What C.G.P. Grey can teach you about publishing

C.P.G. Grey's self-portrait from his latest video
C.G.P. Grey’s self-portrait from his latest video

The indie author world was abuzz about John Winter’s lament in Salon about being a “self-publishing failure.” (I’m not sure whether Winter was saying, “I tried everything and couldn’t sell any books” or “I want to prove that self-publishing is for the unwashed masses of hacks who have too much false hope and too little talent, and we should depend on the elite system of traditional publishing to provide us with such quality authors as Marcel Proust, James Joyce, and Mark Twain.”)

Still, the question for all writers — whether they publish themselves or are published by a traditional house — is how do I sell more books? Do I need better marketing, promotions, giveaways?

An answer comes from educational video creator C.G.P. Grey.

In his recent Q & A video that he gave after gaining 500,000 subscribers, he answered a question about how one can be successful on YouTube. His reply:

Make videos people want to watch.

I’m not trying to be glib here but when asked this question I see many YouTubers talk about the importance of upload schedules and managing your social media and collaborations, and my experience says that’s completely backwards.

If you’re videos aren’t interesting, no one will care that you upload them regularly. And twitter followers don’t get you views, views get you twitter followers and people who want to collaborate with you.

I know it’s not very helpful advice, but it’s the most truthful advice I can give.

It’s also truthful advice for us independent authors.

Yes, we need to have attractive covers and enough marketing to get our book noticed among the tens of thousands that come out every day. But if what’s inside the covers doesn’t engage people, no one will read it, no one will write reviews for it, and no one will recommend it to others. Make all the snarky comments you want about Fifty Shades of Grey (no relation), but it has content people want to read.

So, how do you write things people want to read? There isn’t a magic formula, it certainly isn’t easy, and I’m still trying to figure it out myself. I can give a few suggestions:

  • Write about your passions. If you are passionate about a subject, it will show up in your writing.
  • Get honest feedback from an editor or beta readers. This way, you can see if your story is on track and where your story can connect better with readers.
  • If one work fizzles out, go on to the next one. Every experience you have with a work will help you do better with the next one.

Finally, remember that you’re only a failure at something when you give up. Keep writing.