Over at Write It Forward, dynamo Bob Mayer has a post about The Sustainability of an Indie Author–Will Self-Publishers Survive. It’s insightful (and rather depressing) and really syncs with a lot of conversations Susan and I have been having recently.
So much has changed in self-publishing since I started this in March 2009. I was one of the earlier adopters, but given my production limitations, that doesn’t count for as much as I’d like. There are others who started the same time I did who are further along. There are some who started AFTER me, who are further along. And there are some who started before me who aren’t as far along. I’ve done a lot of things right, some things wrong. And I’ve had a lot of real life stuff that did serious damage to what I’ve been able to put out in the last two years. I’m definitely not where I planned to be by now. The economy totally tanking hasn’t helped matters on that front.
Up to this point, I honestly think that there are two factors that have played the biggest role in the so-called indie success stories everybody keeps throwing around: backlist and/or fast production and luck.
I don’t have an extensive backlist.
I can’t produce more than 1 or 2 books a year.
And I feel like where I am is far more a result of hard work and savvy networking than luck.
As more and more authors flood the self-publishing market, authors who can produce more and faster than I can, I confess I feel the edges of panic. Mostly I try to keep my head down, eyes on my own paper, because I just can’t change the fact that I have all these real life responsibilities. I can’t produce faster than I already am. I can’t add anything else to my list of promotion, social media, blogging, etc.
So what’s a girl to do?
Joe Konrath often says that authors would be insane to take a traditional deal these days. I have always begged to differ. I think it depends on a lot of factors, and I have always believed that diversification was the smartest route when you don’t actually know what will happen in publishing. The possibility of a traditional deal is much more attractive to someone like me. In a best case scenario world, I’d write one traditional and one indie book a year (well, that’s best real world scenario–in my pipe dream world I can write more than 2 books a year). I have ideas for several series, and it’ll probably be another year before I know which one is likely to go traditional and which indie. But that will simplify my production schedule.
Will the terms of a traditional contract be what I really want? Probably not. It’s not like they’re gonna let me keep my e-rights. Can I conceivably make more on my own. Yep. But what I CAN’T do is generate huge income fast. Self publishing is a slow, long haul climb (unless you’re Amanda Hocking or John Locke). What a traditional deal (and I do mean one with a good advance) will allow me to do is, hopefully, DROP ONE OF MY JOBS, which is the only possible way I can up my production schedule. Plus there is the hope that ultimately the exposure and distribution I could attain via traditional publishing would eventually bleed over into my indie work.
What will happen? Who the heck knows. Red is still on submission being read by a bunch of editors at a bunch of houses. It’s a waiting game. Which I am actually okay with since the longer they take, the more I’m able to earn from the title. So I’m just trying to focus on my own stuff and try to finish the next book by the end of Feburary (because after the last two years, I totally beware the Ides of March, as that’s when life keeps blowing up).
I’m feeling the same discouragement as you and I haven’t been doing this nearly as long. I guess all we can do is learn and try. It’s not like we can actually stop writing. 😉
Hear hear! And here I’ve been looking up to you, Kait, as someone who writes faster than I do! For all the reasons you cite, though, there’s nothing wrong with keeping traditional publishing as an option worth considering. Maybe if I had no family, had a part time job instead of full-time and so on and so forth – and could write a novel or two a year (ha!), *then* I’d focus on indie publishing to the exclusion of all else.
What was that you said about dreams? 😉
Good luck with Red!
Good luck! I’ve decided to try and go the traditional route, but I’m still trying to find out as much about self-publishing as I can. We’ll see what happens 🙂
Interesting post. From the outside, writing and publishing appear easy. Once on the inside, you find it’s anything but. I admire your determination and persistence.
I’m beginning to feel indie publishing isn’t that much different than traditional publishing in the long haul. Also, I think one shouldn’t listen so much to what someone says, but focus on what they do. Many of the “mouthpieces” of the indie author movement have either signed with a traditional publisher, their agent, an Amazon imprint, or Encore.
I love the good points of self-pubbing..or the idea of it, anyway, because I haven’t pubbed yet. There seem to be a lot of advantages. Of course, it’s not as easy to get the books in print and distributed to book stores with self pubbing but you have a lot of control. Still, traditional pubbing seems to let the writer focus more on the writing instead of formatting and book covers and such. Bob Mayer’s post did make me a little nervous. I’m not sure which route I’ll go when my MIP is finished and polished. Maybe I’ll hedge my bets and go both ways.
Don’t be fooled. Formatting and book covers don’t take a lot of time. You hire an artist, and you learn how to do things correctly on the formatting ass you’re writing. Traditional publishing STILL expects you to do all your promo and platform building, which is the part that’s such a time suck (or can be). It’s not likely to leave you more time to write than self publishing unless the advance allows you to ditch a job.
Aha. I guess it seems harder (formatting and book covers) from the outside. Just like blogging used to look scary. I’d heard about traditional pubbing not doing much if anything in the way of marketing unless you were already big stuff. That’s why having a platform makes so much sense. 😀
As you’d probably guess, I spend a LOT of time wondering if I made a mistake in my decision to pull back from the submission process and stay indie with the Talent Chronicles. In a way, taking it all back into my own hands gave me a sense of control that let me get back to work, not waiting on anyone else to tell me how it was going to be or what to do next. It freed my brain back up to start thinking ahead again because what’s ahead is mine.
But then, that’s also pretty scary, to be all out here on my own. Because I really do want to make a living and help support my family and it’s not good to sit around and think about how I might have totally blown a great chance to do that (because, yeah, I’m not scribbling off 4 books a year either). But of course that moment is past, I can’t affect it from here, and I need to move on and get back to this moment and write some damn books in it.
I often feel like I exist in this bubble where I don’t have any kind of handle on what it’s like out there. I know I sell well, but it’s never good enough. I’m always looking for ways to do things better. I’ve only JUST started using the term “bestseller” to market myself. I thought I shouldn’t do that because the highest Hush Money ever ranked in the Kindle store was 355. So I never made the top 100 in the Kindle store. I made it to #2 in my category, but I could never get number one. I’ve sold enough books to make me really happy, people tell me it’s a lot of books, but it’s not Amanda or HP numbers–not even close. I’m not saying that like I’m down on it, like I think I’m doing badly, it’s just that’s who I’m looking at and compared to them I’m not doing anything special.
And then every once in a while someone says something to me or I read some random thing and I realize I’ve got no idea where I am in the grand scheme of things. I’ve got no idea what’s the norm, what’s average. Maybe there is no average. Maybe everything is just totally random. Maybe what I’ve done so far is just luck, maybe nothing I do makes any difference, maybe all this control we say we have is just an illusion. Which is a scary thing on which to base a livelihood.
I think a BIG part of the problem–and when I say problem I mean this sense of dissatisfaction and anxiety we feel about sales–is that we’ve seen those big names made big sales and big money and we’re not willing to just accept that they’re outliers and move on. It has always taken writers YEARS and MANY BOOKS to make a living–except for some outliers. But for some reason I keep hearing everyone with 3-7 year plans or 3-5 book plans to quit their jobs. (And hey, I’ve got ’em too!) You know, several years ago, when information on the career aspects of writing was about impossible to find, I remember reading on Holly Lisle’s site that one should have, I think it was like, 12 books out before you consider quitting your job. Because that was the point at which you could expect your royalties to be stable enough to support you so you could just write. TWELVE BOOKS. Which probably meant TWELVE YEARS.
And yet some indies seem to have this notion that now there’s a shortcut. And yeah, if you’re an outlier, there always has been. But the reality for the rest of us may still be a decade or more and many books. And because we have these dreams that may be somewhat unreasonable, we’re putting so much pressure on ourselves and taking on a lot of unnecessary anxiety.
We just have to keep writing the books as fast–but more importantly as well–as we can. We have to accept the fact that we’re probably going to have to get out there and really work to market every single book for the foreseeable future because we’re probably not going to become some overnight brand and have people come looking for us. We’re going to have to to keep thinking, finding what works, dumping what doesn’t. Like my epic blog replies. I don’t think they’re doing anything for me in terms of getting books written and sold. And yet, here I am…
Wow, thanks for that Susan. It’s good to see things in perspective a little.
I think a middle-of-the-road, hybrid approach sounds reasonable. I love the entrepreneurial spirit of the indie-writer movement, but I also appreciate all that a publishing house has to offer authors. Like you, Kait, I’m balancing several jobs and so I write more slowly than some of my fellow authors. It’s gonna take a while to get there. But even if you’re not publishing a few books a year, as an early adopter, you’re still ahead of the game in many ways.
I feel so torn. On one hand the freedom and control from self pubbing is so inciting and safe, but on the other hand it’s scary as hell that I’ll be fully responsible for all of my book. Part of me wants to try and go the traditional route and play it safe. I know no matter what route I take I could succeed or fail and both ways will depend on me.
Honest and insightful post, Kait. As the wise philosopher Oprah once said, luck is when “preparation meets opportunity.” Keep at it and great things will come. (Now I sound like a fortune cookie. ;))
Ah Oprah. Who was born just up the road from me. BTW, I love your name.
Honest and realistic post Kait – as a newbie just entering into this world, it’s good to hear all perspectives. I try to remind myself that in every single industry (business, finance, hollywood, writing) there are always those “out of the gate,” unknown, “who would have guessed it” successes that blow our minds and make us all wish “it was us”! And then there’s the rest of the world that does it over years and years of hard work, blood, sweat, and tears. Why is beyond me but I think keeping your focus on what you can do and what works for you is key.
I enjoyed reading your balanced perspective, Kait. Deciding which path to follow is such a personal decision. What I love about Indie Publishing is that it offers the opportunity to follow both paths. For a writer who primarily wants traditional, who among us doesn’t have a beloved stack of short stories, or an oddball book that we know will never find a home among traditional publishers? Indie will let those books be read.
BTW, I came across your website from a pingback among the comments on Bob Mayer’s blog. I love the internet! : )
Thanks for this honest and open take on this. I think, like some people mentioned above, that we all have to take the long view. Very few make money fast in this industry, whether it’s traditional or indie. I have a traditional deal and my debut will be out in January. The money is SLOW. I’m a stay at home mom, but if I had a day job, there is no way I’d be able to even go part time with it much less quit with my book money. It’s a slow-building thing, creating backlist, gaining readers and momentum.
I do agree that the people probably best set up in the future are the ones who put a foot in each camp–have some traditional to reach a wide market and some indie to make better royalty rates. But there is no magic bullet. Yes, there are some people making crazy money, but for every one of those, there are a thousand who aren’t.
Thank you for this great look to the inside of self-publishing. It’s definately not easy when all the marketing falls on you. And as Bob says, the competition will ramp up.
Good luck with Red. I hope it will be picked up by an editor who loves it as much as you do.
All the marketing pretty much falls on you anyway unless you’re Nora Roberts or Stephen King. 🙂