How To Defeat Yourself as an Indie Publisher

I’ve been pondering an article by Writer’s Digest blogger and editor Jane Friedman, who is “getting frustrated with people who say they’re bad at marketing & promotion because they’re introverts”. In the age of social media, Friedman reminds us:

… introverts should be over the moon at how lucky we are to live in an age when we can effectively market and promote by

  • staying at home
  • using whatever tools suit our communication style best (e-mail, IM, Skype, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
  • crafting and controlling messages to our own satisfaction
  • limiting interaction when needed

I see what she’s getting at, and this is a good message for independent writers and publishers to hear. It’s a message that feels relevant to me, because I’ve been trying to push myself to work harder on publicity and marketing since beginning an e-book publishing venture in April. I know how important this is, and I already knew (before Jane Friedman reminded me) that I wouldn’t get where I needed to go without stepping way beyond my comfort zone in terms of self-marketing.

The way I figure it, to succeed as an indie publisher I’ll have to cover every base. My creative vision must be solid, my editorial oversight flawless. I must master the technical details of book formatting and graphic design as well as the business details of accounting and reporting. Once the book is ready, the hardest work (for me) of publicity and marketing begins. Discouragement, apathy and despair must be avoided at every single step of this chain of responsibility, and this challenge, even when things are going moderately well, can feel Sisyphean. There are a whole lot of ways to defeat yourself in indie publishing.

I’ve published two e-books so far (still only in the Kindle format, but I’ll be announcing several other formats soon). I was proud of the way I handled the (hated) publicity tasks for my first one, the book about Ayn Rand. I wrote fluffy copy for the Amazon page, contacted many philosophy bloggers and well-known Objectivists (some of whom, I knew, would not be sympathetic to my book), and asked my family and friends to help me spread the word. I applied myself to the max, and I felt I gained some sales traction as a result. This felt really good.

But when my second book came out, a book about poker, I found that I was out of gas. I was still exhausted from the previous publicity effort, and I was also at a disadvantage because I am not in touch with nearly as many poker bloggers as philosophy bloggers, and the poker community has a completely different (less thoughtful, less social) personality than the various literary communities that encircle me. I went through the motions of self-touting — Jane Friedman would have been proud of me — but it felt even harder, even less natural for the second book than the first. Every email I wrote felt treacly and fake.

The problem with Jane Friedman’s pep talk for shy and self-effacing writers is that she makes it sound too easy. A person who finds self-publicity difficult might read her piece and imagine that, once they get over the hurdle, they’ll be over it for good. “Come on in, the water’s fine!” Once you get used to self-publicizing, it will become easy. HAH! It’s actually difficult in ways that don’t become apparent the first time you try it. It’s difficult in ways that cut deep into your emotional makeup. You may not even find out how very much you hate self-publicity until after you try it a few times.

The more important a self-marketing task may be, the more painful it may feel. For instance, I know that I should email the venerable poker writer James McManus, author of two books I like a lot, Positively Fifth Street and Cowboys Full, because he unsuspectingly gave me an “in” when I mentioned a terrible Robert Pinsky review of Cowboys Full in a New York Times Book Review roundup two years ago, and McManus himself posted an approving, winking comment on this blog. He even left me his private email address. If I had the slightest touch of the natural self-marketer inside my poor soul, I would have emailed James McManus to brag about my poker book and ask for a blurb or a kind word weeks ago. I haven’t done this yet. When does this become easy? I’m only realizing now the dreadful fact that, for me, it never will.

A few weeks ago I was at a book conference with a writer friend who was scheduled for a signing. We arrived together at his publisher’s booth. He saw that nobody was on line for a signed book, asked a publisher rep where the stack of copies were, and immediately stepped in front of the booth and began hawking his galley to passers-by: “Would you like a copy of my new book?” “Please, check it out!” “Get your signed book here!”

His exhibition amazed me. A slightly-known writer with a small indie publisher, he had no reason to believe that any of the people he was intercepting would be interested in his book. I could read Jane Friedman’s article ten times in a row, memorize it and recite it in Sanskrit, and I still wouldn’t be able to do what my writer friend did that day. It’s easy for me to see what part of the indie publishing toolkit I’m badly missing.

So what will I do? I’ll keep pushing myself. I’ll do what I have to do. But I hate it, and it takes a chunk out of my heart every time I send a blind email. I don’t really understand why this is, and I wish it weren’t true.

But I’m not going to worry about it too much. There are so many different ways to defeat yourself as an indie publisher. You can also harm yourself by having too much enthusiasm, too much self-confidence. I can’t make myself as sociable and extroverted as my writer friend … but I bet he can’t immerse himself in research tasks the way I can, nor can he spend twelve straight hours building a Drupal website with social networking hooks and launch it after a single night’s work. We all have our strengths and our weaknesses. My goal will be to keep going, to keep my head above water, and to keep my books there too.

There are a whole lot of ways to defeat yourself as an indie publisher. What I’m looking for now is a way to not defeat myself as an indie publisher. I hope I find it.

8 Responses

  1. Levi, don’t be discouraged.
    Levi, don’t be discouraged. Your book on Ayn Rand did so well! I loved it too and reviewed it as did so many others on their blogs. You can’t possibly be bad at publicity (even if you didn’t try as hard on your second ebook) because your blog, litkicks, is both popular and great quality. The fact you have maintained such a quality blog for so long, which attracts numerous readers, shows that you can be good at both writing and publicity. As you say, you promoted your Ayn Rand book with your connections in philosophy and it worked. Since blogs are becoming increasingly important, perhaps you could contact all the main ones for whatever subject you’re writing about–say, card games or games in general–and tell them about your second book. I’d also try expanding the contacts on linkedin because it has specialized networking groups, such as about philosophy, literature, art or games, and they’re international. If there’s any way I can help, don’t hesitate to let me know.

  2. If you know anyone else who
    If you know anyone else who is doing indie publishing, one idea is to club together. You pitch his/her books and s/he pitches yours. One truism of publicity is that it’s easier to pitch someone else than yourself.

    If you’re still looking for blurbs for your poker book, email me. I’ve got some ideas but I don’t want post them in a public forum without their permission.

  3. Lori & I have had several
    Lori & I have had several conversations about this (or at least related to this) since BEA. Everyone has their ‘marketing’ strengths and challenges. She is fabulous networking one-on-one and establishing personal relationships. I’ve always thought my strength lies more at working crowded rooms (basically because it means that I can talk about anything but my blog and still create a connection). Obviously her method is probably the better of the two – but if I tried it I would just get squirmy.

    I think the advantage that traditional publicists and marketing people have is that they are doing a job. They have some level of separation from the product/asset they are marketing, and of course the process for them won’t be as intensely personal as for an author marketing his own work. Stating that there multiple social media outlets to take advantage of is a true, but somewhat shallow judgment. Ultimately you’re still putting yourself out there and that’s what makes the process difficult. You’re more than just an independent publisher – so stop being so hard on yourself.

    My advice: bite the bullet and write the email, Levi. Written communication is where you excel, so by reaching out via email you’ll be playing to your strengths. Think of it as a post. The worst he can say is no, or even ignore your email altogether. I imagine you received worse responses after expressing your opinions on Cormac McCarthy. When weighed against the potential benefits if he should say yes, as a poker player you have to see that the potential risk when weighed against the potential payoff makes this a no brainer (Yep, I had to slide in a poker metaphor).

  4. My initial foray into SEO and
    My initial foray into SEO and marketing was a strange and awkward experience. I was tasked with marketing an obscure and little known novel called Control Switch On (

    The difficulties associated with this work have not been adequately researched and analyzed. Nevertheless, each of us can and will find our niche in this industry. It is a fluid and open conduit to infinite possibilities. The potential for rapid progression is limitless; but first we must tame those doubts and silence the voices steering us astray.

  5. When you find the ‘magic’
    When you find the ‘magic’ answer, let me know! I couldn’t even get my family and friends to read my book let alone buy a copy. Begging certainly didn’t help. I’m a sucky salesman and I wish I wasn’t.

  6. Hey Levi,
    I’ve seen your book

    Hey Levi,

    I’ve seen your book advertised in a few places. I came across this piece today quite by accident. But are there really accidents in this life; I think not. All is for a purpose. Wait for that alignment of planets for yourself, it’s coming! Now get on the horn or send out that e-mail to James McManus or I will send it for you. I’ll give you until this weekend to send it or he’ll get my letter in your behalf. Watch out though, I am famous for my humor, so be warned ahead of time. And quite honestly, I have sent out two zany queries so far to magazine editors, and I got more than bites on them. They both published my work. LOL

    Now are you willing to be represented by the likes of me? You wrote a nice piece here, now put together another nice piece and send it on its way to Mr. McManus. Cheers!

    Where eagles fly,
    Don Ford (Greywolf) Seneca name

    P.S. Don’t forget to get back to us and share any results good or bad! “No Fear”
    P.S.S. Check out my short story piece Royal Ferdinand by Don Ford. It is only in pdf format.

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Litkicks will turn 30 years old in the summer of 2024! We can’t believe it ourselves. We don’t run as many blog posts about books and writers as we used to, but founder Marc Eliot Stein aka Levi Asher is busy running two podcasts. Please check out our latest work!