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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Tips for Tackling Writer’s Block

I have now finished my series of blogs about becoming a copywriter so I’m returning to more general writing topics for a while although I’ll still be covering copywriting from time to time. I thought I’d start with some tips on how to tackle a perennial problem for many writers – the dreaded writer’s block.

Writer's Block

Writer’s block usually occurs when your brain is overworked so that you become mentally tired. When this happens it becomes harder to write and you can find yourself unable to produce work that’s of your usual standard. Words that would normally flow from your keyboard are difficult to find and you become increasingly dissatisfied with your work when you read it back to yourself.

There are a few ways of dealing with this problem and some will suit you better than others. It will most likely depend on the extent of the problem i.e. whether it is just a short-term blip or whether it is more long-term. Here are some tips that might help:

1. Continue writing anyway and don’t worry if it doesn’t read quite as good as it should. At least you are getting something down on paper (or screen) and you can always return to your work after sleeping on it. You will often find that you can make huge improvements once you tackle it with a fresh mind.

2. Take a rest from writing for a short while and take part in physical activities such as walking, gardening or swimming as these can enable you to relax. Even watching TV or listening to music can help; basically get involved in anything that diverts your attention from your writing and gives your brain a rest.

Swimming

3. While you’re taking a break from writing it doesn’t mean you have to take a break from reading. Read a few good books or have a good browse in your local library or bookstore. Do it in a relaxed way though rather than with a particular aim in mind. The objective is to let ideas creep into your subconscious rather than trying to force them to materialise.

4. You could also try reading newspapers and magazines; all those snippets of information and short stories may just trigger something. Again, take a relaxed approach and read them purely for pleasure.

5. Go out somewhere busy such as a bar, the beach or a bustling city centre. If you’re writing a novel then it could be particularly useful to go somewhere linked with your setting. Don’t try to force ideas into your mind though; just immerse yourself in the atmosphere and enjoy some down time.

6. Try writing out of sequence. Sometimes, if you’re writing a novel, you can be stuck on a particular scene but still have plenty of ideas for what happens later in the book. In fact, you may have already worked out the ending. There’s nothing to stop you writing the plot highlights first then filling in the rest. It’s handy to start with an outline, which acts as a framework that you can then build onto, adding more and more detail as you go along.

7. If your writer’s block is particularly bad and none of the above suggestions help, take a holiday. If you enjoy reading then don’t stop doing it during your holiday but take a break from writing.

Holiday

8. Lastly, and most importantly, don’t obsess about the situation. Worrying about it won’t help as your brain needs to totally switch off. Take comfort in the fact that the situation will right itself eventually. In some ways the brain can be compared to the muscles in your body. For example, if you overworked in the gym and all your muscles were aching badly then chances are you would take a few days off before returning unless you really had to train for something. The same applies to the brain.

Writer’s block can happen to anyone and even the most successful writers suffer with it from time to time. The books I am currently writing are non-fiction, which are mainly researched based and follow a set format so writer’s block is not really a problem for me at the moment. However, I have plans to return to writing novels in the near future so no doubt I’ll be recapping on this post at some point and heeding my own advice.

I hope you have found this article helpful. If so, you are welcome to leave any feedback comments below. Alternatively, if you have any tips for dealing with writer’s block, please share them.