The Self-Publishing Manifesto, Author’s Edition

Over at Nerds Feather, I make the broad point that I have sort of been building up to. I leave Howey out of it, for the most part, because he’s just the most visible part of the problem. That problem is, in itself, twofold:

  1. The Massive Slush Pile. With self-publishing, the reader takes the place of the agents and editors that sort through the piles of crap books. Neither system is perfect, for obvious reasons, but agents and editors get paid to put up with that. Readers shell out $3+ per book. Hardly seems fair, does it?
  2. Howey and his ilk tell people to publish and keep publishing. Now, I will tell people to write all day long. Some people who I have immense amounts of affection and respect for have cited me as inspiration to get them writing again. This is awesome, and I love it when people express themselves this way. Writing does not mean you should be published. When it’s published, it becomes more commercial product than art form (this does not imply selling out), and readers expect a quality product.

There is this statistic that gets bandied about, that something like 75-85% (depending on who you ask) of people ‘have a book in them’. No kidding. That’s great and everything, and by all means, write the book, but don’t publish it just because you can. Those gatekeepers exist for a reason; just because they can be circumvented does not mean they should.

Now, if you’re going to publish a book, I certainly wish you all the success in the world. This isn’t meant to discourage anyone from pursuing it. But make sure, if you are or want to pursue it, that you do it right– gather the facts, see what works and what doesn’t. Be prepared to invest time and money into it and know that when your manuscript is finished is when the work begins.


Self-Publishing is not the Story

Another day, another Salon article whining about failing at self-publishing. What’s that, it’s not? It’s God’s gift to self-publishing, Hugh Howey himself and he says that you can get filthy stinking rich off self-publishing?

What’s your story?

Now, look, I get what he’s trying to do. But the fact that you can make money- and good money- self-publishing is news to exactly no one. There aren’t many authors who need to know that self-publishing is a viable option. In fact, fewer do, so the slush pile he refers to will shrink a little bit. To hear him tell it, everyone should just publish whatever they have. There isn’t word one about editing to be found from him. Nor is there any advice on how¬†to market and promote your book once it is out, which leads to articles like this.

Because that’s the advice Howey gives, to borrow from Chuck Wendig: leave your book in a grassy field and hope someone walks by and picks it up. Maybe they will. Probably not. Either way, that information is useless. Do you know why? Self-publishing is not the story. Hugh really wants it to be. Amazon really wants Hugh to tell it that way (ever notice he never talks about anyone but Amazon? Of course, they’re the cool guy next door who married his mom. Or maybe they’re his mom?), because it helps their cut and helps Hugh sell books because he’s indie, not because he produced a quality work.

In the end, the things that make each self-published author successful (or not) are the same things that have made traditional publishers successful (or not) for the last 100 years- the ability to sell books. That’s it. Talking about how self-publishing can make you money is like saying you can make money being published by Random House. Everyone knows that. And it’s not like you’d do worse if Penguin published you. Again; I get what he’s trying to do, but he’s splitting a very irrelevant hair. You want to help self-publishers? Tell them to hire an editor and cover artist. Tell them how to market well and get their book in front of people. Use your reach to champion the quality books that are yet under the radar, not the people who have already made it.

Tell the story that matters.


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Get Rich or Die Tryin’

So the other day an article appeared in which Patrick Wensink (author of ‘Broken Piano for President‘) states that it made him nothing, or almost nothing, depending on if he wrote the headline, too.

Apparently he and I have very different definitions of ‘nothing’. He does balance it with the obligatory “I’m glad to make anything off writing”, which… yeah, duh. Aren’t we all? But let’s speak to the point at hand:

It isn’t clear if the $12k is from February-July (which he apparently just got paid for) or the last year (February-February). If it’s the former, that’s $2,400 a month- not shabby at all. If it’s the latter, $1,000 per month- which isn’t too horrible either. Not enough to live off of, certainly, but a solid step in that direction- and certainly nothing to sneeze at as far as supplementary income. There are, however, some nuggets that authors need to understand buried in (what I feel is) a misleading article; namely:

One Book Does Not a Fortune Make: With rare exception, one book- even one that sells very well- will not set you for life. Books are a product, and their sales will stagnate at some point or another. The good news is that people will keep buying books. The better news is books will keep being written. This is also bad news if you’re a writer, because your book has to stand out and sell. So don’t count on one book- or even a couple- to set you for life.

Viral Success Does Not Equal Financial Success: It might sell a bunch of books really fast. Or maybe people like the story around the book rather than the book itself, such as the cease-and-desist around Wensink’s. What sells books is momentum, and viral attention can help that, but it does not guarantee it. Viral fame is fickle- for every 50 Shades that is spread around like the literary venereal disease it is, how many appear in a few places, are purchased by a few and just as quickly forgotten?

Allow me to speak to the heart of the matter: the money. After all, writing is a business no matter if you are self-published, published via a small press or a big, traditional company. Let’s assume the $12,000 is made over the course of a year, selling 4,000 copies in that 12-month period. As mentioned, not the worse result. What are the results of the three other books he has out? If each of those makes $12,000 in a year, that’s $48,000- suddenly, this looks pretty good for his apparently dual-income household. Why are two of those only available in paperback and not on the much more lucrative Kindle? For that matter, why is it only available on Amazon and not the other E-retailers? If you’ve made a solid profit off one medium (albeit the largest), how much more would you make if more people had access to it?

And maybe, just maybe, if one of the things you’ve written about is The Secret to Book Publicity, make sure what notoriety you have achieved hasn’t come from having legal action taken against you and certainly don’t complain about how little you’ve made from book sales.