You’re on your own. Sorry.

Let me start yet another controversy by saying:

Winning a writing competition or landing a traditional publisher is not a guarantee of author success.

Ok, ok, stop shooting! I know, those were my goals not long ago, and they are traditionally equated to striking gold and really “making it” as an author. And yes, winning a Pulitzer, perhaps, can make a difference. Or, you know, landing a million-dollar deal which gets you a ton of publicity. However, I now know the simple fact that publishers would invest very little into promoting your book, unless you are Stephen King.

Before we get into the argy-bargy of traditional vs self-publishing, let me illustrate my point with some evidence.

Exhibit A: Pitch Week

I just found out about this competition and I was actually going to write this post about it and encourage everyone to apply. Then I’d decided to check the current sales ratings of past winners. See for yourself:

Death by Roses by Vivian Probst is currently hovering around one million overall ranking on Amazon.

Stony Kill by Marie White Small is around 300,000 with the best category ranking at 13,000-plus.

Girl Walks Out of a Bar: A Memoir by Lisa Smith is getting published in another six months.

The winner announced in July of this year is yet to be published.

“But this is probably some small potatoes award,” I hear you say. “Surely, something like Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award means publicity and big bucks?” Lemme check…

Exhibit B: Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award

Remember, winners of this award got a traditional publishing contract and a hefty advance, plus ongoing publicity through the Amazon listing of past winners. This was a HUGE competition, even though it has now been discontinued. So how did the winners fare? Yeah, ok, some of them became bestsellers, but lets examine the less fortunate ones:

Crossing by Andrew Xia Fukuda – current rank #173,062 Paid in Kindle Store. Worse than my self-published debut.

Catcher, Caught by Sarah Collins Honenberger   current rank #233,775 Paid in Kindle Store. Much worse than mine.

Stalina by Emily Rubin  – current rank #245,024 Paid in Kindle Store. Ditto.

Fresh Kills (Berkley Prime Crime Mysteries) by Bill Loehfelm current rank #1,058,230 Paid in Kindle Store. Whaaat???

Fully Involved: A Firefighter Story by Jackson Harris current rank  #1,144,996 Paid in Kindle Store. OH. MY. GOD!

I didn’t have the strength to continue. Have a look for yourself at the long list of Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award past winners. But before you go and start slashing your wrists, let me say this:

You can be a successful author.

I truly believe in the above statement, qualified by “if you are willing to work hard enough for long enough.” In a way, I felt liberated by my findings – they made me realize what I already knew – there’s no point in hoping to win an “author lottery” and spend years chasing a traditional publishing contract. I’d spent a year sending query letters to over 70 publishers and agents, and the best response I got was “it’s funny, but we don’t know if there’s a market for it.”

So don’t give your power away by believing that someone else has to judge your book worthy. Do your own research. Become a better writer. Become your own publisher, marketing guru, PR rep, and cheerleader. You are the best suited person to mange your business. Yeah, that’s right, I said it – treat it as your business, work on it, invest in it, and grow it.

Like, now would be a good time!


Filed under Self-publishing and marketing, Shizzle, Inc.

70 responses to “You’re on your own. Sorry.

  1. Oh yes, Ana, I know all about that “but we don’t know if there’s a market for it” response. I put up with it for a lot longer than a year, but my family finally persuaded me to give up on the traditional route. Some of my friends have been published traditionally but have been dumped after their first book. How humiliating is that? We’re doing the right thing. By the way, I’ve just finished Shizzle. Will get around to reviewing it when I’ve read the proof of my paperback and sorted out the Kindle end of things. It will be a good review in time for Christmas, I promise 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you so much, Ana. This is the best advice to authors that I’ve had the good fortune to encounter in a very long time! Sound, sober and sensible. Congratulations!

    Einstien once defined genius as the ability to recognize the obvious — thank you for recognizing the obvious.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Back when I was trying to publish traditionally, sending out the SASE with my work, one time — one time only — I got a response from a publisher. Who said they weren’t interested however — and he named a publisher in Canada — might be interested. I resent to the Canadian publisher. Nope, not interested. Tough on the ego.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, it was depressing for me, and I’m not easily depressed! My new plan is to get several books published with steady sales, then get a couple of big publishing houses into a bidding war. I want them to chase me, hehe!


  4. Reblogged this on lisa emme and commented:
    My thoughts exactly (as I have mentioned here before), but Ana does a great job saying it again.


  5. On Becoming a Lemonade Maker

    It’s a tough pill to swallow… But the truth! The current. Truth with so many books on the market!

    I was traditionally published with my first illustrated children’s book and received $0.00 in royalties even though the book sold quite a number of copies! Apparently the publisher used the money for his own cancer battle, but later closed the doors of his business.

    He’s in Finland to taking him to small claims court is pointless!

    That all fueled my decision to self publish! It’s been a long road but I’m developing my own “empire”!! Lol!! I’ve got my blog transformed into a website now, have been preparing some of the quotes which appear in my book into beautiful prints (with my own photos), have intertwined my artwork and photos into my blog posts and have links to Fine Art America where everything is listed.

    This all took over a year of continuous hard work to prepare! No publisher would have done that for me… And when I tried to explain my vision to people no one could understand it! I think they needed to see it for themselves!!

    I’m working on additional books to my series so all the foundation I’ve put in will serve those books well!

    My next vision will be to start an independent publishing company to handle my titles! When I told my daughter what I had in mind, she could see that happening since I had already taken a unique idea and had made it a reality!

    Oh, and I’ve started featuring Guest Authors on my site too! *smile*

    So, the self publishing route can lead somewhere… It just takes a lot of hard work and time!!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Ana – I am in awe! I have been following your blog for a while and have been very interested in how you find time to write it as well as produce and promote your book. This post, however, goes beyond awesome. I recently self-published after a short forray into traditional publishing searches. My collection of poetry (really a good way to make a fortune, by the way) was published by Createspace last month and I am on the signing, promotion bandwagon. I want to read your post with more attention later today but I just wanted to thank you for confirming my gut feeling that I needed to get out there and do my thing before I sink into senility! On Thursday, I will have a book signing and sale at the library of a Hospital where I worked for almost 30 years. I anticipate at least 30 sales and I have two other events in December. What impresses me is the amount of research you did to present us, your fellow writers, with such useful information. Thanks again. Oh, my book is entitles Northern Compass on Amazon. Check it out. And thanks again! Isobel Cunningham in Montreal Canada

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Agree 100% Ana. If a self-published book sells sufficiently / generates interest, the big boys will come calling. Writing books is so much like a new band trying to get their music to market. It’s a slog, but can also be fun.

    Try getting your partner / family to provide you with ‘riders’ (beer / chocolate / wine / whatever) as you sit in the green room of your ‘office’ / writing place. Hand out ‘flyers’ (Facebook / blogs / etc.) Shout / sing about your book.

    Bottom line … you want a job done well ….. you gotta do it yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. So true. And if anybody doubts after that list of … um … winners, check out the novel section of your nearest dollar store.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. olivia barrington

    You hit the nail on the head as the saying goes. No one and nobody will ever work harder promoting and growing your business than you will or want to invest the grit and sweat equity that it truly needs to get to the top. It is great to win prizes for your work but it doesn’t mean it will bring you riches or a fan base.No matter the promise behind the prize they don’t care about your book as much as you do. As I said before, the world of publishing has totally changed and the ball is in the author’s court. You have to be the one to knock it out of the court and into the fan’s reading arena. Promotion, promotion, promotion. Crazier the idea probably the better to reach fans. You have to be a Waldo who really stands out above the rest. You, Ana, have what it takes to make it in this crazy world of publishing now-days. I have no doubt you’ll become a well known author of many books. I like the idea of the Superbowl gig. Maybe add you’ll bail them out of jail if they get arrested. Or up the amount. Or have someone walk around outside of the stadium wearing a sandwich sign with the cover of Shizzle on it and hand out samples of some of the funniest chapters with discount coupons for the paperback and where to get the kindle version. Do that at other big events involving sports like tennis or race car driving. A thought. Forty-three, you say? That’s young, my dear. I’ve got twenty years on you. By the way you don’t look a day over thirty. Now, back to work!


    • Ah, Olivia, thank you for making my day 🙂 who needs a publishing contract when you’re told you look a decade younger!

      But seriously – promos are coming up! Thanksgiving extravaganza, Goodreads giveaways, and me standing at the main train station, handing out pamphlets 🙂 you will hear all about it!


  10. I’ve seen similar posts on many indie author blogs. But it is simply not true.

    The benefit of a traditional publisher is that whether your book ever pays back its advance, you have entered the community of traditional authors, who have have a solidarity that I have not found in the indie community. Their help is real. It is financial–even if just to provide a roof over your head under which to write.

    Self-published authors are also barred from writer’s colonies and grants to help provide the means to be able to write fulltime.

    I have found a lot of take in the indie community, but not a lot of give–not even to help with something that is free and takes less than 5 seconds of one’s tme. It’s been eye-opening and disappointing.

    Eponym will stay “open” for the next 12 months, because the book contests To Thee is This World Given have the email addresses provided by WordPress. But no new posts will be made from now on. It is a lot of work and I just think there is no point.

    As for contests–this is the canard that every single indie author I have seen spreading incorrect information about.

    Very few book contests are open to self-published authors, and the ones that are are largely taking advantage of the the authors with entry fees of $90-$300. So the “contests are worth it” advice is mot.

    But take a Writer’s Digest short story contest. The grand prizes of the less prestigious contests held year round are typically $2,500 for 4,000 words or less, and your competition is rarely over 1000 fellow entrants. For the annual contest the grand prize is $4,000 for 4,000 words or less. If you win even just one of them you are earning $0.63-$1.00 per word.

    Your per word return is more than you will make off of an entire 300 page eBook sold on Amazon. Your odds of success are an order magnitude greater than self-publishing a book, and your cost is just the entry fee–all of $25.

    I understand the allure f publishing a book, I chose self-publishing because I write novellas which are almost guaranteed to be rejected.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “So the “contests are worth it” advice is mot.” This moot.


    • Didn’t mean to hurt anyone’s feelings – I posted some pretty shocking facts, but it’s up to individuals to interpret them. And I would happily publish traditionally, and hope to one day – but my strategy has changed. Instead of waiting by the phone, I will keep self-publishing until one or more of the Big Five take notice.

      Note that I said “not a guarantee”, rather than “not worth it”. I would be thrilled to win an award, but again, would not rely on it as my marketing strategy. One of my favourite authors, John Kennedy Toole tried getting published, was rejected, killed himself (for whatever reason) and was only published after his death. I’m all for making my life the best it can be, now, myself.


      • no worries. my feelings were not hurt.

        it was just that the content of your post–esp. about contests–is something i have seen almost verbatim on several blogs recently.

        it must have started with a blog with a substantial number of followers, who trusted that it was true and passed it along. i would not doubt, the original source was just a bitter writer who lost the contest he or she entered.

        i do not believe most writers who enter contests do so not as a marketing tool, but this may be ture only of traditional authors (i believe most do so because they labor over their writing; because they view writing not just as a means to make money, but as an art form. i know it is an overstep, and i sincerely apologize in advance, but i would suggest that perhaps this is why your friend took his life. when you write for art, your relationship with what you write is intimately tied to your identity. even hemingway succumbed eventually, and killed himself…..and neither fitzgerald nor joyce, could cope with it, and drank themselves to death).

        book contests are only open for the first year a book is published. the return on investment for almost every author, esp. in their first year, is exactly the same as purchasing ads–zero.And the cost is roughly the same.

        free promotion is certainly something to pursue if you do not desire to write again soon, as the financial ROI is moot. But if you do plan to write, the ROI on time spent is less than zero, because not only are there no tangible results, the time spent prevents you from actually writing.

        the statistics i have calculated since June is that book-for-reviews have very little impact–esp. if the review starts with “i received this book for an honest review.” most readers stop right there. likewise, websites have very little–how many followers of websites purchase the authors’ books? they profit from the author’s time, effort, and knowledge spent on each post, but do not support the author in meaningful ways.

        this is why i have become disenchanted with the indie community, why i say there is take, but no give. many indie authors, esp. those on goodreads come across to me as vampires in respect to their fellow authors.

        i don’t have the fortitude to cope with that, which is why i am leaving it. poverty is poverty, i would rather poverty shared in solidarity, than in exploitation.

        i worked at FSG (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) in the editorial department in the 1990s, back when publishing houses still had integrity–marketing books is almost impossible, this is why publisher do not invest their resources on new authors.

        fifty shade of grey was promoted so heavily beacuse of the pre-existing fanfic fanbase for the book, which was originally twilight fan fiction, modified by the publisher just enough to avoid copyright infringement. the mortal instruments and divergent series were both harry potter fanfics, again with huge pre-exisiting fanfic fanbases, so again the publishers knew they would get justifiable ROI on its investment.

        i am all for self-publishing, and support it whole-heartedly–everyone deserves to see their manuscript become a book, without begging a gatekeeper for permission. but that has nothing to do with contests. or even marketing.

        nothing stops a traditional author from working just as hard as an indie to promote their book–in fact the publisher expects it. so the marketing canard is also not a valid reason to discourage traditional publishing (and most indie authors say such things, tbh, because they either have been rejected or ignored by traditional houses, or are too afraid to try).

        there is nothing guaranteed in marketing, and so no reason to discourage or disuade any attempts. if you happen to win a contest, your ROI will be significantly more and your book’s chance of success substantially greater than a million blog posts or a million people taking a free copy of your book (most of those who do, do not even bother to review in the end–as i said, it is overwhelmingly a taking, not a giving community).

        i have posted my objection to the contest-meme and the marketing-meme on another blog already. please do not feel my comments are personal. they are only intended for the wider discussion of the topic. i apologize for the length.


  11. Hi Anna, last night I went to bed quite unhappy with my efforts at writing, err actually blogging. I chase my inspirations everyday, but at times it’s tough, but I still prayed to my muse before I slept. today I woke up with a lot of inspiration, yours came with it. Thanks for all the information.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Great article, I went down the self publishing route because I thought this way but doing all of your own publicity is time consuming and sometimes you get to feeling is it all worth it. Saying that I’d self publish all over again and I will but I just hope it gets easier, I love the friendliness of other indie authors and the helping each other out, there are some who are so competitive it’s painful to watch but on the whole it’s great just hard work.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Likely they ranked much higher at the time of the award, but it is still a good reminder that very few books that aren’t titled The Bible have consistent sales over time. It is a good reminder that all you can do is work hard on the next one.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Goandria

    I agree wholeheartedly, and this touches on the exact spot I find myself in. Writing manuscripts and publishing is just the first step. I have learned a lot about marketing, but it is a very foreign territory for me. I feel out of my depth. It is one thing to get my name out there, it is quite another for that to translate into people buying my books. Great post! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Hi Ana;

    Excellent post that sums up the situation with a reasonable degree of precision. Appreciate you taking the time to do the research and wish you the best of luck climbing the sales mountain.


    Liked by 1 person

  16. Ana, I agree with “don’t give away your power”!

    I think both paths have difficulties and rewards.

    Don’t give up your big dreams. Whenever I feel discouraged, I remember a story Stephen King shared in his book about writing. When he started sending out his work he started getting rejection letters.

    He hammered a railroad spike into his wall and started hanging each rejection note up. He didn’t start to find success until that spike was full and so heavy it was bending.

    Rejection notices, odds, profit – either way you measure success vs failure, I think for most, it will take a full spike story to get there.

    Looking forward to your new blog posts.

    Take good care,


    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you so much, Jenn! I’m used to obsessively working on goals, so the “full spike” doesn’t scare me 🙂 I just love the fact that you are no longer constrained to one path, that you can do so much on your own to make your dream happen!

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Ken

    As usual Ana, you have hit the nail on the head. When I first started my adventure I had some pretty basic goals, none of which included being ‘discovered’ and rich. Not that I don’t dream about that, who wouldn’t love to do this for a living. But I have now hit all those original ‘aim small miss small’ goals. So now what.

    Like you I’m doing everything I can but the mountain is a pretty tall order to climb. I just did my own experiment with eReaders and while it sold me 60 books, the reduced promotion price meant I didn’t even get half of the original cost back. It’s more exposure but the problem with those types of avenues is it caters to people who want something cheap, or free.

    This week I have a ‘local author’ event sponsored by the public library system. That at least is free and since I bought the books at the Createspace author price, I can make a decent profit on each book. I also am trying to get involved with book clubs wherever I can. I have about four who have agreed to put me on the list. Keep plugging on the printed copy.

    Can’t wait to hear about your results on some of the other sites on your list but at first glance this pipe dream we are on is a very long haul. The traditional published authors I know are also mired in the same muck I’m afraid. An agent is only worried about their fifteen percent and that doesn’t include helping you promote the product. Stephen King himself reports that from the time he hands in a manuscript till the time it hits the market is about one year and he is as proven a commodity as it gets.

    Keep plugging and keeping us posted.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Ken 🙂 I see this as a very fun game, hopefully it will help sustain my efforts through the years. Congrats on 60 books! I will post about the other efforts, and hope this is just the beginning of a major snowball 🙂


  18. These days, everyone’s gotta do the work, right? Doesn’t matter which way you publish…

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Nancy Glynn

    Great post, Ana! You make me laugh with your responses to the rankings, lol! I’m still having fun with the process and know it takes time to build. I’ve done a few interviews by bloggers, just did one that will be coming up in December. I Googled my name just to see what’s out there and found one blogger, who has read my first and has my sequel now, did a feature on me. I would never had known and thanked her. These features, reviews on blogs, and interviews really help us indies get our name out there! I’m finishing up a Goodreads giveaway on my first and just entered my sequel to get it on to-read lists like my first did. I don’t think I’d ever want a regular publishing house as I like the control and the higher royalty rate. I enjoy all the promotion, believe it or not, and can fiddle all day on my website, Pinterest boards (I’ve made my books have a come to life board), I’ve made a book trailer. It’s truly a blast and am enjoying the ride. I published in May and would like to see sales take off by that point next year. I’ve ordered copies of my sequel and can’t wait to get them. I also keep wondering should I make bookmarks to pass out? I’d like my book cover on them, so not sure. Anyway, great post! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Nancy! Sounds like you got all bases covered! I’m about to do a stint of printing my cover and excerpt on a sheet of paper and hand it out at the major train station, will advise on the result.

      Liked by 1 person

  20. Nancy Glynn

    Oh, and I also have the printed versions in a LibraryThing giveaway! Those are great, too!

    Liked by 1 person

  21. I agree with you, Ana. Great post! I love how much of a fighter you are and have no doubt that one day, Big Publishing will knock on your door. Keep up the great work!!! I’m rooting for you!

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Reblogged this on Michael P King and commented:
    Another excellent post on the marketing game by Ana Spoke


  23. You liked my story “Coffee didn’t do it,” so I checked out your blog. Love the humor of the self-deprecating kind. Keep writing. I will too.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. A Savannah podiatrist, Bill Harris, sold his first, self-published novel out of the trunk of his car. Then a traditional publisher picked it up and ran with it. It became a best-seller. There are always markets if you are willing to develop them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s the dream…I’m willing to work very hard at this, so I’m convinced there’s a glorious update in the future, where I announce that I got a multi-book contract and quit my job 🙂


  25. lol. I recently attended a lecture by a successful author with traditional publishers – she wrote for the Idiots Guide series as well as fiction. She said publishing has changed drastically over her career – that today’s traditional publisher has a marketing department that (paraphrasing as closely as I can) consists of two women in their twenties and one is an intern. She also said no one knows why one book takes off and another doesn’t. I’m not sure if that’s comforting or terrifying.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Kate! To me it’s comforting in the way that I’m even more determined to make it on my own. Nobody knows is because few people are studying the subject properly – I’m gonna put my Ph.D. to use and study marketing like a scholar!

      Liked by 1 person

  26. pierrmorgan

    Brilliant, Ana! Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Thanks for your posts & research! Just sitting on the deck with a cold one, great reading! Funny I was just wondering about these competitions.

    Liked by 1 person

  28. Reblogged this on The Well-Rounded Writer and commented:
    Writing isn’t for those who want to be rich. Its for those who want to live. Love this post!

    Liked by 1 person

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