Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Realities And Royalties

This is a piece I posted on the blog of the writer's group I belong to and I though it worth sharing.


I've been involved with self-publishing for a few years now and have learned a lot of lessons from a lot of mistakes, some of my own and some of others. In that time I've seen some people succeed, some fail and some think they've succeeded. There have also been a large number of people who think that because Amanda Hocking made it, it's easy enough to succeed if only you put enough effort into it.

What's the truth?It's far more complicated than people think.

Let's start with Amanda Hocking, the first 99c millionaire. She's paraded as the first person to become a millionaire by selling ebooks on Amazon at 99c, but she didn't. She became a millionaire, but only with some judicious marketing, one book at 99c and 16 others at full price, all selling at the same time.

The other curious thing about Amanda Hocking is actually finding out what marketing she did. She was on facebook, twitter and other social media for hours at a time promoting herself and her books. HOURS AT A TIME! In short, she was marketing every day in every digital way to get better and better. On top of that, she was writing novels that patched into the vampire genre at the moment they were very popular. In short, she had some luck on her side.

"She also resents how her abrupt success has been interpreted as a sign that digital self-publishing is a new way to get rich quick. Sure, Hocking has got rich, quickly. But what about the nine years before she began posting her books when she wrote 17 novels and had every one rejected?" That's a quote from a Guardian article written in January 2012, a piece which in itself is worth a read for anyone who thinks getting published or selling books is easy. 

Hocking is an outlier, that rare example of someone who succeeds despite the odds, and the thing about outliers is that they are unique. No one is ever going to be able to repeat that success that way. The same is true of JK Rowling or Harper Lee. They are unique in their success, not a model for others.

So what of the rest of self-publishing? The same rules apply as with any publishing. Some will succeed to a greater or lesser extent, most will not, and there are many examples out there.

Milo James Fowler has been self-publishing for several years now and is now earning enough to pay his electric bills. He started by writing short stories. Lots of them. Hundreds of them. Most of them he freely admits weren't that good, but it allowed him plenty of practice. He got some published and now has a novel out via a traditional publisher. He's successful, but not able to give up his full time job as a teacher. Other self-published authors who've had greater or lesser success include Lisa Shafer & Michelle Argyle.

Most authors will not even reach that lowly stage, and a large number just fall by the wayside having been burnt badly. Others, 75% judging by some statistics, see it as a hobby, one they are willing to spend a lot of money on with little financial reward and often end up losing money. After having the book printed, often a cost running into several hundreds of pounds or dollars, sometimes spending a lot on freebies to give away such as T-Shirts (no, I'm not joking), bookmarks, mugs, key rings etc. 

A good number of them fade away after a couple of years to lick their wounds. You can find their online graveyards here, here and (no longer) here. The rest of them have disappeared from the scene altogether.

So what can be learned from all this? Firstly, overnight success is not overnight. It takes years of practice, dedication and a lot of single-mindedness. If not by you, by someone willing to promote you. The extreme examples of success are not a reliable guide to your success.

You have to be able and willing to market your book and know that the marketing has some chance of success. Amanda Hocking was willing and able to get onto social media and do little else for a few months before she could pack in her day job. 

If you have an interesting marketing idea, do know its chance of success?

Too many people have thrown a lot of money at publishing their own books and seen little return, in many cases a loss. For those who treat it as a hobby or a labour of love, such a book on the history of the local jazz scene, the loss is as irrelevant as the cost of a season ticket to the cinema or a football club. It's something they love doing.

But for the 25% of people who want to make a career out of it, happily writing off the loss is not an option. At best, it's an investment in their education of how not to do things. These are the realities, and there are often very few royalties involved.


Mary Patrick said...

Hi Martin just wanted to say well written and thought out piece. More to the point needs saying so that aspiring "authors/artists" do not have unrealistic expectations of the effort it really takes to succeed.


Victoria Snelling said...

Timely piece. I think self publishing has the same realities as traditional publishing. Most people will do it for love not money, and it takes a lot of luck and a lot of working hard at things you might not want to do. There is no way to make it easy.