Patience (7 P’s of Publishing: 3 of 8)

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I really wanted to put this element first on the list. Even though it’s only the third, it felt like it took a long time to get here. This, after all, was the first element on my originally drafted up 3 P’s of Self-Publishing success, so it’s one that I not only had a bit of a soft spot for but was looking forward to sharing. This aspect, of all of the P’s is one that can be applied within or toward each of the others; and it’s something that a writer has to continually struggle with throughout their career — that is just how important it is.

But I had to be patient.

No, I’m not just being cheeky by saying that. I want to ensure you understand the actual struggle to wait to dig into this element.

It was important that I first established two of the foundational aspects of practice and professionalism; because I think that patience is discussed in a more meaningful way once those two things were conveyed.

I’m sure you’ve heard the old adages of “Rome wasn’t built in a day” or “Good things come to those who wait.” Perhaps you are also familiar with the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment led by Walter Mischel in the late 1960s and early 1970s that found a correlation between children who were able to delay gratification typically displayed higher SAT scores, educational achievement and other life measures. That study, of course, was later re-conducted multiple times over the years to demonstrate a multitude of other factors that could sway the results, such as the child’s trust in the experimenter or socio-economic factors, but it still revealed that there are those who are able to delay gratification and those whose tolerance for that was minimal. So, I’m not going to push on that particular experiment to support a correlation between patience and success. But I will argue that being able to wait for a long-term outcome perhaps makes it easier on a person.

Patience, of course, is a difficult thing to come to grips with, particularly when we live in a society where we possess access to a virtually endless stream of information, entertainment and resources via a device that is so portable we can hold it in the palm of our hand. When, with the push of a few buttons, we can have our eBook published to 190 countries around the world to thousands of retail channels.

I am, perhaps, lucky, in my experience growing up in what might be considered a much slower time. Because I didn’t really have to choose patience. I had no choice.

Consider the immediacy of email versus the long-term experience of long-hand letter writing. Whenever I find myself impatient over an email that hasn’t been returned after 24 or 48 hours, I often reflect back on the weeks and months between letters that were mailed back and forth between me and my friends. But email, of course, is still considered a much more archaic method of communicating when sending a text or a direct message usually goes right to a device that connects me directly to the single person I need to connect with, and now.

But patience, for a writer, in the early days, was a huge part of the overall experience.

Such as typing up a story and mailing it to a publisher and then waiting six months or more for a response. Then, if the story was rejected, having to return to perhaps re-typing it again to send to the next publisher. Or, if the story was accepted, waiting upwards of a year or two to see it published.

Back then, I simply had no choice. That’s the way it was.

I learned to develop and hone my patience muscles.

And, even though I grew up honing those muscles, I still very easily fall prey to completely ineffective behavior such as logging on to my eBook sales dashboard and clicking refresh to see what eBooks I have sold since I checked it just a few hours ago.

Unless I have been running a successful promotion on one or more of my titles, clicking that refresh button is usually a disappointing experience. It might be akin to, back in those “olden” days, of sitting by the mailbox and waiting for the mailman to bring me that acceptance letter.

The reason I first lined up Patience, Practice and Persistence (the third of which we still have to get to) in that order in the first place, was because I regularly shared stories of how we usually only see or hear of a successful author once they have made it. And we rarely appreciate all of the practice and persistence and the patience they applied to attain that level of success.

Hugh Howey is a self-published author icon regularly held up as an example of how self-publishing could lead to fame and fortune. What isn’t often shared is that, his breakaway novel, Wool was the tenth book he published.

Even within traditional publishing, it used to be that an author’s career didn’t really take off until after their third book was published. Authors, and their publishers, spent a much longer time waiting for that author’s brand to slowly build; investing in a longer-term commitment to growing together with that author. And, in my discussions with various hugely successful self-published authors, they admitted that they didn’t really start to see those “life-changing” or “opportunity-to-quit-the-day-job” style earnings until after their third book was published.

Now, of course, one of the main challenges in traditional publishing is that authors usually have to make or break it with their first book; otherwise, there is no contract for a second book.

When writers ask me the best way to sell their existing book, or books, I will typically tell them the best thing they can do to sell more copies of it is to write and publish their next book. This isn’t to suggest the old Oscar Wilde adage that nothing succeeds like excess, but it is more to say that, instead of sitting and waiting around, being active and working on the next thing will help make that time pass more quickly; and, while you are at it, working at building your catalog of titles, the sales will build over time.

This isn’t to say that you never have to engage in promotional activities, because that is a regular part of the process. Those often result in sales spikes and waves of higher volume. And it’s not often that running a single promotion is going to have a lasting impact. But the combined effort of multiple promotions, spaced out over a longer time period, can have a lasting and positive impact.

But stepping back and planning out a long-term strategy for use of these types of promotions, rather than randomly throwing at targets on the fly requires a great deal of commitment and patience.

And, on the flip side, I would also argue that lack of patience most definitely contributes to limiting an author’s success.

When I was working for Kobo, and my goal was to attract authors to publish their work to Kobo’s catalog via Kobo Writing Life, I kept running into a situation that was as common as the persistent sound of coughs, sniffles and throat clearing in a quiet assemble of a large group of people. It was quite prevalent during a time early in the boom of self-publishing that’s regularly referred to as “The Kindle Gold Rush.”

An author, having already had success at Amazon, found out about Kobo, set up their titles on the platform, and then sat and watched their sales dashboard waiting for the magic to happen.

When nothing happened, even after repeatedly hitting the refresh button, they got frustrated.

Often, after less than a month, they would declare Kobo a dead or useless platform and then delist (unpublish) their books and go back to being exclusive to Amazon via Kindle Direct Publishing’s Select option.

One of the things they failed to see was that on platforms like Kobo, Apple Books and some of the other retailers, it took a little longer for the visibility and algorithms to kick in. It often took running a promotion, or even including links to retailers beyond Amazon, in order to start to gain some momentum with customers there.

For most authors, getting any traction on Kobo, could take months; typically, somewhere in the six-to-nine-month time period.

But impatience would usually get the better of them. And, as mentioned, the reaction to pull out and go back to Amazon exclusivity was strong in those ones.

Of course, when things weren’t going as rockingly with their sales on Amazon after another 90-day tour of duty in KDP Select, they might re-list or republish their work to give it another go. Again, usually after a minimal time period, they would delist their titles and go through the cycle again.

One of the things they failed to understand was that every single time they removed their titles, the ranking, the algorithms, all the things in the back end within the retail systems that work at slowly building up the author and title rank would be reset back to zero.

So, every single time they pulled out, then came back, it was like starting over from square one.

(This is not even to mention, of course, the perspective this gives the retailer about that author’s level of professionalism as a publisher)

The lack of patience, lack of willingness to give it a little time to slowly build their brand and presence on other retailers, led to a self-fulfilling prophecy that I believe will hurt them in the long run, if it hasn’t already hurt them.

Because, before I left Kobo, one of the things I continued to hear from authors with whom I had, a year or two earlier, shared this type of advice with, would return and show me the sales charts that indicated the slow but positive direction their Kobo sales had taken, but only after staying the course for a longer period of time. For some authors it was just a few months, but for most, it was six or nine months before the sales curve started to trend in a decidedly positive direction.

Six to nine months can seem like an eternity when you are sitting and staring at the sales dashboard like a dog that spends the entire day staring at an empty food dish and waiting for their human to come home and fill that dish.

As Tom Petty sang, the waiting was the hardest part.

Wouldn’t that time be much better spent invested in writing the next book?

Which is one of the reasons why the original 3 P’s of patience, practice and persistence worked so nicely together. Not giving up, continuing to work at your craft and become a better writer and to produce new material not only gave you a larger catalog of titles to sell, but it made the time seem to pass in a different way, and thus expending energy on being patient was reduced.

This is a slightly modified version of the chapter “Patience” from the book The 7 P’s of Publishing Success.

Mark Leslie (Lefebvre) is a writer, bookseller, speaker & book nerd who haunts Southern Ontario and is known as a digital publishing evangelist.

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