Happy New Year!
If your New Year’s Resolution is to self-publish for the first time, and you’re looking for a place to start – whether it’s writing your first ever piece or getting to grips with formatting the files and uploading them, there’s lots of advice out there. (There’s lots of advice in here!)
One of the most experienced indies around is Dan Holloway, who I first met when I went to witness the 100th International Literary Death Match live in London (see Dan’s author profile below). So when he announced the release of his new title last month Self-Publish With Integrity, I invited him to write a guest post for all the writers out there facing the New Year with that same ambition – to quit the gatekeeper waiting game, and get their work out into the spotlight of the world.
Since he founded the Year Zero Writers collective in January 2009, Dan Holloway has been a leading figure in the self-publishing community. Winner of the international spoken word phenomenon Literary Death Match whilst the only self-published author competing; writing the guidebook for the Alliance of Independent Authors’ Open Up to Indies campaign; writing about the very best of self-publishing across the internet including contributing regularly to the Guardian Books Blog, Dan has built a reputation for refusing to compromise his artistic principles for short term commercial success. (Amazon author profile)
So I’m very proud to welcome Mr Dan Holloway – links to find his book and his blog are at the bottom of the post…
L xxx 🙂
Spend a little time looking through advice for self-published writers and you will soon find yourself inundated by advice on what can best, if loosely, be labelled branding. How do I make myself discoverable? How do I appeal to the right readers? How will people respond to my cover? Am I saying the right things on social media? Does my writing hit all the points on the genre’s expectation list?
With respect (and in some cases with absolutely no respect at all), unless you are writing purely and simply to try and earn some kind of a crust, because having one day job isn’t enough you’d like two thank you (and if you’re only in it for the money 1. why would you be reading something I’ve written? and 2. following advice of people who made money but probably didn’t set out only to do that isn’t going to help), all of this is, erm, misplaced.
Most people who write are passionate. If not about “writing” per se, then about something – exploring the lives and worlds of a set of characters who’ve wormed their way into your head, connecting with people who share a fascination with a particularly kooky slant you have on the world, just reaching out to someone to let them know they’re not alone. Whatever it is they’re passionate about, all the best writers I know have that one thing in common – passion.
That right there, that passion, is your “brand.” It’s what makes you uniquely qualified to write the stories you write, and it’s what gives your stories their intangible magic, their ability to reach out and hook anyone who shares your passion.
Like pretty much any educational curriculum, most self-publishing advice starts out as providing a handy toolkit to help you bring your individuality to the world in a way that accentuates it, showcases it to its very best – and ends up very quickly becoming a sausage factory designed to squeeze that individuality from you in order to conform to some standardised notion of what is “the right way” that has been dictated by a group of opinion formers and discourse makers who represent the collective wisdom of every group that has stood on the side of every oppression in history.
If your goal is to hone yourself until every facet of what you do matches that expectation set, then why on earth would you self-publish? Why would you embark upon a course that has a glorious, grubby ability to free you from the shackles of being told how a story has to develop, how many words a book should have, what kind of cover “readers” will like, what kind of melange of genres and points of view constitute acceptable experimentation?
As a self-publisher, don’t ever forget that the true freedom self-publishing gives you is the freedom to be you. The freedom to have a vision, to believe in that vision and realise it and then bring it to the world.
Yes, you might alienate some people by writing what you have to write. You might alienate a LOT of people in fact. But you will make those who share your passion love the worlds you have made. Too much advice is about not offending. Too little is about stirring passion, about being true to your vision.
There are two fundamental problems with the “don’t cause offence” school of writing. The first is that it really doesn’t sell books. Not in the long term. Yes, by producing a cover that perfectly matches the expectations of a genre, you might well encourage readers in that genre to buy your book. But in the long term, one of two things will happen – either they’ll read it and never read another one because you just couldn’t keep the “you” part of your writing hidden and those readers don’t want “you”, or you will tailor a whole series of books so perfectly to match expectations that they remove every last shred of “you” from every single part. And then you will wake up one day and look at what you’ve “achieved” and the “enjoyment” it’s given you and shake your head in horror.
The second problem is that what’s inoffensive to one person isn’t universally inoffensive. And this is a fundamental problem for anyone who’s any kind of an outsider. The majority’s manila is assumed to be something that couldn’t possibly offend anyone. Take easy listening music. No one could be offended by it, right? That’s the point. Well, most people in the street will, indeed, react with suitable blandness (a further problem with this school of thought – you don’t want your readers to find your work agreeable – do you? Really? Don’t you want them to be so damn excited by your books they queue from the early hours to get their hands on your new short story and then go out and scream at all their friends that they *must* buy it? Do you really think anyone ever jumped up and called their best friend and said “OMG, you’ll never guess what I just discovered, it’s this incredible colour called beige that you just have to paint your whole house right now”?). But your friend whose basement is stuffed with bootleg punk tapes? Will they really say “mmm, not my thing but harmless enough?”
The point is this – if you’re an outsider, then your outsider passions are not your weakness but your strength. It might be a small group that shares them, but those who do share them will do so with an equal passion. If you standardise your work so as not to offend, they are exactly the people you will alienate – and for the sake of not actually winning any die hard fans from anywhere else.
So, the most fundamental thing for any self-publisher to remember is to be yourself. Know what it is you’re passionate about and be proud of it. Don’t change yourself to find readers who wouldn’t like who you really are anyway – you wouldn’t do it to find friends, so don’t do it to find readers. Be yourself, be proud of yourself, and let your passion be the first, second and last thing that flows onto the page. And then you’ll find a set of readers who really love what you do.
Self-publish With Integrity, my guide to steering your way through the long self-publishing journey and staying true to your creative goals, is now available for Kindle in the UK: