About ten years ago I worked for a startup that launched a social media site for published authors. This was the first place where I really started to meet writers and come in contact with people in the industry. In the spring of 2008 one of the topics being bantered about on our website was the question of self-publishing. Specifically, did the rise of it spell tragedy for good literature everywhere?
Nearly a decade later I can’t believe how worked up people got about it, and how worked up some people still are today. Because the fact of the matter is that self-publishing is here to stay, and it’s probably the best thing that’s happened to writers since the invention of computers.
As a writer in this brave new world of 2016 I have a lot of worries. I worry about what people will think about my book (particularly if certain family members or friends will read it and then think I’m a total weirdo). I worry about cover design (Is it eye-catching enough? Does it pull in the readers I want?). I worry about getting bad reviews. And I worry about the next book I’m writing.
These worries feel very big and real to me. Sometimes they even keep me up at night.
But then I’ll read a book by a writer who changes everything for me.
Being a self-published author means that you get access to a host of services that aren’t available to you if you go the traditional route. Like checking your daily sales reports on Amazon. As a self-published author you can check in whenever you want to see how many books you sold that day. Consequently, some days are awesome. You sold a lot of books! And other days you feel disappointed or confused or just like plain crap. Your sales took a dive, or worse, you sold none at all.
In short, you get a free ticket for the approval vs. rejection rollercoaster and you can ride it as many times as you want. Sometimes the ride leaves you feeling exhilarated and sometimes you just feel sick and dizzy and question why you ever thought getting on the ride was a good idea at all.
Studies have proven again and again that humans make purchasing decisions based on emotional factors. This probably happens most frequently in the glittering online jungle known as Amazon.com. I read recently that Amazon is the only search engine people use with the mouse in one hand, and a credit card in the other. For me, a regular Amazon customer, I don’t even need my credit card. The site has my payment information recorded and it’s as simple as one click to send a new book to my Kindle.
If you’re a writer, and a reader, I know this is true for you too.
Emotional decision making + split-second purchasing power =
You better have a damn good book cover.
I’ve been reading a book on modern Russian history, covering the years 1917 until the present. I had known that writers in the Soviet Union functioned under severe repression, but I hadn’t known how extreme it really was or that it lasted for almost six decades. The writers and intellectuals of this time used a phrase amongst themselves, “writing for the desk drawer,” to describe the common knowledge that it was useless to try to publish one’s work because any writer with a dissident view would be censored, if not punished. “Writing for the desk drawer” hit home for me big time, because I know so many writers today—in free countries—who are still carrying on the practice.