For those of you just joining us, we talked last time about the different kinds of self-published authors we’ve had contact with. Today, I want to talk about my decision to lump myself in with those folks and the logic behind it.
Over the past year, I’ve read a lot about the publishing industry. What it takes to be an author (number one rule, kiddos: put your butt in a chair and write), what it takes to be published, how to get an agent, what kind of money debut/established authors make, and almost any other topic I can get my grubby little hands on.
I’ve read horror stories about the Big 6. I’ve read success stories about the Big 6. I’ve read tragic tales of how self-publishing ruins careers before they start. I’ve heard tragic tales of how New York publishing ruins careers before they start. I’ve seen middle of the road logic applied to both. I consider myself fairly well-read on the subject, and I try to stay as current as I can.
And through all my research and reading I realize one thing: making a living off writing is probably a pipe dream. Or is it?
Dreaming that you’ll make a six-figure advance is nice. But in reality, making it with traditional publishing is not about writing a good book as much as it is about luck (and hard work, too, but even hard work and a good book can’t guarantee a contract with the Big 6). And even if you happen to be/get lucky, a $5,000 average advance for a debut novel does not pay the bills.
And for me, that’s the kicker.
Not that I’m money hungry or greedy, but my goal is to eventually make my living through writing. And if any of what I’m reading lately is true, then self-publishing may be the way to do it. (Not that it’s any easier to make a living wage by self-publishing, but it puts more of the control in the author’s hands.)
Joe Konrath’s A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing recently ran a series of guest posts with both established and up-and-coming self-published authors. Joe himself has been posting Kindle numbers for a while, and he makes more most months than I do in a year. Seriously.
But what really strikes me is that while this series focuses on an obviously small sample of authors, they are all selling well over 1,000 books each month. With current (and I say current because of the tumult over Apple’s recent ridiculousness) ebook royalties, that’s about $2,000 a month, which is fast approaching better-than-livable income.
Those kinds of sales don’t happen overnight, and they don’t happen for everyone. But they do happen. They take a lot of online promotion, a lot of revision, a lot of design, a lot of toying with prices, and a lot of work that doesn’t necessarily involve putting words on a page.
In the end, it might not be any more realistic to make a living self-publishing, but a dedicated writer who wants it bad enough will put in the blood, sweat, and carpal tunnel to make it happen.
There’s none of the disconnected discontent that comes from the “I got rejected for the 300th time despite this being my 37th revision” blues. You write it, you work it, and you just might make a few more pennies on it self-publishing that you spend sending snail mail manuscript packets addressed to slush pile hell.
So What’s Changed? Why Now?
Well, a lot’s changed actually. Even in just the last year. Ebooks present the same kind of paradigm shift that pulp novels did in the early 20th century. They’re inexpensive to produce, have wide circulation, and the allow for more experimental writing in terms of both content and format.
Will I pay $10-15 for a print novella? Not unless it’s from one of my favorite authors, and even then, I might grab it from the library. That’s a lot of money for a 90-pager.
Will I pay $2.99 for an ebook novella that has an interesting premise, even if I don’t have a clue who the author is? Perhaps. Maybe. Permaybehaps. And with free sample chapters to sell me on the book, the odds only get better.
The thing is, though, there is still an awful lot of crap out there to weed through. I agree with Chuck Wendig on this. The best novels and self-published books will not just rise to the top because of the reviews and sales. People buy crap all the time–(sorry, couldn’t resist)–and it’s still crap. It was crap at 1 sale, and it will still be crap at 1 quadrobazillion. Authors and readers have to make a choice to both not produce crap and not accept crap.
By choosing self-publishing as a route, authors need to hold themselves to to the same standards that traditionally published books have: good writing, good story, good editing, good proofing, good book.
Only then will self-published authors beat the stigma of being subpar versions of their Big 6 counterparts. The problem is that given how open to changing paradigms most people are, it’s unlikely to happen soon if ever.
Taking the Plunge?
More than likely, yeah. I am. But not until the books are ready. That’s the important part. Not until. The books. Are ready.
I expect to have one manuscript to beta readers, revised, and ready to upload by Christmas. I also expect to have a collection of shorts revised and ready by then, too. But if they’re not ready, then they won’t be online. It’s going to have my name on it, after all.
I want more control over my future, and that’s what I see self-publishing ebooks as. I don’t see it as a way to “beat the system” and “bypass the gatekeepers.” I like the system…in theory. It works. I mean, most if not all of my favorite books come from that system. And there’s still an awful lot of great books being put out by the Big 6 that I spend my money on.
I just don’t know if that system is the right fit for me.
The conclusion I’ve come to is this: I don’t have a problem being a self-published author if it pays the bills, nor do I see myself having problems writing and editing a library of publishable content. I’m fairly egotistical, and I crave validation. But what I like more than that validation is the ability to live a dream I’ve had since I was a small child. Ebooks allow for that. I want it enough; I just have to work pretty damn hard to get there.