From The Guardian:
A few days ago, I wrote a piece on my blog exploding the myth of the rich writer, and laying out (in terms the Royal Literary Fund described as “ruthlessly mathematical”) what authors actually receive when you buy their books. The simple answer for many of us is nothing at all, after that heady advance in the case of my most recent novel, which was £5,000 for two years’ work.
The blog was widely shared on social media, and viewed by nearly 10,000 people in its first week. The shock, agreement and commiserations were followed swiftly by people telling me what I really need to do is self-publish.
Now, I understand that “indie publishing” is all the rage, but you might as well be telling Luke Skywalker to go to the dark side. Despite royalty rates of 70%, I think self-publishing is a terrible idea for serious novelists (by which I mean, novelists who take writing seriously, and love to write). Here’s why.
You have to forget writing for a living
If you self-publish your book, you are not going to be writing for a living. You are going to be marketing for a living. Self-published authors should expect to spend only 10% of their time writing and 90% of their time marketing. The self-published author who came to my blog to preach the virtues of his path, claiming to make five figures a month from Kindle sales of his 11 novels, puts his writing time percentage in single figures. If that sounds like fun to you, be my guest. But if your passion is creating worlds and characters, telling great stories, and/or revelling in language, you might want to aim for traditional publication.
Self-publishing can make you behave like a fool
Imagine we have just met. I invite you into my house and the first thing you do is show me the advertising blurb for your book and press me to check it out on Amazon. Then you read me the blurb for someone else whose book you’ve agreed to promote if they’ll do the same with yours. Then you tell me how many friends you’ve lost today, and that I can find out how many friends I’ve lost by using this app. Then you poke a reader review of your book under my nose. All within the first 10 minutes. Does this lead me to conclude you are a successful author, whose books I might like to buy? Or a desperate egomaniac with no thought for other people?
. . . .
You risk looking like an amateur
Good writers need even better editors. They need brilliant cover designers. They need imaginative marketers and well-connected publicists. All these things are provided by a traditional publisher, and what’s more, it doesn’t cost you a penny. They pay you! If a self-published author wants to avoid looking like an amateur, they’d better be prepared to shell out some serious dosh to get professional help in all the areas where they don’t excel. And I mean serious. Paying some poor bugger in the Philippines a fiver, or bunging £50 to your PhotoShopping nephew will not result in a distinctive, professional-looking cover. And don’t get me started on the value of good editors, copy-editors and proof-readers, and how many times they have saved me from looking like a twonk. Providing these services to indie authors is a lucrative business. Indeed, many indie authors keep themselves afloat financially by offering these services to other indie authors: the new “authorpreneur” pyramid scheme. Which is all very well if what you’ve always wanted to do is start your own writing-related business. But if you’d rather be an author, why not practice your skill until you’ve written something a publisher will pay for? And enjoy the fact they’ll also foot the bill for everything else.
Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Gene for the tip.
Regarding looking like an amateur: £5,000 for two years’ work sounds more like a hobbyist than a professional author.