The Business and the Art
I think we all know that there's two halves to making a living as an author: the business and the art. The art, of course, is the basic skill of writing; the forging of narrative out of raw inspiration, which takes years of practice to truly master. The business, however, seems to be far more neglected of late. I spend a lot of time talking to independent authors. Traditional authors have the advantage of being more 'hands off' when it comes to the business side of things, but the indies have no such luxury. The problem I see, very frequently, is that indie authors have absorbed a lot about writing as an art, but not so much about writing as a business.
I know, I know, I keep talking about covers. I honestly can't help it. I keep seeing covers that look very much like they were put together by amateurs with vague ideas of graphic design or proper illustration. Let's be honest here - nothing screams 'this book is bad' more than a bad cover. People know it, even subconsciously, and they do respond to it. So, right out of the gate, indie authors shoot themselves in the foot by thinking that their amateur efforts are good enough for their work.
Let me say this very clearly: They are not, and it's obvious.
Traditional publishing houses have graphic designers for a reason. Indies need to do the same.
Solution: go to ConceptArt.org, and post your cover in their Critique section. After it's been painfully shredded several times by the professional designers who like to hang out there, pick over the main critique points and redo it until it's somewhat up to their standard.
You probably know this already, but it bears repeating: edit your work. Take notice of criticism offered fairly. Have several someone elses read it. Indies know other authors, don't they? You can't swing a lolcat on the Internet without hitting a new writing community. Then, hire a copyeditor to clean it up, and make sure you hire a technician to format it for the ebook and a graphic designer to lay it out for the print version. If you don't know what to look for, ask for a professional opinion.
Solution: wander around the Writer's Cafe on Kindleboards and pick up the services you need there.
This is rather more difficult to quantify, but here goes... Traditional publishers look at books in terms of profit and loss, marketability, sales figures, returns. It's not personal. It's business. The art itself is a product, a means to an end.
And so we return to the Author's Dilemma: The creation of art is a personal, heartfelt thing that's difficult to quantify. The selling of it is detached, mercenary, and all about the numbers. Indie authors must somehow maintain both concepts at the same time. Here's what I said about it before.
The dilemma is this: you, the author, must be invested in your work. You put it out there with the knowledge of your years of practice, with the hope that you told the best story possible, with the belief that it has a tremendous amount of value. At the same time, you also have to not be invested in it; to view it dispassionately as a product to sell, with a precise value that can be judged on profits and loss and in the response of your readers. You have to be prepared to accept that some people place no value on it at all.
Traditional authors have it easier in this respect. They can simply be the author-as-writer, and leave the business side of things to the publisher. The publisher then pokes and prods them when business-related things impinge on art-related things. Indies must be the author-as-entrepreneur, both artist and seller at the same time.
Solution: Personally, I favor compartmentalisation. It's a neat trick if you can manage it. There is writing time and there is selling time, and the two do not overlap. When you write, it's all about the art, and the personal; nothing but the pure telling of a good story. When you sell, it's all about the product; how well does that good story resonate with readers, how marketable, how many reviews, how many sales. Lessons from one carry over into the other, but the two must be kept separate.
I would say that there are many independent authors who understand that their books are a business. They will always do well. But I see too many indies who sport a less-than-professional attitude, covers that are 'good enough', and books that are little more than a typo-ridden first draft, and who then wonder why their work doesn't sell. I always feel like saying this is why, this is what you need to do, why is it that you can't see it?
And so it goes. Ignorance abounds, in this respect, and there is no excuse for it any more. Indie authors, look to your business as much as your art.