The secrets of indie success: There is no spoon.

Neo and a disciple of the Oracle (from The Matrix, Warner Brothers)

Neo and a disciple of the Oracle (from The Matrix, Warner Brothers)


L.A. is a great big freeway.
Put a hundred down and buy a car.
In a week, maybe two, they’ll make you a star.
Weeks turn into years, how quick they pass.
And all the stars that never were
are parking cars and pumping gas.

A thread on the MobileRead site has engaged a number of independent authors for three months and sixteen pages exploring The Secrets of Indie Success… only to find out that there really aren’t any.

The above lyrics, from the Dionne Warwick hit Do You Know The Way to San Jose? are very apropos to the state of the independent author’s world today: The lure of easy writing tools (the computer), the relative ease of producing ebooks, and the universal access to the internet and social media, lead people to think they will be able to write a book and become rich, almost overnight.  The reality is that, despite what everyone would have you believe (and most of them already made it big or heard it from someone who made it big, which is how you heard it), it’s not that easy, and you’re as likely to get nothing for years of work besides a tedious existence and an occasional thought to what went wrong.

Sixteen pages into the thread, author David W. Fleming states: “My faith in the ‘wait to be discovered method’ diminishes each day.”  And well it should: In a world of 7 billion and climbing, “waiting to be discovered” is a fool’s game. Sure, it’ll happen to about .0000001% of the population… how are those odds for you?

I think only one useful thing has come out of that thread: The fact that “waiting to be discovered” is not the same as “getting noticed.” And “getting noticed” is about doing the things that no one else is doing… yet. Being the leader… not another rider on the bandwagon.

Authors who go through traditional publishers are essentially paying the publishers to get noticed in traditional areas… best-seller lists… media promotion… spots on Leno and CNN… etc (as long as they still work). Independent authors, hoping to bypass the traditional route, try to accomplish the same thing through the web and social media tools.  And the web and social media have the unique position of being a place where you can say what you want, including trying to sell something… and a place where users hate to be bombarded with commercials.

Social media is great, but it’s pretty much all bandwagon. By the time it gets popular, it’s already used up by the first-responders. Everyone else is by definition an also-ran, and the public is already tired of hearing from promoters like you. It can be used to connect to you… but people have to know you first to want to connect to you. You won’t get that through social media, no matter how much you hang about and post (it’s probably significant that social media, when abbreviated, becomes SM).

Getting noticed in non-traditional areas… social media, etc… requires more than just Being There. You have to find a way to Stand Out, to be significant, to be an icon.

Amanda Hocking (and I know, I hate that I’m using this example too… but truth is truth, baby) didn’t sit back and wait to be discovered.  She aggressively marketed herself with her book, while standing on the crest of the wave of popularity being enjoyed by her subject.  She scored interviews, and knew how to cross-link those interviews to sites full of people interested in her subject, her product, and later, herself.  And as her popularity grew, she parlayed that into more interviews, more popularity, and finally the notice of a publisher, who took over all of those tasks for her so she could just write.  Today, Amanda is not soaking up the web and social media as she once did… but she’s appearing in the traditional popularity venues, the published best-seller lists, the TV appearances, the bookstore posters and end-caps.

Being savvy… being aggressive… being bleeding edge.  That’s what works.  As it always has.

In The Matrix, Neo was told by a young disciple of the Oracle that the secret to bending a spoon with your mind was understanding that “there is no spoon.”  It is this out-of-box thinking that is required of any independent author to penetrate the traditional layers of advertising and promotion and Get Noticed today.  (Look at how well it worked for Neo.)

Unfortunately, writing being a traditional field tends to discourage non-traditional thinking… and many of us independent authors like to think: “I’m selling ebooks; isn’t that non-traditional enough?” Well, it was in 2005… but now, not anymore. What else you got?

That’s our task as independent writers: Figuring out What Else We Have that is significant, that is icon-worthy, that will get us a shot at Leno and CNN… and that we can get out there for people to see. Or get yourself a publisher, and let them do the job for you. Because if you can’t do that, and are just “waiting to be discovered”… well, odds are you’ll be waiting a good, long time.

2 thoughts on “The secrets of indie success: There is no spoon.

  1. Nice insights and discussion here. If I follow this correctly, this is not a call to abandon hope just a reminder that innovative thinking is needed now more than ever.

    It’s funny to me that there are no secrets and I find myself continually tempted by the thought that a secret insight or a technical advantage might just be around the corner. Maybe some new perspectives will be shared on mobileread in the months to come.


  2. I think what’s significant is that, once such a secret is shared, it will be pretty much too late to act on it… that’s how fast new ideas become old on the web. That’s why you need to deduce your own answer, and act on it immediately before it becomes old-hat. Be ground-breaking. Don’t try to bend the spoon… see past the spoon. Innovate.


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