Today’s post is brought to you by a “Happy Birthday.” On this day in 2004, the print version of Write Great
Fiction: Plot & Structure was published by Writer’s Digest Books. I wanted it to be practical and immediately useful, the kind of book I was looking for when I was learning how to write. It was my desire to deliver writers from what I call “The Big Lie,” that good fiction writing technique cannot be learned. Bosh. Piffle. Hooey.
I still get emails and tweets each week from authors who give the book an esteemed place in their fictional development.
For this I am truly grateful. So thanks for allowing me a moment to toot a birthday horn and let loose a balloon. Now on to today’s subject
We know some things about self-publishing that we didn’t know a few years ago.
First of all, we have to define the epochs. Yes, self-publishing has epochs.
There were the early years, which archaeologists call the Konrathian Period. Here you will find those who jumped in early and eagerly as the Kindle was taking off (late 2007 to 2010). Etched in the fossil record you’ll find names like Mr. Konrath himself, Amanda Hocking, John Locke, TKZ emeritus Boyd Morrison and many others. The period is marked by some staggering sales of 99¢ novels. Also by wild and sometimes intemperate remarks about the demise and dastardliness of traditional publishing.
Barry Eisler ushered in the next epoch, the Lower Entrepreneurial. This was in early 2011 when Barry turned down a cool half a mil from St. Martin’s Press in order to self-publish his next John Rain thrillers. At the time I called this “The Eisler Sanction” because here was a legit and well-paid traditional author taking a businesslike look at the future and deciding to go indie. It was the sort of risk entrepreneurs take in new and untested markets. Thus, a little more intentionality had evolved out of the rough-and-tumble Konrathian.
Over the last year or so we have entered what I call the Mature Entrepreneurial. The risks and rewards are more evident now. A certain reality has set in. We have track records that help us assess the relative merits of traditional versus indie publishing. For example, some of the risks of going straight into self-publishing:
1. Foregoing an advance (even at the lower rates now being offered by publishers. “15k is the new 50k,” an agent told me recently).
2. Missing out on the chance that a traditionally published novel or series might be that “one in a hundred thousand” that breaks out into huge sales and makes a “star.”
3. Not having behind you a team that does things very well: edit, design, get books into bookstores.
4. Getting lost in the Sargasso of mediocrity that is the digital book world.
However, rewards look like this:
1. Author as master of own destiny.
2. Not roped to a single brand.
3. Books published as soon as the author deems them ready.
4. Royalty structure more favorable.
But what about actual money? During the Late Konrathian and into the Lower Entrepreneurial, dollar signs sparkled in the eyes of many new writers. Dreams of scoring big with one or two books, or maybe a series of shorts, danced like a temptress in scribal heads.
Reality has a more temperate message: Self-publishing is a volume business, and the product has to be quality. And it takes time, lots of time, to grow a customer base.
Gee, just like any business! Imagine that!
Then, there’s the issue of happiness. I wouldn’t divorce money from happiness. Most people would be happy making more money than less. But my happiness quotient wasn’t driven entirely by financial considerations.
Because of my personality and business experience, I found it very frustrating to have to entrust business decisions to people whose thinking, work process and conclusions I didn’t necessarily agree with or respect. I’ve had publishers make terrible business decisions for my books. I found it painful and frustrating to have to live with those decisions. I find it much more satisfying to be responsible for and in charge of those decisions.
So where are we with self-publishing at this moment in time? It continues to evolve, of course. But every month we have more and more data and testimony about methods and results. Which puts us on the brink of a new epoch, The Vocational, wherein writers wisely choose their path based on what they feel called to, where they feel happiest, where their writing can flourish according to their own definition of success.
Which is what it should come down to, after all. Not someone else’s definition of success, but your own.
Define it. Write it down. Then go for it.
NOTE: I’m in travel mode today. Mix it up in the comments and I’ll get to them when I can. Talk about where you are in your publishing journey. What does the landscape look like to you?