We’re familiar with the California Gold Rush of 1848, or the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896, or the Victorian Gold Rush of 1851 in Australia, or the Witwatersrand Gold Rush of 1886 in South Africa.
Today we are in the middle of another gold rush. It’s called self-publishing.
Every gold rush has a life-cycle that moves from low investment, high return to high investment, low return. The key to success is to get in big at the beginning of the cycle. When panning and placer mining are effective. Simple tools and big returns.
Amazon introduced the first Kindle on November 19, 2007. It sold for $399 US and sold out in 5 1/2 hours. On April 2, 2010 Apple released the iPad and sold 300,000 on the first day. These two devices were the game changer that spawned the self-publishing gold rush.
Authors such as Amanda Hocking, John Locke, JA Konrath proved self-publishing was a viable money making enterprise. Now the ability to become a millionaire was for the first time in the hands of the self-published author. No need for agents and no need to battle publishers over draconian contracts. The gold rush had begun.
All one needed in those early and heady days of self-publishing was to offer your book permafree or for 99¢. And write your series as fast as possible.
By the time I got involved with self-publishing, in late 2014, the easy money was gone. Now, like the old Smith-Barney commercials, if you want to make money writing books, you have to earn it.
As with any gold rush, once the easy money is gone, the people who begin to profit are the ones who do so at the miner’s expense. These are the people who sell things to the miners. The infamous middleman.
We see it in the self-publishing world. Writers, hungry for virtual shelf space and recognition, are making loads of money for the middlemen. Everywhere I read about this, I read figures such as $500 or $600 (or more) for editing, $500 for a cover, a couple hundred for formatting. And the list can go on.
That’s a lot of pressure to put one’s self under coming out of the gate. To date (2 years of receiving royalties), I’ve made $533 with virtually no advertising. I made back my investment in initial website cost and copyright fees. If I had editing and cover fees for 20 books to add to my expenses, I’d have to seriously consider becoming a middleman to “help” writers instead of being a writer.
The people who are getting the “easy” money today are:
- Editors (often self-proclaimed)
- Cover Artists (many using nothing more than stock photos and Photoshop or Gimp)
- Review Services (like Kirkus and Reader’s Favorite)
- Other authors “selling” the secret of their success so you can be successful (usually by means of high-priced courses)
And success hungry writers, dying to leave their day jobs, are shelling out big bucks for all of the above.
So let’s be honest, shall we? The easy money is gone. We now have to earn it.
How We Earn The Money
The path to self-publishing’s success in 2017 is not unlike trying to drop the ring into Mount Doom. It’s simple, but not easy.
I am obviously not making big bucks writing. But I’m retired. I’ve already dumped the day job. My monetary goal is a bit more humble. Nevertheless, the path is the same for all of us.
Mindset. The first thing we author-publishers must remember is that we are writers and publishers. We must think business. And the first thing we must realize is that self-employment ventures generally take 3 to 5 years to get established — if they even survive.
The second thing is we are direct mail marketers. The mailing list has now replaced permafree and 99¢ books as the building block of our business.
Mail order businesses can’t survive without their mailing lists. And we author-publishers are at base mail order businesses.
Once we have that mindset, we can start to go places. There is no quick money anymore. But there is money to be made. Mark Dawson makes around half a million from Amazon. A nice bit of pocket change that.
My Plan For Success
Plan your work and work your plan. Based on my observation of what universally works for authors, coupled with sage advice from the greats, this is my plan to work:
- Write well. This should go without saying and yet needs to be said. Write a good story. Many writers forget to do so.
- Write lots. Prolificity is key. No backlist = no sales over the long haul. All successful writers, traditionally published and self-published, say this.
- Publish frequently. The reading public that buys indie books tends to be voracious readers. Feed their habit. Frequent publishing also helps to keep you in the forefront of the reader’s mind.
- Follow Heinlein’s Writing Advice. The master said it best. In a nutshell — persevere.
- Build your mailing list. We are essentially mail order marketers. I wish someone had told me this 3 to 5 years ago. It makes sense, but the reality was obscured by the early success of writers in the Gold Rush. Now that the easy money is gone, the mailing list is the direct marketer’s — and indie author’s — best friend.
- Don’t resort to gimmicks. Today there so many authors I never heard of who claim to be New York Times, USA Today, or Amazon bestsellers that the claim is virtually meaningless. There are so many authors winning so many awards, the words “award winning” are equally meaningless. I’ve read plenty of crappy best-selling and award-winning books. And some that are really good that made nobody’s list and have received no award.
That’s my roadmap to success. Which for me is pretty modest. I don’t need beaucoup bucks. Anything from $25K to $50K a year will be just jim dandy. Those of you who need more than that to quit your day job — well, it’s just going to take a bit more work. But you’ll get there.
As always, comments are welcome! And until next time, happy reading!