Yo-ho, Yo-Ho, A Grinder’s Life for Me

Other things getting done

I’ve been reading a lot of opinions lately concerning the self-publishing and big-ink publishing businesses. There is a lot of focus on who is making money, how much money they might be making, and whether or not they are taking money from other parts of the print world. But much of this focus tends towards the extremes — the head and the feet — of these publishing segments.

I’m doing my best right now to aim for the middle, center-of-mass, of the markets I am beginning to inhabit. For a guy that has previously insisted that he has absolutely no desire to sell anything, this realization came as a bit of a shock. I actually find myself thinking about how I want my books to be situated, what I can do as a writer to cater to the tastes of my reading demographic, and what I am and am not willing to endure when it comes to selling anything to anyone.

From the beginning, the idea has always been to write stories and sell them. The stories were getting written before this, but when writing as a hobby, there was a lot less processing and refinement that happened. I certainly did not look for outside editorial input nor did I seek help with illustration or design. All that has been a new experience for me. I imagine that it was slower the for “The Big Red Buckle” than it will be for future projects.

But, from my current perspective as an independent author and publisher, end-to-end each story must still earn. And while I would certainly appreciate a golden egg to land in my lap, I have an ever growing pile of rejection letters essentially telling me that I’m not a good bet, because I have not published in big-ink previously. This pile of rejection is stifling.

Just as it is for most of you, time is a critical ingredient of this new career recipe I’m working on. As a professional author, independent or otherwise, I cannot afford months or even years of waiting for someone to buy a story idea that I’ve invested so much time and money into. There is too much at stake and too little to gain considering how unlikely the traditional publishing route appears.

I found this from Steven Zacharius CEO of Kensington Publishing on the Huff Book Club. In the article he worries that the glut of simple, free, immediate publishing tools available to indie authors might be watering down the market, and dragging down the price of books.

As a publisher, my biggest concern is the clutter of the books being put out by the major publishing houses along with those that are just put up directly by authors. The established publishers have to charge more money because they have paid the author an advance (for bestselling authors, a heck of a lot). Publishers couldn’t possibly afford to sell the book away for $ .99. If this were the business model and publishers were making greatly reduced revenue on the sales of these titles, the publishing industry would go belly-up. There would be no way for the publishing company to recoup their author advances and as a result, these advances would drop substantially. Free or reduced price books is not a viable business model for publishers.

And he is at least partially correct. If their going to amortize their investment costs over a short period of time they are stuck charging a higher rate.  Plus, there are a lot of hobbyists out there writing and publishing and pushing the average price of a book well below what you might expect if you walked into a store thirty years ago. But in my opinion, the business model has already changed.

Many indie authors see the long lists of stories in their genre selling for anything from pocket change to zero. So we do what is necessary to set ourselves apart. And that is not to give our work away. We write more, we write in series, we build compelling worlds, and we develop working, professional,  independent relationships with people who we can count on to keep that steady stream of fiction rolling off the on-demand press.

I forwarded this read a couple of days ago, but its worth mentioning here again because I think it will make sense to many of us and because Bunker hits the nail squarely on the head. Michael Bunker wrote in his post “Lets Hear from the Middle Class“.

I believe that the fastest growing block in all of writerdom is made up of people like me – writers who are making a good living (or on the verge of doing so) with their writing without an agent or a publisher in sight, and without having a single, outlying, breakout megahit in their whole catalog.

Bunker goes on to say something about not minding a megahit or even finding an editor and an agent, but he insists that any of this would have to be on terms that are suitable for him and to his readers. And, at least from this observer’s point of view, that is the direction my career and much of the market is going.

From my current perspective (on the verge of making a good living), the indie publishing route seems like a much better deal for both my readers and myself. Waiting around for a publisher to chose my writing, a la Jack London style, would just be an exercise in misery and rejection. An unnecessary period of personal sacrifice demanded by a 19th century business model with too much institutional inertia to do anything but die.

The submissions I have out now will all likely die on the vine. They’ll come back rejected and that’s too bad. If I waited for someone to take a risk on me, a former engineer branching out into fiction, I might need to wait a very long time. I’m not willing to wait for someone to make that wagger on my work. Rather I’d rather go it alone and pull myself over that threshold all the while giving my readers first crack at what I produce. Ensuring that they have the means and desire to tell me when they like what I’ve done and when they don’t like it at all is a feedback loop traditional ink lacks.

Working at the bleeding edge of this new way of doing things makes me feel a bit like a pirate. The kind that operates in a grey area creating advantage, thriving when it innovates. I know I need to develop better process and improve my reach, but those are growing pains any independent author/business person must necessarily endure. I believe that the Do-It-Yourself ethic is exposing the once great traditional publishers as little more than an up-scale relative of the “vanity houses” that used to pollute the market.

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