Friday, February 9, 2018

Look Before You Leap

I was reading another of those despairing I'mgivingupwritingforever posts on FaceBook the other morning.

One of the interesting things about attending the Bouchercon Mystery conference in Toronto last fall was the startling realization that traditional publishing is continuing along happily oblivious to the, er, "revolution" happening over here in indie publishing.

Yep, they're still producing hundreds of thousands of books and earning millions of dollars over there in mainstream. They're not worried about the revolution.  I spoke to dozens of people who didn't even know what Kindle Unlimited was!

I'm serious.

And, believe it or not, that's the good news.

Now before anyone goes on defense, I have a KU membership and I like browsing new books and new authors for what-feels-like free. As a consumer I totally get the appeal of KU. As an author I see it has its uses, like any tool. But there's a reason I rarely use it. Actually several reasons. But that's a post for March, when I have the final numbers of my latest KU experiment.

This isn't a Bash KU post. It's a stop thinking you're out of options post to aspiring (and perspiring) authors. Because I too started thinking I was running out of options last year when I saw that the lists--any and all bestseller lists on Amazon--were dominated by Kindle Unlimited titles.  I too felt that surge of panic.

Ohmygodwe'reallbeingforcedintoKU. No one will see my book if I'm not in KU!!!!! ETC.

And then the recent panic when Amazon appeared to be in the process of lowering royalty rates by twenty percent (which is coming--trust me on this one).

You know what hurt my earnings last year? Not writing much.

I've lost count of the number of posts I've read on social media by genuinely desperate authors teetering on the edge of breakdown who've got themselves locked into the tiger trap of Kindle Unlimited and see no way out. Most of these posters seem unaware that traditional or legacy publishing even exists--and the ones who acknowledge its existence usually comment as to how it's some outlandish, impossible goal or how nobody makes money in traditional publishing anymore.

It's nonsense.

If anything, a traditional publishing career is more accessible than ever before. One thing traditional publishing has learned is take note of indie success stories. And as for the complaints about the lack of earning potential? Uh...this from writers earning less than half a cent a page?! :-D

Bitter brew
Here are some facts and figures for you:

Bureau of Labor Statistics  (please note that 61K figure is based on all kinds of writing work, not just authors of fiction)

An older but interesting article that leads to other older but interesting articles

The Author's Guild disturbing 2015 report

Digging deeper into those numbers

The fact of the matter is the earning pyramid in indie publishing works pretty much like it does in traditional publishing. We have a few big earners at the tip top of every genre, then a narrow strata of authors making a decent living, and then the millions of everybody elses who earn a few thousand a year at best. Less than 12K, according to statistics.

In fact, I'm speculating authors in legacy publishing earn more overall because A-That's not saying much, B-Less than half a cent a page C-The virtual invisibility of most indie authors, new or old, whether in KU or not, and D-There are just so many more indie authors competing with each other without any real tools to do so. (Yes, it's speculation, but that's certainly the way the data trends--and it confirms what I hear from other authors.)

I'm afraid what some of these despairing authors are really saying when they dismiss the very idea of traditional publishing is they don't want to take the time to learn their craft (hence bitter remarks about "gatekeepers"). They want to start earning money Right Now.

The problem is, most of these authors--hell, most authors, period--don't, aren't, and won't earn any real money (i.e., a living wage). Particularly not if they're in Kindle Unlimited. You need millions and millions of page reads to earn money in KU. That means you have to write a lot. A LOT. And by A LOT I mean MORE THAN THAT. Hence the burnout. I mean, if those of us not in KU periodically dance with burnout...

For those people who see writing as a get-rich-quick scheme, well, whatever. This post isn't for you. But for those aspiring authors who do actually really want to have long and creatively satisfying writing careers, who care about writing, love writing, have something to say and can't wait to say it... you have loads and loads of options. Maybe you don't see that right now, but you do. Truly, there has never been a better time to be a writer.

Okay, and yes, in some ways there has never been a tougher time to be a writer. The amount of
competition--not just with other indie writers--heck, not even with writers still living!--the pressure to constantly produce, the distractions of social media... Yes, these (and other things) are challenging. But writing has always been a tough gig, and we now have tools and support and avenues for success that never existed before.

And one of those avenues is still traditional publishing.

Don't instantly dismiss the idea before you've really evaluated it. Traditional publishing remains one of the best--if not THE best--place to learn your craft (as well as other author basics).  I'm not saying it's for everyone--but then, a writing career per se is not for everyone. If you're desperate enough to consider giving up writing (your supposed "passion") -- Goodbye, Cruel World!!-- aren't you desperate enough to at least consider trying an alternate route?


  1. I always love your posts where you try to give other authors the benefit of your experience. You are a nice person. And it also always amazes me that people think authors make a lot of money. "This group is exploiting that group just for money". Uh...what money? Sometimes it's amusing. Mostly it's just downright annoying. You are always the voice of reason.

    1. Trying to carve a career in the arts is stressful and when people are stressed, they tend to look for someone to blame. And usually that's people doing things differently than themselves.

      Plus we all can't help hoping that there's some magic bullet, some trick that we could learn that other more successful artists use. But the best trick is simply diversify and don't be afraid to try new things.

  2. I absolutely agree, and I say that as someone who published traditionally and now self-pubs. Even in terms of self-pub, I see so many people wailing that it's "so expensive". But it's really not, and if you put in the work, and do your homework in terms of craft, you will definitely see a return. It may not be a living wage, but that comes back to the fact that most writers do not make their living from writing. And if you really want to write, a small success and people loving your books is a success!

    I went to a Writers' Union of Canada seminar a few years ago, and they had no idea about indie publishing or self-publishing. (In a snobby way, too.) And these are the people who are supposed to be looking out for their fellow writers! So, yeah, not surprised.

    1. I think hybrid is really the best solution, and that's what I rec to all my traditionally published friends -- and to my indie published friends. You never want all your eggs in one basket.

  3. "Stop thinking you're out of options." This reminds me of those "American Idol" auditions, in which the auditionee says "this is my only hope." I think, "whaaa? Really? What happened to singing/playing in small clubs, sending in audition tapes to producers, and hoping to get signed to a contract? Or going to college to study performance art? This is 'a' hope, but if it's your 'only' hope, you're not suited for this business."

    I mean, I know a couple of really talented musicians. One was almost in Sha Na Na (he refused; thought it was stupid) and toured with the Romantics; one opened for Dr. John. And one worked as a lawyer; the other worked in a men's clothing store. Making a decent living as an artist is just so difficult.

    I'm always a little suspicious about writers who "give up" on writing. One common denominator of all of the writers I've known is, they write. Always. They make up stories for fun, write blogs, etc., whether or not anyone is buying them or even reading them, typically from an early age.

  4. I just want to say Never Give Up! I purchase your stories as they are available and love them! I wish I had your flair for the story and how you make the reader feel ~ even in a short story. A million thanks for your stories.