How to Survive the WORST Part of Being Self-Published

The truth of the matter is, nobody gives a fuck about your stories. 

Not enough to make the living you want. 

When you pull back the curtain and see the wizard, it’s much uglier than an old man pulling levers. It’s sales. It’s marketing. 

It’s selling your soul to the capitalism machine so you can someday sell your book. 

Nobody hates this fact more than I do, which is why I’m sharing the truth. The cold, hard, unforgiving truth. 

I’m writing this while listening to Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds and eating comfort chocolates. At 2 AM, I had the worst conversation with my brother-in-law. He’s in the business of finance and… well, business. We don’t see eye to eye often, but I won’t pretend his information is wrong. He has the facts – none of which are pretty. 

People want a reason to read your work. They want to benefit. 

It’s not about you. It’s about them. 

When you found your favorite author, you didn’t immediately care about their “about me.” You read their book because it fulfilled something that you wanted. Whether the writing called to you emotionally, or you craved entertainment in that specific form, your needs came first. 

I didn’t believe him at first. 

But he suggested I try making money with the stimulus we received last year. 

I thought it couldn’t hurt, so I invested in a heat press, tote bags, and t-shirts. 

In the first month, I didn’t sell a single one. 

I made an advertisement in photoshop, and hell, I even paid to boost the listing. 

Nobody cared. 

When I asked my brother-in-law (we’ll call him “D”), he told me the ads were trash. He explained that I failed to appeal to any emotions. He asked: who am I targeting? Who is my audience? Who will buy these shirts or the bags? 

I looked at the shirts – black, unisex, and in large or extra large. I had read those were the most popular, and I started to wonder who would buy them. In my small, Texas town, I had to narrow down the options. I thought about all the men at work, wearing shirts with beer logos or classic rock bands. 

“Alright,” I said, ready to narrow my audience. D wasted no time. He asked who, I said men. He asked their age, I said mid-thirties to forties. He asked who they voted for, and I bit my tongue until it bled. I had to know these men, because I was going to sell to them without their knowledge. 

Moving on to the bags, we went through the same process. I decided that they were sturdy, and the most fun thing to print on them were names and cartoon characters. So… moms would be buying these for their children. They needed to be cheap, but not too cheap (otherwise, they would think it was poor quality). 

I needed to appeal to emotion, so for the shirts I came up with “wear your heart on your sleeve, and your thoughts on your shirt.” Why? Because when people buy shirts, it’s for self-expression. That’s the need they’re fulfilling. For the bags, I wrote “Attention Moms!” because it immediately grabs their attention. This sounds fake, but the data backs me up. 

When I made the advertisements personal (and more importantly, about them), I attracted more sales. 

I shared the discovery with D, and he gave me the first bit of good news I’d heard in a while: I was succeeding. Regardless of how much I ended up making, the shirts and bags were merely for practice (and they ended up doubling my money). 

Since I planned to go the self-published route, I would need all the experience I could get. Nobody would care about my book, because what was it doing for them? What would my audience get from any of my stories? 

Think about it. How many books do you scroll over without a second thought? You might stop to look, but do you buy? Why? 

The more I cracked the (… shockingly unhidden) code in advertising, the more I could see it in everyday life. I could discern a good commercial from a terrible one. 

And I HATE it. 

This sounds incredibly discouraging, I know. I’m sorry. The good news is, it’s a lot easier than it sounds (and it might already seem pretty easy). Just remember that everything takes practice, and this is a skill worth learning. Remember to appeal to people’s emotions, and to put them first – never yourself. 

A good trick is to write about who your target audience is. Write for one person, because there are SO MANY people like them. If you can reach one, you win. Place a doll or pop vinyl or stick figure in front of yourself and decide who that is – they are the person you’re selling to. Do you know their age? Income level? Race/gender/political affiliation? Flesh them out as you would an original character, and figure out what would make them buy your book. 

If this feels awful, that’s because it is. 

I wanted to become a writer because I love storytelling. I love building worlds and characters, and I just want to share these ideas with people. 

But if I want to reach the biggest audience possible, and share stories with representation and happiness, I need to play ball. 

I just fucking hate sports. 

This nearly made me quit, until I realized something crucial.

Every other job sucks.

If you wanna quit your job and make a living from writing, you have to take the good with the bad. And maybe… this isn’t so bad. It’s hard work, and it’s not exactly fun, but it’s work that you ultimately want to do. I say it’s better than direct customer service.

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