This post by Scott Nicholson first published on September 16, 2010. What has changed in publishing since he wrote this? Has it gotten any easier? Please leave us your comments!
Self-publishing as an act of artistic independence, political manifesto, or corporate defiance is all well and good, but most writers have the dream of earning money from their work, if not making a career out of it.
That’s where it gets scary, no matter which route you take. Industry advances for typical genre books range from $5,000 to $15,000, with more desirable upper-midlist books getting between $20,000 to $50,000. The more you get, the better you do, but after agent cut, income taxes, self-employment taxes, promotional expenses, and health insurance, it’s clearly a struggle even for those edging toward the top.
Now imagine how hard it is to make that much without a publisher. Making $2 an e-book on Amazon, you’d have to sell 15,000 a year to even dream about doing it full time, living uninsured in a garret somewhere and eating bread crusts. And since many indie writers are selling their books for 99 cents, and making 35 cents per sale, they would need to sell 100,000 copies a year. That’s a lot of readers, and if you could appeal to that many, it’s likely New York would have bought your book in the first place.
But here’s one great advantage where self-publishing makes financial sense: all your books can be in print and earning you money at the same time, which is rare in the world of major publishing. In fact, New York has a vested interest in making sure your book gets moved to the side to make way for its next bull rush of bestsellers and new product. That's why books are carefully scheduled and why books of equal quality are a coin flip when it comes to acceptance and rejection.
If you have 10 books out, you only need to sell a few copies a day of each to consider making it a career. You can do that with e-books, but with paper books, you’ll never get the chance, because there’s not enough bookstore shelves in the world to carry books that sell so few copies. It's also a logistical nightmare, and we've reached the point where selling a book in a bookstore is not only the most difficult method possible, it's also the one that earns the writer the least money. If you want to self-publish today, you need to think electronically.
And you need to forget everything you thought you knew about the publishing industry, because it not only doesn’t apply to you, it is now your competition. You will have many advantages over New York, especially in competing on price and availability. You don’t have to worry about corporate strategy, the stable of writers and editors, the sales staff’s approval, the well-placed chain book buyers’ enthusiasm, or the release schedule of your imprint’s stars. All you have to worry about is reaching your readers.
One reader, actually.
And you need to repeat that personal transaction thousands of times.
I know three people who will make six figures off their self-published work this year. One is Joe Konrath, always held up as the exception but he’s only an exception because he quickly figured out every writer is an exception. He had a New York career. The other two writers never published anything until they put up their e-books last year. One had been getting steadily rejected since 2003, and now those same books are about to buy him a house. His name is J.R. Rain and I’m currently writing a book with him that will be out in November, because I’d like to pay off my house, too.
But I know a lot about indie publishing, sales rankings, and income. Most indie writers are selling one e-book a week, maybe two. Others will sell 10 in a year. Seriously.
But that part is up to you, and up to your reader. Maybe that one reader will like your work and tell someone else, and you have two readers, and then four, and then thousands.
It will be no easier to make money self-publishing than it is in traditional publishing. But how much has traditional publishing paid you in the last decade? That’s probably the only question you need to worry about.
I’d rather have 100 percent of a little bit than zero percent of a theoretical gold mine.
Remember what I said about your advantages over New York? Now comes the disadvantages, but that's another story. In the next installment, we’ll look at what it takes to get self-published, including finding editors, a print designer, cover artists, and an e-book formatter. Yes, if you do it on your own, you either have to learn all these trades or find good freelancers.
Scott Nicholson is an author and brilliant marketing guru. (Okay, I made that up.) You can get his free writing manual Write Good or Die at http://www.hauntedcomputer.com/writegood.htm
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