It’s time once again for an independent writer/publisher update. Otherwise known as “Just what in the hell is Paul up to?”

As of today, I’m just shy of 150 pages with my new Lovecraft-themed novel. How’s it going? Reasonably well, but I won’t know for sure until I read it. Ernest Hemingway once said, “the first draft of anything is shit” and he was right. All I’m trying to do in my first drafts is get the idea down as close as I can to what I have in my head. I’m sure there are things in there that don’t match my vision. Worse, I’m sure I’ve called characters by more than one name and I’ve contradicted some of my own plot details. I envy anyone who can keep all the bits and pieces in their head throughout writing a 200+ page book. Fixing the mistakes is a large part of what a second draft (and a third draft) is all about. 

Newer writers: Let that be a lesson to you. If you think you’re going to get it all down on the first go-through, you’re badly deluded. Hell, you might not even get it down on the third go-through. I’ve got some one-star reviews on Amazon. Everybody does. The ones where it’s just a matter of taste don’t bother me. The ones that point out legitimate issues are harder to swallow. But they happen and will probably continue to do so.

What can I do? Shrug it off and try harder. 

In addition to working on the novel, I’m spinning another related plate… I’m working on advertising my earlier books (an ongoing struggle). For those of you tuning in to get my advice on the whole independent writer/publisher thing, I’m going to apologize right now. My “advice” always seems to take the form of “I can’t get this to work and I don’t know why”. Which is just left of useless. (Believe me, it’s even more frustrating for me than it is for you, so if you have any suggestions, please put them in the comments.)

Bottom line: I believe that you have to advertise if you’re going to write and sell ebooks. Amazon has something like 8 million titles. You’re not going to stand out in that grotesquely crowded field unless you take steps. 

Okay, so what’s the best course then? Advertising-wise, I mean. There are a million ways to draw attention to your work, but I think only three of them are worth serious consideration–Facebook, Bookbub, and Amazon itself. 

On Bookbub, there are two avenues for marketing–placing ads on their site or getting a spot on one of their regular mailings. Ad placement on Bookbub is useless. Yes, it’s a site dedicated to readers, but I found no traction at all with the ads I placed there. It’s just not dialed-in enough to achieve worthwhile results. The mailings on the other hand are legendarily useful. The service does daily emails to people who subscribe listing books that are currently on sale. These mailings reach a lot of people and are known to move a lot of books. If you plan to use one of your Kindle Countdown Deals soon, look into getting on one of those Bookbub mailings. Here’s the catch, though… Just as the mailings are legendarily worthwhile, they’re legendarily difficult to get into. And they’re expensive. I’ve tried a few times and never gotten in. Your mileage may vary. 

The next best option is Facebook. I’ve used Facebook ads and they can produce results. I don’t do it anymore because I canceled my account. Facebook, to my mind, plays fast and loose with ideas I care about–like democracy. I’m not going to get into politics. That’s not what we’re here for. Just know that advertising on Facebook will put eyes on your books, but you better know what you’re doing. The targeting is up to you. How your money is spent by Facebook is up to you. If you’re not careful, you can spend a lot of money very quickly–and the money you’ve spent might not have been aimed at the right targets. A tutorial on FB ads is beyond the scope of this article. All I’ll say for now is, if you’ve got your heart set on the platform, do your research. 

To me, the best option is Amazon Advertising. The ads appear on Amazon–and people are already there to buy books. You’re targeting people who are doing the very thing you’re targeting them for. Couple that with the fact the platform is really easy to use and Amazon doesn’t wantonly spend your cash. If anything, you have to nudge them now and again to take your money–which is a frustration, I suppose, but it’s better than Facebook siphoning your bank account. 

Right now, I’m taking a course (or a Challenge as he calls it) from author Bryan Cohen (he published a book on writing good book descriptions which I previously recommended). This challenge is something Cohen does semi-regularly. There are videos to watch and daily emails. The “challenge” is mostly designed to get you to buy Cohen’s more comprehensive course on advertising. At $500, I’m not convinced the course is a good investment, but your mileage may vary. 

I’ve watched a couple of the videos and I have some ads running which have generated a small amount of money. It’s not exactly a windfall, but I’ll take it over what my books make in a vacuum (which is nothing). I’ll let you know if the other videos lead to dramatic improvement. For now, I’m making more than I’m spending so I’m content to let things ride. 

Before I sign off, I want to double back to something I mentioned in my last update post. Specifically, H.P. Lovecraft’s racism. Bottom line: Was H.P. Lovecraft a racist? He sure as hell was. Was he a worse racist than other people living in his time and in his culture? Yeah, it looks like it. 

The problem seems to be that Lovecraft (who was unable to attend college) was an autodidact. He was self-taught in a wide variety of subjects and he got hold of some bad information. If I understand correctly, there was a strain of thinking which was fashionable at the time. Thinking in “biology” which, unfortunately, involved differences in the races and eugenics. Some of these texts would go on to influence the Nazis who happened shortly after Lovecraft’s peak creative years. (Lovecraft died before age fifty.) 

The writer, who lived in Providence, Rhode Island, maintained a healthy correspondence with several other authors, most famously Robert E. Howard, the man who created Conan the Barbarian. Most of his penpals were younger than Lovecraft and tried to sway him from his more racist notions. They did this with some success. Contrary to his earlier thinking, the creator of Cthulhu, acknowledged there was no scientific basis for one race to be superior to another. What this demonstrates, I hope, is Lovecraft was, like all of us, evolving over time.

More to the point, I think applying today’s standards to a man who lived almost a century ago (a man who led a sheltered existence and was misinformed) is unfair. Not to mention the fact that disallowing an entire body of work because of its more problematic aspects is unwise. It punishes not only the creator but us too. And, if we have to “cancel” all of the dicier creators of old, we’ll find our libraries, our bookstores, our music services, and our movie theaters suddenly empty.

Anyway, that’s my take. Let me know in the comments if you think I’ve got it wrong. 

Anyway, that’s your independent writer/publisher update for 04/26/21.

Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash