When the Going Gets Tough for Authors

It’s a fact that an author’s job is not an easy one. To start with you have to keep coming up with original ideas that will appeal to readers. You also have to make your books engaging so that people will want to keep reading them. Then there’s the research, outlining, drafting, re-drafting and endless edits. If you are an independent author then your job is even more demanding as there are so many other jobs to add to the list: proofreading, cover design, publication and promotion are all your responsibility.
While it’s possible to hire help for some of the work, the costs can soon add up so most Indies choose to do the bulk of the work themselves. With all that to consider, it’s not surprising that many of us get more than a bit disheartened from time to time. So I thought I would explore which elements of the job get to us and what we can do about them.

1) Writer’s Block

This is a common problem for many writers but it is often only temporary in nature and allowing yourself some time out can work wonders.

Plan of ActionOverworked Brain

My previous post on writer’s block included many tips so I won’t repeat the same points here. The important thing to bear in mind though is that it’s your brain’s way of letting you know that it’s tired and needs a rest. Therefore, you shouldn’t feel guilty if you take some time out to concentrate on other things, then return to your writing when you’re feeling refreshed.

2) Bad Reviews

Getting bad reviews is one thing, and I think that most of us can accept a little constructive criticism, but there certain reviews that can only be described as toxic. These can really shake your confidence and leave you asking yourself, ‘Is my work really that bad?’ However, it’s important to put things into perspective; the type of people that write ‘nasty’ reviews are probably ‘nasty’ people that are perpetually angry with the world, or prone to complaining – think ‘Victor Meldrew’. Unfortunately, people can be far more eager to leave a bad review than they are to leave a good one. This can be said of most of us; if we have a great holiday then we just accept it, but what if the hotel has poor service with faulty air conditioning and tasteless food?

Plan of Action

If your good reviews far outweigh the bad ones then I think you can safely assume that it’s a one off from someone who has a grudge against the world in general. Although it can be hurtful, potential readers will be far more likely to judge a book by the percentage of good reviews received. Therefore, if your book has dozens of glowing four and five star reviews then it’s highly unlikely that a reader will be swayed by one negative one.

What should you do though if you’re receiving a lot of bad reviews?

To start with try to look at the reviews dispassionately, perhaps when you’ve recovered from the initial shock. What are the readers criticising? Is there a common theme? Are there errors that you can put right? Whilst I would hesitate to make changes because of one poor review, I would certainly consider them if the same point is being made repeatedly.
Another way to counter the pain of a poor review is to think about your achievements so far and re-read your positive reviews. The fact that you have been able to self-publish is a feat in itself. Although it may seem like the world and his wife are self-publishing, especially if you spend time on social media, when taken as a percentage of the population, self-published authors actually make up a very small number.

3) Slow Sales

Slow SalesBuilding up a regular readership is something that the majority of Indie authors struggle with especially if you started out after the Amazon algorithms changed. When you see other authors having huge successes it’s important to bear in mind that there may be a number of reasons for this: they may have had to work at it for several years, they may have good contacts that can gain them a lot of publicity, or they may have done a free promo through Amazon before the algorithm changed. In the case of the latter, this propelled many authors to huge successes, but unfortunately it’s a little more difficult now.

Plan of Action

Although promotion takes up a lot of time, there are always other avenues that you can explore. Social media is a good promotional avenue in itself but it can also lead to contacts with book bloggers, reviewers and magazine editors. It pays to do a bit of lateral thinking as well when it comes to promotion; what is the topic of your book and could there be a promotional avenue that is linked to that topic? This is particularly advantageous for non-fiction authors but there can be outlets for fiction authors too. For example, if your book has a particular setting, could you contact the regional press in that area with a view to featuring either you or your book?
As you establish contact with other independent authors on social media, you could share ideas regarding promotion methods that have led to an increase in sales. Take a look at successful independent authors and find out what techniques they are using to promote their books; most of them will put links from Twitter or Facebook to any reviews, interviews, blogs etc. Another thing to bear in mind, however, is that different methods work for different genres. There is a wealth of information about book promotion on the Internet so do some research and find out what promotional avenues will work for you.
Going back to some of the points made in section two about bad reviews, it is also worth considering whether your book is doing enough to sell itself. Does the cover stand out and let readers know what the book is about? Will the book blurb draw readers in, and have you ensured that it is free of spelling and grammatical errors?

4) Volume of WorkVolume of Work

Yes, there’s no doubt about it, us Indies are a busy lot. One of my personal frustrations is that I spend too much time doing ‘other things’ and not enough time actually writing. To reiterate the points made in the introduction to this article, it is possible to hire help if you feel overwhelmed with the volume of work, but what if your budget won’t stretch to that?

Plan of Action

Prioritise – alright so it might seem a drag making a ‘to do’ list or putting notes in a diary but unless you set yourself targets, how can you hope to achieve them? Make sure that the daily list of tasks is achievable but don’t be too disappointed if you don’t finish everything on it. There are always other things that can crop up so it’s best to allow for contingencies. As well as daily lists you could also set yourself some long term goals, for example, you may aim to finish writing a specific chapter by a certain date. Again, there will be other tasks that will crop up but setting yourself a target will give you a focus and stop you spending too much time on worthless tasks. One of the things that writers find challenging is self-motivation, and setting yourself targets is one way of motivating yourself.

5) Social Media Addiction

Although social media is a very useful tool for independent writers it can also be time consuming. You can get so carried away with it that before you know it you’re halfway through the day and haven’t even begun to tackle your workload. I must confess to being guilty of this and I continually admonish myself.

Plan of Action

Social MediaAlthough I feel guilty if I feel that I’ve spent too long on social media, I really shouldn’t. As stated above, it’s an excellent promotional tool in itself and can also lead to establishing lots of valuable contacts. Aside from that, the life of a writer is a very solitary one and it can be good to have some online interaction with others. After all, you would expect to have a chat with your colleagues when you arrive at work, wouldn’t you? However, if you feel that you are getting too carried away you could always set yourself a time limit. A handy hint is to switch off your Internet while you’re writing unless you need to use it for research. I use ‘Outlook’ for email and it’s too tempting to react to the little yellow envelopes that appear at the bottom of the screen whenever I receive a new email. I therefore shut it down if I’m working on a piece of work with a tight deadline, to avoid temptation.

In terms of general tips to get you through the tough times, try thinking of all those famous authors that had multiple rejections prior to becoming successful. Additionally, as Indies we no longer have to rely on literary agents and publishers, and thankfully we have found a platform for our work to be published. The fact that our work is out there and being read by people is a wonderful achievement!

Thank you for reading this post. If there are any other tough elements of the job that you can think of, please feel free to share them. I also welcome your tips and suggestions for coping with the problems that authors encounter.

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10 thoughts on “When the Going Gets Tough for Authors

  1. I’ve been there as you know… a couple of times in the last few months. What brought me out of it was a suggestion from another author assessing my marketing to date and aiming from a different angle. It helps to talk to other authors, for sure. A pat on the back, a bit of praise, a new idea, or the sudden receipt of a glowing 4/5 star review can sometimes be enough to kick start the ‘motivation’ machine. 😉 Nice post Diane. I’ll share this. X

    • Thanks for your feedback Alice. Yes, I’ve definitely received a lot of advice and encouragement from other authors, you included, and that has really helped. Writers can feel pretty secluded at times so it’s great that we’re all part of such a supportive online community. x

  2. Excellent post, Diane – down to earth, too! 🙂 You’re so right about assessing your own work if you’re getting bad reviews – though i sometimes think that these days few reviews is the same as bad reviews, as it meant the book didn’t affect someone enough to want to write a review about it – not that it was necessarily bad, but just that it wasn’t memorable. Or that people are picking it up and abandoning it without finishing. The problem is that it’s a vicious circle; few reviews means less sales means less potential for reviews. That’s why book bloggers are so good! You’re right about another thing, too – time spent on social networking sites is always time well spent 🙂

  3. A very informative post Diane. Social media is obviously important for writers but I don’t think it is not the be all and end all that some writers seem to think it is. Personally I expect to get bad reviews if my book is read by people outside my target market. Slow sales is the most depressing thing for me though I was expecting that to be the case. Do you think Let’s Get Visible will help you achieve visibility on Amazon?

  4. Hi Guy, thanks for your comments. Before I did my free promo I swapped categories following the advice in Let’s Get Visible. I managed to get to the top of the popularity lists for all my categories but unfortunately this didn’t result in a positive impact on sales. I’ve been trying to assess the reasons for this and I’ve come to the conclusion that the book’s title isn’t right for my target market.
    Remember when I first published and you said it was a good book for libraries and schools? How right you were! The majority of my sales have been through libraries and I think that parents are viewing it more as a reference book for libraries. I therefore plan to publish my second book in the next couple of months taking a different approach. It is a similar type of book, but I’m going to make it more parent and child friendly with a fun title and chapter headings, illustrations if I can manage it and less lengthy links to websites. If the new approach works then I may do a second version of Kids’ Clubs with a change of title, illustrations etc.
    Most of the feedback to my first book has been positive – the fact that it is well written, thoroughly researched and full of useful information etc. The only negatives have been the lack of photos/illustrations and the fact that the number of website links in the book would make it more suitable for a website. Hopefully, by tackling these areas it will make a difference with my second book.
    Have you started to read Let’s Get Visible yet? I would be interested to hear your views regarding it.

  5. I have indeed read Let’s Get Visible Diane, thank you for recommending it to me. It was a very informative book. I have not put any of its principles into practice yet, but will do when I have a KDP Select promotion for Charles Middleworth. I will then analyse the results and hopefully learn some lessons for my next book.

    • Guy, it sounds like a good plan. I look forward to finding out how your promotion goes and wish you luck with it. Please let me know when you set the date so that I can help to shout about it. 🙂

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