Part of the Indie Author Series
Since my first column in this series, two years ago, I’ve taken every opportunity to question conventional beliefs and dogma and to suggest taking a fresh look at things, for three reasons.
First, nothing remains static, and what worked yesterday may not work today; second, I believe that a lot of the so-called rules and dogma about writing and publishing are limiting and often downright wrong; and last, I’m hardwired to question conventional wisdom and think things through from basic principles—I’ve done that all my life. And, really, shouldn’t an indie be an indie in their thinking, too?
The human psyche is hardwired for short-term rewards rather than long-term goals. Studies have proved this without a doubt, and our individual and collective behaviors underscore the fact. Similarly, and consequently, we want to believe in magic bullets, instant remedies, and snake oil. Even when we’re wise enough to see through these fairytales and we understand there’s no formula for instant success, we still want to believe that following someone else’s prescription and way of doing things will get us where we want to be as indie authors.
As usual, I beg to differ. I’m not saying we can’t learn from others—of course we can. But I think we can learn far more through original thinking and by questioning everything we’re told, including the assumptions on which others base their dogma. In my six years as an indie, over which time I’ve published four books of my own, three anthologies (which I also edited), and four books by other authors, nothing has come close to making me think that this questioning is wrong.
I’ve also more than once suggested that the usual rah-rah cheerleading and upbeat backslapping we see in the indie pub community is partly hollow, and serves sometimes to cover up our collective apprehension, even terror, at the sheer magnitude of the challenge—that of gaining enough visibility and traction to be truly successful in a cutthroat marketplace in which the indie is the underdog.
But I’m still indie. Why?
Well, for one thing, the alternative—traditional publishing—is so deeply broken and problematic for someone of my disposition as to be essentially laughable. Beyond that, I refuse to write to a market, especially when the market is defined by a bunch of bean-counters and salesmen who don’t give a crap about writing: this is incompatible with what being a writer means to me. But with the release two weeks ago of my second novel and fourth book (my first was a nonfiction memoir, my third a collection of my short fiction), I noticed a curious thing, something I think may be the first glimmering of something good: I think I’m starting to get just a little real traction.
In past posts here, I’ve mentioned some of the things that have made my own trajectory as an indie author unusual, and which have sometimes slowed my path to fame and riches (joke, people!). Foremost among these is genre-hopping as I moved from writing Science Fiction to Nonfiction and finally settled on Suspense/Thriller as my preferred genre.
And with all my questions and my repeated refusal to drink from the indie Kool-Aid, I confess I’ve had, and continue to have, periods of serious doubt, even despair: not about my writing, I’m secure enough in that, but in my ability, as someone who loathes the whole business of self-promotion, to break through the wall of noise and get my work noticed by a larger audience.
I’m happy to report that may be changing. So what happened?
I could mention a number of minor contributing factors. But I think there are two, simple, over-arching reasons that I’m beginning, finally, to get some traction in the marketplace: (i) my writing is of a reasonable standard, and (ii) I’ve paid my dues.
What does that mean?
Well, for one thing, I’ve kept at it. I’ve kept writing and publishing, even when it was hard, even when we were broke, even when I despaired, even when people seemed utterly unreceptive (my 2014 SF collection, Free Verse and Other Stories despite solid reviews, has yet to break a hundred copies). Because if there’s one single quality a writer needs, it’s tenacity. Tenacity and will, and the courage to keep at it in the face of all odds and pressures. I’ve been writing for a dozen years and seriously for seven, since I began my first long form work, the travel memoir Aegean Dream, in 2008. Curiously that nonfiction first book was a success, selling over 10k copies; but my subsequent return to fiction reset the dials, so that I was effectively starting from scratch.
The second factor to which I can directly attribute my starting to break through is, not surprisingly, the writing itself. I have no aspirations to greatness or literary quality, and I find writing damned hard; but, all things being equal, I know my writing is at least passable, and that I can tell a story, and tell it in a way that others find engaging, even hard to put down (despite my cheerfully breaking a bunch of silly rules). These are prerequisites to building and keeping an audience.
So where is the marketing? Nowhere. I completely suck at marketing and self-promotion, and yet these are the things that 90% of the advice given to indie authors focuses on, often to the point of obsessiveness. I don’t advertise, and my social media presence is slight (Fewer than 500 FB friends, and a very spotty Twitter presence with under 300 followers). But I mentioned that, with the release of Black Easter, I’m starting to get some traction, to get noticed: what does that look like? Are reviews appearing everywhere? Is it selling like hot cakes?
In a word, no. But I sold a good few copies at my recent real-world book launch and, more importantly, pre-order numbers were stronger than I expected. Between that, and direct comments and remarks received on social media and elsewhere, it’s clear that I’ve finally arrived at a point where I have a small but dedicated core of readers who like my work and actually look forward to my next book. Not being an optimist by nature, and a hardboiled realist when it comes to the challenges of breaking through as an indie writer in a world where people have so many choices and distractions, this was a happy surprise.
Another thing—an even happier surprise—is that after six years and four books, some of the professional authors I’ve long looked up to and admired (and still do) seem to be taking me more seriously. Some of them have, to my amazement, expressed interest in my work; one or two have even read it. This change, which manifests in mostly small, low-key ways, feels huge. It’s like walking by the country club you never really expected to admit you and finding yourself invited in, or at least noticing that the door is open and someone’s waving to you.
Why is this last a big deal? Because nobody has to do that. The fact that they are means that not only is my writing itself becoming noticed, but that other authors recognize that I’ve put in my time and paid my dues. I’m not a wannabe anymore, not giving up because my first books didn’t make the NYT bestseller list.
In summary then, after two years of questioning dogma and raising my eyebrows at what I see as writers chasing their tails trying to keep up with the hurricane of social media and marketing advice when what they should be doing is writing the next book, I want to suggest that only two things really matter: writing well and publishing regularly.
The second is not hard if you’re regular in your work habits and keep your ass on the chair. The first—writing well—is much harder, and the best advice I can give is to surround yourself with a critique/beta group of the very best writers you can, people who are better writers than you consider yourself and who aren’t afraid to tell you the truth. The problem of course is finding the right group, and then learning which advice to take. But with hard work and intelligence, it can be done.
(Edit note: This will be a little easier come January when Janice Hardy's Critique Connection Group opens up again for members looking for critique groups and writing partners)
This is my last post in Janice’s excellent Indie Author series, and I want to give her my immense thanks for letting me publicly rant on my crate here. And of course my immense thanks to you, our readers and fellow indie authors. I salute your courage and persistence, and wish you all every possible success with your work. I’ll be back for the occasional guest post on Fiction University’s main site, and of course would be delighted to see some of you at my own blog (www.dariospeaks.wordpress.com) where I’ll be kicking off a high-profile bestselling author interview series titled Six Aces in February 2016.
Have a wonderful holiday season, friends! And once you’ve slept off that big holiday meal, get right back to work. Your characters need you.
Dario Ciriello is a professional author and freelance editor, and the founder of Panverse Publishing. His nonfiction book, Aegean Dream, the bittersweet memoir of a year spent on the small Greek island of Skópelos (the real "Mamma Mia!" island), was a UK travel bestseller in 2012 and has recently been published in Poland. His first novel, Sutherland's Rules, a crime caper/thriller, was published in 2013. Free Verse and Other Stories, a collection of Dario's short Science Fiction work, was released in June 2014. He is currently working on his second novel, another thriller. Dario has also edited and copyedited over a dozen novels, as well as three critically-acclaimed novella anthologies. He lives with his wife in the Los Angeles Area.
About Black Easter
San Francisco antique dealer Paul Hatzis sells his business and rents an old house on the small Greek island of Vóunos. What he doesn’t know is that the house, which has a sinister reputation with the locals, was previously owned by black magician Dafyd Jones who—along with his seer companion Magda O’Whelan, and Klaus Maule, a seriously disturbed colonel in the Waffen SS—made a deal with the demonic, culminating in their planned bodily deaths during the final ritual in 1944.
In return for a lifetime of service on the frontier of Outer Hell, where all the demons of Hell fight a desperate, eternal battle against inconceivable powers that would consume both the human and demonic spheres, Jones and his companions will be reborn on Earth as powerful immortals…if they don’t go mad first.
As Easter approaches, Paul is preparing to celebrate the biggest holiday of the Greek calendar with his girlfriend, Elleni, and Alex, his adored 18-year old niece. But with the biblical threescore years and ten now up, the magician and his two colleagues are being called back from Hell by the ritual artifact they buried deep in the cellar of Paul’s house.
And all they need are three living human bodies…