Write, publish, repeat.
I hear it all the time. And I try to keep the phrase in my mind when I’m deep in the slog. What’s the slog, you ask? It’s the place I’m in right now. It’s been a year since I published my first novel. I just got the sequel back from my editor and I’m facing a round of revisions. I’m also turning a short story into a “prequel novella” for my series. If all goes well, I’ll publish the novella within 1 month and the sequel within 4 months. Then it’s off to the races to finish the third book in the trilogy. Sounds like pretty decent output, right? Maybe for a traditionally published author, but not for an indie.
The indie author world is full of people who are publishing five, ten, even more books each year. Their backlists are astonishing. They write 10,000 words a day. They have endless great ideas for novels. They churn stuff out relentlessly. But me? I’m slogging through. And to get the sequel and novella done, I’ve put my marketing and promotion work on the back burner. Guess what that means? Sales for my existing book have slowed to a trickle. I’ve never been in the business of selling anything—until I published The Girl from Oto. Now I understand the deal. If you don’t market and promote a product, it won’t sell. And that includes books. Who knew?
The evil rise of self -doubt.
Here’s how angsty indie authors think when self-doubt slithers into our minds. “I knew it—all those sales were just a fluke. No one really wants to buy my book. When I publish books two and three, no one will buy them, either. This entire venture is a huge waste of time. Why did I think I could create a business as an indie author?”
The problem with being an indie author is: you have to have the ego to think your work is good enough to publish, but you have to have the critical voice too, the capacity to judge your work’s worth. And that critical voice isn’t helped by the disdain that some people still harbor for indie publishing.
Why is this uniquely difficult? Because indie authors are slogging through all of this alone. We don’t have a publishing house that chose our work and are helping us market and promote it. We are telling the world that our work is good enough to publish. In other words, we think our work is good enough to publish. Sales help us prove that we’re right! But in a time of few sales, we have to somehow keep the faith. That this enormous investment of time and energy will pay off. That our stories have a place in this world, that people like them—even love them. That we should keep writing no matter what.
How to navigate the slog during those hard moments.
I’m not giving up. No way. Here are some of the ways I’m slogging through.
- Save kind words and fan mail. I am thrilled every time a reader tells me they loved my book, they can’t wait for the sequel, they learned a lot from all of my historical research, they felt transported to another time and place, they cried, they laughed… Reader feedback is the fuel that keeps me going.
- Shut out the noise. I am a member of many online author groups and I listen to a lot of author podcasts. This helps me find community and teaches me a lot. It also exposes me to a constant barrage of people producing content at a far greater clip than me, with seemingly tons more marketing and promotion savvy. Staying away from these sources of FOMO is healthy and necessary during a tough slog.
- Stick to a routine. I keep doing my writing and revising each morning. Some days life gets in the way and I get very little done. Some days I have plenty of work time but my work is not good. Other days I crank out many hours of excellent work. The point is, I’m doing the work.
- Surround myself with positive people. I am very lucky to have a supportive family and wonderful friends who think I’m a great writer and never fail to buoy my spirits. I think most indie authors have run into folks who give us that withering, slightly amused look when we say we’ve self-published a novel. These are not our people. When I meet one, I keep a healthy distance.
- Don’t make impulsive decisions. I crave mentorship as much as the next person. But it’s easy to get sucked into the marketing-speak of various indie author gurus. I get tons of emails from these people. A lot of them offer good value and helpful, free content. But they are all, in the end, selling something—whether it’s their books, their courses, their videos, their workshops. When I’m in the throes of self-doubt I feel an impulsive desire to start buying what they’re selling. Maybe they’ll show me the way out of the slog, my inner voice says. It’s too hard to do it alone. This is not wise thinking. Don’t plunk down money for any of that stuff when you’re in the slog. Wait until you’re feeling more confident, then think it through logically.
- Read some great books. Dive into something by an author who’s new to you, or reread some of your favorites. I’ve been working my way through a pile of thrillers and mysteries, plus a few nonfiction works about women in history. This reignites my passion for storytelling and writing.
- Watch hilarious video snippets. Whatever floats your boat…just queue up a bunch of funny videos on YouTube and start laughing. Laughter is a huge part of my day. I don’t feel alive without it.
- Be grateful. My birthday was last week, and I made a promise to myself to be more actively grateful for all the abundance and opportunities in my life. Getting to write novels is an incredible gift and I am lucky to do it. Even during the hard times. Even when sales are dying. The story is the thing, and when your story goes out into the world it’s an incredible feeling. Savor that.