Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Million Dollar Dreams

I ran across a post by John Yeoman over at Write to Done, and it tries to caution people against self publishing by rolling out most of the same stuff I've heard for years.  At the crux of the matter seems to be the notion that the only way to achieve fame and fortune is to go through a traditional publisher, otherwise you'll probably never make much of anything.

First of all, I think Hugh Howey or Joe Konrath might take exception to that.  Both seem to make a pretty good living from indie publishing and have maintained control over their own lives in the process, and they're far from the only examples in the indie publishing world.

However, there's also this theme that seems to run through the piece that if you traditionally publish, you're on your way to that mansion on Rodeo Drive.  This is a great goal to strive for, but I think it's both unrealistic and paints a misleading picture of just how much people make in the traditional publishing world.  First of all, unless your last name is King or Rowling, you're unlikely to get the kind of push needed to draw notice and attract readers.  That's all stuff you have to do yourself.  Too many writers think, "I have a book about to be published, so I'm set for life."  As much as that's the fantasy, it's usually not reality.
(Show me the money!)
Most writers fail to earn out their advances, when they're still getting them(book advances have been diminishing for years).  The average advance for a first time novelist is less than $10,000, and it doesn't go up much after that unless you can show you're a proven seller.  $10,000 sounds like a lot of money, but if that's all you get, are you really going to be able to do this full time?  This unpleasant truth smacks many authors in the face after they figure out that they enjoy not living under a bridge and having a full belly.

The only real difference I see in traditional versus indie publishing now that's on the plus side for writers is the potential for distribution.  We all want to walk into a Barnes & Noble and see our stuff on shelves, but as bookstores dwindle, people are looking to other options to find good books.  And more and more traditional publishers are taking on works that have proven themselves to sell well in the indie world rather than taking on an unknown and unproven author.

It boils down to where you think you can earn a living.  You should always strive to be that exception, that best selling author who can rise when the sun is warm and pen your next masterpiece before your appearance on The View, but you also need to have realistic expectations about where to best make the most money.  Given the control and percentage you make in indie, that's probably the best way for most first time authors.  Those that submit themselves to traditional publishing off the bat, in my opinion, are shackling themselves to a system that will take most of their money and discard them at the first hint of trouble since they know there are 50 more waiting in the wings to take his or her place.

Remember, overnight success usually takes years, and earning a good living takes work.  Reach for the stars, but realize that you still gotta eat, and tailor your career plan accordingly.

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