. This means that some of the scamphlets, along with some really terrible books, can have volumes of glowing but false 5-star reviews.
The flipside of this is that angry, jealous or just plain bored folks can torpedo a good book’s success by peppering it with false 1-star reviews out of spite. Authors who participate in the Author Support Forums have to be so cautious in everything they say, or their work pays the price.
Shortly after I published my book, I bought a “book” that was being pushed in the forums. Okay, now I know that he was “spamming” the forums, but I didn’t know that at the time. It was supposed to help me sell more books, but it was a poorly-crafted scamphlet with a lot of meaningless pie charts and useless rambling nonsense, and I requested a refund because it was definitely not the product that was advertised. I confronted the so-called author, and he and his friends hit my book with a flood of 1-star reviews. Amazon has since removed all but one of them, but he should never have had that kind of power to stop my sales cold.
Lesson learned: Don’t trust anyone in the Author Support Forums. Also, don’t ever buy a book based on good reviews, because reviews on Amazon are meaningless.
There is a lot of crap being self-published. I have to wonder if some of these people have ever actually read a book. I don’t mean to come across as a literary snob; I know my work is far from perfect, and I hope to keep learning and improving until the day I scribble down my very last word. But some of these books . . . oy, vey. How can anyone think it’s okay to write a book with no quotation marks in the dialogue? How is it possible for any writer to not know what a paragraph is?
This is basic stuff, guys. Stuff that should have been learned by the second or third grade. Names are capitalized. Stories are broken down into paragraphs. Sentences end with some form of punctuation. Quotation marks are used to show that a character is speaking. Spell check is a real thing; use it.
And no, “textspeak” is not an okay format to use for an entire book. Just don’t do it.
There are a lot of pretentious, puffed-up blowhards out there. I remember these guys from college. Hell, I was one of these guys in college. You know the ones. We wrote “literary fiction” and smoked clove cigarettes and lamented the stupidity of a world that just couldn’t understand the glory of our work.
I’m not sure what the modern-day equivalent of these artsy-farts are smoking, but their work is the same: indecipherable stream-of-consciousness twaddle that says nothing and goes nowhere. And uses long, obscure, intelligent-sounding words to get there.
Anyone who dares to question these masterpieces is immediately dismissed as too stupid to understand. If the world does not “get” their work, then it must be a sign that the world is becoming dumber by the day.
The definition of “Book” has changed. I was always taught that a Novel is 50,000 words or more. Anything less than that is a short story, a novelette, a novella or something else along those lines. But that is just not so on Amazon. Authors say they have published “twenty-one books in ten months,” when in fact they have published a handful of short stories and scamphlets. Maybe this is a symptom of a society that communicates via Tweets and status updates; perhaps the average reader no longer has the attention span needed to read a book-length work of fiction.
Or maybe it’s the result of people who view self-publishing as a modern-day goldrush. Type it out, slap a title on it, and throw it on Amazon, and hope to be the next Jasinda Wilder or E.L. James.
I’ve also learned that there are some fabulous self-published authors out there who really deserve to make it big. Tom Hobbs’ Trauma Junkie series is outstanding, sort of the literary love-child of Emergency and Rescue Me. Margaret Brazear is the author of some wonderful historical romances and Mae Martini’s Loving You is one of the hottest cowboy romances I have ever read. I’m not a fan of paranormal or horror stories, but M. Lauryl Lewis’ Grace Series puts an interesting twist on Zombie tales.
I think the most important lesson I have learned over the last three months is that I want to do this again. There is still the public perception that self-publishing is for writers who aren’t good enough to publish the traditional way, but that’s just not true anymore. The good ones are few and far between, but I hope I am one of those good ones, and that I can continue to get better with each book I write.
The one thing I still haven’t learned is how to write my books and my blog and still have a life away from my computer. The whole time-management thing is still a mystery to me, but that’s a subject for another day. When I can find the time.