No one ever thinks, 'I've never been a doctor, but I'm going to do a little bit of doctoring down at the local hospital and see how it works for me.'
No one ever thinks, 'I haven't had a career as an attorney, but I'd like to do some part time lawyer work, maybe defend a few clients in court, put together some corporate mergers and such."
And this doesn't only apply to the fancy professions. You can't build a significant audience being a DJ on the side. Nor can you be part time coal miner or part time diamond cutter. You can't just "try your hand" at flying airliners or attempt to get the lead in a Hollywood movie after your first audition. You can't start doing DNA research in your garage with a Walmart chemistry set.
Yet uncountable people write a book (and now they self-publish it - one million a year by many estimates!) and wonder how to make it sell. Or they have the wilder companion thought, Why isn't it selling?
As with years past, this past fall I exhibited my books at six festivals. Many times, writers talked to me about novels. Five people seemed very focused. One person was finishing her first novel. Three writers had written a novel and were in the early stages of figuring out what to do next. One writer had written two novels. They all were looking for anything useful about publishing, marketing, selling. Aren't we all.
I should have probably tried to soft-sell the world of being a novelist. True, some things are better. Some are worse. Publishing and selling books has changed a lot in the last ten years. It's never been easy. It still ain't easy.
Here are the main points:
1) Self-publishing has made it so much simpler. It is now relatively easy to bring your book to print or ebook. You can make your book available to readers over the entire world. It is now possible to proceed with no agent and no publishing gauntlet to navigate. And if all the stars line up - not the luck type, although that helps, too, but the moves you make as a writer/publisher - you can make money at this writing/publishing business. A good line up of stars translates to good money. A great line up, you can get wealthy. Throw in some luck, and you can do better self-publishing than all but the very top tier of New York-published writers. (Self-publisher Bella Andre reportedly does better than the top tier of New York-published writers.)
2) Self-publishing has also made it so much harder. How? Because we now have a million new books being self-published every year. In the old days, if you survived the treacherous waters of New York publishing, your book only had to compete with maybe 50,000 new books each year. Much better odds for getting attention. Today, it's very hard for your book to get seen in an ocean of a million new books plus the ten million older books still looking for readers. There simply aren't enough readers to read all these new books.
Having outlined the difficulty, I still strongly think that self-publishing is your default choice for bringing your book to the world. Another way of saying it is that you should have a really good reason to choose another publisher, give up all control over your book and, worse, possibly make it so you can't do any other books on the side in order to satisfy the "no compete" clauses in your contract. Talk to any successful self-published writer who's making 25 or 50 or 100 or 250 thousand dollars a year, and they will all tell you that you're nuts to give up control, to give up the rights to your book, to turn your future over to strangers who have many other authors - maybe hundreds, maybe thousands - to focus on.
Remember what the Author's Guild survey revealed: The average New York-published author makes $17,000 a year. Poverty. Writers still fall for the myth. "But New York will sell my books." No, all they do is make your books available for sale. "But New York will promote me as an author." No, in fact many times they will not only not promote you, they will forbid you from promoting yourself because it costs them more money than the average author will earn them. (Check out co-op payment contracts that some publishers have with Barnes & Noble. Every signing you do at B & N costs the publisher money, even if you handle everything yourself. So your publisher doesn't want you to try to do signings at B & N. Yes, you read that right. Many publishers don't want you to try to hustle your books at B & N.)
The simple truth is that authors always have to sell their books. If you do it for another publisher, they sometimes think you are a pain in the ass. If you do it as a self-publisher, at least you'll get the money from your efforts. (Having said that, bookstore signings are, by and large, not very worthwhile. They flatter your ego, but not your pocketbook.)
In talking to these writers at festivals, I came to think about the way things have changed in the writing/publishing business. And I found myself revisiting some aspects about writing that I've thought for some time. As an example, I've come to realize that writing numerous books - while always important - is becoming even more important as a way to set yourself apart from those million new books and authors every year. (Try to imagine what else could set yourself apart from the million new books each year.)
So I'm going to do a post or three about these changes to the business. These things won't be something for most writers to celebrate and get excited about unless you are one of the few who want writing success very much. If you are one of those writers who won't be denied a career of making up stories for a living, then you can get excited.
Check in for next week's post...