Being part of a group of authors can be a great experience which can provide you with some camaraderie in an otherwise typically lonely profession, and it may even serve as a boost to your career. Or it could do neither of those things to any appreciable degree.
How do you find or form a group that you can get the most out of? I'll share my thoughts on that, but first an announcement, and a little history.
After nearly three years of existence, I'm sad to report that DeadPixel Publications is no more. I know what you're thinking.
No? Fair enough. It's more likely you're thinking, 'What the fuck is DeadPixel Publications?'. And that's part of the problem.
A little less than three years ago, fellow self-published author Robert Brumm asked me if I'd be interested in joining a little group of authors he was forming. The idea was that we'd look a little more legit with "DeadPixel Publications" as our publisher than we would with our own names branding us as self-published schlubs. We'd promote one another's books, building a wider fan base for each of us by pooling our individual fan bases together.
In theory, it sounded great. I wasn't selling a lot at the time and had little to lose, so I gratefully jumped on the opportunity.
We hit the ground running. There was a lot of energy in the beginning. We shared each others' links on Facebook. We did some promotions together. That sort of thing. I never really noticed any great leap in sales, or a flood of new likes on my Facebook page that I could directly attribute to being a part of DPP, but success doesn't happen overnight. Steady as she goes.
We started a blog, in which members were supposed to contribute to regularly, but that kind of fell flat. We released an anthology of short stories, and that's when things started to turn.
I had released Critical Failures II: Fail Harder by this point, and while my career wasn't blasting off like a rocket ship, I was definitely gaining some traction. My marketing strategies were evolving. I was figuring out what was and wasn't working for me.
One thing that was working for me was my short stories, and I was happy to write one for the anthology, excited even. I wrote Nymph-O-Maniacs which, even today remains one of my personal favorites of my shorts. I felt like I really nailed it.
After a couple of months of sluggish sales, the group voted to make the anthology permanently free on Amazon. While I'm not against that practice in general, I didn't like the idea of this story I'd written doing nothing for me when it had the potential to be a valuable tool in my ever-evolving marketing strategy. I had a hard decision to make.
I sent Brumm an email asking if it would be okay to remove my story from the anthology so that I could release it on its own. (I couldn't release it on its own while it existed for free somewhere else without stepping on Amazon's toes.) He graciously granted my request and said there were no hard feelings, but I still felt like a dick. I had essentially taken my ball and gone home because I didn't get my way.
But with the alternative being that I just let my story fester, unread, at the bottom of Amazon's free book dumpster, the decision to be a dick could be described more accurately as "uncomfortable" rather than "hard".
Even worse, when it came time to do another anthology, I didn't even consider contributing. I was now actively avoiding being a productive member of the group.
Another way I was failing to contribute was by not sharing other DPP members links on my Facebook page. I'd grown a loyal following, and I wanted to reciprocate that loyalty by sharing only things I think they might be interested in.
Conversely, I'm less likely to share someone's link about their new historical romance novel or whatever. DPP was a very diverse group, genre-wise, and a lot of our respective audiences didn't overlap. My Facebook page, unlike my Twitter feed, is a place where I want my readers to enjoy themselves rather than be bombarded with what they might consider spam.
My role at DeadPixel Publications had become pretty much Dead Weight. And I wasn't the only one, for what I expect are similar reasons to what I mentioned above. When Brumm finally pulled the plug earlier this week, I kind of felt relieved. I don't want to be dead weight, and I don't want to feel like a dick every time I don't participate in a group project or event. I don't even want the illusion of legitimacy that comes with not having my own name next to the word "Publisher". I've embraced being a self-published schlub.
While I was getting less and less involved with DPP, I got more involved with the Authors & Dragons podcast. I have a lot more in common with that group, as do my books with theirs. We share a lot of tastes and interests. But most importantly, we share a lot of readers.
Thank you, disproportionately emotional hypothetical responder. I'm glad you asked.
Obviously we weren't sharing all our readers. All I knew when we started is that we were sharing enough for Amazon to recognize a strong enough link to associate our names and books alongside each other. But that's not how everyone finds out about authors they've previously never heard of. I'm willing to bet that we're sharing a lot more readers now than when we first got started.
I've learned a lot from being involved with both groups, and I'd like to impart some of that acquired wisdom to you now.
1. Get involved with a group of people you have something in common with (outside of just being an author).
I think all of us at Authors & Dragons write fantasy. Most of us also write comedy. Likewise, most of us have a history in gaming. The gaming background, naturally, enhances what we do as a group. The fantasy element provides opportunities for us to meet at conventions.
2. Any group you consider joining should be providing some kind of extra value to customers outside of books.
The DeadPixel group had some very talented writers in it, some of whom hit some very impressive heights. But none of their individual successes ever seemed to splash off into the group. I'm convinced that's because we weren't doing anything to make people care about the group as an entity.
Whether it's a blog, a podcast, a series of comedy sketches, or just a really entertaining Facebook page, I now believe that a group worth being a part of should be offering the public something of value beyond "We exist, and we write books." Because honestly, no one gives a shit about that.
One of the best ideas ever proposed at DPP was the blog, in which each member was supposed to contribute a certain amount of posts in a certain amount of time. Maybe it was a post a month. Maybe it was a post every two months. I don't remember. If we'd stuck to it, with all the members we had, we could have had fresh content flowing out almost continuously. And as I've mentioned before, more content eventually leads to better content.
If anyone had taken it seriously, I believe the blog could have been the saving grace of DeadPixel Publications. But nobody did, including me, because that's fucking work, and we all had other shit to do.
There are two ways to overcome this. You can either join a group that lays down the law as to what's expected of you, and will boot your ass out if you fall short. Or, as an arguably better alternative...
3. Join a group that's doing something fun.
You know what I've never heard from a member of Authors & Dragons?
"I don't think I'm going to make it tonight, because I don't feel like it."
Much more often I hear something along the lines of "I can't make it at that time. Is there any way we can reschedule?"
Nobody wants to miss a session. We're having a blast. And why wouldn't we be? We're getting drunk and playing Pathfinder. If I had any actual friends, I'd be doing that whether potential readers were listening or not.
Fun is infectious. It might seem baffling that people would want to tune in every other week to listen to a group of dorks play their silly dork game. But people can tell we're having a lot of fun, and that's fun.
It's like the opposite of watching someone get stabbed to death. Maybe it's not as horrific an experience as what the guy getting stabbed is going through, but it's still very unpleasant.
4. If you've got a good thing going, and the group you're looking at has contrary ways of doing things, maybe walk away.
I won't lie. The permafree anthology thing I mentioned above struck a nerve.
I took an Econ 101 class in college. We learned the simplistic line graph of the relationship between pricing and sales. By the logic offered by that graph, a free product - whatever it is - should lead to infinite sales. Instant fame!
Permafree books can be a winning strategy if the stars are properly aligned, or if you really know what you're doing with it. Alternatively, and I'd guess much more frequently, it can be a nice way to have your book perpetually sink deeper and deeper into the darkest depths of obscurity.
The strategy that has gotten me to where I am today, on the other hand, is heavily invested in me having everything I write NOT being free.
There are as many paths to author success as there are successful authors. I don't expect - or even want - another author to follow my path exactly. But if you ever find yourself on a good path, and in a group that wants to go in the opposite direction, then maybe you're in the wrong group.