Henry Hyde: Designer, Writer, Editor

“The End” Is Just The Beginning

“The End” Is Just The Beginning

Joanna Penn free videosJoanna Penn, ‘The Creative Penn’ has just launched a new series of free videos – you can sign up for free access to the series here. I don’t want to spoil the content for you, but if you’re keen to become an independent ‘authorpreneur’ (a fancy way of saying self-published author, and I rather like it), then I urge you to sign up – as ever with Joanna, the advice is indispensable and it’s delivered in her usual chatty, charming style.

The first video in the series covers “11 Ways to Make Money As An Indie Author” and, right out of the gate, JP lays bare her methods of accumulating what is now a highly impressive six-figure income – impressive enough for her to have been able to hire her own husband into the business! And that last word is key: “business”. As a savvy modern indie, Joanna makes it clear that she derives her income from more than one source, like a shrewd investor spreading their risk in the market with a portfolio approach.

Now, this all makes a great deal of sense to me because I’m lucky to straddle the two worlds of traditional publishing and indie publishing. The Wargaming Compendium was published by Pen & Sword, and I’m under contract to produce at least three more books for them; but I self-published Battlegames for five years and have plans to self-publish other work, and a great deal of what Joanna says chimes with my personal experience.

The key point I would make is this: even if you are traditionally published by a reputable publishing house, you really cannot rely upon them to market and promote your book in the way they might have done 20, 10, perhaps even 5 years ago. Because of the rise of the internet and increased competition with e-books and indie publishing, traditional publishing houses have shrunk – they simply don’t have the personnel or resources to dedicate to the promotion of individual titles any longer unless they think they have a guaranteed hit on their hands.

You could say I’ve been lucky. In my tiny niche of the marketplace, The Wargaming Compendium has done extremely well and sales are comfortably in the mid-thousands, which made it a “Best Seller” in various categories for a time. But actually, luck has nothing to do with it.

  • Firstly, I wrote a damn fine book! I laboured with blood, sweat and tears to produce the magnum opus I had always dreamed of, and since I also designed the tome, I made sure that it was as visually appealing as I could possibly make it.
  • Secondly, because of an administrative accident, Amazon was promoting the book for at least three years before I’d actually finished writing it. That showed the value of creating ‘teasers’ ad absurdum, and probably ad nauseam too!
  • Thirdly, I’m very well known in the small world of historical wargaming. Outside that cosy coven, not so much. (I’m working on that.) Being invited to chat on podcasts from time to time provided more opportunities to engage with that audience (at some length, as listeners will know!).
  • Fourthly, being the editor of a bi-monthly and now monthly magazine, that particular marketplace is familiar with me and has seen plenty of examples of my work over the last nine years. This could be seen as the equivalent of an indie author giving their work away for free, or nearly so, in order to gain exposure with their target audience. (Note that a traditionally published writer doesn’t have the option of testing the marketplace with giveaways in the way that an indie does, unless they get special permission from their publisher. If you’re a big-name novelist, you might be able to persuade your publisher to produce a ‘freebie’ giveaway of, say, the first chapter of your book in a national newspaper or as a mini-paperback next to the tills in bookshops. As a non-fiction mid-lister in an obscure subject, not so much.)
  • Finally, I’ve been working with the internet since 1996, and social media since it first emerged in 2005-6, so I’ve picked up a few tricks along the way and have learned that having an engaged audience of people genuinely interested in what you’re doing is critical to success. In the world of sales, the key word is “referrals” – people who are happy to recommend your product or service by word of mouth. “Followers” are the internet equivalent, the people ready to evangelise what you do because they have grown to like and trust you. They are absolutely precious – never let them down! (Or be prepared to grovel if you do…)

To be a successful author these days – and, you might say, to be successful at anything – you need to embrace these realities. Gone are the days of a cosy lunch with your publisher at a swanky London club, to discuss your worldwide book tour and five-star accommodation arrangements. If you’re lucky, you might exchange a few emails and maybe a phone call or two.  Nowadays, Pen & Sword is just one example of a publishing house that spells out in black and white the expectation that the author will participate in marketing their own book.

I consider myself lucky with Pen & Sword. They have a smart website, send out regular newsletters with special promotions and produce a smart catalogue every so often. My editor there is a lovely chap who is highly intelligent and an author in his own right. (Hello Philip Sidnell!)

But I’m itching to get back to self-publishing as soon as I can, in tandem with the trad published work. I am, in fact, what some people in the industry call a “hybrid”. It’s a lot of work, but there’s nothing more satisfying than knowing that whatever rewards emerge, they’re the result of the sweat of one’s own brow. And the flexibility is simply amazing: try something, and if it doesn’t work, try something different, or even try different things simultaneously to see what works best. Decisions can be made and the effects seen within hours, even minutes.

So, whether you land a publishing deal or decide to go it alone, your work doesn’t finish when you type “The End”. It really is just the beginning.

4 thoughts on ““The End” Is Just The Beginning

  1. ashley858

    This is all great, but here’s the thing – I’m no longer sure that I can even write a book that people want to read, and that’s after spending the last two and a half years writing.

    1. henryhyde Post author

      Whoa, Ashley, don’t beat yourself up! What follows inevitably has an element of teaching granny to suck eggs, but here goes.

      Self-doubt is natural. I suffer from it twelve times a year, every time the calendar tells me it’s time to produce another issue of the magazine. I suffer from it every time a client commissions me to design something for them. I suffered it terribly during the four, long years it took me to produce the Compendium. And I’m experiencing it again now I’ve started the campaigns book.

      Don’t get me started on the stomach-churning emotions I’ve been suffering about my unfinished – well, restarted, actually – novel. At least you’ve got further than I have!

      The only redress is an equal and opposite dose of self-belief, and the only way to acquire that is to produce something and get feedback. Sometimes, the only feedback you get is that somebody buys the thing you have produced. You may never know for certain whether they actually like it or not. You just have to believe that they do, unless they make it clear that they don’t! For example, I’m extremely grateful that I’ve had 60-odd Amazon reviews of the Compendium. But what about the other 4,000 or more people who have bought it in one form or another? The sensible part of my brain tells me that they must be reasonably happy with it. With my other hat on as a designer, I count myself satisfied if the client pays the invoice: actual written praise is a comparatively rare thing, but businesses don’t muck about if they’re not happy with the service you provide.

      My self-belief is reinforced by creating stuff that never existed before. It might be a magazine article (and I know you’re good at those), a blog post (and I know you’re good at those too), taking a nice photo (yep, you can do that), or Making Stuff Up. That might be a diary entry, for my eyes only, or perhaps something in the realms of the imagination that may appear, at first, to be peripheral to the project I’m working on. But those activities produce silent mindworms that nibble away at the Big Problem that I’m apparently avoiding, whilst also giving me some reason to suppose that my inherent self-loathing may, in fact, be baseless and the result of bad thinking.

      Now, apart from self-belief, your doubts may be occasioned by the form itself. A novel is a Big Thing. It has a complex structure, multiple characters, story arcs whizzing around like a fireworks display and we are constantly told that it needs to be About Something. As writers, we need to be mining the deepest recesses of our soul and bleeding it onto the page. This is not without consequences, and the opportunities along the way to feel like we’re not up to the job are legion, long before we have the temerity to actually unleash our lumpen beast upon the world.

      Maybe the answer is to set it aside and play with shorter forms. How about a series of short stories based in the world you have created, showcasing the primary characters and settings? This can have several liberating effects. First of all, it allows you to experiment with your creations without fear of wrecking the main edifice. Secondly, it can feed back into the long form, unlocking certain aspects of character or setting you might not have considered, and perhaps even prompting you to write certain scenes from a different point of view. Thirdly, it gives you material that you can use to showcase your writing in a format that you might be happy to give away as ‘teasers’ or, at least, sell at a bargain price. Fourthly, you can start building an audience for your work – you’ll be getting valuable feedback and you’ll start finding out what works and what doesn’t, what people like and what they don’t, and who likes your style and who doesn’t. Gradually, you’ll be getting to know for certain – rather than just speculating – just who it is who likes and is prepared to support what you do. And who knows, you might even enjoy it, an aspect you really mustn’t overlook. There’s no point slogging away if it’s just making you miserable – better to take a different path for a while that makes you feel happier.

      The more stuff you do that gets positive feedback, the more you’ll just have to admit that you don’t suck. Getting little bits out there on a regular basis that even a modest number of people tell you categorically that they like works wonders for the soul. But if you invest all your hopes and dreams and feelings of self-worth around The One Big Thing, then you’re potentially setting yourself up for trouble.

      A lot of very wise writers make it clear that the best cure for your first book is to write another. And another. And another. Other wisdom revolves around building a healthy portfolio: don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

      They’re all right.

      I can vouch for this from my perspective in magazines. When I think how precious I felt about the first issue of Battlegames, it seems ridiculous now I have over 60 publications under my belt. I haven’t been fired yet, so logic tells me that I must be pretty good at it.

      And, if in doubt, read Chuck Wendig. He’ll beat the crap out of your self doubt and leave you wondering what on earth you were worried about in the first place.

      You don’t have to be sure of the outcome, Ashley. You just have to do it anyway.

  2. ashley858

    I agree that just doing it is best. At the moment I’m like a blind person when it comes to reading what I’ve written. I can other authors quirks and flourishistic touches, but when I look at my own prose it might as well be blah, blah, blah, blah…

    Still, as you say I’ve been writing, and I’ll continue to try harder. Not in a good place.

    1. henryhyde Post author

      Chin up, Ashley.

      1) Stick it in a drawer for a month or two, then come back to it with fresh eyes. Give yourself a break.
      2) That’s what beta readers and editors are for. We all go blind to our own foibles.
      3) A first draft is just that – the first draft, the clay from which you then create a thing of beauty.
      4) It’s not meant to be easy. If it was, it wouldn’t be worth doing.

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