Self Publish Your Novel Part 2: Who the Hell Do I Think I Am?

 

 

This post is part of a series of posts about self-publishing. I’m revising my book Self Publish Your Novel and posting the chapters as I finish them. If you’d like to be alerted when the new version of Self Publish Your Novel is available, please click here.

 

force_coverIn October 2010, I self-published a collection of humorous essays titled The Force is Middling in this One. As part of the marketing process, I combed through Amazon.com looking for reviewers who I thought might enjoy the book. Very few Amazon reviewers post their email addresses, but occasionally I would find one and add it to a spreadsheet of potential reviewers. It took a long time (think days, not hours), but eventually I had a list of about 100 email addresses. My plan was to offer each of these reviewers a copy of Force in the hopes that they would like it and write a review.

Now keep in mind that I didn’t use a screen-scraping application to scour the web for random emails to spam. I personally spent several days of my own time assembling a list of reviewers whom I had good reason to believe would enjoy my book. Additionally, I was not offering a quid pro quo arrangement: I wasn’t offering a copy of the book in exchange for a review; I was simply offering them a free book. There was nothing unethical or sneaky about what I was doing. The email gave a brief description of the book and then stated:

If you would like me to send you a review copy of THE FORCE IS MIDDLING IN THIS ONE, please let me know as soon as you can. You are, of course, under no obligation to post a positive review (or any review, for that matter).

Regardless, when you send an email to 100 people, you have to expect to piss off at least a handful of them. In anticipation of this, I appended a half-joking disclaimer to the bottom of my email that read:

Thank you for your support. If you would prefer not to receive any more emails from me, just reply with “F— you” in the subject line or something and I promise to leave you alone. [This is verbatim; I censored the implied expletive.]

In fact, though, the recipients were surprisingly polite. About half didn’t respond, a quarter said yes, and a quarter declined. Even those who declined were universally polite and cordial – except for one guy. This guy took it upon himself to explain how my email was not only rude but misguided from a marketing perspective. Here is his response (all misspellings and grammatical errors are his):

I no longer review books on amazon.  when i did review books on Amazon I only reviewed books that were within the fields that my work is concentrated on or authors whose literary work I admired and modeled my work on.  I even refused to review books published by friends and colleagues when offered.

I certainly would never review a book sent over the transom by someone who has no regard to my interests or what I actually review. To anyone whose review ould be worth something, a letter like this would be a reason not to review a book.

Good luck and keep writing.

TT

In other words, not only was I a jerk for offering this guy a free book at my expense; I was a misguided jerk who knew nothing about how to market a book. Being an incorrigible smartass, I replied:

Wow, you use a lot of words to say “f— you.”

Rob

A few hours later, I got this response:

No.  I gave you advice based on 45 years in all sides of the publishing industry, based on being published since 1967, based on being a writing teacher, based on working with writers who get on the NYT best sellers lists, and based on working on issues involving online promotions including in regard to Amazon with Amazon and with publishers I have worked with,  about how you should and should not send out these requests.

I am a busy person with my own work. You sent me an unsolicited email asking me to do something and I took time out to indicate something you could have done better. I could have just deleted your or blocked you.

Too many people think writing is a question of their personal merit or strokes, rather than a business, an art, and a profession.   Your response speaks to the quality of your mind, the strength of your reason, and where you will end up.

TT

Apparently, while TT was far too busy and important to review my book, he had all the time in the world to assess my marketing plan and pontificate on my fate in life.

Well, I could have just shot off another quick jab, but I took some time to read over his email several times and think about what he had said. I took a long walk and ruminated on his words. Finally, after I thought I had sufficiently composed my thoughts to put together an appropriate response, I sat down at my computer and wrote:

Man, it takes you even more words to write “I’m an asshole.” Economy of words, friend.

Rob

Surprisingly, I didn’t hear back after that.

Now you may be wondering why I chose to begin a book about self-publishing a novel with that story. There are three reasons:

First, if you find yourself thinking at this point, “Wow, this Robert Kroese guy is kind of a jerk,” then let me save you $2.99 right now. This book isn’t for you.

Second, as a prospective self-published author, you’re going to have to get used to people saying “f— you.” It will come in a lot of different forms, but if you can’t recognize it for what it is and laugh it off, you’re in for a tough slog.

Third, assuming that TT really did have 45 years of experience in publishing, his response demonstrates just how little of that experience actually still applied in 2010 (and it’s even less relevant in 2016). When you get advice from someone like TT, you will be tempted to think, “Wow, 45 years? He must know something about the business of publishing.” You would be wrong. TT is a fossil of a species that is rapidly going extinct. His opinions calcified during the age of Publishus Giganticus, when massive, unwieldy publishing companies ruled the plains. The comet had already hit at that point; TT just didn’t know it yet.

coverAt this point you’re probably thinking, “Who is this Robert Kroese guy who thinks he knows so much more about publishing than somebody who has 45 years of experience?” Let me tell you.

As of this writing, I have written thirteen novels, three non-fiction books, and several short stories. Six of my novels are self-published; five of them are published by an Amazon Publishing imprint; and two are in the process of being published by Thomas Dunne, a Macmillan imprint.

I self-published my first book, Antisocial Commentary, in 2007. My first novel, Mercury Falls, was originally self-published in 2009, and was then re-published by Amazon’s fledgling publishing imprint, AmazonEncore, a year later. In between the two editions of Mercury Falls I self-published The Force is Middling in this One (basically an expanded and improved version of Antisocial Commentary). The sequel to Mercury Falls, Mercury Rises, was published by AmazonEncore in 2011. Amazon published my third novel, Disenchanted, as a serial in 2012. Around this time, Amazon Publishing was in the process of splintering into several different imprints, and I ended up working with 47North, the scifi/fantasy/horror imprint. I published two more novels with 47North while continuing to self-publish other novels. In 2015 I signed a two-book deal with Thomas Dunne to publish The Big Sheep and its sequel. As of this writing, my books have sold roughly 200,000 copies.

Make no mistake; I’m no Stephen King. I’m not even Hugh Howey (although Hugh did call my novel Starship Grifters his “favorite read of 2014,” and said that The Big Sheep is “a sheer delight.”).

If you want to learn how to write a suspenseful book, there’s probably no better teacher than Stephen King. But let’s face it: Stephen King lives in a different universe than most writers. I was wracking my brain trying to come up with an analogous situation in another industry, like “Getting advice on publishing from Stephen King is like getting pointers from Cary Grant on how to break into Hollywood,” but even that comparison is inadequate (setting aside the fact that Cary Grant is dead). The fact is that no other industry has changed as much as publishing has in the past ten years. There simply is no comparison. A book written about publishing two years ago is now hopelessly out-of-date, and any advice given by someone whose first success in publishing was over five years ago should be taken with at least a teaspoon of salt.

TBS_smallEven Hugh Howey, who knows as much about the state of the publishing industry as anyone, is a bit removed from the trenches these days. The guy lives on a sailboat in the Caribbean, for Pete’s sake. Hugh had his first big success in the early days of the Kindle revolution, when it was relatively easy for an author with quality work and a solid marketing plan to get noticed. Does Hugh have some great advice for aspiring authors? Absolutely. Is he the best person to tell you how to produce a Kindle bestseller today? Probably not.

Mind you, I’m not claiming to be the best person for that job either. There are plenty of self-publishing how-to books on the market, many of them written by people who have as much “street cred” as I do (or more). You may find one of those books more helpful than this one. I wrote this book because a lot of people ask me for advice about writing, publishing, and marketing – and because I couldn’t find a book that said everything I wanted to say.

One final caveat: in case I haven’t made this clear yet, this book is about my experience with self-publishing, and my attempts to glean some general lessons about what worked and what didn’t. That means you don’t have to put up with a lot of vague generalities like “Many authors believe that in this digital age, social networking is the key to self-publishing success.” But it also means that you do have to put up with me talking a lot about myself and my own books.

Proceed at your risk.

Oh, and by the way, while I was working on this chapter, I received an email from a reviewer whom I’d contacted about my new book, The Big Sheep. The content of the email I’d sent was similar to the one I’d sent six years earlier about Force. This woman replied:

Great email Rob, especially the offer to complain or swear – I don’t get those offers anywhere near as often as I’d like… ;)  I’d be happy to take a look.

So maybe I do know something after all.

 

This post is part of a series of posts about self-publishing. I’m revising my book Self Publish Your Novel and posting the chapters as I finish them. If you’d like to be alerted when the new version of Self Publish Your Novel is available, please click here.

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