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I’m reluctant to post this, because it is about making money. It is not about art. It will not feed your soul. (It might feed your family, however.) But here goes:
As the parent of two kids, I’m always worried about college and other extremely high-cost future ticket items (not to mention the expensive current charges like summer camp, piano lessons, soccer cleats, etc…) — so while I write for myself, and I write literary fiction (i.e. The Stuff that Can Not Be Marketed) I am hyper-aware that at some point I would actually like to earn some money doing this writing stuff that I do.
I do not suck as a writer. At the moment, I have a musical going up this weekend in New York (I co-wrote it with a friend who is a composer and professor at Tisch School of the Arts) and I also was just informed that the St. Petersburg Review is going to be publishing a short story of mine in its next issue. But placing one story per year and having a musical off-Broadway results in an annual income of about $800. That’s not enough to send a kid to plumbing school, much less to anyplace that might connect him to an air-conditioned office. And that’s a darn good year. So okay, what to do?
Many writers I know who self-publish tout the benefits of self-publishing. The New Wave! The Way of the Future! Money for Authors! This may be true, but I suspect that, just as in traditional publishing, you still have to write a book that sells.
Self publishing has this going for it: the author makes much more per book than in traditional publishing. That is a fact.
So the only variable is — how many books can you sell?
Here is a jaw-dropping article about self-publishing that my husband found. It is all about producing a book that can turn into a best seller. And what is amazing is that IT DOESN’T MATTER what the book is about, so long as it is tolerably well written (in the comments, someone wrote, “I bought your book and was going to demand a refund, but found it was reasonably worth the $5 that you charge for it.” — and that is the truth of the matter.) Money is made from people *buying* your book – not people reading your book and loving it.
Reader expectations are low. Fifty Shades of Gray was badly written–there is a global consensus that this is a fact. But who cares? People bought it out of curiosity. And bought it. And bought it. And anything like it. And anything with a similar title. Etc. Etc. Etc.
We know this and yet we do not take advantage of it.
But this article speaks to non-fiction writers. What do they have that fiction writers don’t? A built-in market. Business people go to conferences. They go to networking breakfasts. They blog. They usually have an entire floor worth of co-workers who will happily buy their book (and probably never read it). They have networks.
What fiction writers have that?
Lots of us.
Anyone who has already written a book that sold over 4,000 copies. (That’s why traditional publishers beg you to have a blog, a Twitter following, and a Facebook feed–they want every single person who liked your first book to also buy your second; and then some.)
All the genre writers (lucky stiffs) have a built-in network. There are dozens of conferences to attend to mingle with others of your genre. Write mysteries? Every secretary in Manhattan would happily give your first book a try, all you have to do is get it in front of her when she has just finished the last book of the last series she was reading. Write sci-fi? There are more pro-paying markets for science-fiction short stories than almost any other genre–and they treat writers professionally. A two-week response time is considered painfully long and unconscionably rude.
But brand-new novelists interested in literary writing? Nearly all of the short-story markets are unpaid, with 6-8 week turnaround (if they are good). Advances are now usually under 10,000 and more often than not, under 5,000. And you are expected to repay the portion you fail to earn.
Are they kidding?
Nearly all of the novels published sell under 2,000 copies. And why?
Because there’s this “thing” that literary writers believe. That we have to be isolated. That we should be like Thomas Pynchon, hidden away from the horrors of publicity. I know that I’m preaching to the choir – all of you at the very least had a kid, so you can’t be utterly isolated 100% of the time. And our Salons obviously offer an opportunity to network with writers and readers. All great stuff.
So why not take advantage of this? Start to build a network. Get that Twitter feed going, guest-blog on other people’s sites. Goodreads seems to do good networking. And there are other places to build your network of colleagues, too. Attend readings and meet people there. Go to workshops (or teach them!) strive to exchange information with everyone you meet.
It’s a business. As soon as you have a following of more than 5,000–you have “a following”…and while they are not guaranteed to read your next book, there’s a pretty good chance they might buy it if it has a catchy title and a nice cover.
Read that article… Here, I’ll repost the link:
How To Self-Publish A Bestseller: Publishing 3.0
Next week, we have a new guest-blogger — Peter von Ziegesar just came back from a book tour with his 15-yr old daughter in tow….eager to hear another voice on the subject of book tours with kids!