Dream Weavers – or peddling the self-publishing myth

Not sure if you folks have read Hugh Howey’s article about self-publishing on Salon yet? It’s interesting in many ways, and well written, but it again trades on the much-peddled myth that if you’re good enough, that if you market yourself well enough, you will succeed at this self-publishing malarkey and make a living wage. He does qualify some of his points, but the overall tone does give the impression that just about anybody can make it big. And while this is of course true, anybody can make it big, it doesn’t take into account the much bigger picture.

There are plenty of authors (excellent authors – I might add), particularly in the noir and hardboiled backwater, whose work doesn’t earn thousands of pounds in royalties a year, whose work doesn’t regularly earn $100 – $500 a month, whose work doesn’t earn enough to pay the odd monthly bill. And these guys and gals are the majority of the self-published, I should add for emphasis. Personally, I think it’s dangerous to think you can enter into the career of a writer in the belief that you’ll be able to turn it into a full-time profession.

My last royalty payment was enough to pay for a large Costa mocha (without cream) and a muffin. Make of that what you will (it was a very tasty muffin, mind you).

I was very happy that my royalties were able to stretch to that kind of extravagance, especially as this month’s royalties look like they’ll be just about enough to buy me a tasty slice of fresh air (air is still free, right?).

What I’m trying to say is this: please do self-publish your magnum opus if that is how you wish to proceed, but don’t expect people to buy it and, more importantly, don’t get all bent out of shape when they don’t. Considering that there will be tens of thousands of self-published titles published in 2013 to add to the hundreds of thousands that already exist, the odds are vastly higher that you won’t be discovered, you won’t be the next big thing. But, in all honesty, if you’re writing solely for money or recognition then you’re probably fucked anyway.

If you’re going to write then do it for love: do it because you want to write something you want to read; do it because you’ve had a brilliant idea, one that keeps you writing even when your prose reads like shit (because you can always refine and edit that later); do it because you want to see how it all turns out for the characters you’ve created; do it because you want to do it, fucking need to do it, because you’ll probably go insane otherwise.

And if your first book doesn’t sell, don’t give up, write a second, better, book and see how that fares. And if that doesn’t sell, write a third and a fourth and so on, until you’re a master of your craft.

And be aware that you might be writing the kind of stuff that has a limited audience (too violent, too gory, too sweary, too much sex, too controversial, too literary/experimental). I noticed that many of the authors listed in Howey’s article were from very popular genres: fantasy, vampires, YA, rom-coms etc.. If your work doesn’t fit neatly within genres it might take you a long time to be discovered, or Amazon might change their recommendation algorithms to favour Big Publishing and you might never be discovered at all. Who knows what the future holds?

Trust me, if you have realistic goals (a handful of sales a month, to start with) you’ll end up being a lot happier. Since I’ve stopped trying to peddle my work incessantly, since I’ve accepted my very tiny readership, since I’ve stopped checking my sales figures, I’ve been a lot happier. If I sell books, then great. If I don’t sell books, it doesn’t matter.

And despite my lack of sales I’m still writing. You know why?

Love, my friends. Love.

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6 thoughts on “Dream Weavers – or peddling the self-publishing myth

  1. Well said. It breaks like this for me, if I get good enough at my craft and I happen to write a book that fits the cultural desire, then at the moment I have bought a lotto ticket and the odds are similar to me winning th power ball. That said, why the fuck not write. Where else will all those words go? Will I develop a boil that when lanced will spew out peragraphs? Now that’s a pretty picture. So I’ll keep typing. Should fortune come knocking at my door, ill invite her in. Side note, most of. My trad published writer friends make thier living teaching or writing for tv and the movies. A few make a living, very few got what I call rich. Same odds as self pub, it seems to me. Like to see some non screwed numbers. I’d also love to ride Pegasus to work.

    • I think part of the problem is that there are some writers out there, along with journalists, who seem to take great pleasure in telling poor deluded authors that ‘there’s a goldrush in them there hills’ instead of saying the far more sensible, ‘Well, by all means write the book but please be aware that it may not be successful.’ But sensible advice doesn’t make headlines and it doesn’t drive traffic to blogs, so it’s easier to scream goldrush. I can imagine a lot of first-timers write their book, try and sell it via Twitter and Facebook then give up writing altogether out of frustration when things don’t go as planned because of the time-consuming nature of trying to peddle their wares all the time.

  2. You be right there brother. Here is my advice to anyone who wants to enter any creative field. If you have a choice, don’t do it, walk away. That is also my advice to people who want to have children.

  3. I read Howey’s article yesterday, funnily enough. It sure got me excited – I guess I’m just another deluded prospector, panning in the river of hope. You are quite right that one should write for the love of it. It’s my hobby. It’s everything that I need most of the time. With self-publishing I get a bit of a buzz and that’s OK for me. Take it as it comes and you won’t be too disappointed.

    • I don’t think it’s delusional to think that if you’re good enough you might succeed. However, many of these ‘goldrush’ articles don’t take into account the many thousands of authors (some of whom have written good stuff) who never make it. I think many authors enter self-publishing with the words of some goldrush article still burned on their retinas and that’s a bad thing. I think taking it as it comes, as you say, is the best approach.

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