I don’t know why, but writers seem to be meaner to other writers sometimes than non-writers are. Specifically when it comes to decisions about which course to take with their writing and the results of those decisions. Nothing seems to bring out the claws than someone who chose to follow a different path than someone else.
Case in point… I was privy to a discussion recently about how an as-yet unpublished writer who aspires to be traditionally published said something nasty to a formerly trad, now indie author. The comment was along the lines of “self-publishing is dying” and “only one author is still making 7 figures a year self-publishing.” These snarky comments were incredibly hurtful to the author on the receiving end of the comment.
They’re hurtful to me, in a way, too. First of all, the snarky author in question is wrong on several accounts. There are still MANY indie authors making 7 figures. And while the golden days of being able to self-publish and make a mint without working hard and treating it as a business have indeed passed, there are legions of indie authors—yours truly included—who are still making a comfortable living by writing, even if it isn’t 7 figures. Un-factual “facts” always bother me, whether in business or in history. So I call shenanigans on Snarky Author’s comments.
But what really ticks me off about this comment is what Snarky Author considers “success” as a writer. Evidently, she defines it as having the stamp of approval of the publishing establishment in New York and making 7 figures. Well, if that’s her standard, then only a small handful of authors are actually successful. Because let me tell you, those books that you see at your supermarket check-out are a teensy fraction of the books that have been published. Only the tippy-top of authors get that kind of recognition and placement. The vast majority of traditionally published authors are midlist authors who barely make a living wage. So does that mean they’re not successful? Or could it mean that the midlisters are more successful, even though they make less money than many indies?
Okay, but let’s take it back a step further, because I, for one, absolutely, unequivocally do NOT think that success as a writer has a price tag attached to it. I consider myself a wildly successful writer because writing is my full-time job (which is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream), I support myself comfortably, I pay a friend to be my assistant, thus enabling her to launch her career, and I have enough left over to donate to my church now and then. And I manage to pay my (completely eye-popping and sob-worthy) taxes. Oh, plus I get to travel to places like London, Paris, Cardiff, Sweden, and Australia and call it work.
And I neither make 7 figures nor have any interest in being published by NYC.
So where does this attitude of dismissiveness come from? Why is there still, after all this time, a prejudice against self-publishing? And, to throw an issue that might not seem related at first but is into the mix, why are some people who attempt to go indie crashing and burning and becoming jaded?
Frankly, I think at the heart of it, nothing has changed from the time before self-publishing, when aspiring authors who couldn’t get an agent or a deal poo-pooed their fellows’ manuscripts in critique groups or turned up their nose when someone got a deal with a small press. The simple fact is that not everyone who wants to be an author has what it takes to actually be an author. And by that I mean they don’t have the talent or they don’t have the ambition and drive.
It takes an incredible amount of dedication and hard work to sell any books as an indie author, let alone to reach a point where you can self-support on your writing. For the first four years of my publishing career, I worked a full-time, soul-sucking, corporate day job. I woke up at 5:30am and wrote until I had to get ready for work. I ate a quick dinner and sat down to write for hours in the evening before bed. I wrote for hours on the weekend to get stuff done. No TV, no hanging out with friends, no extracurricular activities. (No husband, no kids, and no house to take care of either). For four years. Every day, every week. When I finally did leave the day job to just write, I had to reacquaint myself with the concept of “free time.”
If you’re not willing to do that, you might want to reconsider whether you have the ambition and drive part of what it takes to succeed as an author, indie or otherwise.
But more than that, I figured out pretty quickly that there were things I needed to know that I didn’t. I had to learn about marketing and promotion, not to mention how to format books and network with other authors. Those things don’t just magically happen without effort. Even deeper than that, I knew that I needed to be a better writer. And that’s an ongoing thing. You might be surprised to know how much I study the craft, how much I reexamine my methods and analyze the quality of my output. I attend workshops at conferences and read craft books. All the time. Even now. Always.
Maybe I’m dead wrong about this and letting my biases show, but I think perhaps the authors who report more disastrous than normal declines in their sales and income are the ones who aren’t bothering to work on their skills. Now, I’m not talking about those of us who are buffeted by the changing market. Sales have gone down across the board for just about everyone. But I am angrily mystified by those authors who insist they have nothing to learn, that their writing is awesome the way it is (in spite of reviews and declining sales), and who make no efforts to improve and grow. No one has anything that they want to hear about changing up their writing methods, improving the tension in their plots, or making their characters more vibrant and three-dimensional.
Because the simple fact is that the market is saturated in every genre. The only way to stand out and attract sticky readers (not the ones with lollipops, but the ones who will join your newsletter and buy everything you write) is to write well. We can’t squeak by on the novelty of eBooks anymore. Quality is king. Furthermore, as readers have said to me personally, we have to be original these days. With so many authors writing so many books, the same plots and characters are being recycled over and over. Each of us needs to focus hard on whether we’re writing the same story as everyone else. Different is king, and in my humble opinion, the authors who are going to make it through the storm are the ones who turn out unique, intriguing stories that readers haven’t seen before on a consistent basis.
So there you go. This probably should have been two posts, but it all needed to be said. The indie world is definitely alive and well, and will continue to be so in a successful and fulfilling way, if we all stay vigilant and put in the work.