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!

17 Comments Add yours

  1. CL Stegall says:

    This is another fabulous post, Christine! I’m of the same mind as yourself (and more and more others!), so this stands out as if I had jumped up on my own soapbox. :o)

    One of the ways I’ve gotten my name out there is simple legwork: I look for book bloggers who share an interest in my genre and reach to them to see if they would be interested. i’ve only had two turn me down out six so far. A so-so ration, admittedly, but my work has only just begun. I self-published my first novel this year, so I am, indeed, a newie. However, I worked hard, polished and polished the book, edited it 4-5 times, including using an outside editor and I’m damned proud of the final product. Of late, I am getting some very fine reviews of it.

    But, as you stated, it is the author’s job these days to ensure the quality and polish of their product. And, that is what it is: our product. If you stand by your product, you produce as good a product as you can and you do the work to get it into the hands of the consumers…well, you’ve done your job. It’s just that the job was formerly performed by the publishing house, and now you can do it all yourself. (I recently posted to my own blog about why i went the indie route).

    One must accept that, as an independent author, one takes up all those jobs that go along with it. So far, I am beginning to see the results much earlier than anticipated. I sold half as many books ove the past weekend than I sold the entire previous month. I cannot complain about that, right! But, it is because I refuse to give up on something I believe in.

    If we, as authors, believe in our work and do what has to be done, then we will see the fruits of that labor. Like you said: 70% of 500 is a heckva lot more than 7% of 500.

    Keep up the good work! Love the blog!

    1. christinerose says:

      Thanks, C L! I’m so pleased you’re finding it useful. And I agree, one much accept that being an independent author means wearing several hats.

  2. CL Stegall says:

    Geez. I need to start better editing my posts. If I wrote like that in my fiction, my editor would shoot me. ;o)

  3. I’m a humor, nonfiction writer. I’ve sold 1500 copies of my eBook A WALK IN THE SNARK on Amazon so far this year. It doesn’t pay my rent, but I do ok. I also work damn hard to get my name out there in social media & on my blog, as well as the Indie Book Collective, which I cofounded. A NY agent found me on Twitter & is reading my next book. No deal yet though.

    Point is, I used an editor. A cover artist. A crit group. Beta readers. This is my job. The bias that we’re stupid hacks infuriates me. But what gets me even angrier? The ‘poor reader’ attitude. I don’t know about you but I’ve read books my whole life. I know from crap. If it’s bad, I return it. Easy to do with eBooks.

    People need to wake up and smell the paradigm shift.

    1. christinerose says:

      LOVE it! Damn straight! Wake up and smell the paradigm shift! HeeHee!

  4. Hi Christine,
    Just bought your book so I’ll be looking forward to reading that very soon.

    My experience with traditional publishers has been negative, because what I write is not for them. I can’t find many books that are written on the subjects I write on, or the way I write. I write about art and artistic relationships, all fictional.

    So I’m looking at self-publishing, what I’ve found is there are many people out there that are only interested in filling their wallets. I’ve seen so much stuff rehashed and called new it makes me sick. It appears that this is almost all that want to “help” you get self-published are suspect.

    I’ll be damned if I’ve giving over up to $4000.00 to test someone out.

    New writers, like me, need somewhere to go to talk to each other and to published and self-published authors about their experiences. I’m on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and other SM sites, and they are OK, but somewhere on-line and a physical space would be so good.

    I’ve tried to do things like swap-editing with other authors, but that’s not for most authors. A real authors network is what we need. I’ve tried the ASA and AWM, both lack what writers really want, they seem to exist for themselves.

    I hope you book helps me.



    1. christinerose says:

      I hope it helps you, too. Please let me know.

      Too many people are interested in just filling their wallets. No doubt. And I think new writers do need somewhere to go. Writer’s groups can be very supportive, if you find the right group of writers. Same goes for critique groups.

  5. Simon Haynes says:

    The important difference between self-pub and traditional publishing is time. Time to build an audience, time to release new books while the earlier ones are still available for purchase, time to experiment with short stories and novellas.

    The other thing I like about self-pub is that I can set a deadline, go all out to get my novel ready, then release it and move on to the next. I don’t fiddle with the same manuscript year after year, tweaking and fiddling before sending it out for another round of rejections.

    If you take a long-term view, and particularly if you’re planning an ongoing series, then self-pub may be the better choice.

    There’s no harm in self-publishing, building up your name and audience, and then signing with a major publisher once you’ve established yourself.

    1. christinerose says:

      Great point, Simon! I think that’s one of the most important things to learn as an author. Let it go and move on. It’s one thing I’ve learned through writing short stories. Write it, revise it, edit it, get it out there, let it go, and move on to the next one.

      And, yes, time is a huge difference between the two.

  6. glenkrisch says:

    Great post! I’ve been indie publishing for a year, and recently my sales have gone from “pizza and a movie night” amounts to “I just might pay the mortage this month.” The little amount here and there really starts to add up after awhile. I blogged about those small amounts here: http://glenkrisch.wordpress.com/2011/11/11/building-dreams-out-of-candy-bars/.

    I’m in the middle of writing a story I know would sell to a traditional house. I’ve hit on something that would get a lot of attention. But I’m not even going to bother submitting it to the trad houses or agents. At this point, even the word “submission” leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It means giving up control. And as an indie, I no longer need to do that.

    1. christinerose says:

      GOOD FOR YOU! That’s so very exciting!!! Thanks for sharing and giving other indies hope. 🙂

  7. Great post. Great comments.
    I like the choices for both reader and author in indie publishing.
    And to submit to trad. pubs.; 7% of nothing is nothing, since they can only publish a limited number of books per year. So the odds of a person’s book ever seeing the light of day, in paper form, are slim.

    1. christinerose says:

      Good point!!!! Thanks for commenting!

  8. Thanks for saying it, Christine. If we all heeded the words of warning out there, we’d look back on our lives years from now and think we should have jumped in and given it a try. What held us back–words of caution from an internet connection? 🙂

    Heading over now to read the linked blog.

    1. christinerose says:

      Good point. There are so many options for authors now. It’s beneficial to understand what they are and how that will help each individual author.

    1. christinerose says:

      Thanks, Kate!

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