Today, I offer up a guest article by historical author R.W. Peake. I just reviewed the fourth book in his series Marching with Caesar, which is called Antony and Cleopatra Part II and you can read my thoughts by clicking HERE if you missed it. Check out the cool cover of book four and then continue on to read the informative article about self-publishing!!!!
His guest article today is about his journey as an indie author and he discusses its ups and downs. He talks about what he found to be successful in his process and what he feels is most irritating (Amazon and author drama for one). I think for anyone self-publishing, or thinking of self-publishing, this post will give you some good thoughts to ponder…..thanks for reading!
There is a Dark Side but I Have a Flashlight
by R.W. Peake, historical author of the Marching with Caesar series
This last eighteen months, starting when I decided to self-publish the first book of this series, Marching With Caesar-Conquest of Gaul, has been one of the most interesting and rewarding periods of my life. Outside the birth of my daughter, and my graduation as a Marine, having people not only read but enjoy the story I am telling of a simple soldier ranks as my biggest accomplishment, even bigger than the success I experienced as a bicycle racer, which has been another passion of mine.
But, along with all the good, there has been a healthy dose of not-so-great, and I’ve decided that at some point in the future I’m going to write about some of the things that have happened to me as a self-published author. For example, to some people I’m violating a rule by referring to myself as self-published; the PC term for us is “indie,” as in independent. Personally, I don’t mind what people call me; it doesn’t change the number of books I sell either way, but I also recognize that my indifference might be influenced by the fact that I am selling books. And as I’ve learned over the last year and a half, I am extremely lucky that my books managed to get noticed, and that I’ve built up a healthy following in what is a short period of time.
Admittedly, I helped myself along by a decision I made back in 2009-ish, when I had reached a point where I had enough of Titus’ story written that I could have published what is now the first book. But for reasons I can neither articulate nor explain, I decided that I would wait until I had his entire story written, before I published the first book. What this allowed me to do was to control the release schedule of the series, and of all the factors in the success of the MWC series, this has been one of the most critical. And it was little more than a gut feeling, a happy accident that has turned out for the good.
Cover of the first book in the Marching with Caesar series
I read somewhere that Amazon is currently releasing 80,000 new titles…a MONTH. And out of those 80,000, more than 78,000 of them are self-published, or indie titles. Just on the law of averages, that makes it extremely unlikely that any of us are going to be able to distinguish ourselves out of the herd that comes thundering at you readers on a daily basis, and that’s without considering any other factors. However, one thing I’ve learned firsthand is that there is still, I don’t want to call it a bias, but a healthy skepticism about the quality of the work that is being churned out by so many people, on such a massive scale. And being brutally frank, it’s a skepticism that is well-deserved, and I’m saying that as one of the members of that herd.
I am reminded of an old cartoon character, Pogo, who once opined, “We have met the enemy, and they are us.” That is certainly the case with the majority of indie offerings, but my observation isn’t formed solely by the most obvious deterrent, the quality of the work itself. Don’t mistake me; the vast majority of what I’ve seen in indie publishing isn’t ready for public consumption, and it’s prompted me to give a series of talks to aspiring writers about what I have observed to be the most common mistakes indie writers make, and more importantly, how to correct them. Perhaps it’s pretentious of me, but I have come out of nowhere to stake a place in an admittedly small but very devoted niche of the book world, without any preliminary work with building an audience through a blog, or books in another genre where I attracted readers and fans.
So I do feel somewhat qualified to talk about what I see are the mistakes, and while one is a no-brainer, and that is the need to spend the money to hire a professional editor, there are other factors that may surprise some people. And in the spirit of full disclosure, and to add fuel to the fire that I know what I’m talking about, I violated that rule with my first book. Now, it has 173 reviews on Amazon, almost 150 of them 4 or 5 star, but I will admit that, when I go back and re-read it, I cringe! And on my list of “To-Do’s,” now that I can afford it, is to go back and have my editor fix the many things that are wrong with it.
Second book in the Marching with Caesar series
Besides the need for someone other than your mom, best friend, or the guy you know who was an English major before deciding to switch to Business as the person most qualified to edit your manuscript, the other big reason for failure that I’ve observed in other indies is in either their inability or their refusal to look at this as a business. Far too many authors have fallen into the trap of thinking of themselves as artists, not businesspeople, and at the end of the day, that’s one reason why they’re indies, because a publishing firm looked at them as a business opportunity, and decided to pass.
There is no shame in this; if the indie movement has proven anything, it’s that the traditional publishers get it wrong nearly as often as they get it right. From the outset, with my decision to ignore the obvious signals I was sent by agents and publishers that my work wasn’t good enough to see the light of day; at least, that’s how I took the 22 rejections that I got, I approached being an indie author as I would a business, albeit one where in effect I am the brand. I invest in my business; this online book tour, and this guest post is an example of the things I do to spread the word about my story. Yet, from what I’ve seen, a large proportion of my fellow indies seem to approach matters from the mindset that they’re bestowing a gift unto the world, a gift that needs nothing as unseemly and sordid as promotion and hawking, like one would the amazing Vegamatic that not only dices and slices, but will make mounds and mounds of cole slaw.
However, the inability of other indies to effectively market their work is just one facet of the challenges that face all of us who eschew the traditional route, whether by choice or circumstance. Another interesting characteristic of some indies, and one that I’ve had unfortunate firsthand experience combatting, is their view of the marketplace in terms of a zero-sum game. Their logic, as far as I can determine, goes something like this:
If a reader is faced with making a choice of reading a book by Author A or Author B, and chooses Author A, that means that Author B loses a sale, thereby literally taking food out of that author’s mouth.
In a superficial way, this makes sense, to a point. But before I was an author, I was, and I still am, an avid reader, and I can never remember a time when two books intrigued me where, if I was forced to choose between one or the other at that moment for economic reasons, that meant that the second book was dead to me for the rest of time. In almost every case that I can remember making a choice, I always came back to purchase the runner-up. But from what I’ve been able to determine, there is a segment of our little community who don’t see things that way. Fortunately, the vast majority of those who feel this way are content to just complain about the unfairness of it.
Unfortunately, however, there is a thankfully small number of these “zero-summers” who do more than complain; they take a more proactive approach and try to even the odds a bit. That has engendered a whole sub-culture of authors who exchange information on various tactics to take those competitors down a notch who they deem to be guilty of taking from their rice bowl. And while this might strain the credulity, I would just point to the scandal that occurred in the U.K. last November, when the #1 author in the Mystery genre on Amazon U.K. was outed for not only writing his own great reviews, but using a variety of aliases to write reviews trashing his competitors. And what I’ve learned in the last 18 months is; that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are message boards where authors exchange information on how to “game” the Amazon review system, telling of ways to create a prized “Real Name”, “Verified Purchase” review that gets past the Amazon bots. I know this because I have been subjected to this kind of treatment, and I also have been accused of perpetrating it myself. As one of my attackers said, “Not even Jesus Christ would get that many good reviews”. Fortunately, that’s proven to be untrue, at least where I’m concerned; I’ve been investigated by Amazon twice after being accused of fabricating reviews, and out of the more than 500 reviews, I’ve lost a total of…zero. I can’t speak for Jesus, but I suspect that he would probably kick my ass in the review department and elsewhere.
But please don’t take this as a “woe is me” post, because there is ultimately good news, and that’s probably the most important lesson I’ve learned, which is ultimately it doesn’t matter. Readers are intelligent enough to discern a “torpedo review”, and frankly, they don’t care about authors nearly to the degree that some of us believe. One of the more interesting theories I’ve heard espoused by, again, a very tiny but vocal group of authors is in their assertion that the average reader, when they are introduced to a new author, will actually go Googling said author before they make a purchase, just to determine whether or not this person is worthy of being read. Apparently, they believe very strongly that whether or not an author likes puppies and rainbows is a crucial point in their decision-making process, before they spend their hard-earned four dollars on an e-book. The fact that I chose to openly disagree with this sentiment has, in fact, landed me on the “dreaded” Badly Behaving Authors list on Goodreads. And yet, readers still seem to enjoy my books, and are still asking for more. I can’t help wondering if those authors who devote so much time and effort trying to bring others down chose instead to focus on their own work, if there wouldn’t be less of a bias against all of us indie authors.
Whether they choose to or not ultimately doesn’t matter, to me or to readers. And I am very thankful for that. Also, looking at it from a glass half-full perspective, at least their antics have given me fodder for another book!
Link to Tour Schedule: hfvirtualbooktours.com/marchingwithcaesarantonyandcleopatratour
Twitter Hashtag: #MarchingWithCaesarTour
MARCHING WITH CAESAR: ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA, PART II-CLEOPATRA, Synopsis~
In the fourth book of the critically acclaimed Marching With Caesar series, Titus Pullus and his 10th Legion are still in the thick of the maelstrom that follows after the assassination of Gaius Julius Caesar. With the disastrous campaign in Parthia behind them, Mark Antony continues his struggle with Octavian, both men vying for ultimate control of Rome. Enter Cleopatra VII, the Pharaoh of Egypt and mother of Julius Caesar’s son, who harbors ambitions and dreams of her own. Through her son Caesarion, Cleopatra is a powerful player in her own right in the continuing drama being played out for control of the most powerful society on Earth. With Cleopatra combining forces with Mark Antony, Octavian, the legitimate heir to Caesar’s fortune is facing the most formidable barrier to his ascendancy yet. Through it all, Titus Pullus and his men must tread a very careful path as the two forces head for an inevitable showdown at a place called Actium.
Author R.W. Peake, Autobiography~
I am a retired Marine, with a primary MOS of 0311, although over the years I picked up a few other designators, but I guess I will always think of myself as a grunt. I was born and raised in Houston, and have only recently relocated to the Olympic Peninsula of Washington. After my medical retirement from the Marines and realizing that my experience at locating, closing with and destroying the enemy by fire and maneuver was not exactly going to have employers knocking down my door, I decided to earn a Bachelor’s degree, majoring in History, with a goal of teaching. Then my daughter came to live with me full-time, and while thrilled, I learned very quickly that a teacher’s salary would not support her in the style in which she was accustomed.
So I went into the software business, starting at a small startup that I stayed at for 10 years, clawing my way to middle management, to echo a commercial of that era. My company went public, and I had these things called stock options, so for a brief period of time I was one of those tech paper millionaires. Then the great NASDAQ crash of 2000 happened, and I was a working stiff again. When my company got bought in 2006 by one of the largest software companies in the world, I very quickly learned that working for a big company was not for me, so I took the lure of the (relatively) big bucks as a VP of a much smaller company. It was the worst professional mistake of my life, but the one good thing that did come out of it is that my dissatisfaction drove me to consider taking a risk on something that those who know me had pushed me to do as long as I can remember, and that was to write.
I must admit that I have always enjoyed writing; in fact; I wrote my first novel at 10ish, featuring myself and all of my friends from the street where I lived who almost singlehandedly fought off a Soviet invasion. I was heavily influenced by WWII history at that time, it being my second historical passion after the Civil War, so our stockpile of weapons consisted almost exclusively of Tommy guns, M1’s, etc. Why the Russians chose my particular street to focus their invasion I didn’t really go into, but after a series of savage, bloody battles, my friends and I were forced to make a strategic withdrawal to the only other part of the world I was familiar with at that time, the Silverton area of Colorado. I recently re-read this magnus opus, and it is interesting to track the course of my friendships with the core group that were the main characters of my novel. Some sort of argument or disagreement would result in the inevitable serious wounding of the friend with whom I quarreled, and depending on how serious it was, they might linger for days, clinging to life before they recovered, but not after suffering excruciating pain.
From that beginning, through my adult life, I was always told that I showed talent as a writer, but it wasn’t until I hit the age of 50 that I decided it was time to find out if that were true. And the result is Marching With Caesar-Conquest of Gaul, the first in a completed trilogy that is the story of one of the lucky few men who managed to survive and retire, after rising through the ranks of the 10th Legion. I hope that you enjoy following Titus Pullus’ exploits as much as I enjoyed bringing him to life.
For more information, please visit R.W. Peake’s website.