The stigma is gone, but the road to nirvana is getting more crowded by the day. That’s the gist of Andrew Rice’s article, “The $0.99 Best Seller” in the December 10 issue of Time.
Rice visited a romance writer’s convention where Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, was the most popular speaker, and E.L. James, the best selling author of Fifty Shades of Grey was the symbol of success for many writers in attendance. Fifty Shades began as Twilight fan fiction before going viral as an ebook and finally landing a traditional Random House contract. According to Rice, “To Coker and his audience…Fifty Shades…looked like a harbinger of the future of publishing.”
Rice said there were 30 self-published ebooks on a recent list of Amazon top sellers and four self-published titles on the New York Times ebook best seller list. Self-published ebooks are growing at four times the rate of traditionally published titles, and Rice quotes analysts as saying the “big six” publishing houses may soon become three or two or even just one.
This doesn’t mean that it’s easy. I’m reminded of the California gold rush. Some who arrived at the gold fields early – the “48ers” – made substantial amounts of money while those who came later did not. Last year’s ebook celebrity, Amanda Hocking, took a traditional publishing contract when it was offered, saying marketing and promotion got in the way of her writing. I’ve reviewed books by several excellent indie authors – Jade Scott, Amy Rogers, and Barbara Kloss, and all of them spend huge amounts of time publicizing their work.
Andrew Rice says it’s not going to get any easier: “the chances of publishing that rare blockbuster grow more remote every day as more stories flood into the market, competing for a finite amount of reader attention.”
Yet for those indie authors I know, it’s not about getting rich or hitting the long shot best seller. At the core, it’s about finding an avenue to tell the stories that live inside them. The days when aspiring authors needed traditional publishing for validation and a way of getting their work into print are history, just like quill pens and Underwood typewriters. The stigma is gone, and good riddance.
When my husband saw this article, he handed it to me and said, “Maybe it’s time.” I’m getting close. It’s such a discouraging business and all I want is to have people read my stories. Maybe it is time.
It’s a very personal decision. I know your work and the professional way you approach agents and editors. For you, it’s just a matter of time – and that seems to be the whole question…
A while ago I was asked by a reader of my blog to read her self published book (The Artemis Effect, by Kasia James. There’s a review on my blog.) and there was a lot of good in the book, as well as some that I didn’t like. After reading it, I think I’d be more willing to look into some more self-published books, but since I don’t use an e-reader I’d have to read the books on my computer, which I don’t like doing as much.
I talk about the Writing Excuses podcast once in a while on my blog, and one of the podcasts that they had several years ago was with Larry Correia, another writer who originally self-published and then accepted a publishing deal from a major publisher. In that podcast they talk about the pitfalls of being self-published (Season 3, Episode 21 from back in 2009) and most of them are on the administrative side of the writing business.
If you want to make a living as a writer, it seems like you’re going to have to get a contract with a traditional publisher. If you just want to keep writing and actually have the satisfaction of having people read your work, self-publishing is a perfectly valid way to get that done.
In the Time article, Rice mentions J.A. Konrath who spent “years” in the effort to find a traditional publisher. He finally did, but his works never took off and the publisher, Hyperion Books, dropped him. Now he’s one of the indie “superstars,” and makes huge amounts of money in the mystery and horror genre. He calls indie publishing a “peasant uprising” – kind of a pleasing name.
I think the odds are really slim on making a living as a writer, period. Sharon Shinn, whose adult and YA fantasies I’ve enjoyed, has numerous books traditionally published, but made her living as a technical writer for a long time – she may still be doing so. Pulitzer prize winning poet, Gary Snyder said if he was starting out now, he’d probably do the 8-5 gig as an auto mechanic.
So I think it’s a crap shoot no matter which way one goes, though I do think traditional publishing is going to have to change or atrophy.
It seems that either way (self-pub or trad-pub) is a hard slog and neither will be the best, or most perfect, way.
I think the best way to choose is to understand why you want to write. From there you can then choose what method of publishing is best for you. Either way the writer has to do the marketing (at least that is what I get from my understanding of the publishing field).
On Friday, at a local writer’s breakfast, I heard two novelists with very interesting books describe their decision to go with self-publishing, and both were motivated by the time factor. One of the books was a Martian sci-fi story and the author wanted it’s release to correspond to excitement over the rover landing last summer. He was able to parlay that event into some buzz and even an interview on the local NPR station. However, he says that keeping his day job prevents him from doing all the publicity work he would like to.
You are right – it’s challenging either way. Authors of the past had a pretty well defined road to walk. Now we have our freedom from constraints but the paths are gone…