Business Musings: Things Indie Writers Learned in 2014

I’d love to say nothing, but that’s not true—if we’re discussing indie writers who have remained in the business for several years. There will always be new indie writers who know very little, and there will always be those with “experience” who turn a year or two worth of sales into a know-it-all platform.

However, those indie writers who’ve been at this since the beginning of the self-publishing revolution in 2009 have learned a lot in 2014. Like last week’s piece, “What Traditional Publishing Learned in 2014,” [link], this week’s will be my opinion. Next week, I’ll examine what I learned (or relearned) in 2014, before moving to brand-new topics.

A few bits of organizational business: Unlike my previous two blog series, The Freelancer’s Survival Guide  and The Business Rusch, Business Musings will appear irregularly. Sometimes it’ll show up in the old Thursday slot like last week’s, and sometimes it’ll show up on a different day like this week’s. Sometimes it’ll be long (like this week), sometimes there will be two or three posts in a week, and sometimes there will be none. If you worry that you might miss one, check back and look at the tab Business Musings under either the Business Resources or Writer Resources in the header.

Also, please note that, as in the past, I’ll be using “indie writer” instead of “self-published writer,” following the music model. I’ll also talk about “indie publishing” instead of “self publishing,” because so many writers who are not with traditional publishers have started their own presses. It’s not accurate to lump all writers who are not following the traditional route into the self-publishing basket any longer, if it ever was.

So, back to the topic at hand. What did indie writers learn in 2014? I wish they all learned the same things simultaneously, but they didn’t (and won’t). I also wish that there were indie writer financial statements, like there are financial statements for the big traditional publishers (which is what I based much of last week’s piece on).

Even if indie writers have formed corporations, those corporations are privately held, and therefore the quarterly financial reports are not public. Privately held companies do not need to list their earnings to anyone outside of the company (except the IRS), and therefore the smart ones do not.

So, in this blog post, I’m piecing together a lot of other people’s blog posts, anecdotal evidence, and just plain common sense. In other words, good old journalist me feels a bit uncomfortable, even though this is an opinion piece, because I don’t have as much quantifiable information as I’m used to for these blogs.

What have indie writers learned?

Writing Is Hard

Telling stories is fun. Every person does it. Some of us do it better than others. When we’re in school, those of us who tell stories verbally often get pushed into theater or the dramatic arts. Those of us who tell stories well on paper often get rewarded with excellent grades and much acclaim. Teachers love good writers. And good writers are told they’re talented.

As a student, I often wrote essays instead of taking multiple-choice tests, partly because even then I was a good writer, but also because I’m dyslexic. I screw up a multiple-choice test most of the time.

Writing was easy; multiple choice was hard.

When something is easy, then you should do it, right?

The problem is that when you go from the high school or college stage to the Big International World of Storytelling, your chops can’t be just okay. They have to be wonderful. Even if you have an innate talent, you have to improve on that talent.

Plus, writers spend most of their time alone. Writers get no feedback, and what feedback they get is often negative.

It takes a certain personality type to persevere through the solitude and negative feedback. I often say I’m a writing junkie, but more accurately, I’m a storytelling junkie. I consume and create story in equal measures. Take my stories away, I’ll wither and die.

Most people have a real life that writing gets in the way of. I have a writing life that real events interrupt. Most writers who have committed a novel or two find the writing life not to their taste.

Solitude and making things up is not for everyone.

Nor should it be.

Publishing Is Hard

It doesn’t matter if you’re self-published, published by a small press, or published by a big traditional press, publishing is fraught with all kinds of pitfalls. And they collide with the work you do—the stories you tell, which are part of you.

Self-publishing is even harder, because you have to learn the skills of running an actual business. No one is capable of writing a fantastic book, doing a fantastic cover, writing a fantastic cover blurb, designing a marvelous interior, copyediting their own book, marketing that book properly, and writing the next book. You will do some of that poorly. Guaranteed, you’ll copy edit poorly. You can’t see your own mistakes.

At some point, a writer will have to learn how to manage contractors or employees, how to handle accounting and invoicing, how to read contracts, and how to do all those things most writers are trying to escape when they’re telling stories.

If you don’t learn to love business, self-publishing can be a soul-sucking experience.

The problem is that if you don’t learn to love business, you’ll get destroyed in traditional publishing. It’ll just take ten years, where in self-publishing, it’ll take less time. That’s why I do a business blog for writers. Business, as you’ll see below, is the thing that destroys the dreams of most writers.

In this new world, business-oriented writers will do better than those who want to be taken care of. But even those business-oriented writers had better have a really tough skin.

Achieving Real Success Is Hard

Sure, your first book can have 50,000 free downloads. Is that success?

Not to a long-term writer.

Sure, your first book can have 50,000 99-cent downloads. Is that success?

Not to a long-term writer.

Sure, your first book can have 50,000 $4.99 downloads. Is that success?

Well, that’s a hell of a start, the kind that’ll make the long-term writer start rooting for you, and hoping you make it through all the upcoming pitfalls. Why? Because readers are spending noticeable money (not pocket change) on your book. Lots of readers. You’re developing a true fan base, and you’re making real money.

We all measure success differently, and we should know what it is before we start publishing. But most writers don’t. Success is finishing a novel (check). Success is getting that novel published (check). Success is getting good reviews (check). Success is getting paid for that novel. (check) Success is making a living. (um, what?)

Making a living means doing the process all over again. And again, and again. Most writers achieve the first goals or a version of the first goals. And then, the real work hits them.

Lots of writers have been publishing indie long enough to realize that self-publishing is as much work as a day job, if not more work. Lots of writers who started their own publishing companies have learned that indie publishing is more work than a day job.

And expensive. Because once you’re in business, you have to pay for things that, as a writer, you usually don’t have to pay for.

Even major success—paid sales in the tens or hundreds of thousands—requires undreamed-of work. Those sales decline without more work—more books, more books, more books.

Eventually, maintaining success becomes as hard if not impossible.

The publishing business is about ups and downs, not a slowly upward trending line. And that’s really hard. Especially when success is fleeting and its definition constantly changes.

Making a Living Is Hard

Without focus, making a living at writing and publishing is almost impossible. The focus has to be two-pronged: producing the best books you can possible produce (which means constant learning on the writing) and publishing your books in a way that capitalizes not just on current product, but on future and past product as well (which means constant learning about business).

Most writers simply do not have the training for this. Indie publishing is harder, significantly harder, than traditional publishing. Yes, the percentage the writer earns per sale is larger, but the time the writer spends on things that aren’t writing is also larger.

It takes time to learn how hard writing and publishing is. It seems easy at first. It seems like something that talented college kid can do with his eyes closed.

But it’s not. Eventually the eyes must open, butts must be planted in chairs, work must get completed, published, marketed, rinse, repeat, and often without quickly quantifiable results.

Writers want it now. (We always have.) Most writers won’t get it now. They’ll get a taste of it, and then that taste will go away. Some writers are stubborn and stick it out for a few years, but after that, they get discouraged (and so do their friends and family).

To make matters worse…

The Gold Rush Has Ended

Even those whose talent for denial is as big as the ocean can see that now. Yes, there was a gold rush and it was brief. It happened mostly in 2009 and early 2010, when there wasn’t enough material on Amazon’s Kindle Store to satisfy the needs of the readers with their brand new Kindle devices. Couple that with the relative ease of uploading books onto Amazon’s e-book platform, and the barriers to publication broke down.

It’s important to understand that because there wasn’t a lot to buy, readers would pick up free books or books from rapidly spreading word of mouth, just to sample those books. Even though the books had bad covers and no copy-editing, the books would sell well if they contained a good story.

Traditional publishing decided to upload some of its backlist in 2010, and their ebook design sucked as well. It took everyone a while to get a handle on the format.

Once that handle happened, though, the gold rush ended. The days of slapping something up and making a lot of sales were gone by the end of 2010. But the rumors persisted and a lot of people got into indie publishing expecting to get rich.

For a while, it was possible to game Amazon’s algorithms to increase sales, but even that had pretty much ended by 2012. I’ll discuss this more later in the article, but here’s the upshot:

You are not entitled to fame and riches just because you published a book.

It has always been this way, and it was even this way in the gold rush. There had to be something good about that book to get a reader’s attention.

First-time writers can still outsell established writers with the right book, but how do you know what the right book is? You never will. No one will until that book takes off. It can’t be manipulated. People have tried for generations. If manipulation were possible, traditional publishing would hire writers to write the same book over and over, and never accept anything outside of their system again.

What does the absolute, complete, and total end of the gold rush mean?

It means that long-time indie writers have finally realized that if they did everything “right” (put their books free or 99 cents, had a newsletter, had the bestest key words, wrote something that was “hot”) and the books didn’t sell gangbusters and make the writer rich, then the writer had to make changes. And those changes would be for the long haul.

The idea of those changes, the fact that it isn’t easy, is causing a lot of writers to question everything. As Smashwords’ Mark Coker said in a blog post in November: 

The gravy train of exponential sales growth is over. Indies have hit a brick wall and are scrambling to make sense of it. … Some authors are considering quitting. It’s heartbreaking to hear this, but I’m not surprised either. When authors hit hard times, sometimes the reasons to quit seem to outnumber the reasons to power on. Often these voices come from friends and family who admire our authorship but question the financial sensibility of it all.

The absolute unarguable end of the gold rush made 2014…

The Year of the Quitter

Writers have disappeared from the dawn of publishing. I wrote an entire three-blog series about that in 2012, listing 12 reasons why writers stop writing. 

Those twelve reasons are:

  1. Writers can’t get a new book contract under that name.
  2. They can’t get a new book contract because their genre has vanished.
  3. They became toxic—and that toxicity trickled through the entire industry.
  4. They achieved all their goals.
  5. They were no longer interested in writing.
  6. They moved to a different part of the industry.
  7. They got discouraged.
  8. They couldn’t handle the solitude.
  9. They couldn’t handle the financial problems inherent in a writing career.
  10. They had life or health issues that interfered with the writing
  11. They didn’t keep up with the changes in the industry.
  12. They sold or gave away too many rights to their books.

Writers have quit self-publishing throughout the past five years. I wrote a blog post in 2013 about traditionally published writers who gave self-publishing one chance, then returned to traditional publishing. 

Those of us who have been in the publishing business for a long time have seen writers go away from the start of our careers. It’s predictable. We also knew that the rate of writers disappearing would accelerate from 2014-2015, when indie writers realized just how hard writing is. A lot of indie writers disagreed with us every time we made that prediction. They believed that if a writer didn’t have to deal with traditional publishing, the writer wouldn’t quit.

And now, there are blogs and comments and anecdotal evidence everywhere that indie writers are quitting in droves. This point’s hardest of all to quantify, because most indie writers who have given up just fade away. It’s not even a what-happened-to, because most of these folks never had a following. But for those who did have a small following, a few people noticed when these writers faded.

For example, Michael Kingswood, a commenter on Dean’s blog, did an informal study of the writers reporting sales on the Kindle Boards. Michael wrote on Dean’s “Writing in Public: Year 2, Month 4, Day 25” post: 

…a lot of the folks who were posting about killer sales [on the Kindle Boards] a couple years ago have vanished. Some of them I’ve looked up on Amazon or wherever, curious to see what they’ve been up to. Some are still going strong, plugging along, just not coming by the forums anymore (I guess they got bored too). But many others haven’t released a book in a while. I can think of a couple multi-tens-of-thousands sellers from the $.99 or bust days who have put nothing new out for a long time, like years. Hell, most of the other indies that I started with and conversed with back in the day have vanished completely. Blogs haven’t been updated in months or years, no releases in that long either.

Because I paid so little attention to those “bestsellers” in the beginning, I would have no idea how to replicate Michael’s search. I used the Kindle Boards then as I do now: I look for the occasional new promotional idea, modify it to my purposes, and move on. I never get involved in the discussions or the personalities—even when I’m the one being trashed. (Which happened a lot when I was doing the Business Rusch regularly.)

Sometimes writers leave indie publishing in a very public way. As I settled in to write this section, I did a Google search for a blog post I had seen in the fall, written by a writer who quit publically. I couldn’t find that post quickly. I found a different one instead, which went up earlier this month.

Suw Charman-Anderson, a British digital rights advocate and major blogger who crowd-funded her first novella, wrote a long blog on why she’s no longer going to self-publish her fiction.

She lists three reasons for quitting.

The first is the changes in the VAT early next year. (She calls the changes by the law’s nickname, VAT mini-one-stop-shop or VATMOSS.) She sells her books on her website and the change in the VAT law means she’s going to stop. She writes:

I earn so little through ebook sales that there’s just no point in me continuing to sell them, as the time, energy and money spent on dealing with VATMOSS would be entirely wasted…. And yes, there are other etailers I could sell through, but again, there’s a cost-benefit analysis to be done and, given my meagre back catalogue and the fact that I am not producing new works at a fast enough rate, I’m back to finding it not worth the time right now.

The second reason she’s quitting?

I have entirely fallen out of love with self-publishing. I started to get fed up with the verbiage, the self-congratulatory bullshit, the boasting, the ideologues preaching to their choirs, the judgemental cockwombles, and the ridiculous purity tests about a year ago.

Yeah, 2014 was pretty ugly in the writer wars. I’ve been through writers wars before, and I wait them out, but I was happy not to be blogging in the summer. Because of some of the other writer wars, I’m not going to my beloved sf conventions for a while, so I get this reason for quitting. I just don’t get it enough to quit writing.

And the final reason—probably the real reason?

Because self-publishing has stopped me from writing. I didn’t anticipate that particular side-effect. In fact, I had anticipated quite the opposite. I write my best stuff when I know it’s going to be read. I wouldn’t blog if I didn’t know that someone out there would be reading it…. When you do something you love for a hobby and then try to turn that hobby into a business it can suck all the joy out of that thing that you do….

I think a lot of self-published writers who have quit or who are thinking of quitting can empathize with that bit about turning a hobby into a business. I like Charman-Anderson’s honesty here, because so many authors don’t want to admit what they’re really feeling. She says it in a nutshell:

If I’m ever going to write again, I need to reclaim it as something akin to hobby. It’s not, at this point in time or at this point in my life, a business [Emphasis KKR]

Charman-Anderson’s blog inspired a few people in her comments to reveal that they too have given up on self-publishing.

Honestly, I’m all for it. Not because I’m competitive, and I want the other writers to disappear, but because I believe that there are hundreds of different ways to be a writer. I have always said that I blog for established career writers, writers who consistently make a living at writing. You’ll note in my blogs over the years that I give equal treatment to traditional publishing and indie publishing because both are valid ways to make a living. A third way has appeared: being a hybrid writer. That’s the career path I’ve chosen.

But it’s not an easy path for anyone, and it’s not easy to make a living as a writer.

Most writers—even those who have had some success—quit the business. The publishing business is hard. It’s not hard in that way the poor construction workers at the bottom of my hill have to deal with; as I write this, those poor people working in a torrential downpour as idiot holiday tourists are zooming through the construction zone at 30 miles over the speed limit. That’s dangerous as well as hard. Nor is publishing hard in the way that being a surgeon is. I make one tiny mistake as a writer, and I delete and try over. The surgeon makes one tiny mistake, and someone could die.

But publishing is hard emotionally and it’s hard financially, particularly in the beginning.

I don’t know anything about the writers that Michael Kingswood mentioned or the ones in Charman-Anderson’s comment thread. But if you look at the 12 reasons writers quit, then you glance at Charman-Anderson’s blog, you’ll see that she gave reasons 7, 9, and 11 (VATMOSS) as her reasons for leaving self-publishing, 7 being the main reason.

If she hadn’t gotten discouraged, she would have overcome 9 and 11. But she doesn’t enjoy writing any longer, so she’s trying to recapture the joy.

What writer among us can argue with that? I think that’s a wonderful, valid goal, and I think if you scratch a lot of writers who’ve “quit” writing, you’ll find that they, like Charman-Anderson, have simply given up writing in public.

For everyone who spoke up about quitting, a dozen more have just vanished. This is not something to rejoice or criticize (so be careful in the comments). This is just something that is and always has been.

It’s sad if the writer has to let go of a dream. But sometimes, letting go of one dream enables people to find their actual dream. And that’s a good thing.

The Rise of the Survivors

I’m pretty sure more writers quit than survived publishing in 2014, but that’s because more writers always quit than survive. As I said above, the entire profession is hard, and for those people who want to get by without working hard, this profession is not for them. (Yes, I have a blog post on this coming in 2015.)

But those indies who’ve been at this for a few years and have survived learned a bunch of things in 2014.

Those things are:

Gaming The System Is Impossible

I started a blog post sometime last summer titled “Whining Is Not A Business Strategy,” and mercifully for all of us, I did not finish it. What caused that post, in addition to the big traditional publishing fight and all those trad-pubbed authors with their New York Times ads, was the complaints happening in the indie world.

Rather than link to them (which means I have to revisit them), I will list some of them. If you hear words in your head as you read, hear these in the tone of a five-year-old who doesn’t want to go to bed (and add That’s Not Fair! to the end of every sentence).

  • “Every time we figure out how Amazon’s algorithm works, Amazon changes the algorithm.”
  • “Free doesn’t help me sell my books any more.”
  • “99 cents doesn’t help me sell my books any more.”
  • “The tags are gone.”
  • “I can’t seem to get enough reviews.”
  • “Now, when I post on social media, no one responds.”

And on, and on, and on. Every trick that writers have used to up their “bestseller” numbers—usually on Amazon—worked for a nano-second, or worked in 2010, or worked for a month in 2013, and don’t work now.

Generally speaking, the first person who tried it had some success. The first person who blogged about it sent a whole bunch of like-minded system-gaming writers into the algorithm and guess what? They broke it. When algorithms are being manipulated, they cease to work as intended, which is as a snapshot of the market.

Gigantic retailers like Amazon use those algorithms to find out what consumers want, not enable writers who would rather take shortcuts to sell more copies of their books. So why wouldn’t Amazon or Kobo or iTunes change up how they do things when someone messes with their systems? Their business isn’t about writers. It’s about selling stuff to consumers.

Which brings us to the next thing indie writers learned in 2014…

Amazon Does Not Love You

Oh, the wailing. Oh, the teeth-nashing. OMG, Kindle Unlimited screwed writers who went exclusively with Kindle. When Amazon decided to go head-to-head with Oyster and Scribd and all those streaming book services, and shoved Amazon-only writers into Kindle Unlimited, it became clear that Amazon didn’t introduce its Kindle Direct Publishing Platform to help writers.

Amazon did it to help Amazon better serve its customers.

Kindle Unlimited made books free across the board. So the consumer who subscribed had access to free books, and those discount buyers? The ones who only “bought” free and 99-cent books? They flocked to Kindle Unlimited instead.

This has had an impact on the discount writers. (Those who were making a living [or something of a living] on writing books cheaply priced.) As the latest Author Earnings Report stated:

For indie authors as a whole, Kindle Unlimited likely means a lower overall share of daily author earnings going to artists’ pockets. (Similar to the effect music subscription services have had for those artists.) The boost in sales do not seem to make up for the lost market share of other sales outlets. If exclusivity was not required to participate in KU (or if indie authors were paid the same as traditionally published ebooks), this would not be the case.

The problem with Kindle Unlimited isn’t that it exists. It is that it penalizes the writers who have gone to Amazon exclusively. In other words, those indie authors who were Amazon’s best friends? The break-up is a little messy.

In the last month, authors from H.M. Ward to J.A. Konrath have left Kindle Select. Konrath won’t say how much his sales have decreased, but Ward was honest about her losses. She said that her income went down by 75%. And she’s not alone, according to an article on The Digital Reader titled, “Author Discontent Grows as Kindle Unlimited Hits Its Fifth Month.”

Does that mean Amazon will now get rid of the service and play nice with writers? Not if the service is making Amazon money and keeping its customers happy.

Because Amazon doesn’t love you. Amazon is clear about who it loves. It loves its customers. And it loves its customers because its customers are the source of its revenue.

So, like any big company, Amazon loves money.

Who knew?

In addition to learning that Amazon doesn’t love its indie supporters, indie writers also learned…

No One Loves You

Oh, dear. That fickle finger of fate. If I had room, I’d post a gif.

Over and over again in 2014, indie writers learned that big companies were…big companies. It took months into 2014 before EroticaGate receded into the past. Kobo removed erotic book titles wholecloth in October of 2013, and then reviewed all of the books in an attempt to be fair before making the removal permanent. (For many books, the removal wasn’t permanent.)

Books got pulled for other reasons. Amazon would ban an author who wrote (nasty) reviews of another author’s work. If a book looks “suspicious,” meaning it might have stolen copyrighted material inside, the book got taken down without a hearing. All sites have that policy. Some allow the writer to appeal. Some do not.

There is no guarantee, none, that a book will appear in a bookstore. I don’t care if that bookstore is a brick-and-mortar store down the block or a bookstore that exists only on line.

Writers are not entitled to have their books on the virtual shelves or the real shelves.

And indies really, truly, completely learned that lesson in 2014.

Your Readers Don’t Even Love You (All The Time)

You don’t collect and hoard readers. Readers can collect and hoard books. It doesn’t work the other way around.

Readers support the authors whose work they enjoy. Readers can become very passionate about writers/books/series. But when that writer stops writing or the books don’t appear fast enough or the series doesn’t get complete, the reader moves on to other writers’ work.

Sorry. Your readers might love you today, but six months from now your readers (particularly your younger readers) might consider you a phase that they outgrew.

Just because you have a reader doesn’t mean you get to keep them. You must earn them. You’re only as good as your most recent book—whatever that is. I add “whatever that is” because in this world, books don’t go out of print. So to one reader, your most recent book might have been published in 2010, and to another, your most recent book really is your most recent book.

If the reader doesn’t like that book, then the reader probably won’t pick up your next—or pick it up as fast as he normally would.

And a lot of very popular writers learned those lesson in 2014. That was one of the Kindle Unlimited lessons (see above).

If readers can get something for less, they will, even if that might hurt the writer’s bottom line. It makes sense. Are you going to spend a lot of money to support someone else when you need that money yourself? Not unless you’re the parent of or the responsible party for that someone else.

2014 was the year in which many indie writers learned they can’t rely on their readers to always fill in the financial gaps…even if the sales figures remain the same.

(Sidebar: 2015 will be the year that traditionally published bestsellers will learn that lesson. Again, that’s an upcoming post.)

The successful indie writer doesn’t take her readers for granted—and she certainly never talks about “getting” readers, as if she can keep them. The successful writer should be grateful for each and every reader she has, and even more grateful for the returning readers.

I know I am.

Sales Based On Price No Longer Work

They really haven’t worked for years, but, like the gold rush, even the most denial-filled indie writers are starting to figure out that just because their books are cheap, it doesn’t mean readers will pick up that book. For some of the reasons why, see the Gaming The System part above.

I’ve written about this before, especially in my Discoverability posts earlier in the year. The arguments I got about price were just irritating. It didn’t help that I wrote them backwards (as I often do when I’m structuring a book). The information on price—and how-to price your work—is best in the book Discoverability which came out this fall.

Or read those blog posts here for free (horrors! Free!), but start with “Marketing And Readers” and go back to the pricing posts. 

Russell Blake has a lovely blog on price called “The New Landscape.” (Even though the landscape isn’t new. It’s the way that retail works.) And now that traditional publishers have been dragged kicking and screaming into pricing ebooks as ebooks not as a necessary evil that cuts into hardcover sales, the final nail really is in the indie-is-cheaper coffin. Go. Read the post. He might be talking to you. 

I’m not going to dwell on pricing here. Let Blake fight that fight. I fought it earlier in the year, and I’m pooped. If you haven’t learned that you’re selling books retail by now, and that means learning all the stuff other retail businesses learn about price (Google “pricing strategies for retail.” Go ahead. I dare you). There’s a lot to learn, and you don’t learn it by doing what other writers do. You learn business.

The surviving indies are doing just that.

As they realize—or as Blake pointed out in his blog…

Running With The Big Dogs Is Hard

Now that the last thing that differentiated traditional publishing from indie—price— has leveled out, indies discovered in 2014 that they’re no longer competing with each other. They’re competing with traditionally published books, including long-term bestsellers who, I’m sorry, know more about craft than I do. Hell, I’m constantly learning how to improve my storytelling from these folks.

You should too.

Because if you want to sell your books at big numbers, then you need to offer as good or better products than the long-term traditional bestsellers do.

If that scares you and makes you want to quit, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

If that excites you, welcome, my friend. We have a lot to discuss.

Yep, running with the big dogs is hard. It has always been hard. Even when indie writers sold well at cheap prices, they were competing with the big dogs. And they weren’t really doing better—except that they got a better royalty rate. Indies were selling niche books in a niche market. As that market grew, the indie market share grew—but so did the Big Dog market share.

If that weren’t true, then traditional publishers wouldn’t have gotten into prolonged fights with online retailers—first Simon & Schuster with Barnes & Noble in 2013 (remember that?) and then everyone and Amazon. The Justice Department wouldn’t have gotten involved.

We’re talking about a lot of money, folks, and indie right now only has a teeny tiny bit of the pie. You want more, up your game.

Or as Blake says,

Pro basketball players don’t tell themselves that they don’t have to be all that great because there are plenty of mediocre players. Pro dancers don’t argue that they should be given center stage because they’re precious snowflakes, and their deficiencies should be ignored. Pro competitors in any arena strive to be the absolute best, and demand the most out of themselves, making no excuses, asking for and offering no quarter.

The indies who can’t cut it are leaving in droves. The survivors who remain are tough competitors. They might not be able to play one-on-one with LeBron, but they’re working on it.

And that’s all we can do.

The major lesson those indies have learned in 2014 is…

There Is No Status Quo

Working in the arts means accepting constant change. Constant change. The change hit the publishing industry in its delivery systems as well in the 21st century, and that was the shock.

But so many writers kept waiting for things to stabilize. They thought once they figured out the algorithms, they had it made. Once they figured out how to leverage free, they had it made. Once they figured out how to “get” readers, they had it made.

Um, nope.

Being an artist is about constant improvement. Working forward. Doing your best work. But your best work this year should be better than your best work in 2010. Does that mean you should revise everything you did in 2010 to make it more appropriate for 2015? Nope.

Move forward.

One of the stupidest gambits I’ve heard from writers in recent years comes from the indie world. Apparently, writers are now searching key words on Amazon bestseller lists—and writing books based on those key words.

Oh, heavens, folks. The Amazon bestseller lists are a fraction of the market in the first place, and in the second, they only reflect what sells well now. What will sell well next Christmas is anyone’s guess—and generally speaking, anyone will be wrong.

All these gamings and gambits and strategies are based on status-quo thinking.

Smart survivor indies realize that they need to do the best they can, writing what interests them, then putting the correct cover on the book for that book’s publication date, maybe marketing that book or maybe not, and then writing the next book.

Because if you’ve pleased a reader with a good story and the reader finishes that story, you have a short window for that reader to search for another book of yours. Once the window is closes, the reader moves on to other writers, and forgets you.

Not even readers remain the same from minute to minute.

There is no status quo in the arts. None. Never has been, never will be.

So stop searching for one, and move forward, doing your best work.

Like the smart indies are doing.

Smart indies have made one other major realization in 2014, and it’s an important one.

There Is Such A Thing As An Indie Midlist Career

Just like in traditional publishing, indie publishing has proven over and over again that not every writer is a true bestseller—and by that, I mean someone who earns 6-to-8 figures per year regularly on his books.

But, as the Passive Guy proved with his posts called “Indie Authors Quitting Their Day Jobs,” lots and lots and lots of indie authors are making enough to out earn what they earned working for someone else. 

M.C.A. Hogarth wrote the best blog on this, though. She understands the financial value of the artistic freedom that indie writing has given all of us. She writes,

And here’s the best news of all: I don’t have to be a bestseller to make comfortable money. In the past, if I had wanted to stay home and write books full-time, I had to hope I could sell my books to thousands of people. Now, I can make good money selling to hundreds. And hundreds of people is do-able. It might take some time to get there—I put my first story up on Amazon in 2009, so I’m into year 5 here—but it can be done.

This, this, is what the self-publishing revolution has brought us. It has brought us writers who can write whatever they want. All those writers who wanted to get rich quick or who wanted millions of sales as validation or who write to order because they think that’s how it’s done are wrong.

They didn’t survive or, if they’re still with us, they won’t be around five years from now.

Writers like M.C.A. Hogarth? Writers like me? We’ll be around.

Because we’re doing what we love.

And when you do what you love, you learn all aspects of it, from craft to business. You do what you need to in order to continue doing what you love.

But mostly, you get rewarded for your creativity in large and small ways.

What did indie writers learn in 2014? Hell if I know. I learned (again) that this is one marvelous and exciting career. I learned I’m lucky to do it for a living.

I learned that life is pretty damn good.

Next week, I’ll post a long blog on the details of the things I’ve learned in 2014—warts and all.

And then in 2015, I’ll post some of those (already finished) blogs I’ve promised you.

Yes, I’m back. And happy to be writing nonfiction again.

Who’d’ve thunk it?

Certainly not me.

Thanks for visiting the blog—and thanks for all the support last week. Your letters, comments, and private notes really touched me. Thanks too for the donations, because I don’t get paid for most of the nonfiction that I write.

So…if you found anything of value in this post, please leave a tip on the way out. And yes, White Mist Mountain is my company. 🙂

Thanks!

Click Here to Go To PayPal.

“Business Musings: “Things Indie Writers Learned in 2014,” copyright © 2014 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

 





78 responses to “Business Musings: Things Indie Writers Learned in 2014”

  1. Rob Vagle says:

    *LOVE*

    (Looking forward to seeing you and Dean at the anthology workshop!)

  2. Thank you for writing this. It should be required reading for everyone contemplating an indie career. If, after reading it, they are not discouraged, then perhaps they have what it takes to succeed at this biz someday. (Seriously, I’m presenting on this topic at a local library in a couple of weeks, and I’ll be recommending this post to the participants!)

  3. A deep thanks for writing this post! I’ve been self-publishing for a year now (erotic fiction), and have recently been researching more of the business side of it. Before then, the rest of my life was just too busy to make time for it. This post was fantastic on giving an overview of the state of self-publishing today. There is so much advice out there about how to boost sales, but I felt like you gave a straight-forward look at reality. Strategies that used to be successful aren’t anymore. I’ll still try some things to hopefully gain new readers (like occasional free books), but my main strategy is to keep writing, publishing, and blogging. It’s certainly a marathon, not a sprint.

  4. JB Schroeder says:

    Thank you, Kris. Fantastic article. Am aiming to indie publish in 2015, and I’m figuring if this didn’t scare me off, I’ll be okay. : ) I’ve been trying to keep expectations/hopes in check and think of it as a long haul endeavor and this is certainly a good reminder to that end!

  5. Thank God! I thought I was alone in my struggles 🙂
    The only thing that kept me going through 2014 was having a long-running series to finish. Without it, I probably would have joined the quitters – and I still may have to next year. All the things above are true, except KU, which I stayed away from… my Amazon earnings plummeted, and Nook sales barely made up the difference. I’m going back to the day job next (soon to be this) year – maybe the boredom of the daily grind will pull me back to writing, because for now it’s become a chore.

  6. Melanie Abed says:

    I loved this so much. I found myself nodding along with all your points, but then I often do, because I always appreciate your sensible point of view. I’m glad to see you writing about the publishing industry again, your clarity and perspective are sorely needed over the din…so, thank you for your grounding comments.

  7. Wow! Some read! Need some time – like a couple of days- to get all that digested.And yes, everything makes sense, on first read (there will be at least one more). 2015 will let me find out whether I am a survivor.

  8. Laura Kirwan says:

    Kris, it’s so nice to hear from you again on this stuff. What I’m finding interesting about the current handwringing regarding KU is how quickly many writers are falling into the same ossified thinking patterns for which traditional publishing is criticized. I only started my indie career in 2014, and I’m already seeing indies who are trapped in 2009 thinking and struggling to adapt as those earlier tactics have started to fail. This industry is so far away from stabilizing–whatever that means at the current pace of technological change–that the new conventional wisdom should be that there’s no such thing as conventional wisdom and that all publishers — from the Big Five all the way down the scale to self-pubbers like me, sitting at my kitchen table–need to be willing to try, fail, learn, try something new, and continue to do that over and over.

  9. I write because I can’t not write. I go crazy if I’m not writing. And I write a romance sub-genre traditional publishers have no idea what to do with, as evidenced by two of the more open e-presses canceling contracts.

    I self-published my first novel three months ago. It took me two months to make back expenses at one of the higher indie price points, and it was enough to hook me. I’m figuring out how things work on the business end, and pushing ahead with three planned new novel releases for 2015, a boxed set of books 1-3 (I’m a fan of stuff like that, so I want to experiment with it), and at least one paper release. Hopefully two.

    I’m not afraid to try stuff, and I know this is a long game. What I’m doing is exciting! As I read this post, I was sitting here nodding my head. I do this because I love a challenge, because I can write what brings me joy, and because I’m not afraid to fail and try again.

    I am having so much fun! I’d love to eventually make a living wage from my novels, and the only way to get there is one step at a time. And I’m not afraid to take those steps and spend the next five years building my career.

  10. I’ve been e-published since 1999, for the most part with small, indie, e-book publishers. I’ve been lucky that I’ve only had one bad experience in all that time (and since I am a lawyer, I was able to survive that experience with minimal damage). I’m still writing. I will continue to write as long as I have readers who will read my books –and I can still sit at the computer and write the kind of books I love to write. I stopped trying to game the system years ago. I do not make a living at writing, but I can say in the last three or so years, I have started to see the benefit to having a back list. I write because I love it — period.

  11. You tend to get wordy so it’s rare I make it all the way through one of your articles. However, in this case– in this time and place and in this ‘now’, you’ve nailed the issues we face. Read every single word. Couldn’t look away.
    I’ve done well over the past five years but the times they are a-changin’. I write for love. I write for readers. I’m good and I will continue to write for those two reasons.
    And if I’m not read? Well, then, as I wrote yesterday, I’ll be read after I’m dead. 🙂
    Thanks, Kris. Your insight is always appreciated.
    Golden ages do come and go so quickly!

  12. Thomas E says:

    What I learned in 2014…

    I learned how to make a paperback edition.

    I learned that I can write a nonfiction book a month, every month, for half a year. And the books actually are fairly good judging by feedback.

    I learned that lots of the people that I started with three or four years ago are already giving up. And that it seems to happen when you get to somewhere between 10-20 books.

    And I learned the reason for that, and it comes down to a decision.

    I learned that writing is a longer term business than lots of people were saying three or four years ago and that many of the people that were successful when I was starting haven’t released anything for over two years.

    And yet here I am. Never particularly successful, but with sales and titles still growing and having a blast. And, finally, I learned that it is possible to make a living at this business without being Stephen King. Even if I’m not yet, personally.

  13. John Walters says:

    I’m glad to see you back too, Kris. I missed you. You’re one of the most erudite commentators on the publishing scene, not to mention your regular posts and Dean’s got me into indie publishing back in 2010. I’d been writing for many years before that but indie publishing provided an outlet for work not easily absorbed into the traditional system. I studied every one of your posts back then.

    I can’t even contemplate what life would be like not writing – something akin to premature burial I would suppose, so that’s not an option. Writing is writing and publishing is publishing, each its own journey but at the same time symbiotically linked. I can write with pen and notebook while on the road or on a typewriter or on a computer keyboard. I can publish in magazines or anthologies or self-publishing platforms. Versatility is a prerequisite to success in this frustrating, wonderful, fulfilling, all-absorbing life of writing.

  14. Your post today is, for me, ENCOURAGING.
    Yes, e-n-c-o-u-r-a-g-i-n-g.
    You don’t need to clear your glasses.

    The Flight of the Quitters
    will leave a clearer playing field
    for those who want to write
    and wish to work hard to be able to
    support themselves with their writing.
    Yes, ME !

    Thanks for your encouragement.

  15. Tons of good sense here, and I’ve been recommending this post all over the shop. It’s a relief that the gold rush is over, for me anyway, because there are fewer pundits squawking about how the “work hard and do good work” formula is a sucker’s game. As you point out, it’s really the only game in town, long term.

  16. I’m glad you enjoyed my post! And really, your entire thing here just emphasizes what most of us know in our hearts: art is a survivor’s business. And since life is already a survivor’s business, there’s no shame in devoting your energy to the parts of it that matter most to you. Writing is something I have to do, so I have gotten very dedicated to surviving. And getting to this point, after managing 15+ years, I realize how much the writing scene/industry has evolved to cull people. Floating above it, seeing that, is helpful, I think. You find a peace with your battle scars, and realize that fighting is a choice, particularly these days. These days, you can just step to one side and let most of it pass you by.

    So that’s what I’m doing. Writing, and letting the rest of it, the stuff that exists to try to stop me, pass me by. And, as much as possible, to help other people do the same.

  17. J. M. Brown says:

    Another invaluable post, Kris. Many Many Thanks.
    Your comment “Writers get no feedback…” deserves a followup.
    As research for one of my books, I did a lot of reading of books written in the early 1800’s. In the U.S., this necessarily included a lot of slave narratives. One in particular had a very modern feel and was very highly polished: Running 1000 Miles for Freedom by William and Ellen Craft. (Highly Recommended, BTW). The story includes terror, pathos, a surprising degree of humor and is just remarkably well done by an author who had been illiterate until wells into adulthood. Eventually I realized WHY it was so well-written.
    After escaping, the second fugitive slave act forced William and Ellen to move to England, where they hit the lecture circuit. Every night, William got immediate feedback from a live audience. This gave him the opportunity to fine-tune his lecture based on the reaction of his listeners, of all classes from all across Great Britain. By the time he put his mss down on paper, it was polished to a bright jewel.
    This highlights the vital importance of beta readers (as many as possible) and what we have lost by no longer lecturing to live audiences as was once common practice for writers.

    • Wonderful insight, J.M. I have found that people who are trained to write for the ear–theater, radio, lectures, stand-up–do very well when they move to paper. They have story and voice already. They just have to learn spelling and punctuation, usually. (Oh, and description. They often have trouble with that.) Thanks for this. (Off to look for the book…)

  18. Mit Sandru says:

    Excellent point, we are Indie Authors and Indie Publishers, self-published is a thing of the past.

  19. Kristi N. says:

    As I read the first part of your post, that all-too-familiar sinking despair started forming in the pit of my stomach. Having another respected writer effectively state that the gold rush is over (and therefore the bar for performance is much higher), roused the critical voice in my hindbrain that always whispers that I’m not quite good enough and am sure to fail into abject poverty.

    But….

    I’m not a Sooner, and certainly not a Forty-niner. I’m a homesteader. All I want is my 160 acres of reasonably good soil, maybe a tree lot, some fresh water (or a good well), and the tools to make my living. Native wit, common sense and commitment will dictate whether I grow corn or wheat, plant fruit trees or raise livestock. Experience (both personal and that of writers like you and Dean who share on these blogs) will guide my decisions about expanding or diversifying.

    So, from this greenhorn who just signed the papers on a claim, thank you for adding the last part. Homesteading and writing aren’t easy, but I didn’t sign on for easy. I signed on for the love of the craft and the joy of watching a newborn story stagger about on wobbly legs that will soon grow strong. I signed on for the hard work and the contentment of knowing I did my best.

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go check my fields. I think the fantasy is starting to sprout, and some of the romance trees had buds on them. And if all else fails, I’ll always have the turnips.

  20. Neal Martin says:

    Excellent overview on the state of the business. Maybe now the self-congratulatory bullshit will cease on the forums. Welcome to the real world people…

  21. Kathryn Mann says:

    Very concise and insightful summary. Thanks for posting.

  22. Walter Daniels says:

    To me, those who complain the most about KULL absolutely do not understand business and Advertising/marketing. If I want to get my name/books out to people, I “advertise.” I _pay_ money to someone, to tell them that I exist; However, with KULL, Amazon *pays _me_* to expose my book(s) to people. How in the H–l does that cost me, or any other author money? I am being *paid* to have people exposed to my material. All they have to do, is to read *10%* of my book(s). If I can’t hook you in the first _10%_, I failed as a writer. It’s just that simple.

  23. Lily says:

    Wait a minute. I missed it AGAIN? I’ve been in the publishing business through many boom and bust cycles and missed the gravy train each time because I couldn’t finish a manuscript. Finally, I started writing entire stories, and working on improving my style, and that breakthrough gave me a backlog of semi-revised, semi-publishable novels. Still wasn’t quite good enough to break through to agents and editors. Then Dean, or maybe Konrath or Howey advised, “Self-publish your backlog and get on with writing new stories,” or words to that effect, and I realized that was my solution. Fix the earliest books as best as I can right now, and catch the wave of self-publishing’s easy riches.

    I know my stories aren’t quite there yet, but during a gold rush, perfection isn’t necessary, showing up is. Now you’re telling me I’m too late once again. Bummer. But you know what? I enjoy writing novels, now that I can finish my stories. I love the process of publishing, something I’ve been part of for four decades. I’ll keep writing, and I’ll keep working to improve my style, and I’ll self-publish every single one of my stories. I’ve seen many, many authors come and go in this business. Smart people, articulate people, successful people. They just vanish one day. When I vanish, it’ll be because I’m dead.

    So, nice try, Kris. You aren’t going to scare me away. Publishing can’t break my heart any more in future than it already has in the past. When the next big wave makes itself known, I’ll be there, waxed surfboard and amazingly toned body at the ready.

  24. Will I ever be in the group of long-time authors? If I try to answer that now, I emphasize only competitiveness, instead of joy — which has been necessary for me even when a financial journalist at Bloomberg. It will come down to one step at a time, taking whatever step I can manage, and then repeating. Business or hobby; doesn’t matter. More, it’s about my own joy.

    By the way, I tried twice to donate via your button, and didn’t get the easy process I’ve seen on your other posts.

    Thanks for the insight and intelligence!

    • I agree, Laure. It’s all about our joy. Why else would we do this? Sometimes competitiveness sneaks in–that’s human nature, imho. And in professional journalism, there’s some competitiveness on getting the story first. (I used to love that side of it, but I don’t miss it enough to return.)

      Thanks for the note on the PayPal button. It’s fixed. That happens on this website every now and then when I schedule a post. I was off Christmas shopping yesterday (and getting donuts!), so I didn’t check the button like I usually do. Thanks for helping me fix it. (And for the donating impulse!)

  25. Bob Mayer says:

    A good post and accurate. Just had a reporter from the NY Times call the other night, asking about all of this. He covered the Authors United thing, so he’s somewhat clued in. Will be interesting to see how he interprets what I told him.

  26. J. A. Huss (@JAHuss) says:

    Perfect. I’ve missed you. 🙂 I’ve been trying to figure out what I learned this year as well. It’s not easy to put it into words, but most of what you said applies to me. I’m making a nice living but there’s no way in hell I’m gonna slow down and take it for granted.

  27. Hi Kristine Kathryn Rusch
    I remember you from a SF convention, oh, about 1989 or so. At the time I was a horror author with a few books behind me, naive; been writing since 1971 and had been published since 1984. I was lower mid-list at Leisure and Zebra paperbacks for many years. I recall you were listening to one of my panels or discussions or something and I spoke too much about my husband encouraging me or something like that and you made a comment about it. Since we both had three names (rare for those times) and people at the conference kept thinking I was you (don’t know why) I have remembered you and followed your career.
    I have the same husband. Grin. But quit my graphic artist job in 2000 to finally write full time. I kept writing, year after year, horror, romantic time-travel thrillers and murder mysteries, through the good and the bad. 22 novels, 12 short stories, 2 novellas and 18 audio books later I am still writing and in 2012 I went Indie for the first time and am making more money (not a lot, granted) than I EVER did with legacy publishers. Right now I’m waiting for 15 of my older novels’ rights to return to me so I can Indie publish all of them by 2017. I LOVE indie publishing – though a LOT of hard work- and agree with your blog above. If we are true writers we keep changing, improving and writing no matter what. I have now for 43 years and will continue to learn the craft and the business as long as I can write. 2015 will be quite a year. Nice to see we’re both still here. Kathryn Meyer Griffith rdgriff@htc.net

    • Thanks, Kathryn. It’s good to see you here. And yes,being a long-term writer adds a lot of perspective, doesn’t it? It’s really nice to see you’re still here as well. Writing is fun, but hard. Indie is a lot of fun, hard in a different way, but oh–the rewards! I’m so pleased with it. (And now, I’m off to look for your romantic time-travel thrillers…)

  28. L.E. Falcone says:

    Thank you for this! There’s a lot of truth and hard lessons in here, some of which I experienced, some of which I witnessed.

  29. Fantastic, Kris! This is simply a wonderful recap of 2014, which has by far been the most tumultuous year since I first self published in 2010. I quit my day job in 2013 to focus on writing, and can attest to the sheer amount of hours, dedication, business sense…and writing (go figure, right?) that has consumed my new life. So many great points, the biggest for me being the business side of the house. I more or less neglected that as a part time writer, but embraced it as a full time writer. 2014 was my best year as an Indie writer/publisher. I blog about what I did to approach the year here: http://stevenkonkoly.com/2014/12/22/diversification-in-the-new-indie-landscape/

  30. You nailed it, yet again, Kris. Nicely done, eloquently stated.

  31. Lisa Grace says:

    Great post and well worth any wait.
    I’ve always written, because I was born addicted to story telling. When I was three, I would take brown paper grocery bags, scissors and tape, then armed with a flashlight under my covers, I would cut out shapes to tell my stories with. By the time I was four and reading, it evolved into writing.
    As an adult I wrote plays, scripts, songs, radio spots, proposals, technical manuals, and was paid for my writing, all as a part of my various careers.
    Then in 2009, I buckled down and decided to start publishing. That part for me was new, not the writing. I can’t see a day where I’ll stop creating stories. I can’t see a day where I’ll stop publishing them.
    I’m now as addicted to publishing as writing. The work part (editing) is a minor price to pay to get to do what I love and make money at it.

    • I so agree, Lisa. The work part (and the business stuff) enables my storytelling addiction, so I’m happy to participate. I love how you listed all of your writing experience that led to your “overnight” success. Thanks for the kind words. 🙂

  32. Jes says:

    Thank you Kris! Just what we all needed to hear. Glad your back gathering all those loose threads and weaving the big picture for us – you’re a master weaver.

  33. Kris, I believe that many of the challenges indie authors are/have been facing boil down to a confusion between tactics and strategy. Tactics are fluid, and require constant reevaluation and repositioning. I recall reading for the first time the recommendation ‘make the first book in your series free’, and while I understood the logic, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “But what happens when everyone is doing that?” For me, if I ask that question and consequently am uncomfortable with the answer, I feel I must reevaluate.

    Which is why I currently plan to enter my new novel in Amazon’s Kindle Scout program. I’m still evaluating their contract, but so far it doesn’t appear to be a rights grab; they appear to be only interested in rights which will allow them to make money selling the ebook version of a given work. We are, as human beings, competitive to a fault, but we can and do cooperate when we can align our self interests. Amazon wants to make money selling books. I want to make money selling my book. We would be sharing the same goal, and (should they wish to publish my novel under the Kindle Press imprint) more of my time and energy could subsequently be devoted to doing what I love, writing the kind of stories I love to read. Win-win. 🙂

    Have you give the Kindle Scout program’s contract a glance, by any chance? If not, then perhaps (in your copious spare time) you might want to trundle over to kindlescout.amazon.com and give it a look. I (and no doubt many others) would be very curious what a learned professional thinks about it.

    • Thanks, Walter. I agree that when we cooperate, we are the best. The key to writing, imho, is doing what is best for you. And if you think Kindle Scout is that, then who can argue with you? I have not looked at their contract, so I know nothing of it, and I don’t blog about individual companies’ contracts. I don’t want that kind of liability. Good luck with it all. And happy holidays!

  34. Ned Hayes says:

    What a fantastic, evenhanded, and insightful post. Thank you for all the wisdom here.

  35. Sally says:

    That Amazon royalty calculator on Konrath’s sidebar is eye-opening. If you have one 99c book that sells 5 copies a month (at the lower rate), you’ll get the munificent sum of $20.79 at the end of a year.

    Yep. Twenty bucks a year. 4 uber-mocha-cchino drinks. 100 small cans of cheap pet food. 15 cans of expensive pet food. One tank of gas.

    I know a lot of people think Konrath is, like, Satan, but everyone should look at that.

    • Oh, yeah, Sally. I’m mostly on holiday right now. I got home from shopping (and donuts) after 1 am, put up all the comments, and didn’t let myself answer. (I try not to post tired. Bad things happen when I post tired.) I found myself wandering around the house, thinking about your comment, and doing math. I need to check, but I think books that sell for 99 cents indie pay less than the royalties on traditionally published books even with the agent’s fee taken out. But I need to double-check that math before I say that firmly. I am intrigued by that thought, though. And I second your comment. Joe’s blog is always worth reading, whether you agree or not.

  36. Verrry interesting. Thanks for confirming my suspicions — I had noticed the year seemed rather different. It would appear to be a perfect storm of several factors making everything unstable and difficult to predict. And unpredictability can make worried people even more prone to view matters through emotional lenses, alas.

    What you have outlined makes my decision to not push publicity or worry about getting lots of books this year seem like the right one for me. I’ll keep writing as I have been, and see what shows up when the “new normal” (pro tem) settles out.

    • Sounds like good decisions, Sabrina. I think publicity is a dicey thing at best. Last night, we went to Voodoo Doughnuts in Portland. They’ve been around for 11 years. Dean said he’d never heard of them. I had known about them for eight years or more. So I decided to see how they marketed the doughnuts–and they don’t do traditional marketing. They never have. Yet they have received more promotion than most companies ever get, through word of mouth. See this old Huffington Post piece. You do good work, people talk, then there are lines out the door at 10 pm on the night before Christmas Eve. (Oh, that reminds me…there are donuts in my fridge….)

  37. I can’t say I’m surprised at writers jumping ship. There’s a lot of people who get into it because they think it’s easy to write a book and make a lot of money — and then they find out that it doesn’t work that way. I remember one writer who probably is on the list of having stopped. He had a couple of very badly written books out and an ungodly amount of Twitter followers — and no one was buying. Last time I heard, he’d quit novel writing and switched to short stories because they took less time.

    I’m planning to go indie in 2015, though I’m thinking of wading in as a hobbyist at first to work my way in (I have an author collaborative I think I can hook up with). My father was an independent contractor engineer, so I know from conversations with him how hard a solo business is. I also have some experience from work on the business side that helps. And I’m still going, “Oh, boy! This is scary! I’m going to screw it all up!”

    I don’t have any expectations, other than I have to take the first step. One of the reasons that kicked me into making the decision was that 2015 is a historical anniversary, and I have personal experiences about the history. The plus is if the event gets a lot of media attention, my book would be available. The minus is that the event may not get any attention, since it’s been eclipsed by another one and does tend to be forgotten. So I would be pleasantly surprised if it sold decently, and if it didn’t, all I can do is shrug. It’s what it is, but I enjoyed writing the story, and I’m off to the next one.

  38. Lena says:

    All I can say is thank goodness you’re back (to blogging on the business of writing) and more please. Thanks for posting! My Feedly blog feed has become a much more interesting place to visit.

  39. Sever says:

    Fantastic post and thoughts. I read Blake’s post too. The landscape is changing, and we have to be med students studying for a final exam. It can work, it just takes a lot of perseverance. And 100% agreed–you have to LOVE the business side of it, truly.

    Sever
    severbronny.com

  40. Bill Smith says:

    Kris:

    This article is all kinds of awesome. So much truth.

    I think you nail it — indie publishing provides enormous potential for mid-list indie authors to make a living income off their writing if they are dedicated, persistent and productive. You don’t need to be a famous best-seller to do well.

    I always thought we were going to see the “big collapse” in indie authors — it was inevitable simply because we have seen way too many budding authors rush into the field.

    We have seen this over and over again in all forms of media: the blogging boom, the YouTube boom, the podcast boom, the indie music boom, the tech startup boom(s), video games, repeated booms in comic books…I had a front row seat for both the collectible card game boom and the RPG indie boom after Wizards of the Coast posted the OGL (Open Gaming License) which soon led to the “flood of crap.” Everyone rushes in because it appears to be easy money. There is a glut of product, some excellent, a lot average, some terrible. The market collapses. When it turns out to be actual work to make money creating something, lots of people — even people with enormous talent but a lack of confidence and persistence — give up and move on. The people who stick to it pick up the pieces and slowly, methodically and quietly build nice businesses.

    (I am finally going to quit procrastinating and hit the publish button soon with my Outlaw Galaxy books that have been folder-warming for years. But I think my ambitions are modest and reasonable — honestly, if I can write a book every month or two — 1,500 words a day, 1 chapter is 1 45,000 word book a month — sell 1,000-2,000 copies a month, I can do pretty well for myself because I live in an area where the cost of living is low.

    And the thing is, if your stories are good, ANY time is a good time to publish…because if your work is good, you will find an audience, regardless of what the trends or the industry is doing at the moment.

  41. Anna Drake says:

    Fabulous post! I think you’ve summarized the shifting landscape in this business very well. As my dad would have said, “You hit the nail on the head, kid.”

    It’s a little grim, but I think it’s very accurate.

  42. Hallelujah, Kris is back in business!

    I see all the things you’re saying, and I want more. So I’m off to donate and share.

    2014 has been a cool year for me. Not because my sales took off–that was 2011-2012, which dwarfed everything thereafter. See end of gold rush, above–but because different opportunities arose. My latest mystery novel was favourably reviewed by Publishers Weekly and Ellery Queen’s. Local newspapers featured me. CBC Radio (Canada’s public broadcaster) interviewed me. Kobo took a chance on me for a major marketing campaign. Several groups approached me and asked me to speak, including two university undergraduate conferences, an association for university women, and local libraries. Some of my short stories were traditionally published in Ricepaper and Ellery Queen (gotta love the timing).

    I described one year to Dean, I think 2011, and he said something like, “That was a good year for you. Don’t expect next year to be that good.” Which seemed wise.

    But I’m enjoying the ride. I think before 2014, I was more fearful. If I sold books, I was like, Will this keep up? When sales dropped, I said, Agh! I knew it couldn’t last. Now I’m just appreciating one sale at a time. One reader at a time (one of them, who also works with me, just sent me a Tim Horton’s gift card and suggested I might feel creative over the holidays!). These things are priceless. Not everything is measured by money.

    You can’t count on anything. As Krishna said, “We have a right to our labor, but not to the fruits of our labor.” http://www.stevenpressfield.com/2012/02/the-fruits-of-our-labors/ So I’m trying to have fun, hone my writing, build my business, and balance the rest of my life. Good luck to all of us!

  43. Freya Barker says:

    Great blog. I’m a new indie writer, still ‘wet behind the ears’ and although I feel the frustrations some days, I feel the excitement every time I discover someone else had taken the time to read one of my books, more….
    I want to hang on to THAT feeling… that grateful feeling, and simply write because I want to, and feel happy when people choose to read it. Everything else can be gravy.

  44. One thing that I’ve learned, any technological disruption that allows early adopters to profit shouldn’t be thought of as a “gold rush.”

    It’s a bonus.

    Otherwise, if you’re not building a stable writing practice without the benefit of a “Kindle Disruption” (like in 2007 – 2010), then odds are you will quit as well.

    There will be another disruption as formats change, as what we know of as the “book” changes altogether, or even if the reading experience changes.

    Kindle isn’t going to be the only disruption.

    But the next one won’t represent a “gold rush,” simply another opportunity to capitalize (IF the risk of being an early adopter pays off).

    All along, you must keep focusing on building a stable writing practice.

  45. tony says:

    Another great piece; thanks!
    I reblogged at http://www.tonylavely.com/2014/12/the-business-of-publishing-2014-part-iii.html

    Thanks for thinking about these things, and then taking the time and energy to share. Happy holidays, too!

  46. Vera Soroka says:

    Wow. Love this post! It’s very honest and true and I agree with it. There was lots to learn from those who told their experiences and that was wonderful. That’s how we learn. But in the coming year I will concentrate on getting out my novels under some different pen names and will make the writing the focus and try to keep out as much of the outside noise out. Sometimes it’s just too much. You get tired of all the bickering and you lose focus on your career.
    I tried KU once and that was a flop. I’ve also done some stupid price moves. I put my prices back up and when I put my other work out I will put value on it. Promotion is something to do in the future when it seems the right time to do it. Until then I have lots of work to do in the coming year.
    Best in the new year to both you and Dean!

  47. Jeff Ambrose says:

    Awesome post, Kris!

    And what really makes me smile is that I can say, without a doubt, I’m one of the survivors!

    By February 2014, I was on the verge of quitting. Then I realized I’d been treating this writing thing like a hobby, not like a business. I spent the few several months reading and thinking about the business of writing, and I was able to develop — slowly — some serious long-term writing/craft/business goals. And between the end of April and Thanksgiving, I wrote three novels in a series and made plans for many more series (each in different stages of development).

    I’m actually more excited about the future than I’ve been in a long, long time — mostly because I’ve put the goal-rush mentality behind me and have realized the greatest joy of being a writer is — now get this — the writing! I know, I know, pretty damn crazy.

    The other benefit I found of accepting the hard work involved is that “speed” is no longer important. This isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. I’ve always know this to be true, but it was a head knowledge, not a heart knowledge, if you take my meaning. I understood it, but didn’t really believe it. I know, because I didn’t act as if I believed. Now I do.

    I can go on and on, and maybe I should actually write what I learned in 2014 for my own blog. But I’m excited about the future. Very excited.

    Thanks again for this post.

    Jeff Ambrose

  48. Killed it, Kris, on all counts. The money quote: “Because we’re doing what we love.” That’s the kind of writer who will do the work and weather the storms. If that love is turned into action and plain old hard work (writing, craft) the odds are ever in that writer’s favor. No guarantees, but the goal line gets closer. The trick is to keep playing the game, adjusting when necessary and not depending on one, hail Mary pass.

    Glad you’re writing about biz again, Kris.

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