The Business Rusch: Hurry Up. Wait.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the differences between traditional publishing and indie publishing this week. Almost every day, some writer writes to me and asks if they should go traditional or indie on some new project.
Sometimes the writer has just finished his first novel, and wants to know what to do with it—go the traditional route or publish it himself.
Sometimes the writer is a long-time professional who has noticed indie publishing and wants to give it a go.
And sometimes the writer has done a little indie publishing and a lot of traditional publishing, and wants to know which is best for the current project.
Usually I can’t help them. It truly is a personal choice. For the most part, contract terms and confusing royalty statements make long-term earnings in traditional publishing dicey at best. But indie publishing has its own drawbacks, including a bit of financial outlay up front to make certain the book is the best it can be.
(Hire a copy editor, folks. Really. And a line editor. Or two truly anal friends who care nothing about plot and everything about commas and repetition. An editor or super reader would be nice to help you on the plot side. It would be nice if you managed a professional cover and interior design. And as a reader, I’d really like it if you have a print-on-demand version.)
I have no idea what another writer’s circumstances are. I don’t know if she has the time to upload her works on Kindle or if she barely scratches out enough time to write 1,000 words per day. All of those things matter.
But, for a minute, let’s forget the contract terms, the financial realities, the business decisions, and pretend all books are equal.
If we do that, if we get rid of the individual decisions, and look only at the way the two publishing systems work, we can see the differences in very stark terms.
Here’s what you’re choosing between:
Hurry up and wait
Wait and hurry up
The industry has bifurcated. The two parts of book publishing are so drastically different in their approaches that they can barely talk to each other. Mostly, they fail to realize that they don’t even use the same language. As a result, they measure success differently because they measure everything differently. I’ve talked about this before, primarily in a post called “Bestseller Lists and Other Thoughts.”
First, let’s look at what the different attitudes are, and then let’s examine what those attitudes mean for writers.
Hurry Up And Wait
…could be another name for indie publishing. You finish a book or a short story or a blog post [cough, cough], and you want it out in the hands of readers right now.
Actually, all writers want their books in the hands of readers right now, but some writers are willing to delay that gratification for other reasons, which we’ll get to.
You have the finished manuscript edited, copy edited, and proofed. You design a cover, follow all the instructions to distribute your book electronically and in print-on-demand formats. Then you sit back and wait for the cash to roll in.
And wait. And wait.
Sometimes you don’t even have your first sale for weeks, maybe months. The cash doesn’t roll. You panic. You stop your current project and do “promotion,” contacting all the book bloggers you know. You annoy your followers on Twitter by mentioning your book’s title every other Tweet. You look at the real-time sales numbers (or lack of them) over and over again.
You’re waiting for the book to “catch on,” for “lightning to strike,” for “miracles to happen.”
And if you’re smart, you’re also writing your next book. More on that a little later.
But really, what you’re waiting for is time to pass. Five sales per month over 120 months will make you quite a bit of money. Only it won’t seem that way at first.
The indie writer, particularly the indie writer with very few books published, has to be patient. The readership—and the income—will grow exponentially if the writer continues to produce work. One day, the indie writer will wake up and realize she’s making $1,000 per month on a single title, and that amount spread out over a year is more than she would have gotten as an advance for a first novel. (Most first novel advances in all genres are under $10,000.)
The thing is, if she earns $12,000 one year, nothing will stop her from earning the same or possibly more the next year, and the next, and the next.
The indie author must be patient, but if she’s a good storyteller (and her book has a decent cover and is copy edited, and if she keeps writing and publishing new material), she’ll make a living wage over time. In fact, over time, she’ll sell as many or more copies of that book than she would as a first-time novelist who is traditionally published.
The key phrase, though, is over time. Years, in fact.
Wait And Hurry Up
…could be another name for traditional publishing. You finish your book. Then you mail it to editors (and if you’re not too bright on the business side of things, to agents). The book editors take months, sometimes years, to respond. If you stick an agent in the middle of that, an agent will take months, sometimes years to respond, and then if you’re lucky, the agent will send the book to editors who will take months, sometimes years to respond. (If you want clarification about agents, see Dean’s post on agents here.)
You’d better be working on your next book. Hell, your next books, because as you can see, this process will take one to five years per book. Wait, then wait some more, and then wait a lot more.
Let’s say you hit some editor on a good day, and she wants to buy your book. It will then take her six months or so to get that book through the purchase process at her publishing house—all before you even know what’s going on.
You have an agent and the agent has held an auction? It’ll still take a minimum of six weeks from the moment of submission to all parties involved to get a response. (Usually the agent sets a deadline.) Then, if there are positive responses—and there aren’t always (no one is required to buy at an auction)—it’ll take another month minimum to hammer out the details between the various parties.
Add three to six months to get a contract, three to six months after signing the contract to get the first part of the advance, a year after the contract to officially turn in the already completed book, six months to a year after turn-in to get the book into the stores, and you see another one-to-three years pass.
That’s the waiting. Where’s the hurry up?
After the book gets published. In traditional publishing, a book is a product. It is—to use an economics term—a widget. An item. Something interchangeable with other items of the same type.
In traditional publishing, a group of widgets from one company’s imprint hit the stores every month. Your book will get assigned a month. That will be your release date.
And once that’s set in stone and the book is solicited (meaning it’s put in the catalog so that bookstores can order it), the rush begins. Pre-publication publicity starts. Sometimes all you get is a mention in the catalog and a pre-order page on Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com. If your advance is big enough, add in advertising and pre-publication galleys. (Small advance books of $10-30,000 [depending on genre] usually don’t get these things.) You might have to do a few interviews with online publications. You will notice some activity but not a lot.
The publisher notices though. They want good pre-orders. They want to ship the book at the same numbers or higher than a similar book from last month.
In the month before release, you might see a few reviews—if they’re good and if the publisher remembers to send them to you.
Then your release month arrives. If you got a six-figure advance, you’ll probably have a small tour paid for by the publisher. If not, you might do a few more interviews. You’ll go into a bookstore (if there’s even one in your area these days), and with luck, see some books on the stand. If the only bookstore in your area these days is a Barnes & Noble, you might not even see that.
And that’s it from your perspective.
So why do I say hurry?
Because the traditional publisher looks at the sales numbers from the moment the book is available for preorder to six months after publication. Whatever the book has sold in that six-to-nine month period is pretty much what the book is going to sell.
It took you five years to sell the book into traditional publishing and get that book on the shelves. That book will have less than a year to prove itself or go out of print.
Traditional publishers are hedging their bets now with e-books, but they still take the print book out of print within the year. That book costs money. E-books don’t.
So the traditional publisher hopes that a future book from you will take off, the old e-book will start selling again, and they’ll be able to put that first book back into print.
But the traditional publisher isn’t counting on it. That’s why next month, they’ll go through the same routine with other authors and you’ll be forgotten until it’s time to sell the traditional publisher a new book under your option. Then the traditional publisher will look at the way this book performed in its brief shelf life and decide whether or not to take a risk with you again.
Traditional publishers, with their high overhead, can’t afford to continually publish a writer who underperforms. What is an underperformance? That varies from company to company (and often genre to genre), so I can’t tell you. But your editor will when it comes time to buy the next book. Either she can buy it or she can’t. Then you’ll know that year’s magic threshold of sales. Next year’s might be higher or, as we learned in the Great Recession, lower. But whatever that arbitrary in-house number is, you need to meet it, or you won’t sell that company another book under that name for years to come.
Right now, all of you blog readers are having varying reactions to what I’ve just written. Some of you see no problems with “wait and hurry up.” It’s what you’re used to, what you’ve been trained in, what you really desire as a writer. You think the months of no-sales and silence in the indie world would be hell.
Others of you can’t imagine ever going the traditional route and what I wrote above just reinforced that position. You see no problem with “hurry up and wait.” You believe it’s better to control the product and to get it in the hands of readers, even if the book isn’t jumping off the shelves. You can’t imagine all the years of no-sales and silence before the book ever hits print. You think—or maybe you know—that’s hell.
And then there are a few of you who are willing to straddle the fence. Some books are worth the wait and hurry up; others are hurry up and wait-ers. Some tried the wait and hurry up route, ran out of markets, and are now trying a new method. You’re hybrid writers who make the choice per book, not as an absolute throughout your career.
The problem comes in trying to talk from one side of the publishing divide to the other.
Since folks steeped in traditional publishing only look at how well a book does in its first year—really, its first month–on the stands, traditional publishing folk look at almost all indie titles as failures.
Think about it: If you expect a book to sell thousands if not tens of thousands (maybe hundreds of thousands) of copies in its first year, and you hear that someone is happy with 500 sales scattered over 12 months, you’d see that as a failure too.
The folks who believe in indie publishing only hear that a book goes out of print in less than a year, and is probably done earning after that point (except for a few high-priced e-book sales), and they wonder who would ever sign a deal like that. After all, books can now last forever. Or as long as we read books electronically and in paper form. The virtual bookshelf means that books don’t have to go away to make way for next month’s books. Books will remain easy to find with the click of a mouse.
Traditional publishing doesn’t want to hear that a book might sell 10,000 copies in 10 years. The economics of their business make such a concept laughable. No traditional publishing house could remain in business right now with that kind of sales record. (For more on how traditional publishing economics work, see the blogs I’ve labeled “The Publishing Series.” They’re a little dated, but still accurate.)
Indie writers try to talk money with traditional writers. The indie writers say they make more than they would with traditional publishing, but so many traditionally published writers aren’t in the business to make money. Traditional publishers have fostered that attitude, making it easier to cut back the amount of money writers get paid. Traditional writers are often in the business to get readers only, and these traditional writers believe that five sales in a month is insulting, to say the least.
Traditional writers don’t look at the long term because in traditional publishing there is no long term.
It’s still hard for me, a woman who has spent thirty+ years in traditional publishing to get out of the traditional publishing mentality. If I don’t have a publisher lined up for a project, I feel a moment of panic. I wonder how I’ll get paid. I’m still surprised when Amazon, and B&N, and CreateSpace dump money into my bank account every month.
For decades, I’ve lived without a regular income. Now that I have one, I forget the checks are coming. My entire existence was based on the next project. If a past project paid royalties, well, that was a nice surprise. But it was a surprise, not an expectation.
Now I should expect the monthly payment, like a salary people get at their day jobs. But I haven’t had a day job in decades. I really have no idea how to behave when it comes to monthly money. It’s causing a paradigm shift in my brain that’s taking years (literally) to occur.
I’m savvy about indie publishing. I know how much it’s benefitting me. I’m getting a novel advance every month, sometimes two or three, from my indie publishing projects—and I’m not even halfway through my backlist, let alone the novels that I wrote but didn’t (or couldn’t) sell. And that doesn’t count the novels I plan to write that I’m not even going to offer to a traditional publisher. (I’ll still offer some. Maybe. If the right deal comes along.)
If it’s this hard for me to understand, a writer who is getting money every month in significant numbers, imagine how hard it is for traditional writers who’ve never ever gotten paid this way. It sounds like fairy tales.
And traditional publishers? They think indie writers are all losers. After all, we don’t sell tens of thousands of copies per title in the month of release. Sometimes indie writers do sell that many copies, and then traditional publishers wonder why most of those indies are turning down traditional publishing deals. After all, traditional publishers can make the book better, right?
Well, we’re not going to get into that dicey can of worms. Except for me to remind you indie folk to copy edit your books and to put a decent cover on them. (Respect your readers. Do it for them.)
What traditional publishers still don’t get is this: People in the publishing industry see traditional publishing as validation; Readers want good books and don’t care who publishes them. Once traditional publishers figure that out—deep in their bones—they’ll start offering successful indie writers better deals.
But don’t hold your breath. The music industry is nearly 20 years ahead of us, and they still don’t get this.
As for indie writers, a lot of them don’t realize that they’re in the hurry-up-and-wait business, not the wait-and-hurry-up business. They work really, really, really hard at goosing the first-month sales, and then getting disappointed when those sales either go down or never happen in the first place.
Publicity doesn’t work for books. It really doesn’t. All it does is get your name in front of a reader who might then glance at your book. Or not. Last night, I chanced upon an infomercial from one of those services that will publish and promote books for anyone who can pay the fees.
I just spent ten minutes trying to Google the infomercial. I couldn’t find it because I can’t remember the name of the company that produced it. I watched it—in growing horror (one of the authors looked like her make-up had been applied by an undertaker. Really) and finally had to change the channel. The books had terrible covers. The poor non-telegenic authors tried to discuss the books themselves with an “appropriate” book-related backdrop behind them, and the infomercial’s narrator wore a rug so fake that it looked like a small animal had died on his head.
Embarrassing. And what’s worse is that I invested about eight minutes of my time fast-forwarding through the thing, saw three authors and their books repeatedly mentioned, and less than 24 hours later, I can’t tell you their names or the names of their books.
I’m not unusual. I buy five or more books per week, usually when I see a review, get a notice from a bookseller that a new one of my favorites is out, or follow a recommendation from a friend about a really good book she’s read. I buy because of word-of-mouth, just like every other reader on the planet.
That’s why traditional publishers only spend advertising dollars on the bestsellers. They’re not informing you of a new writer. They’re letting you know that a favorite writer has a new book. They’re relying on word-of-mouth and habit.
Otherwise, they hope that word of mouth will sell a new writer by having that book on the shelf of a favorite bookstore or by some linked (paid-for) recommendations in the Amazon store or a (paid-for) point-of-purchase slot near a Wal-Mart check-out.
So indie writers who promote their book instead of writing the next book are wasting their time. The more books you’ve written, the more books you’ll sell.
That’s how it works. That’s how it’s always worked.
But back to my original point:
Most of the people who email me asking for advice are strangers. I have no idea what they want or need. I don’t know if they can wait-and-hurry-up or if they should hurry-up-and-wait.
I don’t even know if my good friends should do that, although I occasionally have opinions. (Yeah, me. Opinions. Right.) But those opinions might not be right for those authors.
Only you can know what kind of writer you are, what you want, and what you can live with.
And, of course, all publishing is not equal. Traditional publishing has long-term contracts. Indie publishing has agreements with distributors that can be canceled with the click of a mouse.
All publishing isn’t the same within one publishing house. One fantasy series writer might make millions on his series; another (with the same cover artist, editor, and sales department) might make thousands on her series.
All publishing isn’t even equal inside one writer’s career. I have books that sell really well and books I can’t give away. I’m the same writer. But readers have different reactions to different books.
So the key is to give readers what they want. What do they want? Good stories. And the readers will differ as to which of your stories are “good.” So give the readers a lot of stories to choose from.
That’s what traditional publishers do. That’s why they release a new set of books every month. Because they’re giving the readers a choice all the time. You have to do that too, no matter how you publish the books.
What you decide to do, how you decide to make your books available to readers, is truly your decision. If you go traditional, make sure you have an IP attorney vet your contract so you know what you’re signing. Be prepared to wait before seeing your book on the shelf.
If you go indie, spend some money to get that book in fighting shape before launching it at those bookstores. And be prepared to wait before seeing sales of your book.
Neither decision is right or wrong. It’s only right for you.
This blog turned out right for me. I’m still surprised about that. I’m pleased that thousands of you come each week to talk about publishing.
However, I’m primarily a fiction writer. I make the bulk of my living telling stories. An equal number of folk come for the free fiction on Mondays, and according to my analytics program, they’re a whole different set of readers.
They tend to buy my novels. You folks generally do not. Which is fine. I don’t expect you to.
But…that’s why this blog has a donate button. Because it needs to be self-sustaining or I’ll just revert to my fiction-writing persona, and stop commenting on the changes in the business.
The button is below.
So if you get any value from this post or from the blog in general, please leave a tip on the way out. And thanks for all the support, e-mail, comments and donations that have kept this blog alive for so long. I quite literally cannot do it without you.
“The Business Rusch: “Hurry Up. Wait,” copyright © 2012 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
Hey Kristine Kathryn Rusch!
Thanks for the excellent post.
Most of the books I read are by dead writers. I want my book to be around forever and I’ve put so much effort into it – both the writing and design – that I’m loathe to hand it over to someone else who may price it differently, change the cover, and have the power to take it out of print.
What are my feelings about traditional vs indie?
Traditional publishing – gives instant credibility (but not quite, because at least main stream traditional publishers go by the ‘if it makes money it makes sense’ mindset – how many money-grab celebrity books are out there…) and in doing so removes one barrier to get it in the hands of a reader.
Indie publishing – gives me control of everything – I’d rather go out on my shield than be failed by others. Indie gives me the control to make the book a complete work of art from cover to content on my terms. I will have to earn my credibility with the readers, but this is doable with honest reviews – if it’s good word will spread and it will sell. Maybe the credibility barrier will be broken down by doing the other parts right – such as cover, pricing, etc.
Maybe I’ll find a small publisher who shares my vision, but maybe not. My novel is being proofread a second time now, then I’ll get it typeset. If no publisher appears in the months that follow, I’ll probably go indie.
In any case I’m in a marathon, not a sprint.
Thanks again and all the best,
[…] not to say I didn’t find anything valuable from older articles. Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s article about the different marketing approaches between traditional and self-publishing models is an […]
I noticed that my royalties were up significantly (by about 30% ) last month because of the Kindle Edition Normalized Pages (KENP) Read – so it may be worth it for authors. I agree that multiple books, especially a series, will help sales no end. I’m now working on the third in an Irish detective series – the first two have sold well in the U.S.
On a separate note, one to avoid – Shelf Unbound is asking for a $40 entry fee for a competition for the best indie book – what a rip off!
Good luck everyone with your writing!
A good two and a half years after this blog post, I continue to come back to it for a dose of reality.
Do you still find this to be true in 2015? Has the game changed?
I don’t think the game has changed, Dave, but I’ll reread and rethink, just to make sure. Thanks for this!
Thanks for clarifying something which I have suspected all along 🙂 My second book will hopefully be out by the end of August – so wish me luck! 😉
Great! Congrats on the book, LK!
As an Indie publisher of 4 novels to date with 25,000 copies sold collectively over 2 years, I couldn’t agree with you more as it relates to the need to continually produce new content. The difference I have seen is that you have to look at this model from both the publisher and author perspective. As an indie author myself I experienced the pain of the hurry up and wait side of the fence, except this is all part of my defined marketing model. I expect to be selling more copies on month 12 than month 1 and my tactics follow suit (i.e focus on giveaways and reviews months 1-4 post launch and then begin spending money on bigger types of promotions post month 6). For example, our first title, Sellout by James W. Lewis had sold only 400 copies in the first 6 months, and then in the next 6 jumped to a whopping 5,000 copies sold. Our model is built to tip the scales in the authors favor over a longer period but it does demand a ton of focus on marketing and promotion over the long term. I think of it this way, for every hour a writer spends promoting their current work, they should spend at least that much time on their next project. This will do 2 things: 1) Stop them from watching the water boil, and 2) Prepare their next product offering.
Thanks for the provocative post…
Being obsessive-compulsive? Annoying. Being anal retentive? Downright unhealthy. Never having to hire a copy or line editor? Priceless.
LOL. Thanks, William. 🙂
Also, when you send your stuff out for copy editing, do your copy editor a favor and send along a house style sheet. Mine includes things like “use serial commas” and “don’t capitalize words in the names of alcoholic drinks, i.e. bloody mary” and you should also include the spellings of your characters’ names for that project. This will save you and your editor a lot of time.
I’m confused. Dean says to just write (and NEVER re-write), have your work checked by your reader and then indie publish it. You say to be anal about editing. Which is it?
Copy editing. Katya. Copy editing looks for missing and misspelled words, doubled paragraphs, repeated lines, changed names, all the things that writers do in the course of a long manuscript. Dean’s telling you not to have a content editor. There are very few good content editors–who can tell you what exactly is wrong with your plot and how to fix it. Almost no one can do that well. I can only name a few people I’ve ever worked with as editors who are good at that, and only one hires out occasionally. Sometimes, if you’re doing a difficult text, you might want a line editor. That person will make sure your sentence by sentence work isn’t bloated, etc, and is consistent throughout the book. Most copy editors do line editing, so I generally just hire the copy editor.
Does that clear up your confusion?
Yes that clears things up, thanks. So I won’t actually be re-writing my whole novel once I get it back from my copy-editor, I’ll just be fixing any errors. Tidying it up for publishing.
Hi, thanks for such a great balanced article. I am so tired of all the “I’m right and you are wrong” hyperbole on this subject. I chose to become a self published author because I didn’t want to wait then hurry up. I am a bit of a control freak, so self publishing was the way to go. Yes, I know I have to do all my own marketing, but I can pay for editing and critiquing and proofreading.
I can also write and publish multiple books in multiple genres.
All that doesn’t mean I will turn down a traditional deal at the right price. I see this as a business where I can sell something I’m passionate about.
Exactly my attitude, PA. If I get the right deal, I’ll make a new traditional agreement. It’s part of being in business. You do what’s best for your business. Not someone else’s. Yours.
Great article. Thanks. I appreciate all the excellent advice.
You’re welcome, Ethan.
Re: “we love this but we can’t sell it” rejections
I’ve had some of those, and each of them, when finally published “indie,” has sold more than 250,000 copies.
I think a writer should take those publishers at their word: “WE” can’t see it is probably true. They can’t sell it, but many others can because they work from a different model of the book-selling business.
So, don’t argue. Don’t waste the words and the energy that could go instead into the next book (or two). If they say that “they” can’t sell it, move on and sell it to someone who can sell it. Don’t interpret their feedback as saying, “if we can’t sell it, nobody else can.” Ask yourself, “how would they know what some other publisher can do?”
Good advice. It’s taken me a long time to get to that stage, but I’m so glad I found the confidence to fly solo!
I think everyone has said everything – but I would like to emphasise : if going Indie – do it professionally and properly. Editing is essential. Most SP authors say “but I can’t afford it”. Hard answer is – if you can’t afford it, then don’t publish a book. And if typesetting the text etc – it is imperative that you set it correctly. Left Justified text is not being professional.
I am the UK Review Editor for the Historical Novel Society, reviewing Indie historical fiction books published in the UK (there is also a US-based editor)It amazes, and appalls me, that a good percentage of the books submitted for review have not even the basic layout set correctly – let alone all the typos, poor continuity etc. If you are going to do something – do it properly!
Submission guidelines for anyone interested: I only accept hard copy HF published in the UK – e-books & anything published world wide goes to the US.
Helen, often “I can’t afford it” means “I can’t afford those people I find on the web who call themselves professionals.” But really, the local paper has copy editors, the local TV news station has a copy editor, regional magazines have copy editors, many businesses have copy editors. It takes a little research, but anyone can find a copy editor who is willing to freelance who will take what the writer is willing to pay. And if that doesn’t work, then the anal friend route always does.
You and I agree: the book must look professional. In today’s market, that’s not hard. It does take a learning curve, but it’s not hard. I hope more writers follow that curve.
If I’d read this last year, I’d probably have despaired, having self-pubbed in early 2011 after many, many years of “we love this but we can’t sell it” rejections, despite having an agent. But it took me a *year* before kindle sales suddenly took off for no reason that I can see. I don’t do promotion – other than talking to people on social networks – so it must be the word-of-mouth thing.
Great article! After a year of going indie, I’m starting to really gain some traction and sales of my books are taking off. What you said really hit home. Patience really is the key to success when you go indie. I remember being excited about selling 8 copies a month once. 🙂
Thank you for this and your other superb articles on the subject of independent authors. However, “independent publishing” isn’t a synonym for “self-publishing,” a point those of us who have considered ourselves independent publishers for a decade (and more, in some cases) keep trying to make without much success.
Briefly, this isn’t an either/or situation. There’s a third alternative—small and micro-presses who have been using digital publishing for the lives of their companies. Companies like Ellora’s Cave (est. 1998) and Mundania (2001) and, yes, Zumaya (est. 2000, incorporated 2006).
We’ve been castigated for years for our business model, battling the misinformation that we were author mills and even subsidy presses. We were making progress. And now we’re right back where we started, because ebooks not published by the Big Six are automatically assumed to be self-published works.
Zumaya is a micro-press. We have 175 titles in all genres in ebook and on-demand paperback. We take pride in having adopted the best of the traditional business model and modifying the rest to be both author- and environment-friendly.
The details of the digital publishing business model vary—some only do ebooks, some do ebooks then put their bestsellers into print, some provide print only for authors who want to do signings. Some will have your book out within a few months of signing the contract. Others, like Zumaya, only publish a limited number of titles each year so must plan two years in advance.
I’ve read repeatedly blogs by established authors who say they opted to self-publish a book because their agents had “exhausted all channels” trying to place a book. I venture to say few if any of those agents contacted any of the long-established digital presses. Why?
Well, we don’t, for the most part, pay advances. Those who do offer them only offer very small ones. Instead, we offer larger royalties, paid on net. The average independent digital publisher pays 40-50% royalty on net for ebooks and 15-20% for print. This isn’t, as has been suggested, because we’re trying to cheat authors. It’s that if one uses more than one printing channel, the variations in calculations of publisher net differ so widely it’s impossible to pay on cover price.
There is also a myth that we don’t offer marketing support for our authors. This is also untrue. In fact, most of the digital publishing houses are miles ahead of the mainstream when it comes to online marketing, because they were doing it for years before Amazon “invented” ebooks.
Long story short: there’s a third alternative offering professional editing, copyediting and cover design at no cost to the author, plus an established brand and marketing support to at least some degree. That needs to taken into consideration when making the above referenced choice.
On “indie,”here’s what I said to Claire about the language issue, below:
There are options, Elizabeth. Your method is one other option. I know lots of others are doing it your way and have some success. I am unfamiliar with your company.
I will say in general that I have issues with the no-advance, and the percentages only, and would hope that you have an easy termination clause in your contract. Or a short (3-5 year) license for the publication rights. Otherwise, I’m afraid the author loses much more than they gain. But again, that’s my opinion. Writers are free to make their own choices.
If you showed these two paradigms, along with the numbers that you and Dean have been collecting, to a couple of good investment advisors who have none of the emotional baggage that writers have collected, I wonder what conclusions they would give you?
Just a thought.
Good point, Carolyn. 🙂
Amazing post and as others have pointed out, it came just at the right time for me. I think part of the impatience I was feeling personally stemmed from all those one in a million fairy tales you hear where author A puts out their first book and within the week it’s selling 300 copies a day. Talk about sales envy!
Flexibility and discipline are key here. I couldn’t agree more. Locking oneself into an exclusively traditional or self-published approach won’t serve authors in the coming months as the landscape continues to change. The one thing I think SP authors tend to miss is that they’re running a small business and as such should expect a certain level of upfront costs. Releasing a book before it’s ready because you won’t hire an editor or cover designer does more harm than good.
Thanks, Griffin. Sales envy happens whether you’re traditional or indie. Who wouldn’t want J.K. Rowling’s sales?
Great point about the small press. Exactly.
Thanks for the great post. Each one is like my own personal “patience, grasshopper,” which is what I need. It takes time to build a stable of books, but when I do, it will exponentially increase my chances at good sales.
You know that ‘indie’ doesn’t mean self-published, right? It means that you have been published by an independent press – ie. not on the Big Six. I would expect an experienced publishing professional to know that.
Claire, here’s where we run into language issues.
Independent artists are starting indie presses, and those presses are businesses which makes them indie. It’s not correct to call all books published by the author self published, just like it’s not correct to call all small presses “independent.” I’ve run small and medium presses, started more than one publishing company, and been involved in several more. Never once did we call our companies “independent.”
Also, musicians who don’t have a record label are called indie artists here in the United States. (I see you’re posting from the UK) That’s how indie is now being used for writers.
I really hate it when people use the music industry as an example of independent artists succeeding – the music industry has the Big Four record labels, and then hundreds of independent labels. Unsigned artists are just that. Unsigned. Solo. Whatever. But they are no more ‘independent’ than a self published writer. Independent means something in the music industry too – it means that are signed to an independent record label. It doesn’t mean that you are going it alone any more than it means self-publishing.
I get what you are saying that many self-publishers set themselves up as a company, and in that case the use of the word is correct. However, for the average self-publisher the term is incorrect and misleading.
I’ve self-published and I really don’t feel the need to use different terminology to hide the fact that I am self-published. Which is, sadly, what I feel many folk are doing. There seems to be some sort of stigma attached to self-publishing, and as such many self-pubbers are refusing to call themselves self-published.
My question is this – if you’re so ashamed of being called self-published then why self-publish at all?
Wow, Claire. I don’t think I’m the one with an issue. I’m not just self-published, btw. I’m indie published as well. Dean and I started a small press to handle our backlist. It now has a separate publisher and publishes other authors. Many, many authors have started small presses to handle their own work (and the work of others). So to say everyone who is in charge of their own career is self-published is as mistaken as saying that all self-published books are crap.
And you’re wrong about the music industry. It’s changing as rapidly as the publishing industry. Lots of artists have their own labels. They call themselves indie. That’s something that’s happened in music for decades.
It’s semantics. We disagree. Leave it at that.
A lot of great points in here! You have a terrific blog. I have just two points to argue – not every book that doesn’t earn out in a traditional deal goes out of print in a year. That may be true in some genres I’m not aware of but in others books stay in print for years. Even those that are not bestsellers. Midlist books.
So its not something you can count on.
Also publicity and advertising does work as often as it doesn’t.
Self or trad – readers need to hear about your book in order to go look at it.
I did a radio show last week and trippled the sales for the week.
Amazon invests millions of dollars in advertising books – and they sell. There are different ways of doing this that works better than others but simply:
No one can buy a book they never heard of!
And for a book to be one they have heard of you have to do something.
Many big self pubbed authors like to say they do no marketing or pr – but most of them have marketing done by Amazon. When I self pubbed four books this summer I did my own marketing and Amazon did a lot and we sold tens of thousands of books in two months – but that was because we did the marketing. Everyone says word of mouth sells books – yes – but something has to get word of mouth started.
When Amazon makes Barry Eisler’s book Deal of the Day – that’s advertising – it works.
M.J., I’ve been a mid list writer in multiple genres for more than 20 years, and I”m not aware of any midlist genre in which the bulk of the mid list books remain in print. Certain companies are trying a new (old) model of keeping the books in print. Baen comes to mind in science fiction, and Sourcebooks in romance, but these are medium-sized publishers without the conglomerate ownership. So I’d have to say that if you go to what is incorrectly called “The Big Six,” then chances are your book, if it’s midlist, will go out of print in a year.
There’s a difference between midlist, top of the list (or lead title), and bestseller. You’re probably referring to a lead title in a particular month in a particular genre. That book is not a bestseller, but generally has 10-20 times the sale of the books in the middle of the company’s list (hence midlist). Those can stay in print longer than a year, but they’re gone within two or three if the next book doesn’t have legs.
Barry Eisler’s book from Amazon was advertised for the reason I stated in my piece: he’s already known, and his readers expected the book would come out. If you actually look at the way Amazon advertised, it was exceedingly minimal.
If you know how to do targeted advertising, then maybe you can do it. But it really doesn’t work unless you have a good book behind the ads. Put a targeted ad out on a novel without a story, tons of grammatical errors, and no characters to speak of, and the novel will not sell. Ever. The good story sells even without advertising.
And you’re forgetting that most big publishing companies use their catalog as their only advertising tool on 90% of their books. Yes, the companies are selling to booksellers, but booksellers read catalogs. That’s all which gets done.
Readers find the books if they’re on the shelves. I’ve had hundreds of students “stealth” publish books, and those books get bought and read by people they don’t know.
It’s a myth that writers have to promote. It’s a time-wasting myth. Yes, a handful of writers have had success with it, but those writers had a good book. I can count dozens more writers who put in the same (or more) time promoting and advertising, and their books got goosed a little, and the halo didn’t remain. Because the book was not strong.
So I disagree with you. Readers buy books they’ve never heard of all the time. They can sample the books. REaders scroll through online websites, use search engines, ask book store owners, and look at shelves, picking up books.
Readers can’t buy books that aren’t on the shelf–virtual or otherwise. Other than that, books sell with and (most often) without advertising.
I would also point out that probably a vast portion of Amazon’s advertising budget is for self-awareness. Basically, Amazon is advertising itself far more than anything else because, if they can draw people to the site, they stand a good chance of selling something to the prospective customer.
From self-publishers to huge conglomerate publishers, we all benefit from that.
Let me take this one step farther, and point out that Amazon isn’t just a bookstore, and that books – in pixels or paper – only represent a small part of Amazon’s retail business. Developing the Kindle and hooking consumers on their devices (and the Kindle-reader apps count) did something far more important for Amazon than simply increasing their bookstore sales – it put their entire virtual department store in your hands, only a click away…
Of course it has to be a good book! I never suggested that you could solve the books problems with marketing or promotion. And while you say that readers can buy books they never heard of before by reading an excerpt – yes but that’s not what I mean. What I am talking about is discovery – the number one issue for every author self or trad published. Someone has to notice the book. You can wait till they find you… or you can go find them. Its basic marketing.
And we’ll just have to disagree on the books in print issue. I know many many mid list authors whose books are in print after a dozen years.
This is one of the most excellent, even-headed articles I’ve ever read. Lots and lots of wisdom in the words, and although I generally understood the differences of each option, the article serves to break down the little things and the reasons behind why this or that works the way it does in the overall scheme of things.
Thank you for sharing the information. If anything, you may be able to point people here when they ask those same old questions. My hopes are for your continued success.
Right on again, Kris, but only as far as fiction writing goes. (As you say, every writer’s situation is different, so I wanted to caution my non-fic friends who also read your terrific columns.) For the kind of non-fiction I write, checks may keep coming for decades (though you have to be careful not to make mistakes that date the books).
Every non-fiction book I published traditionally since 1970 is still in print (over 30 books), and every one makes royalties–royalties that add up and up and up.
And, I have retained rights to those books, most of which I have e-booked for even more royalties (about 10-20 times what their print versions are still earning.
Because I’m used to that steady stream of checks, I had no trouble understanding the possibilities of ebooks. The waiting in the case of my fiction is simply waiting for the readers of the world to discover what great stories they are—or are not, in which case, I don’t deserve the ongoing stream of royalties from them. I trust readers’ judgment infinitely more than I trust editors’.
Thanks, Jerry. Some books do stay in print, but fewer and fewer that come out of traditional publishing these days. And only those with a proven track record of sales quickly. The steady sellers are staying in print so long as they don’t go under a certain sales point (even once). Of course, I’m talking about commercial publishing, not textbook publishing or technical publishing.
I wish more non-fiction was available in ebook. Or at least more of the academic stuff. There are so many books I would buy if I could get the ebook for $20, or even $30, but I am not paying $70 to $300 for a research book. I just can’t afford it.
I hope as time goes on we see more of the academic non-fiction becoming available to us plebs who want the book for the knowledge and not because we’re taking a class or doing a grant paper.
Thank you so much for sharing your insights! Pardon me, I need to go rest my head from nodding so much. 🙂
Hey, where did you buy all that *sane*? I wants me some.
Great post! Exactly what I needed to hear.
I’m in that waiting stage (after the hurrying to finish the novel). Although, I’m not truly waiting. I finished and released a novella while “waiting.” And just now finished the first draft on another novel. (It’s with my first reader now.)
But with 3 titles out, the first of them December 2011, I don’t have mass enough to attract my future readers. I withstood the first few months of “waiting” with some equanimity. Lately, the equanimity has begun to slip a bit. Your post has shored me up. Thanks!
Your best post yet, Kris…and that’s saying something!!!
Thanks, Ginny! 🙂
One of my favorite articles you’ve done recently, Kristine. Thank you for continuing to share your insights and your plain sense. The second and third headings, about Waiting and Hurrying, are totally sensible looks at the two major processes (even if I originally mistook your “indie” for small press rather than self-pub). I’ve had many friends go mad, positively stir crazy on the internet over why their launches were slow and unable to wait things out after an unimpressive launch.
Kris, thanks for another great post. That’s hilarious (but not for the authors) about the informercial. And hot off the PW presses is the news that Terry Goodkind is going to self-publish his next novel.
Yeah, Dario. I saw that. Very smart on Terry’s part. He has a built-in audience. It’ll be fun to watch. (And that informercial was so sad. I wonder how much it cost those writers to be part of it.
More good advice. The key, since I went full time at this gig a little over a year ago (being fortunate enough to have some back list) is that I’m working every single day. I don’t finish a book and let it sit, waiting for something to happen. At this moment I’ve got #4 of my series in the proofreading stage with the publisher, am ready to turn in #5 for copy editing, and am halfway through with the first draft of a WWII thriller that I intend to indie publish. It’s tough juggling everything, but I feel like the one advantage I have is discipline. If I can master that I’ve got a good shot at making this work long term.
I know, Michael. I have more projects on my plate than I ever have, and that’s saying something. It’s fun and a bit maddening. I did a post called “Popcorn Kittens” about a year ago on this very thing. It’s really fun. And discipline is the key.
In my case I’m going the hybrid route because frankly there were getting to be too many birthday candles on the cake for me to wait…and wait…and wait… for traditional publishing. And as someone who works in a deadline intensive industry, I cannot for the life of me understand what the hell takes so long. It’s frustrating that I sometimes have to hit five deadlines in a 24 hour period and someone else has six months to make a decision.
I must admit I enjoy the “instant gratification” route of indie publishing, and seeing even a few sales makes my day and inspires me.
Do you think traditional publishing will have to speed up the process as more authors go the indie route?
Randy, I don’t think traditional publishing will change their schedule to accommodate writers. There’s a lot of evidence that traditional publishing has realized that releasing books faster and more books per year by the same author is beneficial. But all that means is that the author has to hurry up, not the publishing house’s decision-making.
I once wrote a tie-in book for an extremely hot television series. I was pressured to turn in the manuscript in August for a Christmas rollout. I did so. The book was released in February, totally missing the Christmas buying season. And still made the NYT best seller list. I stagger to think what kind of sales it would have had if it had come out “on time”.
My conclusion from this was that New York publishers live in a time warp, or possibly a different reality altogether.
You’re exactly right about having as many books out there as possible in a wide range of genres. This was brought home to me by one of my blog posts.
I have two blogs, one devoted to science fiction and one to heroic fantasy and historical adventure. I did something a little different on the heroic fantasy/historical adventure one (Adventures Fantastic) last July when I blogged about a popular history book that had no fantastic element to it, just straight history. That post got only three page views. I know because I monitored them, curious to see how my readers would react.
Then last fall, somewhere around the end of October, that post began to get hits. A lot of hits. Now it’s the most viewed post with almost twice the page views of the second most viewed post. Many weeks it’s in the top 5 posts.
If I had a dollar for every page view…Anyway, that really made me realize that when I start publishing my work (hopefully by the end of the summer), the best thing I can do is have as many books and as much variety as possible for sale. You never know when lightening is going to strike.
You’re exactly right, Keith. And trying to figure out what made the lightning strike is also impossible. One of my non-fiction titles sells really, really, really well in Australia in iBook form. It has sold that well for almost two years, hundreds of copies per month. Why? I don’t know. Why did it take off? I don’t know. I tried to find out, wondering if someone mentioned the book or something on a website/radio show, but no. Nothing obvious. Now I just accept that that particular book sells extremely well on one store in that country. No way to know why. It just does.
The only caveat I would offer to this is, Don’t write anything you hate just to increase ‘variety’. What you want is a variety of good books for sale. Very few writers are capable of writing well in a genre they would never read for pleasure. If you hated to write it, chances are excellent that most people will hate to read it.
(Really, I’m talking out loud about my own problem. There are only three or four genres of writing that I have any affinity for as a writer, and one of those requires a Ph.D. and major research bucks if you want to be taken seriously. Coming up with variety is a bit of a problem for me.)
It’s a perfect caveat, Tom. One of the things I do when I teach is introduce writers to genres they think they didn’t like. A lot of them discover they like that genre better than their own. Still, they have to do a lot of reading before they can write in it. Don’t worry about variety. A lot of writers write the same genre over and over again, mining it for all its worth. And that’s just as valuable as writing all over the map (and easier for readers to know what they’ll get.)
>>>But really, what you’re waiting for is time to pass. Five sales per month over 120 months will make you quite a bit of money. Only it won’t seem that way at first.
THANK YOU for this reminder. I really needed this today. I’ve been staring into the abyss of KDP reports too often this last month. I need to remind myself that I am 8 months into a 10 year business plan. I am seeing a steady stream, not a gold rush, and that’s OKAY.
Also, thank you for articulating why, though I consider myself with my few sales here and there, a traditional publisher wouldn’t — they aren’t looking long term.
And now, I promise myself to just keep looking ahead, writing the next book, and not worrying about the work that’s already up.
Thanks again Kris
You’re welcome, Leah. Glad to help. 🙂
I needed to read this today too! It has really perked me up. My sales were pottering along quite nicely, but then last week I got three 1-star reviews that were really quite mean-spirited, and now my sales have noticeably dwindled. I can deal with criticism, but it can be hard to ignore nastiness.
This post reminds me that I just need to carry on with my current rewrite, get it out to my trusted readers, and keep going. It’s a marathon, after all, not a sprint.
It’s not just the indie writers who need copyeditors. I picked up a Simon and Schuster the other day that looked like a third-grader had “edited” it.
I think there is one good source of “publicity” for writers, either indie or trad, that most overlook, and that is the power of the Amazon review. The power lies not in the review itself so much as the algorithm that picks it up, so that next time a customer logs in, they get the “If you liked that Amish vampire mystery, here are four more” recommendation list. I do believe that is one of the most powerful advertising media out there. Unfortunately, authors can’t really control it (though some try to manipulate it). It really depends on readers, most of whom don’t realize that it is really working for them, not the author.
Other than that, however, I have to agree that the more titles, the higher a writer’s profile. So excuse me while I get back to work…
Thanks again for your weekly wisdom, Kris.
Thanks, Sarah. You’re right. I have a copy editor reviewing one of my NY books that reverted at the moment, comparing it to the manuscript. I finally told her to do it differently this time. I remembered that particular book had the copy editor from hell, who changed all of my punctuation, capitalization, and spelling (to British for an American book). A lot of that got into the final copy despite the repeated “stets” that I put next to everything. That was the manuscript that taught me a bad copy edit was irredeemable. When I get one now from a traditional publisher, I tell them why it doesn’t work, ask them to either let me toss the copy edit and trust me, or hire a new copy editor. Sometimes they hire a new one, sometimes we handle it in proofs. So a copy editor isn’t infallible. Just helpful. Especially when a character who is supposed to get kicked in the groin gets kicked in the groan. (Man, I laughed over that one.)
Oh, and I forgot to add: the Amazon algorithm has gotten so powerful that it bases everything on what you browse and order. If you rate the books without leaving a review, the algorithm gets even more powerful. I’m buying a lot more books based on it than I ever would. (Although it is fallible. I bought Joseph Kanon’s new book and loved it for the world-building. The algorithm thinks I loved it for the “romance.” There is no romance. There is a romantic relationship, but, well, it’s not what you expect. I find myself laughing over those recommendations.
There’s a whole chapters on nightmarish copy edits in my book REJECTION, ROMANCE, AND ROYALTIES (which was traditionally published and is now available as a self-published ebook).
A good copy edit is a great boon to a book. But, no, copy editors are indeed not infallible! My favorite anecdote in that chapter is from a friend of mine whose copy edit was so bad–and so OFFENSIVE (viciously insulting margin notes scrawled all over the MS)–that she called her editor and complained emphatically about it. The editor tried to track down the copy editor for an explanation… and discovered that, shortly after delivering this work, the copy editor had been committed to a psychiatric ward and was unavalable for comment.
Here’s the nice thing about hiring your own copy editor. If you hate what they do–all of it–you don’t have to use it. Technically, you’re supposed to be able to stet things anyway, but as we’re going through the previously published books, we’re finding a lot of things I stetted that somehow got in the finished manuscript. Some editor/managing editor ignored the “stupid” writer…. Of course those things are now coming out.
Laura, I suspect your friend and I got the same editor at some point. I had a copyeditor who wrote insulting margin notes all over a manuscript, and tried to rewrite whole paragraphs. That copy editor is now under psychiatric treatment as well. Gosh, I hope there’s only one such case, and that it isn’t an occupational hazard.
LOL As someone who actually has an Amish vampire mystery up on Amazon, I hope you’re right about the algorithm thing, Sarah.
They key, as alluded to in your post, is patience. It takes time to cultivate a base and build readership. Some can do it quickly(like 50 Shades of Grey), but that’s the exception. However, those that can slog through the uneven times are usually the ones who succeed since the impatient ones will drop out.
Exactly, RD. Patience. And yet I hate it when someone tells me to be patient. If they ask me to delay gratification, I can do it. Patience seems never ending–even though it takes patience to delay gratification. 🙂
And yet I hate it when someone tells me to be patient.
I hear you. I am tempted to answer, ‘I am patient. I have whole battalions and divisions of patience out there, fighting like hell to be patient with [fill in name of problem]. I just don’t have any patience left over to deal with YOU.’
As for delayed gratification, I can deal with that just fine. But it’s nice to have the occasional sign that some gratification will come eventually. After a couple of years walking down a road and never getting anywhere, even I begin to suspect I’m on the wrong road, yanno?
I have been reading your blog long enough to guess that what I’m about to tell you will not surprise you.
Agents who are assisting their writers with self-publishing are convincing their writers to promote their self-published books. (Also, the writer pays all the upfront costs, so the agent starts to make a profit instantly while the writer must first earn back the upfront expenses.) I’ve been reading your blog, so I see who benefits from all of this. If an agency takes 15% from 100 different books from 100 different authors, and doesn’t lay out any of the upfront cash, of course the agency will benefit if all the writers are out there hustling. You explained once that promoting can cause temporary sales blips. Why wouldn’t the agent want blips from 100 books? She always has a constant stream of books to self-publish, so if each author takes a little longer to get her next book ready, she isn’t harmed.
Some of these agencies are orchestrating “blog” and “review” rings in which their authors host each other on their blogs and review each other’s books. The new writer feels great– look at all the resources she gets as a newbie with her agency’s more established writers willing to plug for her.
If you try to warn those writers they will attack with fury.
On the bright side, I’ve noticed over the past year that traditional editors are no longer asking me why I don’t have an agent. I’ve wondered if the agents assisting with self publishing has helped editors see the light about agents.
You’re right, AK. I’m not surprised. It’s good business–for the agent. I am glad to hear that editors no longer ask why writers don’t have agents. That’s quite a break-through. Of course, editors realize before the agents that the agents now compete with them over backlist (and front list some day).
I think “some day” is here now. Not long ago, I heard from an editor that a well-known agent had decided to get into e-publishing clients, which the editor considered unethical (since the agent’s role is to advocate for the client when dealing with publishers, not to BE the client’s publisher). Since then, I’ve been waiting to see an annoucement of some sort… which appears to have come this week. A #1 NYT bestseller announced this week that “we” are self-publishing a brand new book next month. No details discussed yet of the business arrangement or who “we” is, but the author’s agent (the agent mentioned to me above) was also interviewed.
The book announced isn’t backlist, and evidently isn’t an old unsaleble trunk book. Which is the sort of stuff most agents have so far stuck to doing.
So it’s apparently begun now–agents competing with publishers over new frontlist from commercial writers.
Are you sure the agent published that book, Dela? I couldn’t tell from the announcement–if indeed, we’re both talking about Terry Goodkind. And if we are, then, wow. That’s bad.
Kris writes: “Only you can know what kind of writer you are, what you want, and what you can live with.”
Although the specifics of the question change with time and technology, the basic question is always, “How can I succeed as a writer?” And the basic premise of the question is always the same: THERE IS A RELIABLE, SAFE, ONE-SIZE FITS ALL ANSWER.
Which, of course, there isn’t–and there never has been.
I could buy dinner for everyone who reads this blog this week if I had a dollar for every time, in the past 20 years, I’ve been accused of concealing or refusing to share “the secret” of how to get published. And I could buy dinner for most peope in this =hemisphere= if I had a dollar for every time someone has asked me how to get published–casually, in passing, on the basis of 30 seconds acquaintance–as if the answer were as simple as answering, “Where is the rest room?”
Similarly, when I was a young writer, I was in a closed pros-only discussion session at a conference once with a number of midlist career writers insistently peppering (nay, interrogating!) a bestselling writer about =exactly= HOW she became a bestseller. (Which, btw, she did through years of hard work, audience building, and shrewd decisions. This writer was not an overnight success, though she has since then remained a consistent success.) The writers questioning this bestseller clearly HATED the answers she was giving–which is that you have to figure out what you want, how you’re going to go about getting it, and what risks you’re prepared to take.
What they clearly wanted from her (and were trying to get, with increasingly exasperated and shrill questions) was a reliable map: “Do A, B, and C, and you, too, will be a bestseller.” They didn’t want to hear (and seemed to be increasingly angry about) what she kept saying, which was that you have to identify your strengths, identify and pursue–or create–your opportunities, make tough choices, and take risks, all based on your own needs and preferences.
In particular, it seemed to drive these writers crazy that a singificant, career-changing deal in this writer’s career arose out of her TURNING DOWN a good deal on the table which was not what she wanted. She walked away. The writers kept saying, “But you had a good offer elsewhere at the time, right?” No. “But then how did you know that this would turn out well.” She didn’t. She took a risk. “You did WHAT???” She kept saying (to a seemingly deaf audience), “You need to decide what you want–and then you have to be prepared to walk away if you don’t get it. I walked away.” The reactions in the room suggested she was advocating drinking human blood from the skulls of puppies.
All decisions in a writing career (such as mine, 5+ years ago, to quit working with literary agents) are individual. Every single time. If there were a well-trodden path to success, everyone in this biz would be on it. But there isn’t. Every writer is different.
And that has always been the single toughest thing for most aspiring writers–and, indeed, even for many working pros–to accept. Everyone tends to want a RELIABLE ONE-SIZE FITS ALL answer about how to run a successful writing career.
Thanks, Laura. You’re spot-on. One of my great pleasures as a NW author is watching Jean Auel at conventions. When someone asks her how she became a bestseller, she puts her hands out in a “you got me” gesture and says, “I did everything wrong. I really can’t tell you to do it my way. I was just lucky.” And if the audience presses her, they learn she was right: everything she did is exactly what publishers tell you not to do. Writers ask her detailed questions, and it soon becomes clear that no one else could have had the luck that she did. (And the truly wonderful book that caused it all to happen.)
If anything proves the adage that it’s different for each writer, Jean’s story does.
“Hire a copy editor, folks. Really. And a line editor. Or two truly anal friends who care nothing about plot and everything about commas and repetition. An editor or super reader would be nice to help you on the plot side.”
So for a writer without the funds/resources to pay up-front for extensive editing, would you recommend going traditional? Up until now, I’ve taken Dean’s advice by having a first reader catch any mistakes I’ve missed, then going forward with publishing. While I plan on hiring a copy editor when I start earning more (because only the truly anal can catch everything) I did not figure on hiring a full-on editor.
Luckily, for me, I have access to a former marketing/design person. But the same could be asked about formatting/cover design costs for the low-budget indie author.
Again, Rob, I really can’t give any advice that’s pertinent to your situation. Note, though, in the part you excerpted that I mentioned two truly anal friends to read the copy. If you can’t afford a copy editor, I’m sure you have a Sheldon-Cooperish friend who would be happy to tell you that you misspelled “judgment” for the fifteen time in 300 pages. Dean has a lot of suggestions on how to do it all for cheap. Follow those.
Thanks, Kris. Yeah, my question came out of a bit of desperation. 🙂 I’m grasping at straws. I’m in the indie “waiting” period, and with five novels out am trying to figure out why my sales have plateaued when I have mostly positive reviews. So I’m looking at things like copy editing, book descriptions, covers, etc. to see what might be holding me back. But I don’t really want to go back to perusing traditional publishing. Too many bad experiences.
I’m just not very good with the whole patience thing. Glad to know I’m not the only one. 🙂
Don’t we all need a little bit of Sheldon Cooper in our lives? 😉