Self-publishing’s Catch-22

Guest post
by Ethan Jones

As I’m promoting my spy thrillers I’m sinking deeper and deeper into the self-publishing’s Catch-22: I need to become famous before anyone will give me their attention. But how do I become famous if I cannot get any attention? And how do I get any attention if I am not already famous?

I used a shotgun approach to promoting my work: I sent a well-crafted press release to all the print and broadcast media in my region (around fifteen) about my book. I sought an opportunity for an author interview and/or a book review. I got one negative reply and one “we’ll give it some thought” response. I am a nobody, so why should they pay me any attention, right?

Regretfully, this attitude has started to penetrate the online media, even blogs that purportedly are designed to help self-published or independent authors. Some of them have started to request positive readers’ reviews of your work before they promote it on their pages (and we all know the nightmare of one- and two-star reviews on Amazon). Others have introduced a pay-to-play mechanism, a sort of advertising for the purposes of, as they claim, separating the chaff from the wheat. But again, if I am nobody, or worse, a broke nobody, how am I to catch the attention of anyone and how am I to find readers?

Thankfully, there are still some review websites and many individual reviewers on Amazon who will take a chance on an unknown author. A polite e-mail and the promise to send them a copy of your work is all that it takes most of the time. The caveat here is the low rate of responses and the reviews that may not always be to your liking.

Another approach is to think about what you can give to the online writer communities before you can ask for what they can give to you. Join free author forums and become active in their different topics. In this way, you gradually become somebody, a member of these communities. Perhaps you’ll make some acquaintances or even friends, you may find a beta reader or two, who can help polish your work, and you can come to build a network of potential readers.

One of my strategies was to build a blog that focused on writing in general and mainly interviewing famous authors and reviewing their works. Ethan Jones’s Books gets many visitors each day and its page hits go up into the three digits if someone like John Grisham posts a note on their Facebook page about it. A blog is a good tool to break out of the anonymity of the crowd.

Giveaways are always a great way to reach new readers. Everyone loves free stuff and it costs only a few dollars to ship a copy of your book. Of course, ebooks cost you nothing but a few minutes of your time. Goodreads is a great place to organize giveways, but you can do that also through your blog.

All the best to all of us as we try to break through the self-publishing’s Catch-22.

Tripoli’s Target is the second book in the wildly popular Justin Hall spy thriller series. It is available from Amazon.

Justin Hall and Carrie O’Connor, Canadian Intelligence Service Agents, find themselves in lawless North Africa on the trail of an assassination plot. The target is the US President, and the hit is scheduled to take place during a G-20 summit in Libya’s capital, Tripoli. But the source of their information is the deceitful leader of one of the deadliest terrorist groups in the area. Ambushes and questionable loyalties turn an already difficult mission into a dark maze of betrayal and misdirection.

Forced to return to Tripoli, Justin and Carrie dig up new intelligence pointing to a powerful Saudi prince bankrolling the assassination plan. What’s worse, Justin and Carrie realize something crucial is very, very wrong with their plan. The summit is only forty-eight hours away and they still have to stop the Saudi prince, dismantle the assassination plot, and save the life of Tripoli’s target.

Tripoli’s Target promises to take the reader through a great story as it becomes the next international bestseller. Fans of David Baldacci, Vince Flynn, and Daniel Silva will love this high-octane spy thriller.

Ethan Jones is the author of Arctic Wargame—the first spy thriller in the Justin Hall series, released in May 2012, and Tripoli’s Target—the second book in this series, released on October 4, 2012. He has also published several short stories. Ethan is a lawyer by trade. He lives in Canada with his wife and son. Learn More about Ethan at his blog. You can also find him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

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9 thoughts on “Self-publishing’s Catch-22”

  1. When I used to go to the bookstore or library I never went armed with book reviews. I used to select the book that caught my eye. I still live by that rule.

    Not sure if this is of use: For over two years I have run a blog to promote authors free of charge. I do not review, I simply showcase five books per week. It is so busy now I am booked until March 2013. They get tweeted, FB, and G+’d out by many followers and authors. I cannot make you famous, but I can help share your book with many readers. New Book Blogger

    1. When I’m shopping for a book, I always look at book reviews on Amazon. Even if I’m just thinking about checking it out from the library, I still see what others have to say. I don’t want to waste my time on something that sucks. Usually if a book has at least five reviews, with an average of at least four stars, I’m willing to give it a shot.

      The catch-22 of self-publishing is similar to the catch-22 of nearly every other profession: you need experience to get a job, but you need a job to get experience. So what do you do? It’s a tough road to walk down, but not impossible. Others have done it in the past, right?

  2. Indeed! The age old question. If I knew the answer I’d be famous already.

    I am sure there have been best selling books / authors that have got there by hype / hysteria, pretty much like films or hit songs if something sparks the public’s imagination.

    I guess to achieve longevity in publishing / music / arts it’s a slog and just though takes time, then of course the pressure comes from topping your previous work.

  3. What you are talking about is the normal functioning of an over-supplied market. For some reason, lots of folks out there believe they can write. At least 95% of them are dead wrong. The sheer accumulated weight of garbage is forcing reviewers into a defensive posture. By way of a suggested answer (and one that I’ve found useful): find first a small band of well-educated and sensitive readers who are not fellow writers. Get the hard cases, the ones with no qualms in telling you the truth. Go looking for those breakers of ego. If we all took our work that seriously, the field would thin, the reviewers would have more time, and in having more time, be less cranky. It’s bad writing out there making for your Catch-22.

    1. That’s told ’em! – You are right of course. The digital age has made self publishing easier for the ‘average Jo’ to have a go. But that doesn’t mean we get much quality, just saturation.

      It’s the same in the music industry with millions of self-recorded, self-published tunes online that are made with auto’ music audio / backing tracks, with little chance of being a best selling record,

      Yet we dream it will be ‘me’ one day!

      It’s enough to make you give up!

  4. Well at least when you are in the catch 22 you have lots and lots of company. Good luck. To both of us and all the other people who will read this because we empathize.

  5. Thanks for the great post. It is really hard to break into the publishing world. I think it’s important to just keep writing and producing top quality work as well. Have a little patience and it will start to happen.

    Your points about the giveaways and blogging are really good. Giveaways have definitely given my books more exposure. As my fan base slowly grows, I find doors swing open just a little more easily 🙂

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