There’s a dangerous meme in the publishing world that says self-publishing was easier in 2009 and is much harder today. But nothing could be further from the truth. The exact opposite is the case. Self-publishing was nearly impossible then, and it’s incredibly simple now. In fact, it’s never been easier.
The hardest part of self-publishing, you see, is the decision to do it. You have a manuscript in your metaphorical hands, and you can go one of two ways: You can send that work off to agents, or you can send it off to readers. Either path is open to you. Whether or not the book sells in vast quantities will have very little to do with how you choose to publish the book. There are challenges both ways. But back in 2009, if you wrote a story you believed in, and that friends and family delighted in, and you took very seriously your dream of making it as a writer, it was pretty damn impossible to self-publish that book. Because everyone was telling you not to.
I remember getting on a forum for aspiring authors back when I was wrestling with my decision to self-publish or go traditional. The advice I received was that dangerous mix of dead wrong and overly confident. I was told that I was an idiot for considering self-publishing. I was told that I was an idiot to think agents would ever look at online bestseller lists and offer representation to an author for an already-published book. These were what passed for experts in the day, and it was hard to fault them for being wrong, because all of their advice made sense in the decades prior. The fact that it no longer made sense to query agents was hard to see. And even harder to believe.
I heard from everyone that the best way to get my work in front of readers was through querying and traditional presses, and so that’s the route I took. But I harbored doubts. I blogged about those doubts. I posted on forums to express those doubts. And what seemed logical to me was shouted down over and over with: “You’ll never make it. You’ll destroy your career. Readers will never give you a chance.”
Who was I to doubt these experts with many more years of experience? I agonized over the best way to get my words in front of readers. Agonized. I signed a contract with a publisher. I went the wrong way at first. And still I agonized. I spent many hours thinking, observing, and doubting the experts. It was the hardest thing in the world to do. And then the contract for my second book came along, and I faced that choice again…
Anyone today who thinks self-publishing in 2009 was easy has no idea what it took to overcome so much terrible advice and all the peer pressure and bullshit promises about going the traditional route. JK Rowling and Stephen King were held up to me as the likely outcomes of querying my manuscript. Books on store shelves were pointed to, not the piles of rejected manuscripts or the vast delays in getting the work to market. Writers for generations have been given the gloss, have been shown the lottery winners, not the reality in the trenches.
Working in a bookstore and being in charge of setting up author events, I met NYT bestseller after NYT bestseller who had a day job. Writers were largely broke and toiling in their passion as a side hobby or a second career, not as something they did to earn a living. But already in 2009, and morso in the following years, I would meet scads of authors I’d never heard of who were making a living with their writing. Rather than point to the outliers — especially as I became one — I began pointing to these invisible but successful mid-listers as the great promise of hard work and sound business decisions. I never wanted to be a Hocking or a Rowling. I just wanted to reach enough readers to pay the rent. Or maybe just the power bill. And self-publishing seemed more and more like the best way to do this. Today, self-publishing is 100% the best and most logical way of doing this.
My job in a bookstore gave me more perspective beyond the gloss: I watched new books sit on our shelves, only to be returned to the publisher. And I met readers wandering the aisles, clamoring for more great stories than were being published. I knew I had these stories in me. And I finally summoned the courage to do the nearly impossible: I put that second contract in a drawer, decided to go on my own, and even bought back the rights to my first novel. I did everything all the experts told me not to do. Anyone who thinks that’s easy is out of their minds. It was so hard that almost no one at the time was doing it.
Times have changed. Back in 2009, we were told our books would be horribly edited, rather than sharing among us the names of our favorite freelance editors. We were told the cover art would suck, rather than knowing about the Jason Gurleys, Ben Adams, and MS Corleys of the world. And we were told success along this route only happened once in a lifetime, like with Amanda Hocking, rather than seeing it happen at least once a month like we do today. We didn’t have Author Earnings and Data Guy. We had forums full of outdated advice and bullies shouting down anyone who disagreed. We didn’t have an open sharing of information and experiences like you get on KBoards. We had the rise of the new form of vanity publishing, where all that mattered was what imprint you were assigned to.
Self-publishing was not easier back then. Competition may have been less, but that’s because the decision to self-publish was nearly impossible to make. And the more positive the feedback on your manuscript, the less likely you were to make that decision. Which means the best works were likely the ones sitting in drawers and slush piles. And the decision to self-publish was only made as a last resort.
In 2016, self-publishing is often the first and most preferred route. There is far less shame and less social resistance. Even people who don’t follow trends in the publishing world have now heard a story on NPR or read an article in their local paper about the success people are having by taking control of their careers. And almost anywhere you go for advice these days as a fledgling writer, you’ll encounter people with a solid grasp of the industry and emerging trends. You’ll find advocates for self-publishing. You’ll get links to helpful resources, blogs like Konrath’s and Rusch’s, websites like The Passive Voice, and the genius of Data Guy.
It’s impossible to be a writer these days and not know about the benefits, ease, and allure of self-publishing. Completely impossible. Even the most die-hard proponent of the traditional route will now concede that the two routes have their advantages. Self-publishing is no longer derided so much as traditional publishing is defended. We used to hear that self-publishing was the death of any writing career. Now we hear pundits claiming that traditional publishing is at least as good a decision for some writers. Amazing.
Yes, there are more books being published these days, and that’s a great thing. And yes, this increased output is a sign of a hidden truth: Self-publishing has never been easier. Back in my day, only the crazies and idiots dared do it.
In the comments, it has been suggested that publishing might be easier today, but selling is harder. Which is precisely the meme I think we need to dispense with. Selling is a product of publishing. My point is exactly this: Selling ebooks today is easier than it was in 2009. Because in 2009, the chances were very good that your manuscript was never made available for sale at all.
The idea seems to be, from many authors working today, that they would be self-publishing in 2016 no matter the social and technological forces in play today. That is, they were going to be inspired to write, and choose to avoid querying, even without having heard of JA Konrath, KKR, and Amanda Hocking. That even without the stories of KDP’s ease of use, and the steady adoption of Kindles and tablets, and the work of Data Guy, they and they alone were going to have the aptitude and foresight to self-publish. They would have had the market largely to themselves, just as people in 2009 did.
I believe this to be false. I think most of the people self-publishing today would have been just as hampered in 2016 as most of our colleagues and myself were in 2009. I think many of the manuscripts that exist today exist because of fan fic websites, places like Wattpad, forums like Writers’ Cafe, and examples of self-pub success like Barry Eisler’s. Yearly traditions of NaNoWriMo have contributed, as have POD services like CreateSpace and book-making machines like the Espresso.
All of these forces contribute to each of us being on the market in 2016. They all facilitated the existence of our published works. Without them, we would be selling less. Most of us would be like the authors on 2009 forums that never got published at all, the people who will spend their brief writing careers querying the same few freshman manuscripts, giving up, and never selling a single copy. It was much harder to sell an ebook in 2009. The chances were extremely likely that your work would never even enter the market.
We like to pretend that we would have published today, no matter what, and that everyone else is jumping on the bandwagon, producing unwanted competition for limited reading dollars. But the truth of the matter is that we are all bandwagoneers. Our works sell at all because of social, technological, and market forces that all help to make self-publishing easier and easier. We enjoy the benefit of those forces, and others do as well. The meme that selling is harder today is a fantasy in which we alone would have published in 2016 even without the aid of those forces, which I do not believe is true. I think most of us would be writing query letters today, rather than working on our next novel.
This is also a case of investment hindsight. Everyone wishes they could go back in time to buy Amazon stock, or a flat in Brooklyn. But it was just as impossible back then to see the potential of Amazon’s profits or the explosion in popularity of Brooklyn as it was in 2009 to see the wisdom in self-publishing. Even worse: the more confidence you had in your work — and the more others said your work was great — the less likely you would have been to put it on KDP. The more likely that work would’ve been to languish in a slush pile.
50 replies to “It Has Never Been Easier”
Hugh thanks for this, but more so thanks for being a self pub advocate a friend of mine recommended Wool a few years back and I got hooked on it, read all of your work I could get a hold of… we even traded a few emails back when you still had time for that… Loved Sand especially when my copy came with a little Florida sand in it… made me smile! Anyway, your passion, advice, and example of hard work inspired me to complete my own first novel “Jake”, it had honestly been languishing on my laptop for far too long. Just wanted to thank you for continuing to be an outspoken advocate of self publishing and an example to all of us trying to figure out this author “thing”.
Totally true! Back then it was such a big decision.
We were told that you could try your luck at self-publishing but it was live or die.
If it didn’t take off that was it.
No traditional publisher would ever work with you.
That book was dead. And your career was over.
That’s how it felt/that was the message.
Even while at the same time reading the horror stories of what trad pubs and agents would do to their writers, and they knew they could get away with it. It was a really tough decision and I admire the writers that paved the new way for the rest of us.
And then shared with us the good news.
I have bludgeoned myself to death over my late-adopter tendencies. I heard the same advice about ruining my career forever more by self-publishing and I took it and had a horrible horrible horrible first contract, then a worse second one–which was enough for me to finally work up the courage to self-publish.
But I still have a lot of bad days that allow me to beat myself up over my decisions back then and “if only”s. If only I’d have taken that first book and self-pubbed it, if only I’d have put more books out faster, if only, if only…..
Thank you for this. I can’t change the decisions I made back then and I need to stop wishing I could…. The choice I made WAS the best decision FOR ME back then (I suppose it’s a sign that I wasn’t crazy/full-idiot :)
I keep thinking I’m supposed to know all the things and that I’m never allowed to make mistakes. I’m still in this thing… and that gets to be enough.
Good stuff in here, as always.
I decided to go self-pub and create my indie press in 2013. No regrets other than not enough time! ;-) Thanks for being the Wayfinder! Blazing a trail where others will follow.
I wish I would have read this earlier. I sent my first book that I wrote to traditional publishers back in 2013. About six months after sending it, the editors got back to me and said, “It’s on the good enough to take a closer look pile.” It’s been there ever since. I send a polite email to the editor and get a response “there are about three dozen books ahead of yours.” Every three months, I send the same email. There are always three dozen ahead of mine.
Since then, I’ve self published three books and many short stories, I still have a day job, but at least I can pay my power bill.
I need a Hugh bobble head to perch on my desk, urging me along with its eternal nod.
Thanks for all the self-pub inspiration you provide. You rock!
I can relate to so much of this. I even know what forum you’re talking about because I met with the same attitude the year after I self-published and shared my results.
I published in 2010, and literally the day after I uploaded to DTP, as KDP was called then, I had my first request for a full from an agent I had queried a month before. I said I had just self-published but it had only just gone live and I could unpublish it, but the agent declined. I really felt like I had made a huge mistake and wondered what I’d just done, but now I’m sure self-publishing was the best route for me.
Used to be that when I told people I never once looked at or bothered to query agents or traditional publishers before I self-published 3 years ago, they would look at me funny, like I was trying to sell them Florida swampland. These days, that decision is commonplace. How times have changed!
I’m going to quibble. While I’m “all in” on self-publishing, I’ve been around traditionally published writers (mostly mid-listers and a few B-listers, if not A-listers) for 25 years. When you say “it’s impossible to be a writer these days and not know about the benefits, ease, and allure of self-publishing” I say that’s not as true as you might think. I don’t know if it’s an age thing (though probably, as traditional was virtually the only route available when these authors started out 25, 30, or 40 years ago–though I also know traditionally published writers in their 30s and 40s who also feel this way). I see these authors every year at the local Denver writing convention (MileHiCon). They appear on panels and, yes, deride self-publishing. They still use self-publishing as a punchline of what most definitely NOT to do. To them, it’s still vanity press. I don’t understand how they can’t see the success around them of the self-published, but they either can’t or they refuse to see it (some form of psychological self-defense perhaps). So these authors, no longer courted by the big traditional publishers, are having their backlist published by smaller presses. But they still view that as being traditionally published and the only sane route to publishing. Every year there are much younger writers, just starting out, who sit in the audience of these panels of mid-listers who anxiously ask how to find an agent, write a query letter, and get noticed by a traditional publisher. Last year’s GoH was Kris Rusch and there are panels every year on the virtues of self-publishing, so it’s not like the con is against the idea and only filled with traditional proselytizers. But even though self-publishing has come a remarkable distance in recent years, it’s also still not accepted (or even acknowledge as a viable route) by all.
Agree. It’s still considered very sad by (most) traditionally published authors. That said, I look at the Kindle sales of my traditionally published acquaintances, and while I know they sell hard copies, the sales tend to be VERY low. That opened my eyes quite a bit.
You raise an important point, and I actually hope it stays that way. I think indies are successful in part because of the methods they use that the Big Five don’t; experimentation with pricing, changing covers, free series starters, faster production, and actually knowing who their readers are, among others. If the big publishers actually sank their cash into these methods and found that they actually work, the competition for indies might be even more intense. Low priced ebooks are the realm of indies, but if the Pattersons and Rowlings of the world were in that space too, today’s environment might look like the golden age. Let them stay dismissive and ignorant!
Except the Trads are getting on-board with uber-low prices, direct sales, and direct e-mail marketing. It still comes down to writing the best book you can, paying for good editing and cover art and then writing the next book. Trying to follow Hugh’s example while holding down a full-time teaching job has been challenging. Next year, I’m cutting my job 15% in order to have more time to write. I think the tipping point happens about six books, so I’m about halfway there! “Oh, woh, living on a prayer!”
I hear you. I’m full time as well and plan to finish several book first, then release them at a controlled rate. Just finished the first chapter of the last book in a trilogy. Novella done, bunch of shorts. My plan is a 10-year one. If lightening strikes, awesome, but I’m not counting on it.
…and by “full time,” I meant a 9-5 job, not writing!
As it happens, some online publishers are enrolling their stable of authors in Amazon Select and finding greater sales upon launch with free and discounted units for 180 days before taking those units wide. There is not a lot a noise about it, but I see it. Indie authors are forming co-ops under a single umbrellas and doing the same–establishing a readership on Amazon before going wide. Thus the competition is on every front. Indie authors have to get smarter and promote harder. We just do.
Interesting comment about author co-ops. Are there any particularly successful examples you’ve seen? I’ve come across a couple, and they seem to work, but the marketing power wasn’t there yet–and to me, that seems like the biggest advantage. However, maybe I’m not looking through the right lens.
Hello, Leslie: I think Steel Magnolia Press is a co-op. Of if not, it is a Jennifer Blake endeavor. Steel Magnolia Press moves books. Smart folks. Message me on Facebook or Goodreads if marketing your books is a goal. Happy to share. I’m indie, though. I’m not contracting with any publisher. I love being on the indie side of fence.
Thanks for responding! I will check Steel Magnolia Press out, and I’ll be in touch via other sites.
This is so encouraging. So far I’ve picked up a wee bit of pocket change, which is more than I’ve ever made writing. Ever. My next goal is paying for dog food. I’ve got another title ready for editing so maybe… Maybe.
All right, I’ll bite: how do you make it work?
I’ve been self-publishing for the last several years. I write phenomenal books with great cover art and I’ve spent thousands of dollars on advertising and newsletters like BookBub and NetGalley with little result. I shot to #6 in Amazon Horror–nothing. I’ve been on podcasts, done blog interviews–I even did a guest post on Chuck Wendig’s blog.
Nothing. Zip. Zilch. My sales are still Week One.
How do you make it work?
Sounds like you’re doing awesome (read: all the write/right things), even if the results aren’t satisfactory (yet). But your predicament is something I’m sure a lot of authors are struggling with: Discoverability. It IS easy to self-publish these days. It’s still not easy to get discovered and that’s one of the great crap-shoot mysteries that will probably never be solved for everyone. You’re a prime example in that you’re doing all the right things, but for some reason people still haven’t discovered you. Of course, I assume you know the answer to your own question, “How do I make it work?” and that’s to keep on keeping on. And while it’s easy to self-publish I would posit that it’s much much harder to get discovered because there is so much product now available to readers. The reason why some feel that the self-publishing golden age is in the past is because of how much more difficult it is to get discovered these days. But it’s still doable with persistence (one hopes).
I’m betting you’re at the cusp of a break through. You’re at four full-length novels and a handful of shorts. The numbers I hear for beginning that break out at about 5 novels and full-time at 10-12 novels. I don’t do horror, but the beginning of Malus Domestica was riveting! Hang in there, you’re somebody I think of as ahead of me, so keep going so I can follow!
It does look like you’re doing it “right.” Your covers look good and you have quite a few books for a few years of publishing and good reviews. However, conventional wisdom would say that a few years testing out a new business isn’t long enough and that you need even more books to really take advantage of advertising spends. (Small note, I notice you don’t have anything permafree. It would be good to have at least one book or short story that readers can grab to get introduced to your work without taking any risks.)
The argument that I think Hugh keeps making isn’t that if you self-publish you will succeed (if success is selling lots of books), but that the same amount of effort put into self-publishing will be more productive than if you had chased after a traditional publishing deal. (And in success, the rewards are greater.) It would have been very easy for your to have spent several years sending out your manuscripts to traditional publishers and have nothing to show in return. (Not even those good reviews.)
I don’t think “discovery” is the real issue in self-publishing. The issue is competition. The first book in your “Outlaw King” series has over 200 reviews (mostly very positive) so it’s clear people are reading it, and it’s also clear you’re doing a lot better than writers who a struggling to get their first ten reviews. It’s also has a top 200 rank in Steampunk fiction, so it’s clearly selling better than a lot of Steampunk novels out there.
But “succeeding” in self-publishing, if succeeding is defined by huge success (say books consistently in the top 100 on Amazon) is going to be hard simply because there aren’t that many slots available at the top and most of them are already filled by writers who have reached it (and might not want to be replaced). How many football players make it each year to the Superbowl? How many don’t? How many don’t even get into the major leagues? Why should we assume that real success in writing fiction is more difficult than success in that field? A few dozen players a year will make it into the Superbowl. (And only half will be on the winning side.) If success is having books in the top 10 list on Amazon (even just in your genre), you’re chasing a slot that’s just about as tough to make.
If success is defined by being on the top (or near the top) of Amazon’s best seller lists, than, yes, it’s much harder today to get there, not because of discovery, but simply because there is a lot more competition. A lot more people are trying to get to those few Superbowl level slots and for someone to “win” a lot more people have to lose. That’s what competition is about.
But if success is defined by getting your book to readers, than no, self-publishing isn’t any harder today, it’s a lot easier. The competition (as Hugh has pointed out before) isn’t just between self-publishers, it’s between books and every other form of entertainment. The market has grown a lot since 2009. There are more readers and more ebooks are being purchased. Many more chances to be discovered.
It’s difficult to judge if the growth in the amount of new writers chasing after those readers is much greater than the growth of the overall market. Maybe. But my guess would be that most new writers are going to give up after publishing a couple books (some might not even be chasing after Superbowl success) and so the opportunities for those writers who keep publishing are ultimately greater.
More importantly, as the market has grown, the number of slots available for writers to “make a living” without reaching the “Superbowl” level of success has grown. So even if it might not be easier (or it’s a lot harder) to get to the very top slots, there are simply a lot more writers right now making a living writing through self-publishing in the lower slots than there were five years ago. For example, if you could only make decent money with a book in the top 100 five years ago, these days there might be good money even in the top 500.
Which comes back to what the conventional advice is in regard to self-publishing. There is a huge and obvious advantage to having more books than fewer books (particularly if one is spending money to advertise them). There is a huge advantage for writers who consistently produce work over many years. More books, more chances to find readers, more time, more chances for fans to develop over the years.
Beyond that, one has to consider if one is writing in a popular enough genre, or writing what readers want to read, etc. But those issues are probably a lot less important that number of books and time.
The biggest problem with traditional publishing, is that because of the gate keepers, time is not on your side, and there is certainly that writing a lot of books will help. You can spend your whole life sending out manuscript after manuscript and never getting anything published. All those years are wasted.
It’s hard not to get impatient. I don’t get discouraged, but I do feel the pressure that S.A. seems to be expressing of things not moving quicker at times. Discoverability, as others above me have mentioned, is one thing that is out of our hands sometimes. I am working full-time at two day jobs (so more than 40 hours a week) and also writing/editing works in progress in the evenings. I don’t find the time to do any sort of promotion besides a blog post or Twitter update, but get a handful of reads each month for my horror books. For me, it’s a great accomplishment since before I self-published, the number of eyes on my books was zero. Personally, I’m going to try to diversify my genres and check the popularity of my chosen genre. Not to say that I believe you should jump ship for the “hot thing” at the moment! Malus Domestica was a great read for this horror consumer! But, I do think that it’s good to stretch the creativity a bit by writing in a different genre. For me, I love reading fantasy, so my next book will be a take on that genre. Whether or not it is well received, that is up to the audience. But, I will do my best to have it beta tested and edited with great cover art. That’s what you’re doing now, S.A., and that means you’re serious about the work. The readers are the mystery piece of the equation. Perhaps the next book will be the “overnight” success you are searching for. Self publishing seems to be fluid, which is nice, because it offers us authors flexibility to change covers and descriptions when things slow down. Not really any definitive answers from me to move things along quicker, I guess, but know that you aren’t alone!
The ereader and DTP/KDP have been such game changers. I remember going to my first writers’ conference and listening to panelist after panelist answer the “How’d you get published” question with a version of the same answer — “I got really lucky.” I left the two day conference totally discouraged instead of inspired.
My personality always had me leaning toward self publishing, but that kind of sealed the deal for me. I just had to figure out how to get my words in front of buyers. I’d assumed that meant investing in boxes of hard copies and figuring out where to sell them. Then e-readers started to become popular and Amazon opened up it’s store to all of us, and those distribution challenges were gone. Suddenly, this was a reality. I published first in 2011, and, although success hasn’t been quick to find me or my books, it’s been amazing just to be able to find a few readers.
I had a dream start to my writing career, okay I’m still a prawn, but in 8 months I’ve sold more books than I possibly could have imagined. I too, did everything I shouldn’t have, (I had nothing, no budget, no mailing list, just some helpful author friends I had met over the years as a blogger) but for some reason it worked. I won’t be giving up my day job just yet, although I would dearly love to, but I’m starting to make a little money. My daughter needed some dental work in the past month, and Zero Hour pretty much paid for it. Something I created out of nothing, at virtually no cost actually paid for it. That blows me away and makes me want to work even harder at it. I don’t want to be rich, I just want to live in my little house in the country, pay my bills and maybe treat my family now and again (I would like to buy an MGB again though, that was my favourite car ever and I’ve never missed anything so much). So now it’s down to learning how the business actually works and doing my best to keep writing and selling quality books. Along the way, I’ve tried to help people the best I can by doing reviews or offering free covers where I see a talented new author struggling. That’s the other aspect I enjoy, and I’ll do it as much as I can. So thanks my friend, if it wasn’t for you I would never have taken that daunting first step, and I’m so glad I did.
Thanks for the encouragement Hugh. The Wool Compendium brought you to my attention, and I have followed your rise since. Your success convinced me to ditch the traditional path and go straight to KDP. I had read book after book on traditional publishing and how to get manuscripts in front of agencies. It ultimately seemed to boil down to who you knew, and if you were an already published author or not. If yes, they looked at your work, if no, they didn’t bother. How to break in to the exclusive club then?
Self publish. I decided existence of a pre-existing catalogue of titles, already published and making some sales, was the only way to convince a large house to WANT me to write for them. They would need to see a potential for profit, before they would care.
Just out of curiousity, how many have you had to turn down recently? LMAO
Stay salty, my friend!
You have no idea how much your posts/blogs/info help my confidence to self publish! I write in a different genre than you do and most of the books published are traditional books, and most of my friends are dying for a trad deal. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want one too – but I want to be read more so getting my work out once my manuscript was and is finally done is more important to me than waiting for a trad deal, IF that even ever happened and these days most of the work is done by the writer unless we hire someone to do it!
If you could post more about your experience (the insider info) with distribution that’d be awesome! Thanks for being so inspirational and telling the truth about publishing.
Production is also crazy easy these days. Back then, I struggled with Word and Calibre and Smashword’s ridiculously rigid rules and finally resorted to creating books in Notepad using HTML. Validating was a pain. Making your pages look better than generic was practically impossible. The hours I spent on fonts! Agonizing. And tables of contents, such misery. Today, Scrivener and/or Vellum have the job covered. Production is a twenty minute process. I turn my draft files into beautiful ebooks just for the fun of it.
I’ve gone both routes, and each one–traditional and indie–have their pluses and minuses. Both are hard work and never-ending promotion.
It’s hard to filter all the advice we get, isn’t it? I must get me that Scrivener. I hate doing those TOCs.
Let me guess, the forum was AW, the pit vipers of the author community online?
Pure gold, as usual. Continued success, Hugh! You earned every bit of it.
Last Friday I quit my job of 17 years. I was a Sports Therapist. It was 4 years in the making. It was 4 years ago that I decided to throw my worries aside and follow my dream. Yes, 4 years ago I became a writer, I worked and wrote my ass off, and self published my first book. I won an award, I had positive reviews, and, you know what? I’m still writing.
But, last Friday I was able to quit my job. I was able to make enough money with my books to set aside my day to day work schedule and create a new work schedule of writing, researching, creating, and writing some more without having to rub the sleep out of my eyes just to type the next sentence down.
Yes, last Friday I became a full time author, creator, and lover of what I’m doing.
Last Friday I took the leap — the full time self publishing leap.
I’m not a best selling author like Hugh. I’m not even close, but I worked my ass off with one idea in mind: I was going to succeed somehow. I wasn’t going to let my doubts, my mistakes, and my burdens push me away from my dream of being a full time writer.
I used to get mad when an author wrote their first book and it took off, like “Martian”. I would think, “Am I just a crappy writer?” or “Is my timing that far off?” or “Will I ever get a break?”
The answer to all of those questions was, “Get off your egotistical high horse and focus on your writing. If nothing comes of it, then just know you made the effort, learned the best you could, and accomplished the task.”
So, I wrote, and I wrote, and you guessed it, I wrote some more.
And, today, I’m a full time writer. Tomorrow I can say the same thing.
Hughey, you were my first real inspiration as a self published author. As you know, and as I have told you before (if you remember), I read up on just about everything you did and did my best to take in as much information as you provided for us striving artists.
If it can work for me, then trust me, it can work for you. Not all of us, including me, is an overnight sensation. But, in one way or another, you can be a sensation in due time if you work at it with grit and determination, and practice, practice, practice.
Well done. Congratulations!
Yes- congratulations. I love these stories :)
So wonderful to read that there is a chance to leave the day job and be a writer. I’m sure that is the dream of so many! Leena :)
Great post, encouraging words. Thank you! I’d just like to add that self-publishing, even though it’s easy, takes some tricks and mindfulness to do right and the learning never ends. I’m minded to try scrivener. I’ve been blogging for 2 years every week, and I’m putting together my first newsletter. I tried writing under a group name (a taste of what it’s like to rank in the single digits in my category,) and I’ve learned a ton of how to structure a release right, instead of just kicking it out there and hoping for the best. All those newsletter subscribers? They can be ARC reviewers. They are they true fans that can spread the word. I’m just paying the power bill right now, but as I see various trickles of income and my first audiobook is taking shape, there is hope in my heart. I can learn to do this thing. It’s running a small business and it means being willing to outsource parts of it (proofreading, an occasional book cover, licensing a special photo privately, having a publicist organize a book release blog tour), but those out-of-pocket expense steps don’t have to happen for every book I write.
I love trying new things, and I love seeing the data and figuring out what worked and what didn’t. And, like most of us, it takes some discipline not to get bogged down in reading blogs and doing book covers, but actually WRITING! With that, I’m signing off to put some new words on the page :-)
I pursued 100 agents over six months, while investigating all the blogs and forums to learn more about writing/publishing. From that effort I received one request for MS and heard nothing after that. In truth my novel was probably not yet ready for prime time, but in October of last year I decided to self-publish. Hugh’s blogs, among others, and Author Earnings website played a big part in that decision. I went up on Amazon on April 1 of this year. In the first 30 days I sold over 1500 ebooks and had over one million KNEP reads. That last number seems enormous but I don’t have anything with which to compare to it. I don’t know if it will keep going, but I”m working hard on the sequel to help it along. “Ride the wave” as one author said to me.
Hugh is correct, it’s easy to publish, but it is not so easy to get sales. I called in favors from every friend/professional acquaintance I know, asking them to purchase, read and write a review for me to help get me started and am working hard to learn how to market and build a reader following.
Seriously impressive numbers. I collected 600+ rejections for 12 sales in the 1992-2004. I self published in Jan 2014 and I may have sold 1500 ebooks in the time since. And only about 10,000 KENP. I published the sequel last September and am working on book III.
It seems to me that Hugh had about 4 books out when he hit it big with Wool. I was one of the people who got the first book three and couldn’t help buying the rest. Glad you’re having success. Good luck. I think perseverance is the main factor.
Thanks for the gracious comments. When one doesn’t know the factors affecting outcomes one tends to slip into what I call “magical thinking”. Part of the phenomenon is to give correlative events a causative connection. I’m almost in that mode sometimes, as I watch the book’s progress, not quite knowing what’s driving it. I’ll have to write a blog about that sometime. Meantime I keep at, like you state.
Yeah, I’ve been faithfully tracking things I do to try and make sense of what affects the sales! I’ve got a blog series that talks about such things: My Path to Indie Publishing. I’m currently working on one on sales through Kobo, translating my works and selling overseas.
Great post. Could not have said it better myself.
Thanks for being (and continuing to be) the voice of sanity.
I’d say it wasn’t even that long ago. When I first started looking into publishing in 2011, I remember seeing people say that self publishing would be the death of an author. It really hasn’t been until the last couple years that people have stopped frowning upon it and admitted it’s a viable option.
Here’s my two cents;
I don’t usually post on blogs (even my own) but I agree with this post, for I can say, without doubt, I would not have spent four years, thousands of dollars, and countless hours on The Phantom of the Earth if (1) I thought for an instant that someone out there could prevent my work from making its way to readers; (2) that there wasn’t a global support system that would enable me to put forward a professional product; and (3) that readers weren’t at least open to trying out a new, self-published author.
When I needed an editor, I went to the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) website and found Erin Wilcox, my terrific editor. I would not have had the confidence to keep writing without her belief in my work. When I needed cover art, concept art, copyediting, formatting work., etc., I went to self-published author websites like Hugh Howey’s, Matthew Mather’s, J.A. Konrath’s, and A.G. Riddle’s, discovering talents like Jason Gurley, Tammy Salyer, MS Corley, and Juan Carlos Barquet, editors, writers, and artists, among the many others who helped me tremendously to improve as a writer and to put forward a professional product that is doing much better in the marketplace than I ever imagined.
The bottom line: Without the high quality work of hundreds, if not thousands, of self-published authors like Hugh Howey, Andy Weir, and others like them, the self-publishing phenomenon would never have happened, and many, many books, including my own, would have neither been written nor published.
thanks so much for this. I toil in the fields of “romance” but cannot seem to conjure or capture the bigger audience. However, I know that’s my own fault–I don’t like to read and therefore won’t write the “formula” that is known to be the big sellers among a HUGE audience of (I have found from direct, sometimes painful, experience) Hard Core Romance Readers. But yet, I am published, (small press and self) and have plans for more, once I make enough off the first self published series to justify sinking it into another one. The thing I struggle with is the cost of getting noticed–great covers, solid to great editing and promotion (including going to lots of multi-author events and schlepping swag and books that cost me up front) is not cheap. But I also am finding success in patience, in trying small ad buys on Facebook, google, Amazon, etc. My audience is not “rabid” and it skews older and more cynical/jaded than your average romance reader but I love them and they are loyal–if not always as vocal as I’d like. I follow you and your success closely (and have all your books on audio!) and appreciate your willingness to help the rest of us by example and moral support (like this post).
Thank you, Hugh! I love a post that tells it like it is. You nailed it. I was once legacy published. Now I’m not. For two and half years, I’ve been indie. I love it. It is my day job. I am not a bestselling author. Indie authors don’t need that label to move books. As you mentioned, today the competition is keen and visibility is key. It took me a solid year to learn how to maneuver in our digital universe. I’m still learning and beta testing ideas and promotions. Some work. Some don’t. I enjoy success stories. I never feel less than because another author has achieved a higher order of success. I’m doing my thing. As for folks who give out all of the advice about legacy publishing, and how little respect indie authors garner, I am so not interested. I don’t know those people and they dang sure don’t pay my bills. I can tell you this much: I never saw their names in the Yellow Pages under Experts. Again, I love this post, and really enjoyed reading the comments of others who shared their stories.
Hi Hugh – I always enjoy your blog posts. You came to mind today as I looked at the website of the wonderful Gladstone’s Library in Wales. I love the place -I visited once traveling from Vermont on the strength of a photo I’d seen of the library and because it was near the part of England I’d used as a setting for my book. I and some friends stayed two nights and would like to do it again some day. I was thinking of you because as I perused their writer-in-residence scheme I noted their prohibition on applications from self published writers “of any kind.” I wasn’t thinking of throwing my hat in – my obscurity is a sufficient bar even without the taint of self publishing. It did make me wonder, however, how they might react to an application from a really successful self-published author: one who would have lots to offer program attendees and who might even be in a position to make a donation (I was solicited and made a small one before leaving. I’m regularly invited to donate again ). I’m not saying you would or should actually do this – I’m (obviously) indulging in a little revenge fantasy. Still, it’s moments like these that bring home to me about how second class (or worse – steerage, maybe?) self publishers are in the eyes of the literary establishment. The question about self publishing remains not whether you can do it but should you? It’s ironic that the Library is a re-purposed, or half repurposed, Anglican study center. Gladstone himself – who donated his library and who lies beside his wife in the church next door – was a serious Christian. Writers come there on invitation as do paying visitors like me and my friends but there are also still some actual Anglicans lurking. I would have thought that in such a place the trustees would understand that the refusees – the ones that the builders (may have) rejected – should not be treated dismissively. How should they judge? With right judgment about talent, about appeal, about serving their audience I would say. Thanks for listening and for all your good work.
It’s most certainly easier to publish….but because so many more people are self-publishing, there is also a lot more competition.
Or to use economic terminology, the supply of reading material is increasing, but overall demand for reading material is flat or decreasing (since most people are reading less).
mfw13. People are reading less? What people? Who said? Did you miss the report that Amazon sells one million books a day? Perhaps demand for traditional reading venues and paper products is decreasing. i.e newspapers and magazines because there is less shelf space and less appeal for old news. We get instant coverage on events. We read on our digital devices and our computers. But we do read.
I so needed those words of encouragement. I self-pubbed for the first time back in January and found the whole process to have a steep learning curve. Aside from the publishing (which was rather easy) I learned that it was up to me to cover everything else to get my book out there: editing, marketing, cover art, and so much more. I’ve barely scratched the surface of self-publishing. I’m looking each day at ways to get some attention… and getting giddy over a single sale! Almost feel pathetic but I know that it’s only the beginning and with each book things will come easier. Hopefully…