I thought a lot about what kind of post I wanted this to be, especially since we’re talking about lies – kinda negative, right? But it could be entertaining, too. So I’ll cushion this post with a heads up that while I’m going to keep things real here as well as helpful. Think of it as a self-help reality check post for authors and writers. This is a contemplation of whether ‘fake it till you make it’ is such a good idea in publishing. Little white lies authors tell themselves… here we go.
And, do me a favor. If something resonates with you and creates a negative feeling, like a defensive one, one of embarrassment, or an “I just got outed” type feeling, please do me a solid and don’t blame me for those feelings. Align those feelings into something much more positive, like how you’re going to move forward and be better. And how you’re going to stop lying to yourself about things, the whole “fake it till you make it” racket, and telling those little white lies to others, too. Because authenticity and transparency are super cool. And so is a lot of what I’m about to talk about.
Lying is, 99% of the time, unhealthy. Especially when we’re lying to ourselves and those who might actually be able to help us. When I first started blogging again last year after an already-failed goat blog, I had a really hard time. No lie. I questioned whether anyone was reading and finding any value. But I kept at it. And it was hard, too, looking at other bloggers posting huge numbers and I was like, how are they doing that so quickly in 6 months?
I did a lot of studying, and even paid for a few expensive courses. Two were super good, and one was a complete disaster.
The people I looked up to as bloggers kind of became my virtual mentors. Until one day, I discovered something devastating and made a connection between something that was being taught in a course and what a particular blogger was actually doing. The “fake it until you make it” was in full swing. I had elected to take a really expensive course on converting high amounts of web traffic into a sales funnel, and where to get the traffic, what to do with the visitors after they came, etc.
And everything was fine and dandy until I learned about the course instructor’s dirty secret. How I found out was she had made the mistake of doing a live video and an email popped up in the corner with the scammy website-clicking service order’s name and order number on it, saying her order was complete. She had bought 100,000 clicks to her website. So she herself was participating in click-buying, and that’s how she had inflated her numbers. The whole thing about “organic growth” was all a complete lie. She was a ‘fake it till you make it’ blogger.
Needless to say, I was shocked.
I was quickly refunded, of course, when I brought it up, and there was no further discussion over it. I merely wanted an explanation. No answer. Disappointment and a heavy heart set in. Was this what bloggers these days were doing? Sharing little white lies to make a buck? Inflating numbers with click farms? Well, it’s happening in the author market so why not the blogger world, as well?
I had wanted to believe. I had wanted to learn the right way to bring massive traffic in from all kinds of sources from an EXPERT. Or so-called expert. Because my first-ever blog about goats and goat farming was super cute but a niche nightmare. Just not enough interest. Although, I still love my goats and talking about them with my friends. But I desperately wanted the traffic for my next attempt to be legitimate – not click farm-related. And since that discovery, I haven’t been very trusting of bigger bloggers with insanely expensive course fees.
Little white lies disappoint. Lies we tell ourselves shield us from pain. Lies help people get ahead sometimes. Until they’re caught. Lies keep us from receiving valuable help that we actually need or want. Humility and feelings of less-than keep us from admitting these things, but we shouldn’t be afraid. I’m of the belief that most people want to help each other.
Little white lies turn into big ones, and they’re just not worth it, particularly when we could have been doing better all along just by being ourselves and staying honest.
So let’s talk about little white lies authors make and why they’re bad. For you, for me, for them.
- Lie #1: I’m making a living as a published author.
This one is such a doozy, and leads unsuspecting newer authors down a path of self-loathing and false idols. This lie is often spoken between author peers and sometimes to family members. We want to believe in ourselves that we will eventually be successful and have others think that we’re doing extraordinarily well because we like that positive feeling. We don’t want people to think we’re losers and are barely seeing $10 Amazon paychecks. Some even call it “fake it till you make it” like I mention above. The problem with this is it’s delusional and also a lie. It creates problems, and an author can easily be outed for saying this.
Given the power of KDSpy and other book reporting sites, it’s easy to tell how much an author is actually making, unless they’re doing sales of their books (both physical & digital) through their own website. And even then, website traffic can easily be checked, too, to validate that claim. On top of that, if the website looks like garbage and hasn’t been updated in quite some time, the validity of that statement is going to lose all credibility.
This lie isn’t helping anyone. It’s going to hurt people, and cause the liar to lose friends in this community quite quickly. Because not only will the lie be discovered by someone who knows how to use KDSpy, but people who do this hurt others by potentially creating feelings of jealousy and unwarranted confusion. Like “How is so-and-so making a living with their books when we’re ranking the same on Amazon?” “How can someone be making a living with only $400 in book sales each month, when their rent/mortgage is over $1000?” “I don’t get it…” Uh oh… do you see what I mean?
I want you to remember a few things that are very key. It’s ok to not be successful right out of the gate. You don’t need to be an overnight success and hit the number one spot with your debut book. Or even your tenth book. It’s ok to not be as successful as others. It’s ok to admit that “hey, I’m still making some discoveries on what works for my author platform.” And we are ALL totally ok and supportive of that! As a community, we’d much rather hear something transparent like that than find out you were a total liar.
Your version of success is different than the author’s version next to you. For example, I’m completely ok with my steady stream of sales on Amazon. My sales may be lower than some, but they’re definitely higher than 12-13 million other authors’ books (given sales rank). I’m still working on where I want to go with my next book and how I want to position it on the market. And my results so far is what I would call successful – for me – because I’ve seen substantial growth in the past year. I spent time figuring out what works the best for my own platform. Because my platform is not anything like anyone else’s, and neither is yours. And it’s only my first year as a published author (going into my second year in July – yay!). So I’m going to give myself a break on that, and I’m giving you permission to go easy on yourself, too. Relax.
In my Pinterest course, I also show you ALL of my failures (so you don’t repeat them and learn like I did), my keywords, what I tried that worked great, what didn’t work out so great, etc. I like being transparent with people that are invested into learning about how to progress from just an author blog or blog into something bigger. Oh, and we have fun, too. So there’s that!
And yes, I’ve read ALL the books on Amazon ads and such, and I’m going to tell you something real: there’s a lot that ISN’T said in those books. There’s a lot that ISN’T revealed in those courses. You know, stuff that generate those sales. And part of it has to do with strategic partnerships. The more you know… right? Yes, I made videos on this stuff!
Every book product is different and requires testing and time, just as each individual author platform is different because of your personality and style. You’re not going to figure out everything with a new product overnight. You may think you have a fantastic new book and it could completely flop. Give and allow yourself time to seek out what works best for each piece of published material. You’re not going to know until you try.
- Lie #2: I don’t need an author website.
Authors tend to say this out of fear of not knowing how to build one, precious time, and lack of money to invest in it. You DO need an author website. You cannot, in right mind, rely on 3rd party platforms and think you’ll be wildly successful while you have no control over ANYTHING on private companies’ websites. We like to think we do, but we don’t. How many authors’ books get stripped from Amazon on any given week? How many authors in our community report books and give fellow authors 1-star reviews out of spite? This point is just as much about control as it is protecting yourself and your income stream.
And with this trademark and bookstuffing craziness happening, gosh darn it, you need your own site, so you can control your own message and sell directly to your audience if needed.
Amazon could fail. iTunes could fail. What are your failsafe and “plan B” contingencies? Where would you point your readers to go? What if (and it has happened a lot recently) you get attacked on Amazon and they strip you of all your titles and boot you out of the program? For whatever reason?
Do not rely on Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, Instagram, iTunes, Google, or anything else. Rely on yourself. You are the wizard behind the curtain. You have the special sauce recipe. Only you. Bring your own site into the forefront and to your readers. It’s personal, it’s yours, and no one can control you there. Start collecting email addresses (legally) and build your author brand. Use Amazon and the other publishing platforms only as ancillary mediums to sell. And treat them that way. Do not give them the opportunity to make you powerless. Make sure you have everything available in-house before you rely on anything else.
Now, I’m not saying go the scammy route and charge $39 for a PDF document that you could have published on Amazon just to bilk readers out of their money for your “exclusive knowledge”. I shudder at bloggers that do that. Ick. What I am saying, though, is there’s an opportunity to put together your own store – doesn’t have to be sophisticated – and sell your Kindle mobi and ePub files right there. Or even your paperbacks! Brilliant.
- Lie #3: You cover looks great.
Gosh, this is a tough one. Fake it till you make it is not possible with a losing book cover. Everything about cover art is subjective, but as a designer, I’m going to tell you – some book covers are NOT going to sell that many books. And look terrible.
We get a false sense of confidence with these little white lies when our author friends are super supportive of practically everything we do. What our friends and colleagues might say about our book covers may not be what they are really thinking, out of trying not to hurt your feelings. Often times author friends will tell you it looks great, even though the person’s head is skewed in size, there’s stock photo watermarking on it, a person’s leg is missing, or the font is unreadable and in yellow against a bright red and pink background. With gradient. And too much drop shadow. And outlining. And outer glow. With clip art.
You get the idea? Use a cover designer. Those that are properly trained and educated in the field of graphic design that have a history of sales and happy clients (and who spend an equal amount of time on the backside of the cover) are going to create a fantastic-looking cover. Having a bad cover is expensive, only in the sense that you’re going to wind up paying for a re-do, and you could have had all those sales from the get-go had you made the proper investment. It’s a missed opportunity.
Make sure you’re working with a graphic designer that is going to go way beyond slapping text on a stock photo (which is available to anyone with a laptop and possibly a credit card if it costs money). Have your designer turn an ordinary stock photo into something that is truly yours. Talented and gifted graphic designers know how to do just that, and will not settle with lame stock photos. If you’re currently shopping around for a cover designer, come talk to me!
- Lie #4: I don’t need to use Pinterest to market my books. I just use Twitter and Facebook groups. Pinterest is for recipes and crafts.
Oh my gosh, this one. If you’re not using Pinterest the way I teach it to authors, you’re missing out on a steady stream of sales and email subscribers. Not making any sales right now? Come see me. Are you a USA Today Bestselling Author? You still need to come see me, or at least take my course.
In my course, I open up their eyes to a whole different world of opportunity to build their email lists while creating some fun, amazing things for their readers. You can ask anyone I’ve worked with – I know Pinterest marketing extraordinarily well, and am VERY passionate about it.
You may not “need” Pinterest, but boy, you’re missing a whole fan base that is tapped in and ready to buy. Pinterest users have, statistically, higher income than avid Facebook users, and Pinterest users plan to buy right then and there. In fact, 73% of Pinterest users have bought something that they found directly from a Pinterest pin. So tell me again why you don’t need to be using it?
I don’t care if you have zero sales or millions. There are BILLIONS of people on this planet, and they are buying stuff all the time. Reach them with this powerful search engine. It’s right next in line to Google. Pinterest is not just about recipes and crafts. There’s a whole book niche on there and it’s HUGE. Book pins are being shared in the thousands – meaning, thousands of people have a book cover pinned to their Pinterest TBR lists. Now imagine if you had variations of the same content – 100 pins or so – floating around on Pinterest for search discovery? If you’ve got beautiful visuals, why not get peoples’ attention on Pinterest?
And – how many times do people get reported or banned or kicked out of Facebook groups, the app itself, or from supposed “mis-use” of Facebook? Wouldn’t it be great to have a steady stream of income coming in just from people discovering your books on their Pinterest feed? Yeah. It would.
- Lie #5: I don’t need to blog / I don’t know what to blog about / I’m just here to write, I don’t like the business side of being an author.
I enjoy watching these behaviors and statements because… let’s take them in order:
1) Yes you do need to blog or at least, at a minimum, create more content – and I’ll explain this in a minute.
2) You DO know – you’re just not organized with this.
3) Funny, then why are you gleeful all over FB when you’re making sales, getting reviews, and posting this news everywhere? That’s author business, my friend. You enjoy making money. Don’t lie. LOL. Deep down, you’re enjoying the business side of making money from your writing. It’s ok! But I’m sure there are other business things that are not as fun. And I get that.
Too often authors think of their author blog as a place to blog about their books and their characters. It’s a myopic place to be with your blog when you have your author hat on, and you stop thinking like a big blogger would. There are tactics that big bloggers use that you could be implementing. And instead of just focusing on your books and your characters or even the indie author market business side of things happening in our community, you could be doing your readers a much greater service.
If you’re at a loss of what to blog about, put your book’s SUBJECT and TOPICS in the forefront instead of your book product. Focus on the issues within your books, instead of just posting “buy my book” posts and “new release” posts. Those can get old. What value can you give your readers? Go back to why they love your books. What subjects resonate the most with them? Talk about the ISSUES your hero has… not just the physical traits and how hot and sexy he is.
Finally, the business side of authoring doesn’t have to be hard. And you really can build something entirely fabulous online with your writing and talents. I want you to stop thinking as an author all the time and quit limiting yourself. Let me get transparent and give you an example: I’ve only been an orange-tag bestselling author one time, and that particular day was about 300+ downloads in 1 day – the day I shot off an email announcing a release. I have over 200 people signing up for my newsletter every day. I made over $750k in 2017 from my website from a combination of my digital downloads, various products, and services (revealed in my course). Most authors have subscribers trickling in on a monthly basis. Maybe 2-5 every month. What if I showed you how to make that number skyrocket? Would that interest you? Because when I learned some different aspects about email list building my numbers really went bananas – to over 60k subscribers now. What if I showed you ways to get your blog monetized in a non-scammy way (and no, not even talking about affiliate income here) and were able to publish at your own pace and still make sales?
Bottom line, here, is, if you want to make it as a writer and author and make a nice income from it, you’re going to want to start thinking like a big-time blogger and leave your author hat where it belongs – with your book projects. When it comes to your website and email list, you need to think blogger-style. And there’s a big difference. I can help you learn these important skills, and learn it from my angle as both a blogger and an author.
- Lie #6: I know my readers.
I have trouble accepting this statement because too often authors rely on handfuls or maybe a few hundred of them as feedback on their books and what their readers like. Those few emails as a percentage of your total sales may not be an accurate depiction of your overall reader group. Sure, it’s likely that you have built some fans, and that’s awesome. But it may not be a true assessment of how your entire readership feels about you or your books.Try not to ‘fake it till you make it’ by claiming to know more about your readers than you really do.
It boils down to this very truth: your readers will only reveal what they’re willing to tell you. And sometimes, it’s not the truth. Some of them may just want your attention or to feel part of something bigger. And that’s ok, too. Some like you as a person (which is AWESOME), but may give you a higher review anyway, even though your book wasn’t as strong as it could have been. They may have loved your #2 book in your series, but underneath it all were a bit disappointed in the changes you made from book 1 to book 2 and how they were vastly different. (They may even be on the fence about buying your 3rd book.) But because they’re either on your review team or talk to them a lot on social media, they may give you a better rating than what might have been typically deserving.
It’s a hard nut to swallow, humility. But let’s pretend for a moment that you don’t actually know your readers and what they like and instead leave the floor open for discovery. Survey them. Actual, scientific surveys. Stop relying on personal notes, reviews, and emails and falsely let those sentiments represent your entire audience.
If you “know” your readers, then you are claiming to know how, let’s say… 70% of the people who read your book that didn’t leave a review, feel about your books. How do you measure or qualify what you don’t know? How do you “know” what you don’t?
I think this statement is also a bit of an ego thing, as well. “I know my readers.” Really? So you’ve talked to all of them that have ever purchased your book? You know what else they like to read? What they bought last week? Or are you just seeing a glimpse into what they’re allowing you to see? (Of which, could all be just a social media showcase).
I think it’s better to say, “sales have shown that my readers enjoy ____ and _____”. Or, “the feedback I’ve received so far has been _____”. Or even, “according to my survey I sent out, my audience likes ___”. But to put out a blanket statement that you “know” your readers is a bit of a stretch. You’re leaving out the entire demographic of non-reviewers and non-socials, and people that may not have told you the entire truth about what they actually think.
Assume nothing. Be open to discovery.
- Lie #7: I don’t need to learn new skills – about sales funnels, cinemagraphics, Photoshop, Instagram stories, email lists, marketing, Pinterest, Facebook ads, Amazon ads, etc. because none of that applies to me as an author. I’m just going to keep pushing that publish button, rapid release my books as much as possible, and post incessantly on FB. In ALL the groups. And spend a fortune on book marketing.
You definitely have a choice about how much effort you want to put into your author business. You have lots of choices, for sure. I’m not going to argue with you on that. You can be a total DIY bootstrapper in the author market or you could hire everything out and focus on writing. Or find that happy medium.
Here’s a reminder though. We work in the media business. Much of what we do is visual. So the more you focus on your visuals as well as your words, the better.
But let’s say you’re a bit frustrated with how things are going, would like to focus more on writing, but WOULD like to see more steady sales as you write the next book. You WOULD like to have more email subscribers. You WOULD like to learn a bit about marketing and design ideas and how-to’s. Current trends. Advertising. Influencer marketing. Affiliate income opportunities as a blogger and writer. I can teach you all that.
Learning new skills is a choice. But I encourage you to reach out and learn from others, especially people that are transparent like I am with my students in my courses (yes – I show them the WHOLE shebang and behind-the-scenes, including my income reports). There are skills you could learn that may come in handy. Or you may find something that lends to a new creative outlet for your writing and author business. BIG ideas. Easy to implement but BIG, all the same.
Try to learn something new every day. Make it a point to train your brain a bit and exercise it. It’s going to help you write better, open your mind up to new ideas and processes, and who knows? You might really get successful just from one little thing you learned.
When I first started out as an author, there were definitely things I needed to learn about. As a graphic designer, my forte was and always has been Photoshop. I’m a wizard at it. But with authoring, a lot of the things I needed to learn revolved around InDesign, which I would often crinkle my nose at, because the menus are different and it behaves somewhat differently. Formatting a book in InDesign is considered one of the top methods in publishing, so I took the time to learn that one aspect of the business, and I’m so glad I did. I’ll admit – it was “annoyingly painful”. Argh. I’m just a Photoshop girl, and probably always will be. That’s ok – but at least I have that knowledge to use whenever I publish another title, right? InDesign is not something I specifically teach in my mega bundle of courses, but I do show a few videos of me using it so you can learn some skills there, too.
Before I really got going, I had taken some courses in some niche areas that I was interested in. Some were great, others were completely lackluster in quality. I stopped using sites like Skillshare and Udemy altogether because of the lack of quality and completeness, as well as transparency, of the material being shared. So as I’ve grown as a blogger and author and producer of courses, I kept those things in mind when I built my own courses. Because spending time in a course is a time investment – and often one that is limited for many of us. So I teach to the point, with transparency in mind as well as completeness, so that I don’t waste your time.
Another thing that I’m still learning about are book tours and such. Whether they’re successful. How much money should I invest in them? Etc. These are things I’m still willing to learn, even though I may not end up using them, after knowing more. It’s good to research, discover, and allow yourself time to do these things. It really does make a difference, believe me.
So I even have things to learn and to discover, and I’ll continue to share my own discoveries and observations with you here.
- Lie #8: I’m an expert on my brand.
I laugh at this proclamation a lot. I’m just going to say this. If you don’t know what your brand “promise” is, your branding guidelines (colors, fonts, textures, patterns, tone, etc.) and you only just had a branding style guide done by a designer, you most definitely are NOT an expert of your brand. Yet.
My friend, if this is you, you are only in the beginning stages of putting all that carefully-crafted design work to use. It hasn’t been tested. There may still be things to vet out. To try. Some things may work better than others. And until you’ve really honed in on your new image or are consistent with your branding with message, visuals and such, and the numbers reflect success, you are not an expert. You have a lot to learn yet.
So don’t cut yourself short of making important discoveries and close off that opportunity to learn more about what your brand really is about.
Little white lies can add up to big ones. Career-destroying ones. Lies bind us into untruths and create additional stress – having to keep the story straight. Don’t we have enough problems with that with our writing of fiction? LOL
Anyway, I’m glad you joined me here today to learn about some of these lies that we tell ourselves and others, and I hope that we can better improve our mental health as a collective and be comfortable in being honest and transparent with each other.
Like how my April paperback sales slumped a bit because I put a lot of focus on design work and wasn’t pinning, posting, or blogging as much. Or how devastating it is to take a 30k monthly viewer hit on Pinterest in a week simply because of an algorithm change. These things. I want you to know these things happen to me, too – and not just you, my friendly reader. Take comfort in knowing that you’re not alone on this journey and that I’m willing to help you along the way.
I will leave you with a few parting, honest thoughts:
- Just because you’re trying hard at something does not mean you are entitled to the benefits or rewards. Only after you’ve mastered the task and mission will you see success. Until then, keep trying and be humble. Don’t fake it till you make it.
- Bypassing the lengthy learning curve of trying to figure things out yourself and instead, learning the behind-the-scenes business side of someone’s successful business is extraordinarily valuable and will give you lifelong insight.
- Quality courses do not necessarily need to cost thousands of dollars. In fact, most are rip-offs. (I’ll share with you a story sometime in the near future.)
Stay amazing my friends! Honesty is the best policy!
PS – since I wrote this post, I’ve busted over 3 book bloggers who sell advertising space on their website with buying bot traffic to elevate their numbers. I have not outed them. Even some of the most popular ones are doing this. If you’re ever in doubt, ask me to validate their web traffic for you, and I’ll privately let you know whether or not it’s a valuable investment.
Also published on Medium.