By Guest Blogger Tim Sunderland
“I want to be a writer. I do not want to spend 40 hours a week handling e-mails, formatting covers, finding editors, etc. Right now, being me is a full-time corporation.”
Before you read this blogpost click here and check out the New York Times article concluding with the above-referenced quote.
In case you didn’t, I’ll tell you about it.
The quote came from a recent article in the All-the-News-That’s-Fit-to-Print newspaper about Amanda Hocking, a young writer who sold a million copies of her self-published young-adult paranormal novels in the last year through Amazon.com and BN.com. Her next four books—three of which are probably only in outline form at best—went on the auction block last week for bids from traditional publishers. St. Martin’s Press acquired them for somewhere north of $2 million.
I did a Google search for a photo of Amanda. First, she looks like she’s not old enough to legally purchase liquor in most states (she’s actually 26, but to me everyone looks young). Second, I’m pretty sure one of my sons dated her.
What’s interesting is that the article reveals the best and the worst of self-publishing in 258 words. The best is that through self-publishing Amanda sold enough books to gain major status. She also made some money in the process, although the electronic versions of her books are very reasonably priced—which might have been part of her strategy.
Having done that, she then chose the traditional route for her next four books. I’m sure the big paycheck was an incentive, but her quote told a second, more interesting story about the downside, the hard part of self-publishing. She as much as said, “Hey, this marketing stuff is a lot of work. I just want to write.”
If you self-publish there are all sorts of options—print-on-demand, ebooks, podcasting—you name it. But the flip side of the self-publishing coin, regardless of what venue you choose, is that you are also self-promoting—blogging, Twittering, Facebook, public relations. As the owner of a marketing agency, I do this stuff for a living. Trust me, it takes a lot of time, and it’s not easy.
I keep reading stories of writers who are making a living going the route of ebooks (http://jakonrath.blogspot.com). A few report incomes of $100,000 a year or more. There is a lot of marketing involved in those sales. When do they sleep, let alone write their next book?
I used to think the few who are successful in ebooks first achieved their recognition through traditional publishing. Then along comes Amanda Hocking, who makes it big by a self-publishing, and she goes the other way back to traditional publishing. She’s not the first, but she did it in a big way.
Kinda screws up the whole formula.
So here’s the question: as an unpublished writer, what avenue do I pursue in getting my novel published? Conventional publishing looks attractive. I have zero name recognition. The publishing industry—book clubs, reviewers, agents—are all slanted towards the traditional. Besides, a traditional publisher is going to give me that six-figure advance I’m counting on so that I can retire from my day job. Self-publishing—and self-promoting that comes with it—are just going to add to my workload.
I also can’t deny the prestige factor—that I might craft a story, develop a plot and create characters that a traditional publisher deems worthy. My words could end up on bookstore tables and library shelves and in the hands of readers for generations. That’s exciting. The other options? Not so much.
But today’s reality is that even though Amanda Hocking went for the big paycheck, it’s not going to relieve her of the self-promoting duties. She maintained a blog when she was a self-publisher and her fans are going to expect it to continue. More and more established writers are being compelled by their publishers, agents, and just common sense, to maintain blogs and websites and Facebook pages—or pay someone else to do it. It’s become part of the business.
Gone are the days when we could go up to our lonely writer’s garret (has anyone ever seen a garret?) and before we closed the door, turn wistfully and say to the world, “I just want to write.”
Contact Tim at email@example.com