This is the inaugural post of ‘The Independent Author’ part of my blog. I’ll post as regularly as I can about the topic of being an independent author, of the highs and lows and the lessons learned. But as an opener, this post is my manifesto for ‘The Independent Author.’ It doesn’t have to be your manifesto. You may not agree with everything in it. But we don’t have to agree about everything, now do we? However, everything in it is there because of a lot of thinking, some of it challenging. I would expect parts of it to change in the future – that is part of being a critical thinker and someone who is open to new ideas. But I think it serves as a good initial mission statement and an indication of the kind of topics on which I’ll post in the future. And so with that in mind, I give you ‘The Independent Author’s Manifesto.’
1. Write because you love it.
If you do it for that reason, no one can touch you because the reward is intrinsic to the act itself. Too many people are in love with the idea of being a writer, rather than writing itself. You can be both, but the former gets in the way of the latter. No one ever benefited from thinking they are intrinsically special.
2. Write for yourself – not yourself the writer, but yourself the reader.
Write to blow yourself away. Write like that because you are not special and therefore there will be plenty of other schmucks like you. To that end, write what you love, not what you think other people want you to write.
3. Writing is a skill. Work to be better than your previous self.
This current work is not an end in itself but part of the excellence of what you will produce tomorrow. To that end, mistakes are victories and moments of true learning that improve your work.
4. Be truthful in all things and to all people, including yourself.
It’s true for writing and it’s true for business and it’s true for life. Part of being truthful is being able to take criticism. You don’t have to like it, but you do have to learn from it when the criticism holds some truth. Your darkest teachers can provide your most powerful lessons, and some of the darkest truths are inside yourself. Obstacles, set backs and enemies often provide you with the biggest checks and the greatest leaps forward, because you have to develop strength to bound over them.
5. When you publish, you are a business and your books are products: act accordingly.
Don’t be precious, be pragmatic. Polish, perfect, produce. Ship the work. Find the readers. Do the marketing work. No one cares that you wrote a book. Big deal, so have a lot of other people. No one knows who you are. Why should they? Give them a reason to know you. It’s a noisy world. It’s your job to find a way to cut through the tsunami of chatter and deliver your awesome work to the right readers. If you give over all that work to someone else, it is magical thinking to believe that sales and money will just appear in your bank account. The same goes for critical acclaim, if that’s your bag. This is your business: own it. If you don’t someone else will, and they’ll take all your money, like the sucker you are.
6. Build a platform which you own and doesn’t own you
This means a mailing list and website first, everything else second. Lead people from other platforms to your platform and serve them in the truest sense of the word. Own as much of the assets and infrastructure of your business as possible. That is a fundamental element independence and freedom – but freedom comes with responsibilities and obligations (to yourself, your business, and your fans/readers/customers).
7. Never sign away 80-90% of your intellectual property because you are not prepared to learn how to sell books, or because you crave the recognition of gate keepers.
The first is laziness; the second contradicts points 1 (write because you love it) and 4 (be true in all things) in the manifesto. There are conditions under which a traditional contract could be signed: access to print distribution networks at scale, but separate from digital and audio rights; or when financial compensation exceeds the demonstrable earning potential you could achieve by yourself; access to multimedia deals – games, TV and movies – likely to exceed self-marketing potential. If these conditions are met, then such a contract can be considered. If you just want to see your book in a bookshops, somewhere, maybe, and to tell your friends, or because you want the approval of strangers, well you can’t help yourself, so how will anyone else help you? If money is genuinely not a factor in you publishing books – then cool, give nearly all your financial rights away for life, plus 75 years. However, note you have voluntarily recused yourself from being allowed to whine about not making money – if you do whine, you sound precious and, well, dumb. You signed the legally binding contract when other options were on the table.
8. Pay to play
Social media is a blight whose only benefit is access to unfettered data which enables targeted paid for advertising (that’s a joke – but it’s also true). Don’t try to sell books for free on social media – there is little to no evidence that it scales. Cases that appear to are examples of content marketing whose financial costs are hidden in the time used to create the content. Full economic costing demonstrates pay to play scales reliably. To this point: no risk, no reward. By all means network or use it to serve people: use the weapon of social media for good.
9. Invest in your skills and your business either in time or money.
You have to invest to grow. Try to be a better version of yourself each day. Sometimes you’ll need to put your hand in your pocket to do so. This isn’t taking money away from you. It’s an opportunity to develop your skills, meet new people, and discover new things. The opportunity to learn and grow is a gift and a privilege. Nothing worthwhile comes for free, either metaphorically or literally (you work at your marriage, you work at your business, you work on your well being, and you work at your craft). Also, see point 4 – it’s kind of important for deep and transformative learning.
10. Money is not the only measure of success, but it is a good one
Money is empirically verifiable and correlates with selling books to more readers. To that end and to points 6 and 7, when you publish seek to have your books read and make money. FYI: Hope is not a strategy for selling. Selling is part of your job, your responsibility. Done right it is not a sleazy part of art – that’s disingenuous virtue signalling (“oh, you’re so above the fetters of money”). Getting your creative outputs to readers is service (in all sense of the word).
11. Do the work. No one cares about your work in progress.
Why should they? It doesn’t yet exist. They will care once you’ve written it – if it’s any good – so shut up and write. It’s not hard manual work. It is a privilege. If done well, it matters. So do the work. And please remember, you’re not special, your’e a professional, so work like one.
12. Do not procrastinate. Beware of procrastination that looks like work.
That doesn’t mean working yourself into the ground. It means when the work needs doing, do it. Quality of time beats quantity of time when leveraged over the long term. Beware of comparing yourself to other people. You are not them. That information can be useful, but it can also be damaging. If someone’s productivity is impressive use it to inspire yourself, to be a better version of yourself. Don’t just strive for more, strive for more quality.
13. Create a bookshelf of work to be proud of and remember point 1.
Quality beats quantity again – but this isn’t an excuse not to pull the trigger and be prolific. Your mind doesn’t have to be fettered by the culture and publishing schedule of a traditional publishing business model. Don’t be held back by ‘mind forged manacles.’ Push your expectations. Try to write the books you wish someone had written and that you long to read.
14. Remember to replenish the well.
Take a break … sometimes. When you do, do it properly. Learn. Relish in other people’s gifts. Be inspired. Be a student with a lust for learning. Relax. Be with family and friends. Workout (always workout;). Love life and the people in it: you only get one – act accordingly.
15. Writing is a long game, play it as such.
Play today and every day you can with that in mind. You may lose today, but you can’t win if you don’t play tomorrow. And remember, while it can be a serious game, it is still a game, so have fun and get playing.