From Hugh Howey:
There’s a dangerous meme in the publishing world that says self-publishing was easier in 2009 and is much harder today. But nothing could be further from the truth. The exact opposite is the case. Self-publishing was nearly impossible then, and it’s incredibly simple now. In fact, it’s never been easier.
The hardest part of self-publishing, you see, is the decision to do it. You have a manuscript in your metaphorical hands, and you can go one of two ways: You can send that work off to agents, or you can send it off to readers. Either path is open to you. Whether or not the book sells in vast quantities will have very little to do with how you choose to publish the book. There are challenges both ways. But back in 2009, if you wrote a story you believed in, and that friends and family delighted in, and you took very seriously your dream of making it as a writer, it was pretty damn impossible to self-publish that book. Because everyone was telling you not to.
I remember getting on a forum for aspiring authors back when I was wrestling with my decision to self-publish or go traditional. The advice I received was that dangerous mix of dead wrong and overly confident. I was told that I was an idiot for considering self-publishing. I was told that I was an idiot to think agents would ever look at online bestseller lists and offer representation to an author for an already-published book. These were what passed for experts in the day, and it was hard to fault them for being wrong, because all of their advice made sense in the decades prior. The fact that it no longer made sense to query agents was hard to see. And even harder to believe.
I heard from everyone that the best way to get my work in front of readers was through querying and traditional presses, and so that’s the route I took. But I harbored doubts. I blogged about those doubts. I posted on forums to express those doubts. And what seemed logical to me was shouted down over and over with: “You’ll never make it. You’ll destroy your career. Readers will never give you a chance.”
Who was I to doubt these experts with many more years of experience?
. . . .
JK Rowling and Stephen King were held up to me as the likely outcomes of querying my manuscript. Books on store shelves were pointed to, not the piles of rejected manuscripts or the vast delays in getting the work to market. Writers for generations have been given the gloss, have been shown the lottery winners, not the reality in the trenches.
Working in a bookstore and being in charge of setting up author events, I met NYT bestseller after NYT bestseller who had a day job. Writers were largely broke and toiling in their passion as a side hobby or a second career, not as something they did to earn a living.
. . . .
My job in a bookstore gave me more perspective beyond the gloss: I watched new books sit on our shelves, only to be returned to the publisher. And I met readers wandering the aisles, clamoring for more great stories than were being published. I knew I had these stories in me. And I finally summoned the courage to do the nearly impossible: I put that second contract in a drawer, decided to go on my own, and even bought back the rights to my first novel. I did everything all the experts told me not to do. Anyone who thinks that’s easy is out of their minds. It was so hard that almost no one at the time was doing it.
Times have changed. Back in 2009, we were told our books would be horribly edited, rather than sharing among us the names of our favorite freelance editors. We were told the cover art would suck, rather than knowing about the Jason Gurleys, Ben Adams, and MS Corleys of the world. And we were told success along this route only happened once in a lifetime, like with Amanda Hocking, rather than seeing it happen at least once a month like we do today. We didn’t have Author Earnings and Data Guy. We had forums full of outdated advice and bullies shouting down anyone who disagreed. We didn’t have an open sharing of information and experiences like you get on KBoards. We had the rise of the new form of vanity publishing, where all that mattered was what imprint you were assigned to.
Self-publishing was not easier back then. Competition may have been less, but that’s because the decision to self-publish was nearly impossible to make. And the more positive the feedback on your manuscript, the less likely you were to make that decision. Which means the best works were likely the ones sitting in drawers and slush piles. And the decision to self-publish was only made as a last resort.
In 2016, self-publishing is often the first and most preferred route.
Link to the rest at The Wayfinder
Here’s a link to Hugh’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.
PG says do the math.
In traditional publishing, unless you figure out a way to work with more than one publisher (virtually all current Big Publishing contracts will prohibit this if you don’t strike or substantially rewrite a couple of paragraphs), you’re lucky if your publisher releases one of your books each year.
A twenty-year career means twenty books, at most. In year five, you’ll be earning money from five books.
A great many indie authors have discovered they can write far more than one book per year and their readers are overjoyed to have more books. Four books per year is not at all unusual for an indie author.
A twenty-year indie career means 80 books, maybe more. In year five, you’ll be earning money from twenty books.
A thirty-year career: tradpub – 30 books, indie – 120 books. Forty years: tradpub – 40 books, indie – 160 books.
Can a writer of a given quality – great, good, workmanlike – earn four times as much from each book sold to a publisher as he/she earns from self-publishing?
PG knows a lot about how much a great many writers – indie and traditional – earn from their writing. He can’t, of course, divulge any names or numbers from his clients. He can say, speaking generally, that the indie authors he hears from are making much more money than the trad-pubbed authors he hears from.
He can also say that an increasing number of trad-pubbed authors are trying to figure out a way to get out of their contracts with traditional publishers and, hopefully, regain rights to their books.
The main reason is always the same – these authors have learned they can make more money as indies. They can take the books they traditionally publish and make more money from those same books on their own than they receive from their publisher. The publisher is not making them money, the publisher is costing them money.
How much more money varies from author to author, but by their own calculations, experienced authors will add at least one zero to their annual book income when they stop tradpubbing and go indie. YMMV.
This is certainly not a scientific sample, but it is a good-sized sample.
UPDATE: Don sent PG an email, pointing out that PG was more likely to hear from successful indies in his professional capacity or as a bloglord looking for interesting stories.
Don is, of course, correct. Financially successful indies are more likely to share their income stories than indies who don’t sell many books.
PG apologizes if he gave the impression that all or the majority of indies make a lot of money from their writing.