So, hanging out on Twitter I spotted a post from the awesome Krista D Ball expressing some frustration at authors who are moaning about their lack of sales after three months in the self-publishing game.
It seems like a lot of authors are getting in on the self publishing thing because they’ve heard about Amanda Hocking, Michael J Sullivan and other indie success stories and thought to themselves: dang that sounds easier than getting a publisher.
So if you’re just getting into self-publishing, there are a lot of things you need to know about what you have in store for you if you decide that self publishing is for you. I’m basing this on my own experiences, my experiences helping others and writers/indie publishers I talk to on a regular basis. I may actually be semi qualified to talk about this, which is surely a sign of the apocalypse.
Hey, it is 2012, maybe the Mayans looked ahead and saw me sitting at my keyboard in my underwear, covered in crumbs and decided that the world just needed ending.
So, before it does, some things you need to think about:
1. Self-publishing is harder than traditional publishing
You heard me.
Going it solo, if you do it right, should be harder than getting a leg up from a major publishing house*.
Two seconds thought should tell you why. You’re forgoing everything a publisher can do for you in terms of editing, design, marketing and support. You are electing to do all of these things yourself and you are making an unconscious pledge to your readers that you are going to do it as well as possible.
Or you’ll pay someone to do it for you. Sometimes that’s a good idea.
No matter how you go about it though, the only thing that’s easy about self-publishing (assuming you actually give a shit about putting out something worthwhile) that’s easy (ish) is actually putting your work up online.
Yes traditional publishing is slow. Yes it’s super hard to break into and yes it’s an industry going through some serious turmoil but saying that it has nothing to offer is just delusional.
This is not to say I don’t think you should self publish, but you need to know that life in e-books is probably not going to involve you buying a Ferrari anytime soon.
2. With great power…
Despite the obvious and not so obvious difficulties involved in putting out your own work online, what you get in return is control. Control over the way your work gets out into the world, how it looks, reads and feels to a reader.
Control, like power, is a heady thing, and a lot of people can’t handle it.
Specifically in authors this manifests as a kind of entitlement complex, where a very few self-published authors seem to think that they have some kind of right to produce books that make every single writer on the face of the planner look a little bit dumber and they get very angry when they’re called on it.
You have control over your work…and this comes with responsibility, if only to yourself. Being self-published does not excuse you from editing. You can’t get away with an amateur cover. You can’t under any circumstances tell a critic to bog off because they don’t like your work. You are constrained by all the same standards of professionalism that pro authors are.
And that professionalism extends to everything you do. You are your brand when you’re indie, even more than a traditionally published author and if you screw that up you can sink your career before it even starts.
You are going to make mistakes, but with control of everything you do, you also have to take responsibility for anything that goes wrong.
3. Publishing is still changing
The changes that have shaken publishing to its core over the last few years are just getting warmed up.
I wish I could put on my magic hat and tell you what the next big change will be, but technology and society are changing so fast at the moment I’d just be guessing. What I do know I that this isn’t over yet and if you are getting into publishing yourself, you may have to make MAJOR changes very quickly to keep up with the market.
We also can’t rely on the big six publishers staying out of the low priced books game any more. Expect them to start bringing out more and more low priced e-books to try and lever the market back in their favor. While I don’t think big publishing will ever wipe out independent authors or their place on Amazon, they can make thing tougher.
Think of it as a shark suddenly showing up in your swimming pool. You can still swim, but everyone who values their limbs is going to keep a very close eye on the shark.
4. Quality and quantity
You will have to write more than one book.
There are going to be exceptions, there will still be black swan events where someone puts out one book and hits the big time.
But for everyone who can’t whistle up a thunderbolt, producing multiple books to help cross promote their work is going to be where the money is. Heck, look at the two examples I listed above of self –published authors living the dream. Amanda Hocking and Michael J Sullivan have both produced multiple books that not only sold well in their own right, but also boosted the sales of everything else they’d written.
You must bear this mind when you start planning your career (you have planed it right? Right?). Multiple books sell better than one. Series sell better than multiple disconnected books (most of the time anyway).
5. It’s still going to take time
No matter how you go about publishing your work it’s going to take time and an astonishing amount of work to be a full time writer.
Writing, marketing, design and editing are going to consume you whole and if you really want to do this you’re going to have to allow time to get all of those things right.
It might be years. It might be decades.
Can you handle that? If you’re still going ten years from now and you’re still only pulling in beer money are you going to be able to look at your writing and keep working to make it better?
Almost every really big name writer that’s lasted has had to work for years and years before they’ve been able to quit their day jobs. And once they quit their jobs they had to work even harder.
All of this can be hard to hear, and believe me it was hard to write. I wish writing was easy. I wish having a career doing what we love was a given but it just isn’t.
If this is what you love, if you have read what I’ve just written and none of that dents your enthusiasm then I can also say that the opportunities for writers are just going to keep growing and the prizes are going to go to whoever is prepared to fight hardest for them.
* Which is very different from getting a leg over from a major publishing house. If I ever cut loose with a “writing advice after dark” blog, I’ll tell you about it.