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The Chameleon of the Indie Writing World

Updated on July 20, 2020
Elijah DeVivo profile image

Elijah is an Amazon best-selling author, blogger, previous columnist for an award-winning blog, past creative editor, socialite and traveler

Introduction

Jumping into any kind of uncharted territory is scary, but it is even scarier when you’re jumping into a competitive market that revolves around expression and intriguing the masses. Although my career took off at the ripe age of eighteen In 2016, I set a name for myself in this new found world: indie books. Nearly four years later, through ups and downs, I am still here writing and succeeding. Here is what I’ve learned in these last few years...

Relevancy In The Indie Writing Market

Relevancy in any aspect of life is important, but it is most difficult when selling anything or being in the spotlight. People have the misconception that as an author we are simply trying to sell our books, and this outlook is untrue. As an author your brand is YOU. You are what you’re showcasing to the public. When we think singers such as Beyonce, Maroon 5, or Cher, they are not just promoting music, they are promoting themselves, their artistry, their creativity. People aren’t just interested in singers because of vocal ability, they aren’t interested on how they write songs, their style, expression, creativity, how they dance, how they dress even. It is no different in the indie writing world. In order to captivate an audience you must do so with quality writing but also set yourself apart by being unique and interesting. No, you don’t have to wear a meat dress like Lady Gaga but being a rarity of individuals is important. No one likes uniformity and cookie cutter molds. If you’re like everyone else, your book will get lost in the millions of other books. There is nothing worse than working so hard on a piece of art and then having it overlooked because your identity as a writer doesn’t spark interest in potential readers.

Photo: Logan Hicks  The photography from Resilient: One Boy’s Story
Photo: Logan Hicks The photography from Resilient: One Boy’s Story

What Do Readers Like?

We’ve all had the question, “what do readers like to read?”, and the answer isn't one answered simply. What do readers like? Well who are the readers you’re targeting? The indie writing world is filled with different genres and sub-genres, you must find your niche and target those readers. Don’t pick a niche that’s too specific or the pool of readers will be significantly smaller. For example: you could choose memoirs> LGBT. That’s a logical and sizable niche, but say for example if you took it to an even more microscopic level: memoirs>LGBT> growing up in a Christian home as bisexual. Yes, there are people looking for books like that, of course! However, how many readers are going to be looking for those exact specifics when looking for a book on your release day? There could be a few dozen, yes, but if you are more broad and general regarding your niche you will target a wider pool of readers. You must have a certain audience, but not too specific and not too large that your book gets lost in a sea of millions of other titles published annually. Paying close attention to your genre, the Indie writing world, and what is trending also helps put into perspective of what “readers are looking for”. However, this calls into question whether or not you even care about trends. Maybe you want to trail blaze and be different while targeting your niche, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Most of my writing career I’ve been amongst the trends, but I am currently deviating from them to go on my own journey. Deviating from trends is what makes one iconic. If everyone was the same, if no one was diverse, if everyone had uniformity in their work then we would never have gotten music legends like Elvis, Madonna, Michael Jackson, or artists like Monet, Michelangelo, Da Vinci, etc. Being a unique presence in a day and age where people follow like sheep is a breath of fresh air.

Photo: Luke Maxwell “The Journey to Find Myself” era
Photo: Luke Maxwell “The Journey to Find Myself” era

Commercial & Critical Success

People often ask what is considered critically and commercially successful, they ask what the “average” sales are for Indie books. There are answers and averages, but they are riddled with ambiguity, subjectiveness and opinions. It is noted that most Indie books never sell over 290 copies in their shelf lives, and this is definitely a true average lacking ambiguity and opinion. It is fact. That is what defines commercial successes and commercial failures (in my experienced opinion). If a book has been out for years and years and years and has not sold anywhere near that amount, then I’d deem it a commercial failure, BUT that does not disqualify it from being critically successful! Let me put this into perspective: Fifty Shades series was immensely successful commercially, but critically it was on the contrary. In fact, I’d say that Fifty Shades is one of the worst books in modern day literature (if you can even call it literature... you can’t). Yes, the series sold over 125 million copies but at the expense of utter embarrassment: her “writing” is shit. I would rather sell 2 copies of a book knowing that it is a literary masterpiece than to publish something that sells a million copies and is utter trash and portrays me in a humiliating way. E. L. James wrote the “book” on her blackberry phone for God’s sake. That is not writing, that is not honing the craft that is writing, it is cheap. Writing isn’t meant to be on a phone, it is an art meant to be typed on a computer, written on paper with pen, or even a typewriter (like I did in my most recent short story).

My second book The Journey to Find Myself has been out for almost two years and has sold over 150 copies and was number 1 on two Amazon Best Selling charts. Her book was on the New York Time’s and sold millions, however these are quotes taken from each of our books:

“He laughs and then is distracted by his BlackBerry, which must be on vibrate because it doesn‘t ring.” -E.L. James

I’m sorry but why do we care? This narration is so awkward and unnecessary.

”When an opportunity ends, it just means God is looking for a better one.” -Elijah DeVivo, The Journey to Find Myself (2018)

”Desire pools dark and deadly in my groin.” -E. L. James

What the actual fuck... there literally is no explanation for why that quote is absurd. Also, your vagina shouldn’t pool dark and deadly, you should call your gynecologist.

”No one needs someone else to save them, this is not a fairy tale in which you need rescuing. Sometimes you must be your own hero.” - Elijah DeVivo, The Journey to Find Myself (2018).

See the difference in the quality? The only difference: one sells millions and one doesn’t. My book was critically acclaimed, and stands as the best piece of work I’ve put out, while Fifty Shades was controversial and received negatively by critics and readers alike. To be frank, as an Indie author you will most likely never sell millions of books, but the quality of your content is vital in solidifying your writing career. Putting love and an eye for detail will churn out a masterpiece regardless of the royalties you make. Go to bed at the end of the day knowing that you did your absolute best.




Photo: Shelby Johnson  “My Ode To Death” short story era
Photo: Shelby Johnson “My Ode To Death” short story era

Awards

Some aspiring writers (or those who already write and want to maximize their success) wonder whether or not book awards give them a more reputable name. The answer is yes, on one condition. Indie book awards require a registration fee, usually somewhere around $75-$100 per title. It is, in itself, a gamble. However, if you’re confident in what you’ve written and are willing to pay the registration then go for it! Winning an award is a great accomplishment, even getting second or third place (or even “honorable mention”) is something to show off. As a writer I have yet to win an award (if I ever do). They are not must-haves to be known, but they are definitely an added perk.

Artistry & Evolution

Many refer to me as a chameleon because I shape shift and change not only my writing style, but my style, aesthetic and outward style with every new writing endeavor. Art is about evolving and changing. We cannot be interesting by staying in the same place while doing the same predictable things. As a high-schooler I walked the same path as everyone else but when I started writing my first book at 16 I had a revelation: being the same was boring. In order to stick out and get attention I had to be different from everyone else, and so I did. I’d often dye my hair and change my style drastically. When I was eighteen I applied this thinking to my writing career.

Resilient: One Boy’s Story (2017) was about humble beginnings and overcoming childhood traumas. With every writing endeavor I have an artistic vision of what the artistry should look like. Since it was a book on humble beginnings I posed on a train track outside of an abandoned warehouse, natural hair color, normal clothes to represent humility. The train tracks were a symbol of life being a journey.

The Journey to Find Myself (2018) was an unplanned book. I never intended to put out a second book so soon after my first (a little less than two years), but life surprised me. I was traveling across Scandinavia and North-Eastern Europe when I unexpectedly fell in love with an old flame. It was one of those unexpected love affairs in life that sound like they’ve come straight out of a romance/drama film. The gradual decline of our love and the tragic ending sent me into a horrible depression which then led to a time of introspection and finally, contentment. I started writing because I felt as if my reflections on love and spirituality was one I couldn’t ignore, and thus, my second book was born. I always loved Old Hollywood glamor, and he (my European beau) introduced even more of Old Hollywood culture to me. I admired and identified with Marilyn Monroe, her childhood, failed love affairs and debilitating mental health struggles made me drawn to her. She had the same mental illnesses that I struggle with, and unfortunately she commit suicide on my birthday forty-six years before I was born. My first book’s art was different artistically from other memoir‘s “artistry” (if you can even call it that). Most photographs for any kind of nonfiction usually has the same cookie cutter covers and inside photos: people in suits or dresses sitting in a studio being photographed minimally and quite blandly.

I thought, “why not take my love for Marilyn, Old Hollywood glamor, and my European lover’s influence and spin it into artistry?”

And that is exactly what I did. Who wants the stereotypical portrait photos when one can embody the spirit of Marilyn, pearls in teeth, record players, mink fur, the allure of Chanel N° 5, 60’s leather jackets, Brigitte Bardot telephone shots, cigarettes, and the jewels inspired by Liz Taylor’s collection.

There are many types of photography, and this for me was a cross over between portrait photography and fine art photography.

I was also inspired by various singers and albums that helped me write this book. I started listening to the album Golden (Kylie Minogue), Younger Now (Miley Cyrus), Reputation (Taylor Swift), Britney Jean (Britney Spears), 1989 (Taylor Swift), Ray of Light (Madonna), Froot (Marina), and the most inspiring of all, American Life (Madonna). I was inspired by him, his music taste and style. I began listening to a lot of Doris Day, Frank Sinatra, Studio Killers, Robyn, Darude, Susan Vega, and September.

Again, life is strange and unpredictable circumstances can determine people’s artistic endeavors. After the suicide of my friend, I went into a downward spiral and came triumphantly. I wrote my very first short story in which all proceeds will be donated to suicide charities of my choice. With every heart break, victory, loss and gain, I’ve created something beautiful out of the cards I’ve been dealt. I wrote my short story entirely on a 1935 typewriter, a move that I can confidently say as unique and is unheard of in the modern writing world. I wanted to be revolutionary and creative in setting myself apart from other competitors.

The short story entitled My Ode To Death, had a menagerie of themes going into the artistry. I struggle with cohesiveness because my mind wanders to all sorts of ideas, it is one of my Achilles heels. A former friend gave me the nickname “Swan” and I decided to embody a symbol and nickname that I identified with. Now, one could choose a white swan is a representation but when I dug deeper I stumbled across the makeup for the film “The Black Swan” and I had the perfect vision for the look. The film is very psychological and has suicide themed so it was very relevant to the content of the short story. I looked further and found that ”black swan” is defined as “an unpredictable or unforeseen event, typically one with extreme consequences.” It sunk in that my friend’s suicide was unpredictable and unforeseen with extreme consequences: the perfect symbolism. The photos were taken in an abandoned mill and gave off a dystopian atmosphere. The story was written entirely on a 1935 typewriter because I, once again, was inspired by my love of old times and thought that it was unique and set me apart from other writers in the industry. Another reason why I chose the Black Swan as a symbol was because of my love for the ballet, it’s themes of suicide, and my love for anything Russian (because I travelled there whilst dating my Finnish ex-boyfriend). Whilst determining the visual and written direction I read a lot about the Biophilia Hypothesis, and because of the COVID19 pandemic I became very nature oriented and more spiritual. Nature and the natural flow of life and death was integrated into the project. I also started to listen to Bjork‘s Vulnicura, a very dark and tragic album and it really helped me focus. I never thought that the story would make any kind of Best Seller list on Amazon, and it did. Although, it was my lowest of any release it was still shocking because short stories never really sell as much as books do. Lastly, I decided to donate all proceeds to suicide awareness charities and grassroots movements helping those struggling in the community as a final tribute to my late friend.

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Disclaimer

This is all opinions and advice based on my experience, outcomes for everyone will be different as we are all unique with unique style, stories, and advertising approaches. Your success is in your hands, and your hands alone. My evolution and shape shifting style to be relevant is my own. They aren’t to be mimicked or copied. There is a difference between being inspired and imitation. Seek out your own style and set yourself apart.

© 2020 Elijah DeVivo

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