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70% of Nothing…

Last week I read a post called “70% of Nothing is Nothing,” and it rather got my goat. Although the article went onto talk about the importance of quality in self-published works, something I emphasize in my blog and my book, the bulk of it carried the tone of discouraging authors to self-publish based on the the difficulty of selling any books, the difficulty of being seen. News flash: it’s nearly as difficult, if not as difficult to be seen when an author goes with a coveted NY publisher. The article also assumed that money is the only goal, which it’s not. If you think that you’re going to make a lot of money as an author, regardless of publishing path, you’re in for a bitter slice of reality pie.

For most emerging authors, making a living writing fiction is about as likely as winning the lottery, especially at first. The success seen by the self-publishing rock stars like J. A. Konrath & Amanda Hocking is largely due to the number of titles they have available and, of course, social networking. 800 books are published every day in the USA alone, and that figure does not count the eBook revolution. The market is indeed flooded, but it was before this self-publishing trend.

Celina Summers, the author of “70% of Nothing is Nothing,” quotes Lulu.com’s business model as proof that quality doesn’t matter, and of course it doesn’t matter to places like Lulu.com, CreateSpace, iUniverse, and other Subsidy (formerly known as Vanity) Presses. They’re out to make money on the emerging author. That’s their business, and it’s up to the author to research their options and control their quality, which Summers also acknowledges. Unfortunately too many authors don’t. They take the easiest path and throw their unedited, unpolished book up on Lulu or one of the others, sometimes paying considerably to do so.

Places like Lulu, along with far too many “traditional” independent publishers, make their money on the author’s naiveté, not on sales. They are making their living in a rather unethical way. Publishing through a subsidy press is not truly self-publishing anyway, and grouping them together helps perpetuate the stigma attached to self-publishing. When an author publishes through a subsidy/vanity press, they’re paying someone else to publish their book, and that’s not DIY.

Another point Summers makes is that the market is flooded with subpar books, and that this somehow making it harder to find good books. Balderdash. Most readers have always found good books the same way: word of mouth, or by reading the latest release of their favorite authors. And that hasn’t changed. What has changed is the way someone initially finds a new book or new author. With social networking and eBooks, it gives independent authors a level playing field of distribution. It allows word of mouth to spread in a different way. With bookstores going bankrupt and more readers turning to online shopping, bookstore placement, which the NY Big Boys pay dearly for, is becoming less important. This is exciting because instead of a handful of gatekeepers telling you what to read and what to like, you can discover it yourself. You can now find mash-ups and esoteric books that NY never would’ve touched. And with the eBooks, you have the ability to read the first chapter for free, so you can see if the writing/quality suits your taste before buying, just like browsing the bookshelves.

Perhaps the most infuriating point Summers makes is that by choosing to self-publish one is risking the future of their writing career, one of the erroneous myths floating around cyberspace, and it’s simply not true. There are countless examples of self-published authors being picked up by NY, if that’s their choice, and there are countless more of self-published authors making at least a supplemental income, especially since the eBook Revolution. In fact, self-publishing, when done properly and marketed effectively, can make a career, as Amanda Hocking and J. A. Konrath have shown the world. Yes, that level of success is the exception rather than the rule, but so is that level of success through a traditionally published author. I know many authors, self-published and traditionally published (via indie presses and NY), and none of them are even making enough on book sales alone to pay their mortgage every month, let alone a living. Save one: Cherie Priest. She’s now making a decent living due to the success of Boneshaker, but it took her 10 years and 7 books to get there.

One other author I know is making about half their living through their writing and marketing efforts, and that’s me. My husband and I now have 6 titles between us, all self-published, and we’re doing okay after 3 years.

The bottom line is this: there are many publishing paths available to the emerging author. Only through careful analysis of individual professional goals along with the time/budget of the author will clarify which path is the best for a particular author. This is an exciting time for authors, whether they choose an independent path or a traditional one, because, well, we have a choice. We can create our own destiny and manage our own career, which today’s author must do whether they self-publish or take a more traditional path. It’s still largely up to the author to be seen. Today’s author must not only write well, they must also have some business sense and social networking savvy.

So yes, 70% of nothing is nothing, but 70%of 500 sales is much more than 7% of 500 sales, which is the average number of sales per book regardless of publishing path. Finding your readers is your job, emerging authors, and you have more control over that than at anytime before. And if you want to learn how to do that…whaddaya know! I’ve written a book on it!

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