Indie Thoughts: Russell Blake’s Indie Author Myths

This is from Russell Blake, a pseudonym for Craig Osso, a 52-year-old retired home developer who has sold close to 450,000 copies of the 25 books he published in the last 30 months. The man has made over a million bucks at this.

1) Books Sell Themselves. No, sweetie, they don’t, at all, and never did. That’s why trad pubs spend massively on promotions. Because they know that visibility sells books, not invisible cosmic forces or author brilliance. It’s a highly competitive market with millions of choices, and it’s a retail market, and in retail, visibility is key. Which means constant promotion. Which most authors hate. But it’s reality, so get used to the idea. A companion to this aphorism is the next one…

2) Just write the next one. Sure, if you want to have two undiscovered gems instead of one. Look, writing the next one’s important, but not if it’s used to justify not promoting the last one, which is often the case. You have to both market the last one AND write the next one. Sorry. You do.

3) It’s all about luck. Well, perhaps some of it is. Maybe even much of it is. But so’s everything. You drive to the market, and 30 seconds after you pass the intersection some dumbass crashes into the car behind you. Luck. A hundred people start restaurants in town and two do well while the rest fail. Luck. A mugger attacks you after a movie. Luck. Sometimes good, sometimes bad. The book biz is no more or less random and chaotic than life, and yet some folks seem to consistently do better than others. I believe you need to work very hard, prepare, and be persistent, thereby creating some of your own luck. As an example, it’s possible you always wear your seat belt and the other driver didn’t today. In that case, bad luck becomes disastrous due to a simple lack of preparation. Or in the case of the restaurants, perhaps the ones that prospered had owners that worked 18 hour days and were talented chefs, and further, were savvy and inventive about getting people to try their cuisine. Preparation, persistence, hard work combine in that case to drag Lady Luck in their direction. With the mugger, maybe you have pepper spray or spent years on martial arts or have a concealed carry. Your preparation is the mugger’s bad luck.

Luck may be a factor, but in my experience it’s only one factor, and that perspective of it all being all about luck breeds apathy.

4) Do everything right and you’ll make it. Huh. If that were so, every book put out by big pubs would do well. The vast majority don’t. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have to do everything right, unless you want to worsen your already slim odds rather than improving them.

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10) Your muse cannot be forced to dance. Of course it can. If you were a writer on 24 or CSI or SNL you’d be expected to perform every week or you’d be out of a job. Most who work hard enough to get those gigs don’t want to lose ‘em, so they perform. Whether they feel like it or not. Whether they’re particularly inspired or not. The notion that you need to wait for your muse to decide to infuse you with story is fine if your books sell 10 million and you can afford to wait 4 or 5 years between each one. If that’s not you, you need to develop two things: a work ethic, and a system to inspire yourself.

One technique I use is to ask myself how I can make this book, or this chapter, the best I’ve ever written. You get completely different answers depending upon what questions you ask yourself. “How can I consistently write 5K a day and enjoy it?” will get you a different answer than “How am I ever going to do this?” If you’re stuck, ask better questions.

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12) I’m too busy to read. Who’s got the time? This one kills me. How in the hell do you expect to be a good writer if you don’t read a lot of good books? Intuition? Divine guidance? Magic?

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1[6]) Write a good book and you will make decent money. Or write a lot of good books and you will make decent money. Would that it were so. Reality is that the overwhelming majority of good books, which is to say competently written-and-edited tomes, fail to sell much.

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My message is simple: working very hard and very smart can improve your terrible odds, but that’s all it can do. It’s not a magic pill, nor a recipe for success.

. . . .

I can tell you how to operate your writing and publishing company intelligently, but you need to recognize that most well-run publishing companies fail. Just as most well-run any-kind-of-companies fail. Most start-ups don’t last. They go belly up. Even those with the smartest people and shiniest wow products. That’s just how it works. Don’t start a company if you’re uncomfortable with that idea.

. . . .

I’m a big proponent of choosing a genre that can support you, which means one that’s popular, and sticking to it (with the caveat that if it doesn’t meet your expectations after a massive, concentrated effort, pay attention to the result you’re getting, and switch to something with better odds). I’m also big on publishing regularly, meaning every three or four months (more often if possible) if you intend to make this your living. I’m huge on pro editing and covers and proofreading. I consider your cover and your blurb essential to success. But those are the basics. Important basics, but still, building blocks.

They will narrow your long odds because most authors simply don’t do what they should to make themselves successful. Understanding that is an advantage. It means you already know more than 90% of those who will publish on Amazon this year. If you do everything right, that will make you the 10% that has a chance.

But still, it’s not a lock. By any stretch of the imagination. Get clear on that. In all businesses, this included, you can do everything absolutely, spectacularly right, and go nowhere. Because God hates you. Or because the world’s unfair. Or because you’re not good enough. Or were born under a dark star. Or didn’t get breast fed enough as a child. Pick your reason. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as you recognize that in ALL industries, most businesses do not succeed.

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I wish I could tell you how to avoid being that person. I wish there were a formula. What I’ve come up with I share openly: Pick a genre you love and that’s large enough to support you, stick to it, write a lot of seriously good books, focus on improving your grasp of craft each time you sit down to write, make each book your best ever (meaning respect your reader above all else), package and quality control your books like the pros do, market intelligently, and spend massive amounts of time and energy working smarter than everyone else. And above all, be extremely realistic about everything. Some might say, cynical. I’d say pragmatic.

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Can you do this part time and make it? Sure you can. So can someone who starts any business part time. Just recognize that your odds of making it are lower than if you did it full time. Duh. Put in 80 hours a week, you might get better results than 10. Big surprise. Can you put in 10 or 20 and still do well? Sure. Again, anything’s possible. But you have to be unable to grasp basic business concepts if you think your odds will be the same. If they were, nobody would put in the 80. They’d all put in the 10, because their odds are identical.

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What’s my point? That self-publishing is both exciting in its possibilities and daunting in its requirements. And that very few businesses succeed, whether it’s a new shoe shop, or a convenience store, or a restaurant, or a software start-up…or a publishing company. But it’s more possible now to succeed than at any point in the past. I’m living proof.


Link to the rest at Russell Blake’s Author Myths-1, Author Myths-2, and Author Myths -3.

Blake has some of the most sensible advice I’ve read. If you want more, search for him over on KindleBoards.

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2 Responses to Indie Thoughts: Russell Blake’s Indie Author Myths

  1. JohnW says:

    With number (10) it sounds like he has Patrick Rothfuss or George R. R. Martin in mind. 🙂

    Of course, those two are a bit old-fashioned. They seem to work and procrastinate until they have huge, “perfect” books to release.

    With ebooks, I still think it makes the most sense to release early and often. Once the whole story has been serialized in ebook form (even if the individual pieces are rough), then you can always go back and collect it into larger books or ebooks, possibly with major modifications that you may have thought of while working on the pieces.

  2. John Brown says:

    Dan Brown is another mega seller who takes a while between books.