Something I find absolutely fascinating in my first decade as a published author is the sheer amount of backpedalling I have seen authors make when it comes to self-publishing.
When I took my first steps with Dragon Moon Press back in 2002, I also took hits from a few established authors online and in real time, turning to their colleagues and referring to me as a literary ambulance chaser. (No kidding. I collected some killer stories in my first year as an author.) Now, those same voices snubbing me at conventions and literary events are now swearing up and down to the masses that “Legacy Publishing is dead and the independent author shall vanquish the evil Gatekeepers! Take control of your writing career! Do it yourself!”
Yeah, taking control, doing it yourself, and “sticking it to the Gatekeepers” all sounds seductively intoxicating. Charlie Sheen did just that and referred to himself as an F-18. (That’s Comment #5 in the previous link.) Before you decide to go supersonic in your own path to being a writer, ask yourself one quick question: Have you ever sat in a cockpit of an F-18?
How about a Cessna?
My kid was invited into the cockpit of a Boing 747. Take a look…
Even if you’re flying a cropduster, your flight isn’t going to end well if you don’t know what you are doing. Across a decade of writing, editing, and book layout, I’ve collected a few considerations for any author — new or seasoned — to keep in mind when it comes to managing a career.
5. Accept the fact that no matter how good you think you are, you need an editor. In their recent Huffington Post article “The Real Reasons Indie Authors Aren’t Taken Seriously”, Melissa Forester and Amy Edelman dish out some tough love to indie authors about the long road to respect, and throughout the article continuously refer to what these ambitious artisans all need — editing. I don’t care who you are — you need an editor. The need for an editor does not mean you lack talent or that you’re a suck writer. It does mean you are human, and their changes bring about other details to mind, making writers take a harder, critical look at what a writer’s creativity hath wrought. Editing is not a curse or an unnecessary delay on your work. With the right editor, editing is a hard, critical look at your work with the goal to make a diamond from a creative rough.
4. Giving It Away for Free (or Even for 99¢) Should Have a Plan behind It. Back in 2005, I was one of the strongest advocates supporting free fiction. I saw a spike in my own book sales when Dragon Moon gave me a green light to give away in audio Morevi and The Case of The Singing Sword: A Billibub Baddings Mystery. And I wasn’t alone. Other authors were following the charge alongside Cory Doctorow, myself, and Scott Sigler.
Now, six years later, I’m still a big advocate for giving it away for free…provided there is a plan behind it.
Giving it away for free works for Scott and Cory, sure. I won’t deny that. But outside of those two, has this tactic worked for anyone else? Even as Chuck Wendig points out in his “Making Sense of 99 Cents” blogpost, it’s not the best strategy to price everything the same. For my own independent publishing works, 99¢ is a sweet spot for short stories with one selected as a free download. Short story collections are priced at $2.99 (essentially, four shorts — so four for the cost of three). Free can work as part of a larger plan.
Giving stories away — be they shorts, novellas, or novels — for free? Blindly?
No, this isn’t really a good model to follow, as I discovered…
3. Some People Will Never Want to Pay for Your Work. In a recent episode of The Shared Desk, around 28:38, I made a really dumb remark: “A little bit of book piracy is okay.” I’m still trying to figure out why I made the comment. Perhaps I was thinking “People torrenting an already free story. That’s okay.” Maybe pygmies had my nuts in a vice while I was recording. Whatever the reason, I said this before receiving the Google Alert notifying me that The Case of The Singing Sword: A Billibub Baddings Mystery was being torrented. Not the podcast, mind you. A PDF of the print book.
Let me say that again: A novel I am already giving away for free in an audio format was being pirated.
With so many artists (not just writers, but musicians and artists) giving their work away for free or at 99¢, some online consumers adopt a sense of entitlement. As a professional independent author, you need to accept the fact that you will get complaints from people about your work “not being long enough” for the price, even when that price is 99¢. When it’s free, are you taking a blind eye on torrenting then? The business model you set for yourself needs to include boundaries for your work and how you deal with Internet Entitlement. And in light of complaints from the entitled, is your pricing based on your strategy, or prices that others agree on?
If it’s the latter, you might want to rethink your business model.
2. Financial Success Will Not Happen Overnight. I’ve always believed that the greatest investment a writer can make in their career is time. You invest time in researching your story, time to write it, and time to edit it. (See Item #6.) Be prepared to spend time in finding out if your investment is indeed working. While it sounds like Amanda Hocking, John Locke, and J.A. Conrath became overnight successes, they didn’t.
But with time, these writers became juggernauts.
A friend and colleague of mine was tweeting once about the blues of being a struggling writer and working minimum wage jobs to pay the bills. At the end of the same year, though, he was tweeting about buying a brand new car. Completely paid for. What happened? This author, living hand and mouth for a spell, is now a working, full-time writer, doing quite well for himself with an arsenal of short stories and novellas while his novel is gearing up for a release with a mainstream publisher. The income from his numerous titles is now his sole source of income.
That brings me to a consideration you should take to heart before venturing into the world of indie publishing.
1. Become a Hybrid Author. My darling wife is insisting I use here her “Many streams make a river…” quote when talking about a writer’s income. Yeah, it may sound a bit like a line Miss Marple would whip out just before solving the murder of her hamlet’s moneylender; but (and I’m never going to hear an end to this) she’s right. In between developing your titles as an indie author, go on and develop a title specifically for a mainstream publisher. Why? Breaking into the mainstream can open doors that still remain closed to smaller independent publishers. You may hear an argument against this like “Who needs the legacy publishers?” (And if you think “legacy publisher” sounds presumptuous…yes, it is.) but there are advantages.
One huge advantage is the advance. Just a signing bonus is a step forward as that becomes your first promotional budget, covering travel, advertising, and any writing resources you might need. Another plus in pursuing and landing a mainstream publisher is working with marketing divisions. I have been published in both mainstream (Wiley, Que, HarperCollins) and independent (Dragon Moon, and my own Imagine That! Studios) channels, and I can say that much of the footwork I had to do as an indie author — getting reviews, submitting for seminars and speaking engagements, dealing with piracy, advertising, requesting interviews — was taken care of by the mainstream publisher.
Why limit yourself? Broaden your horizons and consider a career covering both mainstream and independent publishing.
Keep one more thing in mind: What I’ve got here is not some magic formula of success. This is a decade of writing experience, of watching authors perform 180’s on opinions concerning independent publishing, and of lessons I’ve learned from both sides of this argument. I’ve never believed in a sure-fire formula to success. If you think I got it, trust me — I don’t have it.
I do have some plans in play, some experiences under my belt, and some conclusions drawn. Forge forward, and find out what works best for you.
And really, there is a bigger picture happening here. As NPR said in their own look at the Digital Vs. Traditional Book Publishing argument:
“We should worry less about how people get their books and — say it with me now! — just be glad that people are reading.”
Personally, I don’t care how my stories reach people. I just want them to reach readers, and have readers react. That is really what matters in the end.