Are internet marketers hijacking self-publishing?

I’m noticing a worrying trend. Some authors are getting so excited about making money from writing that the marketing is taking over from the writing. They’re not authors who are self-publishing any more. They are internet marketers that happen to be able to string together words in what they describe as a ‘novel’.

My hypothesis has a number of different strands of evidence to support it.

One of my ‘go-to’ places for self-publishing information is Kindle Boards. If you’re thinking of self-publishing, you need to be on there, and reading. It’s a busy place, and it does take you away from your writing, but if you’ve produced stuff, there’s a heap of information about how to self-publish on there. However, you could spend a whole day just following threads, commenting, asking questions, and then checking the threads you checked five minutes before. It’s become a bit of a monster, but the monster has some interesting bits. Go read.

But …

I’m a bit tired of reading threads from authors who have one, or two, pieces of work out there, and complain they’re not selling much. So the questions are not “how can I improve my writing so that it’s more appealing to people?” but “how can I market the hell out of what I’ve written so I can make more money?”

And then you have the witches covens. The little groups of authors, mostly on Facebook, but elsewhere too, who do the ‘back scratching’ thing. “You Tweet my book, and I’ll Tweet yours.” “Here’s my latest book. Please share.” “Anyone want to write a 5* review of my book? I’ll write one for you.”

I used to be part of one of these scummy organisations. Until I found myself promoting books that were awful. Truly awful. Clichéd, derivative, boring, predictable, and many more such adjectives. So I stopped. My writing integrity is worth more to me than a few sales. If I recommend a book, it’s because I love it. It’s not because I’m part of some circle jerk society.

Don’t get me wrong – in 2010, when self-publishing was really starting to take off, when the Kindle publishing system was starting to make inroads into the ebook market, it was a great time. We were like great explorers, banding together, finding new ways of doing things, fighting against what was already there. Sales figures were shared and applauded, big sellers were all over Kindle Boards, telling the rest of us what was working for them, and how many books they were selling. Amanda Hocking, Joe Konrath, Michael Sullivan, and many others. They’ve made tons of money, and they were our flag bearers in the indie publishing revolution.

But things are beginning to change. There are authors popping up who aren’t really authors. They’re intelligent, literate marketers. One in particular comes to mind. He wrote popular books, and he had a clever marketing strategy, which worked, and which sold him a million books, probably more. And then he wrote a book which told desperate authors how to sell a million books. And yes, I bought a copy.

There’s no discussion of writing craft. At all. It’s all marketing. How to reach out to potential purchasers. How to convert interested parties into buyers. How to use social media to improve the sales of your writing. Stuff like that.

And then we have the sock puppets. Used by an awful lot of authors, both minor and well-known. What’s a sock puppet? Wikipedia defines it as an online identity used for the purposes of deception. When an author creates a sock puppet (or several), they use that identity to post favourable reviews of their books. That’s poor. But some even use them to post bad reviews of those authors they perceive as competitors. That’s very poor indeed, verging on the fraudulent.

And you can buy reviews. You can send some money to a far-off land, where they have hundreds or thousands of different identities created, paying people a dollar a day, and they will post a positive review of your book. Yes, they can, and yes, they do. Use your local, friendly search engine, and you can find people who will review for cash.

To be honest, I’m starting to be offended.

Writing is hard. Writing takes a lot of effort, and a lot of practice. Traditionally, becoming a successful writer involves a lot of heartache, a lot of trial and error, and a lot of learning about the craft of writing. It involves sending your work off to an agent or publisher, who may, or frequently may not, give you a contract for it and subsequent works. Or, if you write short form, your work may appear in some sort of publication, you receive a bit of money, and you write some more.

Nowadays, people can write mediocre books, and then use principles of internet marketing to make those books successful. They can use underhand techniques to game the system, work the algorithms, get their books into the bestseller charts.

So what prompted this grumbling blog post?

I listen to a number of podcasts, and one in particular, I listen to every week. They had a guest on this week, an author, a successful author no less. And they spent an hour talking about how to be successful. What techniques to use, what services they employ, what other strings to their bow they have. Including public speaking, where they speak about self-publishing, and get paid to do so. And in doing that, they improve their profile, which sells more books, which raised their profile, which … you get the point.

So, has bookselling become unethical? Probably not. Selling books is about selling books, not being ‘fair’ or ‘moral’. It’s a business. Like publishers paying for premium space in book stores. Like choosing which books get put forward to competitions. Like conventions, where attendees pay money to sit and listen to people who talk about the book business. There is now a whole industry which has appeared from nowhere to ‘support’ indie authors. People will design your covers for you, edit your books for you, format your text for you, and market your books for you. All for a price. Welcome back to the world of vanity publishing.

Even worse are the agents and publishers who will send you a rejection letter, but suggest you get in touch with XYZ literary agency who, (for a modest fee), tell you what’s wrong with your novel and help you self-publish it. And market it. Here is a breakdown of the services they offer … (where, if you look closely, you will see strong personnel links to the agent / publisher you originally contacted). So the traditional publishing system can reject your manuscript, and in the past, that would be the end of it. But now, they can ‘help’ you, and make a little money for themselves on the side.

All business has its seedy side, and if you’re involved with that business, you need to be aware of it. But I’m an author. I love writing. For me, it’s not about how much money I can make from my mediocre meanderings. It’s about what sort of story I can tell.

For a proper author (as opposed to an internet marketer who writes), there is nothing which can compare to that first, second, and subsequent, message from a reader, congratulating you on your writing, and telling you that they loved your book. For me, that is more important than any amount of constructed wealth from an highly efficient (and, perhaps, slightly unethical) online marketing campaign.


Mindful Writing

Strong sea forces have begun the long shore drift, moving tons of sand to heaven-knows-where, and exposing bases of rusting metal, rotting wood and crumbling concrete. How will these misshapen and broken objects protect our houses, our possessions, our families? But somehow, they do. The TV shows other areas, where the sea has broken through inadequate defences, and amongst the feel-good stories of pets rescued and Dunkirk spirit, are sad faces, gazing at ruined homes.


2014 – a look ahead


Colourful 2014 in fiery sparklers


I shall be aiming to participate in the usual #100kwords100days challenges (January and July, all things being equal) and also in NaNoWriMo 2014.

There is also a rather larger, tougher writing challenge – #milwordy. Those who are good at deciphering acronyms might realise that the challenge is to write 1,000,000 words during 2014. One. Million. Words. Two thousand, seven hundred and forty words a day. Every day.

I’m pretty sure I can do this. Typing isn’t a problem for me, and I have a stack of new project ideas ready to be lifted from obscurity. But my problem is one of producing stories which are good enough to go on to publish.

And that’s one of the downsides to rapid writing – the quality can, and sometimes does, suffer. Do I really need another million words of something-less-than-first-drafts, when I already have nearly 720,000 already sitting in Works In Progress? When doing my fast writing, I tell myself that I can add more character depth later, add a plot twist or a subplot later. And, I think, that leads me to be dissatisfied with my writing. It’s a conundrum. 


Anyway, I’ve been thinking, and I know what my major project will be this year, and that is to write a series of apocalyptic fiction novels, with a common main character taking the reader from small, local, everyman issues, up to global and international issues, and perhaps beyond.

I’m not going to do this alone. Oh no. I have a small army of previously-written concepts, which I’m going to use as fleshed-out plans for my 2014 writing. I have a character who struggles with politics and business (key themes for my End Of Civilization series), but on a very basic, local level.

He then moves onto to the national stage, moving in circles with people he used to watch on TV, tackling big international issues.

Then, he moves onto a global stage, where the challenges are bigger and the stakes are higher.

The final piece of the series bring him full circle, back to a very local level, dealing with personal issues, because he’s failed to resolve the mighty issues that challenged him in Book 3.

 Added to that (which is a big enough project on its own, I know) I will be trying to complete my collection of crime series. For marketing reasons, that might be written under a pseudonym, but we’ll see. All in all, it’s going to be a busy year.

 Happy New Year!


2013 – a look back, but not in anger



It’s been a bit of a mixed year for me.

On the positive side, I had two successful #100kwords100days challenges (January and July), and a successful NaNoWriMo. At the time of writing (December 30th), I’ve written 409,575 new words this year. Not all were fiction – the ‘rules’ of #100kwords100days allow for blog posts and planning to be included in word counts. But that’s still a good total for one year.

On the negative side, I didn’t publish anything this year.


One of my aims this year was to complete a selection of dark Christmas-related tales, and to publish them in time for the Christmas

But … I wasn’t pleased with them. Soseason. I did this – I created ten new short stories, at around 21,000 words in total, which I was going to bundle with three previously-released short pieces which had a Christmas theme. Some of them worked, but one or two didn’t – they weren’t strong enough stories, and my writing wasn’t the best. So I shelved the project. I didn’t delete it, and They Will Return, with tough rewrites to sharpen up the writing. Depending on the situation when next Christmas trundles alone, I will either publish them as a collection or release them for free as singles. Watch this space.

The bottom line is – I’m not going to release my writing unless I think it’s the best it can be. The quality of the writing is more important than any seasonal-related marketing strategy. I only wish that were the case with some other self-published writers.


I’ve completed 3 long works to “draft zero” status – a 65,000 word crime story, and two thrillers at 45k and 47k each.

But therein lies the problem. I love writing, I love the buzz I get from creating new characters and situations. But, before 2013, I was a terrible finisher. I never really completed anything but short fiction. So one of my goals for this year was to finish some long fiction, and I’m pleased I’ve been able to do that.

However, I’m still not completely happy with my stories. At the time of writing, I’m not sure whether they’re going to be edited, or put to one side. All is not lost, and I have good news in my “2014 – look ahead” post, coming soon, including a new life for a piece of writing that’s over ten years old. NaNoWriMo 2003, your time is up!


NaNoWriMo 2013 – roundup

2013-Winner-Square-ButtonAh, NaNoWriMo. It seems such a distant memory.

I ‘won’ (I always put that word inside quotation marks, as it’s a strange word to use in the circumstances), but I was fairly confident of doing so, having set out a good plan and knowing I had the time to write it.

As it happens, I completed the 50k on the 12th of November, and by the 30th, I had written a total of 74,021 words. I forgot to update my onsite word count for the last day, so my count ‘over there’ shows 72,796. Pfft.

I completed one ‘novel’, “Meltdown”, at 47,290 words. I didn’t complete the second ‘novel’, “Shed No Tear”, but it currently stands at 20,938 words. I also began writing a Dark Christmas Collection, as yet unnamed, and at the time of writing (late on the 2nd of December), the word count for that collection is 10,334 words.

So, what have I learnt from NaNoWriMo2013? Not a lot, to be honest. This was my 10th NaNoWriMo, and my 9th ‘success’. I know I can write quickly enough to complete the challenge, and although the completed work is in a very rough, Draft Zero, form, it is a complete story. The second work is a tricky one, as it has a complicated time frame, which takes some time for my head to get around. But it’s getting there, and the two timelines are coming together nicely.

What else? I attended a few local Write-Ins, and met some of our local NaNoers. Very nice people they were, too. Our local Essex group on Facebook with its website was a busy place, with a lively mix of NaNo Newbies, experienced NaNoers, and doddery old hands – that’ll be me then. It was great to be able to share information and support. As a group, Essex wrote 8,345,822 words, which smashed our previous total. We had a large number of finishers in the group, which was fantastic. Some of us appeared on a local radio programme, on Sarah Banham’s “Writers’ Block” show. That was great fun, albeit a bit nerve-wracking for radio virgins like myself. I think the vast majority of our group enjoyed the experience.

What next?

I, like many others, have unfinished business with our writing. Yet more words need to be written and edited. And there is a generally local group feeling that we want to continue to support each other, which is awesome. And so, we shall.

For me, although I’m still writing now, I do love a challenge.

In January 2014, the 3rd episode of #100kwords100days begins. Initiated by the prolific **SALLY QUILFORD**  (Amazon page: ) it’s a challenge which requires writers to create one hundred thousand new words between January 1st and the 10th April. For those not quick at maths (or math), it’s 1,000 words per day. If you’ve been successful at NaNoWriMo, a smaller word count might seem easy. But over 100 days?

And, of course, there’s always the next challenge. A new thing hit my Facebook this week – “Milwordy”. A million words in a year. That sounds like a challenge. In a non-leap year, that’s nearly 2,740 words a day. During the winter, it’s doable. I’m not so sure about the summer, as there always seems more ‘active’ things to do in the summer – cycling, gardening, generally enjoying the outside.

But the wordcount is achievable, I think. On all but 5 days of NaNoWriMo, I wrote more than that. Is it possible to maintain that level of productivity over a while year, as well as edits and publishing some of the other things I have in the wings?

Do I want to produce another million words of first drafts? I already have 711,000 words of works in progress – 3 complete novels to first draft. Do I need any more?

So here’s my idea. I should take some of my earlier works, especially the NaNo stuff, and rewrite them. My writing back then was not as accomplished as it now is, I hope, and some of the stories deserve to see the light of day. I’ll use the existing stories as long plans, a bit like Karen Wiesner advocates in her “First Draft in 30 Days”

So that’s what I’ll plan. Whether I get there, I don’t know. But it must be worth a go, eh?