Kicking Tyres

Beautiful old cars in their resting place
Photographer: Michelle Blackhurst for Wheatbelt Area Consultative Committee Inc.

…in which I discuss how buying a used car is like getting ready to publish: indie-style.

Yesterday I didn’t get much writing done. Instead I went car shopping with an offspring. And resisted any kicking of tyres, because even I know that’s not how its done.

Driving back alone on the return trip (at an unusually slow pace, as the offspring was following in his new car), I got to thinking how buying a car is like launching into indie publishing.

It’s a jungle out there
I’m sure that you have also brought a used car at one time or other, so would know that its important to keep your wits about you. As there are lots of traps awaiting, a few hungry predators and a path obscured by weeds. Much like preparing to publish, really.

Trust me, it’s a jungle out there. A would-be author has to know what to expect way before their first book is ready for publishing, even more so if you plan to go independent of an agent and/or traditional publishing house. While there are benefits to being an indie author, there are numerous pitfalls to look out for.

They can see you coming a mile off

One of the key elements of buying a car is negotiating with the seller. Whether you are intending to buy through a private seller or car yard, there is set seller and buyer roles. There are varieties on how the buyer approaches the task, often fitting in one of more of four categories:

  • The Window Shopper – this is the time-waster. They haven’t properly determined their transportation needs, haven’t done any research and perhaps haven’t even got their finances sorted. Instead, they have some spare hours and a dream. Not serious contenders at all.
    This buyer is akin to the wannabe writer who talks incessantly about writing on social media, and to any friends or family who will listen, but doesn’t actually write. They are the big dreamers, with visions of fame and fortune, who aren’t prepared to put in the hard yards. Eventually they will find some other shiny thing to chase.
  • The Big Mouth – is out to show off, to drop mechanical terms and market statistics in an attempt to demonstrate how much they know about cars, and the art of buying. They rarely listen to the salesperson, so miss key information. And often they know less than what they think.
    This is the unpublished author who asks an abundance of writer-type questions on social media, often as a cover for talking about themselves and their works in progress. Akin to the Window Shopper, they may have unrealistic dreams of quick and easy money to be had through the current opportunities that have opened up due to the emergence of indie publishing. Once their hastily written novel is uploaded and available for purchase, their promotion campaigns often reflects an unrealistic self-evaluation of the quality of their product.
  • The Bunny – is completely gullible and will buy the first shiny car they see. They fail to evaluate the pros and cons and are easily talked in to making a purchase. They don’t read the fine print and happily sign away, eager to get their hands on that shiny car.
    This type of new author is the one that disreputable vanity publishers and editing companies houses prey on. The type who happily signs away their rights, for very little returns, and find themselves out-of-pocket and locked in a steel-trap contract.
  • The Serious Buyer – wastes no-one’s time, knows what they want, has done their research and has a realistic view of what the car is worth.
    The serious indie author has spent hours researching the options available, and has weighed up the pros and cons for themselves. They have realistic goals and have mapped out the way forward, taking in to account the hard work and skills required to reach their aspirations. Most importantly, they apply everything they have to the act of writing, and edit repetitively until they believe that their work is of a high enough standard to publish.

Does this sound harsh on new writers? I’m not intending to point fingers at anyone, as the above is really a caution to myself. I can honestly say that I have caught myself displaying some of the annoying habits of the yet-unpublished-indie. So I am constantly checking myself. Its hard enough to shake off the newbie image, so listening and learning from those who have gone before me and constant self-evaluation are crucial if I want to become a published indie writer.

Don’t kick those tyres

Kicking tyres is just a stereotype, and won’t help you when buying a car. And there are just as many stereotypes out there that can trap a newbie author. So how do you publish successfully?

  • Do your homework

Know what type of vehicle will meet your needs and how much you can afford. Shop on-line or check the papers, see what is available; compare prices, added extras and odometer readings. Then with a list of questions, head out the door.
The same goes for publishing: do your homework. Look up all the options available for publishing, both traditional and indie. Make the choice based on what suits your current situation, then do more research. If you are going indie, check out the many platforms for hard-cover books and e-books. Get as much information as you can, way before your manuscript is ready.

  • Don’t drive all over town

If you have done your homework, there will be no need to drive all over town in search of your new car. You will have a list of potential buys, or car yards, and a good idea of where you are going. However, keep an eye out on the way, as you may just see your new car in an unexpected place.
When the well-prepared indie writer is ready to publish, they will have chosen the platform to upload their manuscript. And have planned for a cover, written a blurb, set up author pages on multiple social media platforms, determined a plan for promotions and prepared for the accounting side of indie publishing. There may be some last-minute components to consider, but they have mapped out the way to publishing as best they can.

  • Keep your eyes on the road

A certain degree of confidence is needed to buy a car. You need to know what to look out for, how not to get ripped off, and how to negotiate a good deal. This means staying alert, looking at the finer details of the vehicle and listening carefully to the seller. Now is not the time to show off or pretend to know more than what you do. And you don’t need to tell the seller your life story; stick to your goal and don’t waste time. Resist the urge to kick the tyres, instead listen to the motor. And definitely take the car for a test drive.
Test driving your novel is equally sound. Find some loyal beta readers and/or put some samples of your work on-line and ask for honest feedback. And listen to the feedback, no matter how much it stings, as it will make the final product better and will help you to build capacity as a writer. If you can afford it, hire an editor, for there are bound to be grammar and punctuation mistakes even if you have self-edited countless drafts. If you can’t afford to hire help, then find a friend or fellow writer who has sound editing skills, and barter.

  • Taking out insurance

So you have found the right car, and you’re eager to hit the road. However, before you drive away you need to think about insurance. The road is a dangerous place, and accidents can happen at any time; even before you can get your new car home. So, organise insurance before you turn the ignition key.
For a new writer, this means keeping the day job. It could be many years, if ever, that you can exist independently off your writing. In the meantime, you will need a more reliable source of income. Equally important, don’t over invest in your book, especially the first one. Be reasonable with what returns you expect to see, and be prepared for a slow start.

Now its time to drive that baby home….I mean publish. 

  • The end is in sight

You have filled in the paperwork and sorted out your insurance, now it’s finally time to hit the road. Drive carefully to begin with, listen out for unexpected sounds and stay alert. It will take some time for you to feel comfortable in your new ride. You may also find some small defects, that were not obvious in your pre-sale investigations. If you followed your plan, these will be minor problems that you can fix later.
Having uploaded your manuscript, done your promotions and set the launch of your book, now is the exciting moment; what you have been working towards for the past months or, more likely, years. However, that excitement may wear off when you begin to question why your book is not selling as well as what you thought. No need to panic, it can take a while, especially as you don’t have an established reader-base. There may be small things to consider. For example, you may need to reconsider your branding and promotions, and make more use of social media to get the word out. Mostly, though you need to be patient. And don’t succumb to the urge to become spammy in an attempt to sell more books. Give it time, and in the meantime keep working on the next book.

If you have chosen right, done the hard work, the wheels won’t fall off. Even if they do, then you deal with that when the time comes. For now, enjoy the ride!

Image: Beautiful old cars in their resting place
Photographer: Michelle Blackhurst for Wheatbelt Area Consultative Committee Inc.
Downloaded 9/6/13 from http://www.ourcommunity.com.au/marketing/photobank/photo/?01477

9 thoughts on “Kicking Tyres

  1. Yes, very good article, Karen. You seem to have got a firm grip on what’s happening out there which will help you on your own journey. I’ve spent a lot of time reading lately trying to get a measure on it. Although I understand what has to be done to SP I am finding it a bit daunting. I think that’s one of the reasons I’d like to go the traditional route – for the expertise. But that may just not be possible. Sigh – then I’ll have to confront all the issues you raise a little more seriously. I expect I will be able to procrastinate for a good while longer after the six months is up…:)

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    • Thanks for the comment, Jane. I also find the prospect of Indie/self-publishing scary, but also a little bit exciting. The traditional way will provide me with more support (although, what they offer seems to be dwindling), and I am not opposed to going that way down the track. For now, I just want to make up for lost time and get some work out there.
      Enjoy your 6 months of dedicated writing + procrastination, and I hope you get the end results you are seeking. PS I loved your cheeky short story on G+

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    • Thanks Mel. What was missing from the post was my need to put on a brave front, as car buying is not always an easy experience for a woman. Like with indie publishing, sometimes we need to show more confidence then what we actually feel.

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      • Know exactly what you mean. I put on my first book event yesterday (in a bar so I could drown my sorrows if nobody turned up!) and, as I’m not exactly an extrovert, I really needed that brave front. Fortunately people did turn up – and what I found reassuring was that some of them seemed as nervous to be talking to an author as I was talking to a reader!

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