It is often said that only a handful of genres can provide success with self-publishing. Looking at the sources these pronouncements come from, it’s easy to see that this is more hope and crossed fingers than any expert analysis. The financial incentives offered by self-publishing are similar across all types of books. The creative freedoms and the energy derived from self-actualization are also consistent.
I have suggested in the past that the reason certain genres have been first out of the self-pubbing gate is because of levels of stigma associated with those genres. As self-pubbing goes mainstream, writers of non-fiction and literary fiction will join in. I get emails from writers all the time telling me about their successes, and I’d like to share a couple from the past week to demonstrate how much more change in the marketplace is yet to come.
The first email is from Daniel Kenney, a middle grade author with an amazing story to tell.
I know from following your blog that you enjoy getting emails from writers who’ve got good news to share.
This is one of those emails.
I write Middle Grade / Youth Fiction and I’ve always heard self-publishing for this category is a tough nut to crack. So I’ve tried to be really pragmatic about how I do this ‘author’ thing. From the beginning my goal has been simple—to write the kinds of things I enjoy writing and maximize my income doing so. But, and this is an important but, I wanted to make sure that I enjoyed what I was writing enough, that if I didn’t make a dime, that also would be okay.
So in September of 2014 I released my first Middle Grade novel, The Beef Jerky Gang. It’s about a group of 12 year-old boys who find themselves living in a dystopian world completely controlled by girls. Pretty good concept. Additionally, it’s got a great cover, is 262 pages, and is oddly funny. This is a good book, one of my best.
But other than that initial push of purchases from family and friends, The Beef Jerky Gang doesn’t really sell.
Right after that, I released The Math inspectors. It’s about a group of kids who love math and use it to solve mysteries in the fictional town of Ravensburg, New York. The concept isn’t particularly unique (kid detectives) and the book is fairly short…but it does has a great cover and the word math might draw some parents in.
And you know what? The Math Inspectors DOES sell. Quite a bit.
I released another larger book, and it was one I’d worked on for a long time. It’s called Curial Diggs and the Search for the Romanov Dolls. It’s a treasure hunting book with lots of action, humor, and plenty of history and thrills. Got be honest, I had trouble finding the right cover for this book but overall, this is my best book.
Curial Diggs doesn’t sell at all. Almost donut levels, in fact.
Reminding myself to stay pragmatic, along the way I shifted gears. The bigger, more expensive to produce books weren’t selling. Not for me. Not yet. Now, in truth, big books DO sell for some middle grade authors. Particularly in the area of fantasy, I’ve noticed. Maybe it’s because children’s fantasy has a certain amount of adult crossover readers or maybe it’s just because these authors write books of awesomeness. But I’m self-aware enough to admit that I might not be an author capable of much awesomeness. Maybe I’m more the kind of author who can put out lots of ‘pretty goodness’ with a side of ‘fairly funny’. Because the truth was, though my big ambitious (for me) books weren’t selling, my short, silly books were. So I responded with short silly books. Lunchmeat Lenny, Middle Squad, Tales of a Pirate Ninja, Dart Guns at Dawn, Math Inspectors 2. All different, but all reasonably short, reasonably funny, and squarely aimed at the 9-11 year old market.
Fast forward to last month when I published The Big Life of Remi Muldoon, my 9th book in 8 months. I’ll publish my 10th book in a few weeks. It’s called But, I Still Had Feet and it’s about Sharks, Snow, and Loose Teeth. Yep, plenty weird. I’ll publish another 4 titles in the next 4 months. And even though Curial Diggs may never sell quite as I’d like, I’ll continue to search for a cover that may one day give it a better chance.
Last month, I earned around $1400 from my books. This month, I’ll probably earn around $3000.
I’m a stay-at-home dad with 8 kids. $3000 is real money. Really real money. Now that I think of it, whether I had no kids or a hundred kids, $3000 would be still be really real money. But…I know what will happen. Next month, the revenue will go down. I don’t say that in a glum way, just a practical way. And that’s something I always try to be with this Middle Grade self-publishing author thing—practical. Because sometime in the last 30 days, I had a day in which I sold 3 total books among print and ebooks among all 9 books. In case you were wondering, that’s not very good. But, sometime in the last 2 weeks, I also had a day in which I sold over 200 books. And for me, that is REALLY good.
I don’t anticipate selling only 3 books in a day again any time soon. Nor do I expect to sell over 200 books any time soon. What I do expect is that I will establish a new normal for me. And this new normal will be a little higher than it was 2 months ago. From that new normal, I will continue to release new books (mostly short and mostly silly) and over time I’ll gradually increase my sales. One day, I’ll sell a depressingly small amount of books and then some other day, maybe around Christmas, maybe next year, I’ll sell 400 books in one day. Maybe. Maybe not. I’ll continue to peak and valley and plateau but if I continue to plug away, write what interests me, and put titles out there, then over time, I’ve got a decent shot at making a real income out of this writing thing—out of this self-publishing middle grade thing that everybody said was a tough nut to crack. And to state the obvious, that’s exciting for me. But, the secret is, and I try to remind myself of this on those days when my KDP dashboard appears to be broken… I’d make these books even if I didn’t get paid. Like I said before, I’ve got 8 kids. If I wasn’t writing books for them, I’d be telling them stories at night. It’s what I do and it’s fun for me.
Thanks, Hugh, for your generous spirit with other writers and for what you’ve done in the past to advocate for authors and help authors have more information at their disposal. Consider this a very small addition to that conversation.
Okay, that’s enough for me. Time to go change diapers, break up a few fights, and write the next book. Best of luck, Hugh, and have fun living on your new boat. If you ever find yourself sailing it down I-80 towards Nebraska, let me know. I might just have a crew for you. Albeit a mutinous crew that lacks good hygiene. But hey, you can’t have everything.
Here’s a link to Daniel’s Amazon page. I think it’s instructive to check out how grabby and polished his covers are. And the titles make me want to read the blurb, a crucial first step.
My favorite line from the email is this one:
I’ll continue to peak and valley and plateau but if I continue to plug away, write what interests me, and put titles out there, then over time, I’ve got a decent shot at making a real income out of this writing thing.
This was precisely my attitude going into self-publishing. Take the long view. Write what you love, because that’s the surest way to keep writing. And slowly build a career over time, with lots of stories out there, as you build a brand.
There is no segment of the publishing market immune to self-publishing’s advantages. Some are just being tested more than others, earlier than others. I really appreciate Daniel allowing me to share his thoughts. I love that what he is pulling off is possible. And that readers are finding his works and enjoying them.