Making a living from your self-published books.


Happy Birthday, AgentPete.

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Thanks for posting this @Paul Whybrow. One thing I take away from this is that self publishing seems to require that a writer stop writing and spend a decent amount of time marketing. And I think that's my biggest problem with self publishing. There are people that are REALLY good at doing that kind of stuff, but I've never been able to successfully self promote. Besides that, I don't have nearly as much time to write as I'd like, so taking some of that and shifting it to marketing seems somewhat undesirable...
I believe that nowadays you need to promote yourself heavily, trad or self pub. Can be a difficult concept to get your head round when many of us started by just wanting to write. I don't recall thinking at the beginning that I was mentally signing on for school visits, social media, lit fests, radio interviews etc but it's all part of the package. Seems like a Disney queue; you only see part of how long the path is at each stage. The ride might be worth it though.
The whole rigmarole of self-promotion gets me down, but these days it's unavoidable. Initially, I self-published my short stories, novellas, poetry and song lyrics uploading them to Smashwords and Amazon. About the same time, I made profiles on Twitter, Facebook business, LinkedIn, Pinterest and started a blog using Wordpress. I haven't done anything with them, and my 44 ebooks have sat gathering edust for three years. It didn't take me long to realise that publishing a book online was like emptying a tumbler of water into the ocean.

I'd worked hard at editing my manuscripts, formatted them perfectly and designed eye-catching covers. None of this mattered, for no one knew about me or my books. To raise my profile I need to somehow join a popularity contest, making readers aware of my name. Personally, I agree with Margaret Atwood:

“There's an epigram tacked to my office bulletin board, pinched from a magazine — 'Wanting to meet an author because you like his work is like wanting to meet a duck because you like pâté.'”

I turned to querying literary agents, and publishers with an open submissions policy, not out of any desire to hold a printed copy of my novel, but more because I wanted to avoid having to do any irksome publicity work—relying on their marketing experts. The thing is, these days, book publishers look to an unknown author to already have a 'platform' of publicity-generating followers on social media, who might become readers of their new signing. Even established authors are meant to have websites and blogs, in which they lay themselves open to enquiries from the public.

Personally, I'd prefer my writing to do the talking for me, but if I really have to become public property, it seems crazy to do it while tied to a traditional publishing contract. Becoming an all-round entertainer, devoting half of my time to blogging while trying to finish my WIP, and for 15% of profits (minus 15% to my agent) paid 12-18 months after the book's been bought by the public sounds like slavery to me! More than anything I've learned about publishing, I'm amazed at how downtrodden we writers are; can you think of any other profession that would accept such a situation? I can't.

So, if I have to throw myself into schmoozing, I'll do it as a self-published author. Getting 100% of the profit may take the nasty taste away. I may even enjoy some of it....

I could see eventually moving over to self publishing, but that would probably happen when I have time to do it. And that won't be for years (decades?). I'm at the stage in my life where I'm trying to get promoted at work and might have a kid soon, so spending massive amounts of time self promoting on social media would take more time than I currently have available.

Of course, I'd love to see my work out there, but I'm not sure that having it languish somewhere out on the web (gathering edust, as you put it) would be any better than finished manuscripts sitting on my Google Drive. But when I really think about it, I think my frustration is really just a product of the publishing process more than the lack of an ability to become published. I started writing because I needed an outlet during a difficult time in my life. Writing was something I had always wanted to do, but was terrible at. At a time in my life where things weren't going my way, I decided to make myself a better writer by putting as many words to paper as I could. It took me a year and nearly 300k words, but I felt like I had gotten there. And, while I do send my manuscripts out to agents, I mostly write because I enjoy the process. Telling a story, then refining it into something truly remarkable is a great reward by itself.

But since I'm writing for myself - and not the most popular markets - I wonder whether what I put to paper could EVER really be published. And therein lies the rub: I don't think I'm a bad writer and I don't think my stories are terrible, but what's most publishable is what will sell. I'm sure there's some kind of market for everything, but how big that market is (and how popular something will become) seems like more of a crap shoot than anything else. Or like the stock market?

And while I was writing this, I remembered a cartoon about a certain, extremely difficult, video game. I think with a few tweaks, the comic could be easily altered to illustrate how difficult the world of publishing is:
I attended the recent ALLi conference on marketing, which was very useful. The most interesting (though not necessarily most useful) talk I saw was this one--Secrets of successful authors: tactics used by authors earning over $5K per month. The presenters did actual research on what authors were doing. Some key points I took home were:
1. Paid marketing is important--authors who made significant money invested money in their advertising (and spent less time doing things like library readings, engaging with social media, etc).
2. Authors earning over $100k/yr worked on average 33 hours per week on writing and 12 hours per week on marketing.
3. Authors earning over $100k/yr averaged 33 published books (vs an average of 7 for everyone under $100k)
4. Many authors earning over $100k/yr started out self-pubbing, and now have a mix of self-pubbed books and traditionally published ones.
5. Editing is important--96% of authors earning over $100k/yr use a professional editor
6. It takes time--authors earning over $100k/yr were far more likely to have been writing/publishing for years.
7. For all the angst we authors suffer over it, it doesn't seem to make much difference (in income) whether you spread your books wide, or go strictly with Amazon (in order to take advantage of KDP select).

It was daunting, but also heartening in a way. It was good to see research, not just one author's story of what worked for them.

There were lots of other great sessions, and they're all on the ALLi blog. Check them out here: ALLi Blog | Self-Publishing Advice Center
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Happy Birthday, AgentPete.

Theme Songs for Writers