I received a private message from a writer whom I greatly admire (and consider a friend) who is concerned about my rallying cry for people to self-publish. I understand how that message shines brighter than my caveats and warnings, so I want to devote an entire blog post to something you’ll see in practically every one of my advice and how-to and rah-rah posts. These caveats are even there in that big report that everyone’s talking about. Here we go:
Self-publishing is not a gold rush.
Success at writing requires, in addition to long hours and hard work, a lot of luck.
Check out my advice to aspiring writers, there on the left hand side of the front page. Check every interview I’ve ever given and any blog post where I mention what authors should expect. I’ve beaten this drum louder and longer than any other drum, including my love of self-publishing. I say it all the time. You have to write because you love it. You can’t expect to make a living at this. Luck is involved. Most won’t make it.
Do I have to keep saying it? It’s right there in the survey. Anyone with an advanced degree should be able to find it.My traditionally published friends have either forgotten how hard it was for them to get published, were among the few who had it happen rapidly, or got through the gates back when publishers took on more debut authors. Because what I hear from them sounds like this:
“Why would you suggest people self-publish when they can just do what I did? Put their books in bookstores?”
Because it isn’t that easy, and you all should know that. It gets harder every day. Meanwhile, the advantages of self-publishing increase every day. Print on demand and e-books means zero risk, zero warehousing, nearly zero production costs, nothing but an investment in time. In the three years it can take to land an agent, get a book deal, and see that book to market, you can write and self-publish six or ten quality novels. Or just one, if that’s what makes you happy.
There’s no guarantee you’ll get rich from self-publishing. There’s less guarantee you’ll get rich from querying agents. My contention is this: Most people will be happier getting their works out in the wild and moving on to the next project than they will reading rejection letters. We don’t see these stories. Those writers gave up and went back to their other lives. DBW’s survey doesn’t count the people who tried and didn’t make it. It’s like that option — failing at traditional publishing — doesn’t exist.
The dichotomy presented to aspiring writers by my trad-pubbed friends and the Shatzkins of the world is this: You can self publish with the unwashed masses, or you can have your book on an endcap or in the window of a Barnes & Noble. Choose.
That’s bullshit. I’m sorry, it just is. The real choice is that 99% of you can write a novel, pour your heart into it, and watch as every agent you query rejects the thing. And then you can give up. Feel like a failure. Walk away from your dream.
Or you can self-publish, have the pride of having done so, hold a copy of a physical book you wrote in your hands, see your e-book up on Amazon, get a sale or two, hear from a reader, and want to write more.
It isn’t about getting rich. It’s about having the opportunity to feel pride of accomplishment.
So why do I talk about money and earnings? Because the chance that you’ll get lucky and make a living at this is better if you self-publish. The freedom to write new and exciting stories, to price your work right, to give away copies, to earn 5.6 times the royalties, to change the cover if it isn’t working, to wait ten years for a story to take off, all of these improve your chances of winning the lottery.
Again, no guarantees. But 99% of the trad-route people will never sell a single novel. They’ll never get published. And if my agent’s stats on her slushpile are indicative, it’s more like 99.9% will fail. No one counts these people. This egregious error is why the DBW report will never say anything useful about the writing profession. Never. Impossible. Not a single useful fact will come from that survey. It’s worse than wrong, because it’s misleading. It ignores the 99% of people who try and give up.
When we look at sales data for the top 7,000 genre e-books, we are digging down into the midlist and doing it equally. Some of these books are ranked 50,000+ in the overall Kindle store. Keep in mind that these are daily snapshots. New books are coming into this fold all the time, and existing books are dropping out. We’re seeing the middle class of writing success. And what’s mind-blowingly-brilliant about this data is that it has already moved self-publishing into a position of equality.
Think about that. Self-publishing was the ghetto two years ago. Hell, two weeks ago. And now you have DBW saying that the earning potential between self-publishing and traditional publishing is about equal. Maybe there’s a slight edge to indies, but it’s only slight.
Awesome. Happy dance. Progress. Amazing.
Yes, the results of any writing study will show that it doesn’t pay well. It doesn’t. I have never said it did, or that it was easy, but guess what it has become? Easier. Much, much easier. And we’ve only been at this for a handful of years. In a handful of years, we’ve gone from vanity wannabes to sitting at the same table, eating from the same bread, and even taking (slightly) larger pieces.
Happy writing, everyone.