Thursday, July 23, 2015

How to be a self-published occult writer (a list of ideas to ignore)

So you want to be an occult writer? Because everyone who is involved in the occult wants to be a writer. Well, maybe not everybody--I understand that there is an occultist in Denmark that does not want to be an occult writer....but I think that person might be a myth. So how does one become a self-published occult writer? (Because it is a lot of work to get a publisher interested in your work---after all, the average occult book sales numbers are only in the low hundreds, even for a bestseller. There are also economic reasons to be self-published...but that is a whole another post to be written.)

Step one: Actually be an occultist.

This might seem funny to put the horse in front of the cart, but it is really helpful to actually be an occultist when writing about the occult. And I do not mean being a fly-by-night just-got-involved occultist (who knows all about the occult despite never actually opening up a book and/or never doing a single spell or ritual) or an armchair occultist (all theory--years and years of theory, but not a single working operation ever). I mean an actual occultist, someone with years of practical experience under their belt who can wing-it on pretty much on every possible ritual type without having to consult the internet or beg for spells (I would include books here, except that no one actually reads books any more....which should give you pause).

Step two: Establish a presence.

The sad part about being a writer who wants to sell books is that your marketing has to begin years before you publish your masterpiece. Yes, I know that you are special and unique. But you could be a living god and you will not sell copies of your book if no one knows who you are. You want to have your Facebook, your Twitter, and whatever other useless social media presence that you want to have established before you hit "publish."

Remember that as a self-published occult writer, you do not have a publisher to pimp out your work. Not that a publisher will do that much advertising for you--for some reason, publishers tend to do a small shout-out when a book is published, and then they generally ignore it...unless it becomes a hot seller, in which case, they were always fully supporting your work.

You are going to waste a lot of time on social media. And not just on marketing---people tune out the salespeople on social media, so you better be prepared to trot out those funny cat pictures. You want people to be following you, and generally well-disposed to you, so that when you pop out that occasional "please buy my book!," they do not immediately ignore you.

While you are wasting gobs of time, keep an eye out for successful occult writers. Notice their work habits, their general level of helpfulness, how they conduct themselves. Keep track of which ones are actually supporting themselves doing something non-occult related.

Step three: Research and experiment.

This ties back into step one, and cannot be stressed enough--working occultists have an edge. Part of your presence should be you pretending to care about others and trying to be helpful. One should not smile at the stupid numpties who are packed up to the rafters while suggesting helpful ways for them to ensure that they are visited by instant karma. Remember living customers potentially are repeat customers, and you want to test your stuff to ensure that no one loses a limb while performing your awesome rituals of power and magic.

Step four: Try to be original.

And fail miserably. Everything has been done before. The only thing that you really have to offer without robbing a cache of unpublished material from famous dead occultists is your unique voice. If your writing sounds like everyone else's, you are not being unique. A reader should be able to spot a piece of your writing without seeing your byline. Unfortunately, developing an unique voice requires lots of writing, way more than you thought it would take.

Step five: Wrestle with the keyboard.

Let's be honest---there are a ton of "occult writers" who do not write. Oh, occasionally one will be working on a book or an article, but most writers are just giving themselves a fancy title to reap the glories and fame that they think comes with the profession of being a writer. Of course, if that is you, then you are already long gone, having abandoned this post four steps ago---or perhaps at the very title of the post.

The harsh truth of the writing profession is that writers write. We write a ton of bad copy, a ton of bad ideas flow off of our fingers and into inky pixels, horrifying us when we make the mistake of reading our first drafts.

Ask yourself this: Can I survive the horrors of National Novel Writing Month? (For the unenlightened, the idea behind NaNoWriMo is to hack out, and I do mean HACK, fifty thousand words in the space of thirty days. While the focus of NaNoWriMo is on bad first drafts of novels [fifty thousand words being the lowest word count to qualify a work as a novel...according to some literary standard board which name I am too lazy to look up], the idea is the same. Can you crank out copy?

If the answer is No, you might still be able to be a writer. There are occult writers who have milked the fame of a single occult book--I know one whose work was simply photocopying the same set of rituals over and over again, and the fifty pages that were not the same ritual over and over again were also cribbed from someone else...and there are people who think that he is the greater occult writer and authority of our time (I kid you not).

But, and it is a mighty big BUT, most writers who are truly successful write a lot of copy. In order to be truly successful, you have to write a lot of words to feed the beast. Fifty thousand words a month is actually below what most professional writers (aka those who are paying their mortgage payment with their writing income) write per month. Professional writers write, just like professional plumbers plumb. 

Step six: Edit the crap out of that manuscript.

One of the harsh realities of being self-published is that you are responsible for the whole nine yards. This includes the editing of your book. Speaking as a nasty harsh book reviewer, I take away points for spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes. The more unreadable your work is, the more points I deduct---with a really badly edited and formatted book, it can cost the book five out of five stars.

So do yourself a favor and edit the crap out of your manuscript. Make it as easy and clear to read as you possibly can. You do not want your readers' eyes to bleed from merely reading the horrific way that you string words together. Save the eye bleeding for your revolutionary magical ideas.

Please note---you do not have to do your own editing. It is helpful if you can do your own editing, but know that a second (and a third and a fourth, etc. etc.) set of eyes is really helpful. Yes, it is going to cost to use an outside editor; but where there is a will, there is a way. Remember step two? Look how the successful writers are accomplishing this--some are paying for a service (who are they using? how much do they charge?) while others are using some form of beta-readers, or exchanging editing (because it is easier to see other people's mistakes). Also remember that the less painful it is for an outside editor to edit your work, the better (for instance, I charge extra for editing if it makes my eyes bleed).

Step seven: Putting it all together.

Also known as the joys of formatting. As I mentioned in the previous step, I deduct points when I review a badly formatted book. Again this is something that you can choose to do yourself, or farm out to someone else. I personally choose to format my own work, but I have also set up a front and back matter document to save me time during the formatting process. To the best of my knowledge, all the self-publishing platforms have a page (or a complete pdf) of formatting tips. Consider formatting as you write.

Step eight: Set up your accounts.

There are several companies that you can self-publish though. Or you can choose to self-publish though your own web page (this is not a good route if you have not built up an audience back in step two). The goal is to make your work available though as many sales platforms as you can. The nice thing about the current self-published world is that thanks to ebooks and POD (print-on-demand), you do not have to pay for a ton of books that you end up having to store and ship out of your basement.

The big daddy of all sales platforms is Amazon, of course--who else could it be?! I would avoid the exclusive option. For paper books, there is the Amazon-associated CreateSpace.

If you want to have a hardback book, there is only Lulu. I must admit that Lulu is on my low end of concern when it comes to uploading. For one, Lulu takes a bigger cut, and forces you to have higher prices (this is true even if you are not doing the paper route). Second, my experience is that Lulu just does not get random book paying traffic--in other words, for every copy you sell, you have to work hard to advertise.

There is Kobo, and Barnes &Noble, and quite a few other platforms...some of which I have never figured out how to set up an author account with. And each platform I have mentioned requires you to have a separate account, and upload an uniquely formatted document to (by unique, I mean that the various platforms have different requirements, including your adcopy refers only to their company...with one expectation).

 My preferred "I am a lazy writer who can't be bothered to upload to a dozen platforms" outlet as a self-publisher is Smashwords. The advantage of using Smashwords is that I get to use the same adcopy, a single document, and do not have to upload separately to Kobo and Barnes & Noble, and to other outlets that I see little, if any, sales from. Smashwords also distributes to a couple of outlets that I have never been able to create an author account for, or who absolutely refuse to deal with individuals authors (for instance, the library services). The disadvantage is that you have to give Smashwords, as well as the outlet that they distributed to, their percentage of the loot. But in my case, I would rather do that than spend a lot of time uploading to multiple platforms. The one platform that Smashwords does not support is Amazon (there is a long story there--bottom line Amazon wants the opportunity to trick you into exclusivity on their platform).

So for those who are curious, my priority to upload and distribute goes Amazon, then Smashwords, and Lulu on that cold day when I have nothing better to do.

At the very bottom of my list is a company called BookBaby. It is on the very bottom of my list, for the simple fact that it involves an upfront cost. Maybe you can afford it, and maybe you will sell enough copies to make a profit; but for myself, it just guarantees that I never will make my break-even point.

Step nine: Obtain a decent professional cover.

I suggest that you use frolicking unicorns with lots of rainbows. Or a black robed magician performing a human sacrifice. And hand-draw it even if you are not an artist. It will save you money...

...unfortunately, it will cost you lots of sales. Potential readers really do judge books based on their covers. When it comes to covers, unfortunately one needs to brace for the fact that you are going to have to pay for a professional cover. Fortunately, in step two, you might have learned of an artist or photography service that charges reasonable rates.

Step ten: Write adcopy.

Your adcopy, just like your book cover, is the first impression that a potential reader has of your book. Edit the crap out of it. And do not write it on the day that you are uploading (do as I say, not as I do). Remember that you need to know what category your book is in (research where other writers have placed their books--ex. Wicca is not the same as Satanism), and that you can use seven (Amazon) to ten tag words (Smashwords).

Step eleven: Upload files.

I mention my priority of who to upload to in step eight. A bit of advice that I give out from painful experience is: Block out a day to upload to a platform that you have never uploaded to before. You get better at uploading with experience, but the first time will be more painful than you think it will be.

Step twelve: Advertise and network.

This is where you abuse the presence that you set up in step two. Generally, devote as much time as you care to waste on it. I have discovered that a couple of dedicated Facebook pages and my FB wall, using a single ad, is more effective than most of the Facebook sales and promotion pages and groups are. A devoted audience is better than a random group of writers who are busy trying to sell you their own work. Throwing money at this problem comes only after you have shelled out for editing and a decent cover--no amount of money will move a fugly bad book without a dedicated audience. (Please note that bad books can sell if you have been a complete whore in step two. My proof? Fifty Shades of Grey.)

Step thirteen: Sell a single copy of your book.

And this is what it is all about. Selling a single copy of your book to someone who is not a close personal friend, lover, or close relative. Ideally, you want the joy of selling a copy to someone that you have never met or interacted with. And note that some writers never accomplish this step.

Step fourteen: Claim to be a famous best selling occult author.

We both know that it is a lie; but if you don't poke fun at me when I do it, I will try to return the favor. After all, we have both seen each other's Amazon sales rank (with some basic math, I can figure out your daily sales); therefore, we both know that we wasted a whole bunch of time that would have been better spent writing erotica or flipping burgers. But what us writers know, our adoring fans do not need to know.

No comments: