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The Five Stages of Self-Pubber’s Grief

1

October 13, 2012 by James Calbraith

photo courtesy amanda tetrault

It’s not easy being green a writer. Everyone knows that. Being a self-published writer brings with it a whole new set of problems.

The list below is, of course, not only incomplete; five just seemed like a nice cut-off number. It’s also very subjective, based on a limited sample of one – me. You may find other things causing you greater frustration, or discover that everything goes fine and smoothly (it never does!). There are a few controversial points, with which you may strongly disagree (I hope so!) But if you haven’t gone through the self-publishing process yet, or are just beginning, this may prepare you for a little of what to expect.

1. No Sales

This one is obvious, and inevitable, part of self-publishing. Unless you’re the rare “overnight success”, you will be staring at the never-moving sales number for a long while. At some point the sales will pick up slightly, filling you with false hope – and then go back to zero. You chew your fingernails, you tear at your hair, you think “where did I go wrong? what didn’t I do?”. Nothing helps. Everyone who’s already been through this tells you that you have to be patient, that the initial build-up is slow. “Surely not THAT slow” you think, as another week passes by with a paltry ten sales, half of which are your friends and family.

In your darkest hour, remember this: you are the lucky one. This stage is something that no traditionally published writer has to suffer – because they don’t even get their sales numbers from the publisher, most of the time. Again, your book might be an overnight bestseller, of the sort that makes your agent go all giddy and call you in the middle of the night to tell you “we sold out in all of New York!”. But it’s much more probable that you will have no sales information whatsoever until a paltry paycheck comes your way at the end of the year. Think how that must feel.

2. No Feedback

So you survived the first stage and your book, by some miracle, started selling. And not only your first book, the one you put the most promotional effort into, the one that’s supposed to be the one big thing. Your other books are selling, too. Then the sequel. And the third volume. “They must like me!” you think. But – and that’s the second woe – you will never know why.

Sure, your friends may have been kind enough to give you a few stars and enthusiastic reviews. You may have solicited a couple of reviews from bloggers and fellow writers. But your real readers, your, to use the big word, “fans” (and surely, somebody decides to buy a third or fourth book in a series, could be described as a fan?) remain silent, like an empty cemetery. You will never know what made a hundred or a thousand people cough up a few bucks to buy one of your works. Was it your blog tour? Was it the paid Ads? Was it the cover, or a blurb? You are in darkness, and it looks like you will remain there forever.

Turns out, average readers aren’t that keen on writing reviews. And let’s be honest – when was the last time you wrote a review on Amazon?

3. No Fair

At this point you probably start researching how other writers fare. You go on the forums. You read blogs. You’re starting to worry. How come they
seem to be doing so much better? How come they have all the reviews? How come they give such huge sales numbers?

You start adding up the numbers, and something doesn’t feel right. Sure, there are a few really successful ones, but what about the rest? Are you really, as some would have you believe, the worst-faring writer in the history of self-publishing? And then you come to the inevitable conclusion. To paraphrase the Classic:

Everybody cheats
Sometimes, everybody lies
Everybody cheats, sometimes

The old adage suddenly holds true: don’t believe anyone on the internet. Those fifteen five-star reviews? All from freshly created sock-puppet accounts, or worse – bought. Those astounding sales numbers? Chances are, they secretly include free give-aways. Those give-away numbers? Rounded up to the nearest ten thousand.

Chill out. This is paranoia speaking. Yes, the world is not fair. It’s a tragedy, but we all have to deal with. Some people will always cheat their way through life. And they will probably be more successful than you. But if you feel like joining the blaggers, go work in the City, there’s more money in that than you could ever learn from writing. For now, try to forget about all the dishonesty and do your own thing, patiently.

4. No Motivation

At some point, it all can prove too much. Yes, you started writing because it was your passion. Because you wanted to create worlds, because you wanted to bring joy to people, yadda yadda yadda. But if that was all you ever wanted, you may as well have just been giving your books for free, right? Self-publishing is a business. If you’re serious about it, it becomes a really serious business. Like any business, it involves heavy investment, hard work, stress. There must be something at the end of this long, dark tunnel to make all that effort worthwhile.

But all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Without readers’ feedback, without a visible hike in sales, with the overwhelming feeling that everybody’s doing better than you (even if they only say so, because obviously everyone will prefer to brag about their successes instead of complaining), depending on the strength of your character (and let’s face it, if you were a strong, charismatic personality, you’d probably be doing something else than engaging in the most introvert activity there is :) you start succumbing to despair.

You will get a writer’s block. You will find yourself easily distracted. “I’m doing important PR work!” you will say to yourself, as you peruse another social network or write another angry blog post.

This is the most difficult moment for many. If this period is too long, the writer in you may perish forever – or at least hide for a long time. I don’t have an easy advice on how to defeat the despair. One important thing is to always remember why you are doing all this. But other than that, everyone must deal with the despair the best they can. If you truly are a good writer, and your work can stand on its own, it will pass – sooner or later.  

5. No Time

And then, when the despair passes, when the books start selling like mad, when you are finally enjoying your fifteen minutes of fame – that’s when the really difficult part begins.

There’s just no time! You must write the sequel. You must reply to the fan mail. You have to write that guest blog you’ve been asked for. An interview is waiting for your response. There’s a short story you’ve neglected all this time! And marketing, don’t forget marketing. Maybe I should post something on Facebook? Or visit a Goodreads forum? Argh, a promotion is coming and I haven’t bought the ads! But I have to keep on writing! A proof-reading copy came back from the editor. How’s that cover going? A self-imposed deadline is coming, should I extend it or hurry up? I’m my own boss, so I have to whip myself into speed. I can’t go on anymore! Somebody stop this train!

This is a blessed time, something many beginners can only dream about. If you’ve managed to reach it, if you haven’t given up at any of the previous stages, congratulations: the hard work has only just begun. Welcome to the rest of your life.

There is no rest for the wicked – and no respite for the self-published writers. But hey, you already knew that when you started, right?

Right?

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One thought on “The Five Stages of Self-Pubber’s Grief

  1. In regards to #4, I tend to deal with it by writing 1,500 word snippets and posting them on Literotica. It’s quick and easy, and people will be begging you for more. I’ve got two vampire stories that I’ve gotten numerous requests to continue. Sometimes all you need to do to get back in the groove is have a little fun, followed up with a pat on the head. And really, people will read anything. People read, and loved, my Nano novel.

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