One advantage of being older is that we oldsters have a perspective not available to youngsters. Now I’m not ancient. I’m “only” 63. However, my interest in writing and being a published author goes back as long as I can remember. It’s an interest and a desire that’s always been with me. I’ve actively followed the publishing scene for fifty years or more. I’ve ingested so many how-to books and articles I will never hunger for several lifetimes.
And I’m here to say, for all the change in the publishing world, nothing much has changed.
My friends Sarah and Alice commented on my last post and I couldn’t help but feel a certain sense of loss as to how to proceed in what is perceived as a publishing maelstrom.
I want to repeat: nothing much has changed in 50 years.
Sure we have the internet. And I’m glad. But let’s take a little techno history ride. A ride that shows why I’m so enthusiastic about the present and the future. A ride that hopefully will give some perspective.
When I was in school during the ‘50s and ‘60s there were mimeograph machines. You typed a stencil, put it on the drum of the machine, filled the machine with fluid (always blue), and produced your printed document. Freshly printed paper was best because you got to smell the mimeo ink. Yes, we sniffed our test questions!
Then photocopiers appeared on the scene. Yippee! No stencils! No mimeo fluid! And you could even get color on some machines. Photocopiers were faster and cleaner and spawned a fanzine revolution. The editor only had to get the cover printed at the print shop. A new age was dawning!
I remember many fanzines from back in the last few decades of the 20th century and even slim books produced on the photocopier. It was certainly the best of times.
Then along came desktop publishing. Oh my! That took indie publishing to a whole new level. The things we could now do on a computer that had been impossible on a typewriter. Desktop publishing was almost as revolutionary as the printing press itself.
Then print on demand technology became practical in the first few years of the 21st century. Writers had now reached the gates of paradise. No longer did we only have the dreaded vanity presses. We could actually produce our own paperback books. We indie authors were able to go to a whole new level. But we hadn’t seen nothin’ yet.
On November 19, 2007, Amazon introduced the Kindle. It sold for $399 and the initial lot sold out in 5 1/2 hours. Restocks weren’t available for five months. Author/publishers had achieved Nirvana.
What the future has in store, who knows? But over the past 50 years, I’ve seen nothing but better opportunity upon better opportunity. I’ll take my stories on epub and mobi any day over those old, faded mimeograph pages.
From my perspective, as a writer/publisher, I’ll take the plethora of options available to me in 2016 over the dearth of options that were available in 1965. For in 1965, I could only run the gauntlet of traditional publishing if I wanted the chance to have an audience greater than a few hundred people – at best – self-publishing. And have a quality product. Of course, there was always the dreaded vanity press. Back then. Today the vanity press is passé.
Another thing to consider. Back then, because the fiction magazine market had virtually dried up to nothing, novels were the only way to go if one hoped to make money. Novels are still the fiction writers best chance at the big bucks. But, due to epublishing, novellas and short stories are making a big come back. And I, for one, am very pleased. I love the short story.
However, with ease, comes the tsunami of fortune seekers. The get rich quick mentality. Not unlike the California Gold Rush. The first ones in, got the easy stuff. Those after, only made the middleman rich.
Not unlike the Kindle revolution. Those in first got the easy money. By 2014, the easy money was gone. Now, like those old Smith Barney commercials from the ‘60s, if we want money — we have to earn it.
Today, in 2016, the middleman is alive and well just waiting to part the wannabe author from his or her money. And the desperate are easily parted from their cash.
But there is no need to be among the desperate. The Golden Age may have passed, but we are surely in the glorious Silver Age — and silver spends as well as gold.
What can we author/publishers do in 2016 to make a living from our writing? I’ve been asking myself that question for the past 20 months. I’ve read the blogs and books, I’ve observed what others are doing who have been in longer than I and who are making a living. I think there are lots of things we can do and the first is to have patience. The easy money maybe gone, but the money is still there if we’re willing to do a little spadework. Here are some further thoughts.
- Write well. This always has and always will be number one. The ebook revolution hasn’t changed the fact that while sloppy books will get published, the well-written ones will have a better chance at survival. Learn grammar. Learn how to spell (spell checker is fallible). Learn how to tell a story. Good grammar, good spelling, good storytelling are always in demand.
- Write every day. Treat your writing as though it were a job. If you aren’t writing every day, you aren’t serious about your writing. It’s just a hobby. Hobbies are okay, but not if you want to make a living.
- The indie formula is still alive and well. Namely, write lots, publish frequently, publish series, and write in a genre. Unfortunately, literary fiction, the stand alone novel, and fuzzy genre books don’t do that well in the indie market. If that is what you want to write, go ahead. Just realize you are setting yourself a higher hurdle to jump.
- Learn marketing. Whether you go indie or traditional, knowing how to sell your books is what will make you money in the end. Unless your name is Patterson, Michener, Dan Brown, Sandra Brown, or Sue Grafton, the publishing house isn’t going to spend advertising dollars on you. You are unknown. The money is spent where the publisher knows they’ll get many dollars in return for each ad buck spent. What’s more publishers never did spend advertising on new authors. For some reason there is a myth that is very popular about the supportive publishing house. They are in it for the money. If the writer can’t make them money, he or she will be kicked to the curb — because there is always the next one in line to take their place. So learn marketing.
- Be willing to spend some money to make some money. You don’t have to spend a lot, but you will probably have to spend some. Advertising isn’t free for the most part, although some is.
- Build your mailing list. This is the one thing I’ve learned recently that makes me wish I’d started two or three years ago laying the foundation for my writing career. Better late, though, than never. A mailing list is indispensable for indies. And also traditionally published folk. Don’t be dependent on anyone but you. Not Random House, MacMillan, Amazon, FaceBook, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords — not anyone. When you have your own mailing list of fans, then you can direct market to them, mobilize them, get them to work for you. It takes time and money, but no one seems to regret building a strong mailing list.
- Social media doesn’t sell books. Not directly anyway. Tweeting “Buy My Book” 20 times a day is going to get you ignored or muted. I’ve never bought a book from one of those tweets or from one of those companies that will do it for you. However, I have purchased books from people I’ve gotten to know on Twitter.
- Spending time on social media is largely a waste of time. It’s time you could be using to write your book or your next book. I’m not saying one shouldn’t be social or connect with people. One should. But spending hours tweeting drivel or playing games or what all, is time stolen from writing your book. Books will make you money. Twitter games won’t. Mainly because people buy books. They don’t buy Twitter game tweets.
- For indies, don’t bother about advertising your book until you have at least 4 of them. Indie readers like series, tend to be high volume genre readers, and don’t want to wait for the next book.
- For traditionally published folk, it’s the reverse. Advertise that book as if it will save your soul, because if you don’t earn back your advance — the publisher will kick you to the curb and take the next writer in line.
- Publish widely. And use Amazon. Yeah, I hate Amazon too. A giant monopolistic behemoth. But before you get on your high horse, remember 80% of ebooks are sold through Amazon. If you aren’t on Amazon, 80 buyers out of a 100 won’t see you. Can you really afford to give up that large of an audience? In addition, Amazon controls 2/3 of the print market. If you aren’t on Amazon, you basically don’t exist. And, yeah, I hate Amazon. They are like any other big company — they exist to make money. Period. But reality is reality. Publish widely and play with the 800 pound gorilla on the block.
- Draw up a business plan. Plan your work and work your plan. You are an author/publisher. You are your own publisher. If you don’t want the hassle of publishing, then try to run the traditional gauntlet. You’ll only get 10% and still have to do all the work as if you were an indie. This is reality. Magic doesn’t work in the real world. You need to plan for success.
- Don’t give up and don’t despair. Be thankful you don’t have to choose between Random House, the vanity press, or the mimeograph machine. There are over 4 million books on Amazon’s Kindle store. And yours are unique. Your readers are out there and want to be found. Learn marketing so you can find them. Be proactive. Don’t rely on magic. It doesn’t work.
This is the best of times and this is the best of times. Life is always easier for the other guy. You and me? We have to work. So let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work. No silver spoon was in my mouth when I was born and none appeared when I started self-publishing. And the real kick in the butt? Oprah had retired.
So I’m learning how to market what I write. There are a lot of resources out there. I found one I think makes sense and am going to give it a try.
Believe in yourself. Treat the days of no sales as a challenge to build your fan base — because they are out there looking for you. Don’t let them down.
Circling back around to the title of this post, where has all the money gone? Nowhere. It’s right there. Ready to be traded for quality entertainment.
Comments are always welcome. Until next time, happy reading!Share This!