The world of publishing has evolved at break-neck speed the last ten years. After decades of relatively few changes, digitization and Amazon created a disruption so severe recovery sometimes looks like a fantasy.
As writers, it’s been tough to keep up with the evolution, tough to know when something you’ve been told to do is no longer relevant. More experienced writers often don’t understand that the methods that worked for them two or three or five years ago won’t work for a new writer today. And even the constant barrage of courses and workshops can lag. Those panel sessions someone pitched six months ago might be apropos of nothing when the conference actually happens.
With so many distractions that can keep us from getting words on the page, what things can we safely ditch? What activities are we wasting time on that simply won’t move the needle on book sales anymore?
Social media. I’ve said it before (more than once) and I’ll say it again: You aren’t selling books by posting on social media. Admit it, you’re on Facebook and Twitter and IG because you’re like the vast majority of the rest of us: You’re addicted. You can say it’s about your books, but unless you’re a Chuck Wendig, social media isn’t actually helping you sell books. What it is doing is wasting your time (I say this from experience, you’re the kettle and I’m the pot), exposing you to endless strife and discord, and making you feel like you’ve marketed when you really haven’t.
If you’re using social media ads, that’s a different story, and it doesn’t require you to Tweet all day, nor spend hours staging the perfect IG photos.
Reader Events/Signings. I admit I’m not well-versed in all the types of reader events authors can attend. It’s possible that for sci-fi/fantasy writers the various cons they’re at are useful for selling books. What I do know is that signings at your local bookstore and mass signings in convention halls with fifty plus authors lined up around the room aren’t going to sell a lot of books for you. If you enjoy those events and can afford them, then by all means go for it. But don’t spend the money and the time because you think it will sell books. Yes, building a readership is step by step, but selling five or ten or even twenty books at a mass signing isn’t a step, it’s just a diversion.
The belief that indie publishing is going to give you a better shot at success than traditional publishing and vice versa. It wasn’t true eight years ago, but it is today: publishing is publishing, indie and traditional are two sides of the same coin. It all depends on the variables of your individual career. What are your goals? What genre are you in? What’s your timeline? Don’t make a decision about indie or traditional based on where you think it’s “easier” to succeed. There is no such place, there’s only the place that’s a better fit for you personally.
The idea that the more people you have read your book before querying/publishing, the better it will be. I have a secret to tell you: reading is subjective. Even for agents and editors. Even for people who are experts in story structure. If the last ten years have proven anything it’s that there is a readership for virtually any story. Maybe not a big readership, but a readership all the same. The advent of indie publishing showed us that. But it also showed us if people can publish anything, they often will.
Efforts to combat these issues of quality have resulted in a ridiculous emphasis on other people reading our manuscripts. We’ve been convinced that if four critique partners and seventeen beta readers plus a developmental editor look over a book before the writer ever queries or loads it on Amazon it’s a better book. But all it really means is a whole bunch of people gave a ton of input, the majority of which is simply their personal preference.
Editors are essential, and if you publish without one you’re making a tremendous mistake. However, you do not need to have an editor plus half a dozen other people looking at every book you write. They’re your stories, it’s your voice, and there’s a readership out there for you. It might be a small readership, but someone other than your mother will love your book.
If we just write the one book, learn the one skill, take the one marketing course, get mentored by the one superstar, attend the one conference — if we can just find the magic bullet… Hello writers, this is your wake-up call. There is no magic bullet. There is blood, sweat, tears, luck, and disappointment. There is savvy and ignorance, experience and lack thereof. There are people who will earn a living at this and a lot more people who won’t. In the end, there’s not much you can do about it but write your books the best way you know how and keep on moving.
Ditch the things that don’t work anymore. Whether it’s that they don’t work for you or they don’t work in publishing as a whole. In an industry that is rife with false promises, rapidly moving targets, and unrealistic expectations, understand that the best thing you can do for your career as a writer is to write, publish, and write some more. When someone reads your writing, thank them. Then keep on writing until someone else reads it too.
SE Reed is a USA Today Bestselling author of romance fiction (as Selena Laurence), and a freelance writer. Subscribe to her newsletter which she writes and curates with content on reading, writing, love, and being your best self.