The Business Rusch: Ain’t Nothing Perfect
Every week, I get dozens of e-mails from folks who read my blog. Most of the emails are links or comments on the topic at hand, some are requests for information, and a few are about decisions.
Either the writer has trouble with their traditional publisher, needs help with subsidiary rights, wants a list of IP attorneys to go after someone for something or, increasingly, that writer lets me know what they’ve decided to do with their career.
Some writers are entering indie publishing for the first time. These writers divide into two pretty simple categories: the previously unpublished writer who has spent years trying to break into traditional publishing, or the career writer who has finally had it with traditional publishing and wants to go it alone. (Or alone-ish)
But increasingly, I get letters from career writers who’ve tried indie publishing and are now giving it up and returning to traditional publishing. The latest one I’ve seen didn’t come from my e-mail at all. It’s Peter David who wrote a blog about his decision to go to Amazon for his next book.
And because Peter has gone public, I’m going to use him and a few others to help illustrate something I’ve realized over the past three years.
There is no perfect method to get your book to readers. None, not a one. To go indie, you need a mindset that those of us trained in traditional publishing never had. You have to realize that hundreds of sales will add up to thousands of sales if you take the long-term approach. You have to understand that you’re in business now, small business, and business owners plan their profit-and-loss statements over years, not weeks.
Most small business owners who understand what they’re getting into (or who learned this through the school of hard knocks, the way I did). They know that if their business makes a profit within three years, they’re ahead of the curve. Early on, they have to look at the small sales and extrapolate, then figure out how to increase those sales over time.
Generally, no small business owner increases sales with just one product. An empty store with only one item on the shelf will drive customers away.
You can argue that most career writers have many more items on the shelf than their indie-published book, but that’s not really true. Most of the items on the shelf have either gone out of print or had their heyday years ago. So maybe for career writers, the store has one new item and fifteen really old ones. Maybe. If you’re writing the same thing. Tie-ins and original novels are not the same thing. Romance novels and science fiction novels are not the same thing.
It takes work to establish an indie career. I don’t care who you are, a New York Times bestseller with an existing reader base, or a brand-new writer just starting out, it’ll take you time to establish yourself in this new world.
It’s a hell of a culture shock to go from selling thousands of copies of your book in the first few weeks to selling maybe 100 or 200. It feels like failure. I know this for a fact.
When I finished the first edition of The Freelancer’s Survival Guide in 2010, it became one of the first big ticket items published by WMG Publishing, which I have a stake in. I had thousands of readers coming to my blog every week to read the Guide for free (which you can still do). Many wanted that paper or e-copy and told me so. I gave away copies of the first edition for free to anyone who had donated to my blog because, honestly, I couldn’t have written the book without their help.
But hundreds, maybe a thousand people, had personally told me in comments and e-mail as well as on Facebook and Twitter, that they wanted the book and were going to buy it. So, we published it in all forms in the fall of 2010—and sold about 100 copies by January 1.
I felt awful. I had anticipated bigger sales than that. I thought everyone would rush to buy the book (no pun intended). I wondered what the heck was happening.
The sales remained steady. Then, in some countries, the small guides we’d published—How To Negotiate Anything in particular—took off. At the end of those guides was the recommendation that if you liked the short book, you might want the full Guide. And guess what? The sales of the Guide have increased.
We’re watching that same phenomena in audio now, as How To Negotiate Anything sold better than any of our other nonfiction titles in May. It’s September now, and people have finally listened to their purchased e-book. They’re buying the big honkin’ audio version of The Freelancer’s Survival Guide in greater and greater numbers.
Over the past three years, the three editions of the Guide have sold thousands of copies. One hundred here, fifty there, five in this other market. A little bit at a time. In fact, the Guide has probably sold more copies than it would have if I had gone with a traditional publisher in the first place. And, if I had gone with a traditional publisher in 2009, the Guide would most likely be out of print by now.
It would certainly have been shorter. The initial book I had designed had been about 60,000 words. Thanks to questions and suggestions from real-time readers, the final Guide ended up at 210,000 words—and I hadn’t covered everything I wanted to cover.
While I’m happier with the Guide as it is, and I love that it’s still available, I would have been very happy with the smaller book and its matching sales if I had gone traditional—in a world without indie publishing, of course. But in that world, I’m not sure I could have sold that book, to be honest.
I will tell you this: I finished the first three chapters in May of 2009, and then gave them, along with an outline, to my then-agent to sell, and he hadn’t even put it on the market by July. He wanted to wait until the “summer season” was over, because “publishers bought these kinds of books in the fall.” Yep, old-school thinking—but correct thinking for traditional publishing.
Fortunately for me, because of my agent’s delay, I was able to pull the book from consideration without saying no to any publishers. That’s when I fully committed to doing the book outside of the traditional system.
The watchword for indie publishing, for going outside the system, is patience. It’s really hard for professional career writers to have that patience. I had given up on the Guide by the beginning of 2011, and had moved on to other things, figuring the Guide was what it was. I hoped its sales would grow, but I didn’t expect them to.
We career writers learned patience long ago, but a different kind of patience. We learned that it would take time for our agents to put together a marketing plan, to get the book to the proper editors, and for those editors to actually read the book/proposal. Then it would take time for the publishing house to buy that book, and even more time for the book to be published.
But once the book was published, we learned that everything went fast. If the book didn’t sell well in its first month, then it was a failure, and you had to do triage so you could market the next book to a traditional publishing.
After thirty years of living like this, it’s really hard to understand that the first three weeks of an indie-published book mean nothing more than three weeks five years after the book’s initial publication. Every week is the same. I still struggle with that mindset. It’s hard to undo years and years of training.
So, are the other publishing choices better than indie publishing? Yes and no. That’s why I tell professional writers to make their own choices. I don’t know how people are living, whether they have day jobs, whether or not they can live on small amounts of money per month.
I’m not even sure how they define small amounts of money. A rather shocking piece in Galley Cat was about how much money fantasy writers earn. Both writers thought they weren’t making a lot of money. One stated that $2,000 to $3,000 per month was enough to pay off old credit card debt, but not enough to live on.
I just about fell over. Maybe it’s because I live in Oregon and not Los Angeles or New York, but I know a lot of middle-aged heads of families who earn $24,000 to $36,000 per year. Those families are two-income families, so their overall family earnings are higher than that $2000 to $3000 per month. The cost of living is lower here than in some places, but still—in many parts of the country, those numbers for an individual are clearly a living wage and not pocket change, as the article implied.
So, when I’m advising writers about what they should do, I rarely tell them what to do. I don’t know their circumstances, I don’t know if they consider $2,000 per month peanuts or great wealth, I don’t know if they can handle the sales racking up at 2 to 50 copies a week, I don’t know any of that. I always tell them it’s their decision, which they rarely want to hear.
There are a lot of downsides to indie, particularly for someone used to the old system. There are many upsides, including something I rarely have had in my life—a monthly paycheck. Career writers of the old school are used to large checks, and then nothing for several months. It’s actually hard to adjust to getting several small checks in that same period of time, and it takes a bit of thought to realize that those small checks add up to the equivalent of a large check.
Peter is moving away from indie publishing and going to Amazon for his next book. According to his blog post, he says he needs the advance—and I don’t doubt it. That transition between large checks and small checks, the transition between leaving an established system and stepping into a new business, is extremely hard to weather. And he’s had life crises on top of it all.
The appeal of an advance is amazing. A month after the Freelancer’s Guide appeared in the fall of 2010, I signed a three-book contract for one of my pen names. I figured I needed income for months, maybe years, just to weather the change. If I was going to commit fully to the change, which I hadn’t decided.
By the time 2012 rolled around, I have to admit, I hated that contract. It underpaid me by thousands compared to what I could get through the new world of publishing. And I had no control.
But I didn’t know that in 2010.
Traditional publishers limit the writer in territories where the book will be sold, by the places the book is available, and with time. Traditional publishers want only so many books, and they want those books stretched out over a longer period of time. One of my publishers continually publishes my books in markets that I have not licensed to that publisher. Another publisher pushed back the publication date of the second book in a new series, effectively killing the momentum, and so on.
The writer has no control once that contract is signed and the advance is paid—except to write the best book she can and hope that the book gets marketed well. The writer’s only recourse is to break the contract, and that’s not always easy, particularly if the traditional publishing company is acting in good faith with the writer.
But let’s assume that the writer—like both me and Peter—has returned to traditional publishing because of money and comfort. Will traditional publishing be better than indie?
It depends on the writer, and what the writer wants. It really does.
Because traditional publishing has its good points—that up-front advance, the freedom to worry only about the book itself, the first week/month sales in the thousands—and it has its bad points. The bad points vary from writer to writer—the delay in publication, the increasingly bad contracts, the loss of control. Some writers can live with a bad cover; others fret because the cover can’t be changed.
The good/bad points can’t always be relied upon to stay the same. Writers who sold books to Simon & Schuster in 2012 might have done so to get those books into brick-and-mortar bookstores, only to have a stunning shock when the books appeared in early 2013. S&S and the largest remaining chain story, Barnes & Noble, spent six months fighting over their contract terms, and during that time very few (almost no) S&S books graced B&N’s shelves.
That meant, for writers whose books released in that six-month period, the precious first week/month velocity in sales did not happen and/or was truncated by the dispute. Could anyone outside of either company have predicted that protracted war would have happened? No. And S&S as a corporation didn’t care about individual book titles. The company was looking at its book business as a whole. It was willing to take that short-term loss to have a long-term gain.
The problem was that for many authors that short-term loss was on their backs, and they could do nothing about it. Those March through August books are now considered passé in traditional publishing and the brick-and-mortar model (with limited shelf space), so those books will never be in B&N, at least not all of the stores. The website will probably carry them.
These disputes happen all the time, and are part of the vagaries of publishing. They’re things writers recover from, not things writers control.
Something similar has happened to writers who go with Amazon. Right now, Passive Guy calls traditional publishing’s attitude toward Amazon “Amazon Derangement Syndrome,” and really, it seems like that. Publishers–who place their books in Amazon’s store–believe (and say in public) that Amazon is evil. Amazon is bad. Amazon the horrid villain from every major movie.
Independent booksellers have a better point in their arguments against Amazon than traditional publishers do. Independent booksellers see Amazon as competition, and don’t want to do anything to support Amazon—including carrying books published through Amazon’s new publishing lines.
I get that argument, I do. But that also means this attitude will drive readers who want their favorite writer’s latest book published by Amazon to Amazon to get the book. Not quite the best business strategy, but at least (unlike Amazon Derangement Syndrome) one that makes a little bit of sense.
Still, any writer who publishes traditionally through Amazon should not do so to get their book into a brick-and-mortar bookstore. To Peter’s credit, he never lists that as a reason to sell his book to them. He’s talking advance, not books in a brick-and-mortar store. So his expectations are in line, like they should be. And maybe, just maybe, the book in Amazon’s line will promote his indie titles. I certainly hope so.
And writers who publish exclusively on Amazon should prepare to hear from readers who either can’t get on Amazon (it’s not in their country, for example), are opposed to DRM, or would simply like the book in a different format. Readers complain when they can’t get the books they want.
That’s the biggest problem we career writers have. It’s not about payment up front or payment monthly. It’s not about control or a lack of it.
We career writers were never trained to think about our readers. In fact, when we argued that our readers wanted something—the next book in a series, the previous book in the series to remain in print until the next book comes out, a different kind of fantasy novel—our traditional publishers told us that a handful of readers didn’t matter. The books had to sell Big.
And in traditional publishing’s business model, that’s true. The four hundred readers here, the fifty readers there, they don’t matter compared with the five thousand copies that the single buyer at B&N might take to stock every brick-and-mortar B&N store. By the time only 2,000 people buy those books in B&N, the traditional publisher has moved onto the next hot thing—even if it’s not by that career writer.
Thinking about our readers was something we were discouraged to do. Learning to think about readers is like learning that your small business might not make a profit for three years. For those of us with decades of traditional publishing under our belts, it has become counterintuitive.
Dean and I were fortunate. We ran a small publishing company twenty years ago. We had to have relationships with readers as well as booksellers. Both of us worked in magazines, which exist one subscriber at a time. If you don’t please your readers in the magazine world, you lose subscribers. Lose enough of them, and you have no money with which to produce your magazine.
We were reader-based long before writers should have been. Which made traditional publishing very hard for us. We knew readers wanted things; we couldn’t make our publishers pay attention.
I think we’re going to see more and more career writers like Peter David who went indie head back to traditional publishing. No matter what indie writers say, it’s not easy to put out books on a schedule, get attention for them, and then watch them grow. It’s also financially difficult, and for long-term career writers, hard to learn a whole different way to think about the business that you’ve been in your entire life.
The hybrid career writers are the ones who will survive this transition the best. They will know if their indie career can sustain them financially. They will actually have facts and figures about what works for them—provided they’re not basing that assumption on one or two indie published books, but on several titles.
Some hybrid writers will remain hybrid for their entire careers. Others will return 100% to traditional publishing. And still others will go 100% indie. It depends on their personal circumstances, their finances, their tolerance for risk, and hundreds of other things.
Unlike the past, there is no one way to be a published career writer any more.
And like the past, the ways that exist are not perfect. None of them. Indie is hard in its way, hybrid is hard in its way, and traditional publishing is hard in its way.
Ain’t nothing perfect.
I’m settling into the way that publishing will work for me now, at least for a while. I love having short fiction traditionally published. That might actually be my first love in all of fiction writing.
I’m suited to writing nonfiction in a non-traditional manner. My entire broadcast career was for non-commercial stations. My freelance print career was, well, freelance and never on salary anywhere.
I have the biggest trouble moving from novels traditionally published to novels published in non-traditional ways, but I’m adjusting, and getting really excited about it all, as last week’s post proved.
I do know, though, that my way is not everyone’s way. Even Dean, who shares a house, a career, and a philosophy with me, has a different attitude toward his writing than I do toward mine.
I’m sure all of you have different attitudes as well, and all we can do is muddle along together. Which is why this blog exists. It’s for thinking, experimenting, and learning.
However, it does have to fund itself, so if you’ve learned something or come regularly, please leave a tip on the way out.
“The Business Rusch: Ain’t Nothing Perfect” copyright © 2013 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
Great blog post — thank you for sharing it. What you said about being trained to think about readers vs. being trained to disregard readers really hit home for me. I’ve never been traditionally published, but assumed (after lots of observation) that traditional publishing really doesn’t consider readers an important factor. This is the first time I’ve ever seen somebody with experience on the traditional side of things confirm my suspicion!
Thank you for another thought provoking post. Catching up on my feedly reading, so a bit late to comment! 🙂
The overriding messages I’ve taken from reading instructive and constructive blogs like yours, Dean, and Joe Konrath are:
1. The best thing you can do for your writing career is to write that next book.
2. Success doesn’t happen overnight for 99.9% of writers.
3. Be patient, be realistic, learn to put the ‘business’ hat on, and keep up to date with the fast changing pace of this industry.
The feelings and thoughts you express in your post reflect what’s been going through my mind in the last few weeks. I keep reminding myself not to expect significant sales until after Book 3 or even Book 4. Having tried several marketing avenues this year, I kind of know what’s worked and what hasn’t for me. I have my marketing plan for next year, which WILL be less time consuming (she says optimistically). Considering how swiftly this industry changes, I have no doubt I will have to adapt that plan by December. I would like to be able to write full time in the future; but I knew starting on this road that it could take 5-10 years for that dream to become a reality.
Again, thanks for writing such a great blog and sharing your advice and experiences! 😀
As someone who spent years in the holding pattern of, “Love your story, but it’s not right for us right now so send us the next one” with traditional publishing, investing years to build up a readership doesn’t seem onerous at all. After all, the length of time between submitted manuscript and book release could be two, three, or more years.
Twelve to twenty-four months is a long time to wait on a decision like that. I’d rather have my work available for sale during that time, even if it takes twelve to twenty-four months to move beyond a handful of sales.
I’m almost finished with my first fantasy novella “Helldin’s Lore” and I’m really excited about e-publishing! I would like to be traditionally published one day through amazon as well, but that’s more so that I could get an understanding of what traditional publishing is like. From researching both mediums, I’ve always known self publishing was the way I wanted to go. Back when I was a teen writing short stories and reading novels, I always thought “if I ever sell my books, I’d want to publish and market them myself” because I’ve ALWAYS hated the idea of depending on others to do my work for me, and now that’s even easier thanks to e-books becoming such a powerful force in the literary world. In the same token, I do believe that everyone should at least attempt both sides of publishing, because you never really know which will fit you best until you try it. Thanks for the insightful post Kris!
Kris, this particular sentence of yours pops out at me: “It’s really hard to understand that the first three weeks of an indie-published book mean nothing more than three weeks five years after the book’s initial publication.” Does this affect how you do your marketing. I know that you and Dean are big proponents of “write the next book” marketing, but for those who do try to push titles through more typical promotional means, does it matter when you do the pushing? Do potential readers pay attention if you put a new push on a title that’s been out for years and has fallen way down in the charts?
You can push whenever you want to. If you want to push a book three years after publication, why not? It’s still in print. If you want a big start or to inform fans of a series the book exists, do the promotion first. Or promote five years down the road. It no longer matters.
The best promotion is always, always to write the next book.
Excellent, spot-on analysis, as usual. And I would add this one point: even the biggest traditional publishers won’t lift a finger to get textbooks in bookstores. They pay big advances, market to professors (both of which I’ve benefitted from), but the textbook arm as a matter of policy won’t deal with brick-and-mortar stores (unless they’re college bookstores).
They pay big advances? Wow, when I worked in textbook publishing, the “big” advances were the same as a midlist fiction novel advance. And yeah, the brick-and-mortar stores to them were always university bookstores. Even when the textbook publishers had a sales force. 🙂
Kris, what’s happened in publishing is a validation of what we had tried to do many years ago. We are John and Cathie Celestri blending our writing talents into the voice that is Cathie John. We’ve been together as husband and wife since late 1979; and have been writing together on and off since 1996. We authored and self published five crime fiction novels back in 1997 through 2003.
Back then, our noir/hard crime fiction novel “Little Mexico: An Original Sin City Novel” was a finalist for the Barry Award in 2001 as Best Paperback Original.
A lot has changed in publishing since we were last active in the crime fiction community. We are starting to catch up on the new realities of the literary marketplace. When we self published back in the mid-1990s and early 2000s, the process was looked upon as “vanity press”, writers not good enough for the major publishers and book chains…except we actually were a small independent publisher. We handled our own writing, editing, layout, cover art, etc, and used a service to print our books in trade paperback and hardcover. We were distributed through both Ingram and Baker & Taylor, and were stocked in brick and mortar stores such as Barnes & Noble, many independent mystery bookstores, and on Amazon. Our novels got great reviews in The Chicago Tribune, Cincinnati Enquirer, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Library Journal, and all the mystery review publications.
Circumstances forced us to stop in late 2003, but we are now ready to relaunch our writing careers, publish our efforts as eBooks, write our crime fiction stories, and re-issue our five novel back list over the next year or so.
Our first eBook re-issue is “Little Mexico” on Amazon.com. When it was first published, the thought of being accepted as real writers was a dream—now self published authors are on The New York Times and USA Best Seller lists. It seems the playing field has been changed by ePublishing.
It certainly is. And because you learned how to do it all right in the old system, you’re especially equipped to do well in the new system. Don’t forget paper books. You can still do them, and much cheaper than you did 10 years ago. Remember, they’re 80% of the market, still. Good luck with it all!
I think a lot of people have a the “get-rich-quick” syndrome without realizing it. Either that or they have a lot of kids to feed, elderly parents to care for, medical expenses and other high debts – or runaway spending habits that sap income.
I make about $36,000 a year from my day job, working part time and I live well. I would jump for joy if I made that from my writing.
I would jump for joy, too, and I agree that many people could live more cheaply than they realize. But I will say that, while I’d be ecstatic about grossing even $24,000 a year from writing, I wouldn’t quit my day job for it. At least not before I’d built up a hefty emergency fund. After self-employment taxes and self-funded healthcare, it seems like that would be a pretty tight budget for anyone without a supportive and fully employed partner. I’d be worried about unexpected expenses (illness, accident, etc.) or an unexpected drop in income throwing me into the red.
For regular self-funded health care, that’s not an issue. For self-funded emergency insurance, I would agree with you.
I regularly saw my chiropractor and primary care physician and got my annual cleanings without ever spending more than one to two hundred a month, so yeah. Health care was no issue. Insurance on the other hand…
Yes, I agree. I was rolling them into one.
I’m amazed people are saying they can’t live on $2,000-$3,000 a month. I’d be over the moon (and not needing the day job) if I made that from writing.
It really depends. My mortgage is $2,300. My health insurance alone (as a self-employed writer) is $1,110/month for my wife, two kids, and myself. That’s before transportation, taxes, food, utilities, and all the rest. So yeah, $3,000/month would definitely help, but in the Portland suburbs with four kids total in school, it doesn’t even come close to covering everything.
“One stated that $2,000 to $3,000 per month was enough to pay off old credit card debt, but not enough to live on.”
I nearly fell off my chair at that. I earn in the upper regions of that from my main part time job and my smaller part time job. Yeah, it’s 50 (or more) hours a week, but it’s more than enough to live on. Way more. After a long period of unemployment, it feels like huge wealth.
It definitely puts a new spin on the whine I keep hearing and reading that no one but the sell out superstars can make a living solely from writing fiction. What they seem to mean is that they can’t make a living right now godammit – a “living” being way more than most people would consider reasonable. I’ve long suspected it, but it’s been confirmed hugely just by that.
Kris, I really needed this. Went on Amazon yesterday, to look at books in my category. Lots of free and $.99 books. I’m pricing my book at $4.99 when it comes out in November. It’s going to be hard sledding to find my book through the slush, but I’m taking the long view. Every sale is a potential fan, a possibility for a positive review, another addition to my email list. Slowly, incrementally I will grow my audience, just as I hope to grow as a writer. Setting realistic expectations seems a good place to start.
Exactly. Congrats on the new book, btw. Always fun, imho.
“Independent booksellers see Amazon as competition . . . .”
cf. “When [competitors are] in the shower in the morning, they’re thinking about how they’re going to get ahead of one of their top competitors. Here in the shower, we’re thinking about how we are going to invent something on behalf of a customer.” –Jeff Bezos
The Big Q: How many people share the shower with Jeff Bezos? Or does Jeff use the royal ‘we’ now?
Are you wondering if there’s room?
I’ve noticed that even smaller publisher are sometimes rather anti-Amazon, and I can’t understand it. Amazon helps people find books. Maybe if I had to deal with the business end I’d feel differently. But I’m very happy with them as a customer, as well as when I indie publish. Amazon makes things easy for me, and it means a lot. They have my loyal business as a customer. When I’ve rarely received defective merchandise, they quickly made it right. When I buy an ebook and end up really not liking it after I’ve read a bit more than the sample, they let me return it for a full refund. I’ll tell you, it makes me feel much safer buying books; I know if I made a mistake it’s fixable. I just really, really like buying from Amazon. And I like publishing there, when I indie publish, because it was easy enough for me to learn! That’s a big deal for me.
Kathryn, respectfully, I must point out as a writer you are a small business owner and an entrepreneur whether you like it or not. You hire/fire agents or IP Lawyers, you have a business account at your bank, you hire accountants, you file taxes as a freelancer and deduct business expenses. You have to read and sign complicated contracts and must understand copyright.
I don’t know about you but I had a day job for over thirty years and all I had to do was show up, do my work and go home at the end of the day. Every two weeks they paid me and while I filed taxes I didn’t have any more than standard deductions.
As a indie publisher and writer I do all of the things a freelance writer does plus more of course, but it is all entrepreneurial.
Nice post, Kris, and all true. One thing I tell all beginners in this business is patience and stamina are two very important traits for anyone working in the arts. And of course if you can’t tolerate rejection you are in the wrong business.
Dear Kris, I am reading The Freelancer’s Survival Guide right now, in fact I was glued to it for a couple of hours today, and it’s one of the most tremendously helpful books I’ve ever read. I’m sorry to hear that your initial results with it were disappointing to you. After such a great gift to authors and all sorts of freelance entrepreneurs, you deserve a huge round of applause. Thank you for writing it. I took lots and lots of notes and learned a great deal from you today. 🙂
Thanks, Gael. I appreciate that. I’m very happy with the book now, but whoa was the switch-over a culture shock for me. And I appreciate your kind words even more, considering how many hours of pleasure your books have given me. 🙂
Sometime ago there was a thread on KBoards about how much a writer would need to “make a living.” Like you, Kris, I was shocked at how many responders considered $2,000-3,000 a month credit card payment money. Many estimates of living money ran into the $100,000-150,000 a year range. IMO I lived pretty well all my life, certainly paid my bills and indulged in a few hobbies, and I never quite got to $50,000 a year.
The area where we live certainly makes a difference. Children or no children makes a big difference. Desire for shiny toys really moves the goalposts.
Indie publishing has changed my retirement from strained to comfortable and debt free. If traditional were still the only way, I’d be boarding horses for the extra income, a much harder road to hoe, but everyone needs to find her own road.
I have to admit, on the days when I look at my sales and see I’m still only selling 20-30 titles total a month after two years, I just chalk it all up to retirement planning. If I keep publishing titles and they keep selling at the same rate proportionally, it should still make for a nice monthly stipend once it’s multiplied by 30 years or so.
Great and timely article for me Kris. I tried to get traditionally published about 15 years ago. I gave up after 300+ rejections and didn’t write for about 10 of those years.
Then I pissed around for the last 4 or so, and only in the past year and a bit have I gotten serious about writing again, thanks to the potential of indie publishing.
However, in this past year I’ve published 70 titles. About 80% short stories and collections and 20% novellas and novels. I haven’t broken 100 sales a month yet and the sales are barely increasing month on month. Maybe 3% to 5%, but not consistently either. Some months see a decrease.
I’ve tried permafree which hasn’t helped much. The point I’m trying to make is that it is hard being indie. Looking at it like a business and 3 years out helps. But when you put in 50k+ words a month for over a year and you look at your hourly rate it’s discouraging.
That’s the hardest part, keeping the motivation when everything you write and then publish disappears into a black hole.
Hopefully in another 2 years things will look better.
70 titles and you’re not selling 100 a month? Shoot. That doesn’t sound promising for me holding out hope. What’s your genre? Are all of your titles under the same author name?
It’s tough, I’m not gonna lie. Especially when you hear of the rockstars doing so well after less time and less titles.
I wrote/write in a variety of genres to see which would “catch”. I write science fiction, literary, action adventure, fantasy, hardboiled detective, cozy mystery, dystopia, vampire which is really horror, horror, erotica and thrillers.
Erotica I started off with thinking it was an “easy” way to make some coin. One of my least successful genres.
Cozy mysteries are showing some promise i.e. selling half a dozen or so of each title a month. So that’s where I’m focusing on now, but still not seeing big movements.
I have 4 names I write under including my real name. Lately I’ve started to put everything under my real name except for the vampire and sci-fi series I already started under a different name.
Now that’s a great name for a writer!
😉 Thank you. Maybe I should start writing under this name and see if that helps!
If you’re feeling like sales could improve, then you might want to make sure your covers brand your work and your blurbs are active sales tools. Sometimes that’s all the tweaking it takes for a big improvement in sales.
Thanks for the comment Kris. I might try tweaking the blurbs when I find some time. I’m pretty happy with the covers.
Problem with showing others is that covers are like politics. Everyone has an opinion and not everyone is right 🙂
I think my major problem is that I just haven’t got lucky yet. We’ve all seen crap covers on books that sell well.
I think we like to find a reason for big sales, no sales, when sometimes it’s just down to fairy dust, and I ain’t had Tinkerbell wave her magic wand in my direction yet.
Could also be I write like an imbecile 😉
Um, no. There are things that make covers look professional and things that make them look like an amateur designed them. Branding is a major issue (and if you don’t know what I mean, then your covers aren’t branded). And there are lots of subtle things, like font and letter placement and balance. So…if you’re showing covers to friends or other writers, then yes, it’s like politics. If you’re trying to look professional, then either you achieve it or you don’t. Dean has workshops on this, and probably blogs on it as well. Here’s the workshop link: http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?page_id=7474. The blog link would take more time to find for me, so just search the site for “covers” or “design”
I just love the fact that I can write whatever I want, publish it for sale online and then write some more! If I get a few sales a month I’m happy. Maybe one day I’ll actually get proper sales figures with money I can survive on and then I can quit the day job! That’s the dream. 😉
But while I would like to get money I’m also a bit scared about the possibility that I may start selling better at some point, mainly because if that happens I intend to be smart and concentrate more on what does seem to sell better. Yes, I need the money, yes, it would be nice to get where I can maybe survive just on my writing and don’t have to keep a day job, but there is also a sense of freedom being in the stage where I am now.
Right now I can write whatever I damn well please, and right now that is even a good way to go about this since I can’t know beforehand what might take off and what won’t. But it’s unlikely everything I like to write will please enough readers to be worth the time if I get where this really is a business for me, not just the possibility of a future business.
So if I get there I will presumably lose at least some of the freedom I have now. Maybe I’ll have to concentrate on something I have gotten a bit bored with, while something I personally love more just won’t find enough readers.
Well, I intend to to enjoy the freedom for now. And if I get to the ‘pays money’ stage, well, money is nice too. 🙂
Non-traditional, indie, author-publishers are in business. Not everyone is suited to be an entrepreneur, not everyone has the patience or the long term view. The good news is that for those who do, the option to be successfully self-published is now available. That is the beauty of the situation in which writers now find themselves. There is choice to fit your style.
The point about tending to the reader is important. That is part of the long term view, something that career writers were not taught. But they can learn. The author/reader engagement is one of the most interesting things that is happening in the new business model.
I agree about being able to learn. But part of being able to learn is being willing to learn. 🙂
I think Russ is right. (See below.) All writers, including traditional writers, are in business. Maybe it’s just easier to pretend you’re an employee instead of an entrepreneur in traditional publishing.
I’m one of those writers who went straight to indie publishing. I arrived at looking to get published right after the kindle first hit the world, and the more I learned about traditional publishing, the more I decided that it wasn’t for me.
So I’m currently nearing the end of my second year in business as an indie publisher and continuing to cultivate patience. 😀
My first year in business saw very sporadic (and tiny) sales, many of them (I suspect) to family and friends. A few to complete strangers – which was progress. And one lucky break when a blogger found my stories, really liked them, and told the world about them on his blog.
Sixteen months after my first release (with seven published titles at that time), I seemed to gain traction in sales, selling from 10 to 20 units (total, not per title) each month. This has continued through the present (now 20 months out).
Many writers would likely laugh at these sales. But, to me, they are a measurable and significant change from the earliest days of my indie publishing operation. I used to have many weeks pass without a single sale. Now it is rare to have more than 4 days pass between sales. Something has changed. (And in a direction I like!)
Just this month, I’ve been astonished to see sales in Europe of one of my newly released POD books. For some reason, I’d expected all my early sales to come in ebooks. So the paper sales are surprising to me.
Thus far, I am very pleased with my decision to go indie. I can see that I am building something, and I sense that I’m building something big. It hasn’t reached the take-off point yet, but it’s taking the shape I want for it. I need merely keep working and it will become all, and maybe more, that I dream.
This post gives me so much hope for my own career. Good luck to you 🙂
Thanks, Amber! Good fortune be yours as well.
I think watching the growth is fun–when I have the right attitude toward it, which I do now. But it took some time to learn. Of course, so did traditional publishing. 🙂 Indie publishing is more of a natural fit for me.
Congrats on the sales and the growth!
I have my moments of angst, especially whenever I lose my sense of perspective. But, honestly, every single sale thrills me. My reaction is: Wow! I wrote this story. And had so much fun writing it. And now someone I’ve never met is reading it! How cool is that!
I agree with Amber. This comment has given me a lot of hope.
Quite true, Kris, your thoughts about this being a business. That’s the first thing I say in a workshop, and proceed to teach the fundamentals of the biz, so people know they have to think those steps through for themselves, with quality controls.
And you’re so right about patience, too, which is why my last step is “Repeat over and over the rest of your life.”
I love that quote, James. I might steal it. (Okay, I’ll credit you.) “Repeat over and over the rest of your life.” Perfect!
Kris, I must disagree with you on one point. It’s not just the writers heavily involved in traditional publishing methodology who aren’t thinking long term. I see it in a lot of indie writers as well. Things like I haven’t sold a book today. I’m a total loser, If I market more, my book will sell, and I only sold 1,000 copies this month! What am I going to do?
Maybe I got lucky. I worked at a bookstore long enough to see the seasonal trends in sales. Yes, the trends are slightly different on the e-book side than the paper side, but they still exist.
All I can say is trust your readers. If you please them, they’ll recommend you to their friends. (And yes, I stole that from Jeff Bezos. *grin*)
Good points, Suzan. 🙂