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Is publishing really this easy?

Discussion in 'Publishing' started by Caged Maiden, May 13, 2015.

  1. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Yes, this is exactly right. Since anyone can self-publish, the comparison that has to be made is between all authors trying the self-publishing route and all authors trying the traditional route, including those who get rejection after rejection and never get a traditional publishing contract. Comparing the ones who succeeded in traditional publishing (which are going to be the top tier amongst all of those trying) against all self-published authors isn't an even comparison.
     
  2. Trick

    Trick Auror

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    First flaw with the poll that I saw, which made me not read the remainder of the article: "65% described themselves as aspiring authors"

    Uh, I'm an aspiring author and I make nothing at writing because I'm... wait for it... aspiring, not accomplishing. Seems like having 65% of the poll be people who admittedly don't write full time (who may in fact have no published work whatsoever) sort of skews this. These people, like myself most likely, have jobs, and in my case classes, and families. It takes a while to get to full time writer status when everything in your life takes priority before writing. They should not be included in this poll.
     
  3. MineOwnKing

    MineOwnKing Maester

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    Twitter is used by many of the agents I queried. Might be a way to get a feel for agents and their professional style. Writer's Digest sometimes throws out opportunities to meet people, but they always ask for a small fee.

    Agents are so buried under queries.

    It's hard not to look desperate.
     
    Last edited: May 13, 2015
  4. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

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    Hi,

    I think it's pointless talking about the chances of financial success for authors choosing to try indie versus trade publishing. The chances of success are crap for everyone. And I wouldn't rate any studies on incomes as being that accurate - they all have inherent biases. Yes, as Hugh Howie says, you can't choose to go trade. You can choose to try - but the power is not in your hands. Whereas, like it or not, you can choose to go indie. That means if you write a crap book, you can publish it, and someone may even buy it. You will be better off in all likelyhood than your trade rivals, most of whom will never get a publisher.

    The problem is, if you want to make a career of writing, you don't care about these things. You care about making a lot of sales. That means learning a lot of skills. Writing, editing, formatting, cover design, blurb writing, marketing, and being seen. A successful indie has to learn all of these skills. A successful trade published author has to learn writing, and then a whole lot of different skills. Schmoozing or making contacts, identifying agents etc, writing query letters and getting themselves seen.

    One thing is certain, despite what the blogger says, there is no easy path to success. If there was, everyone would be successful.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  5. cupiscent

    cupiscent Sage

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    The bottom line, of course, is that you don't get anywhere without a quality product, for whatever value of "quality" applies to what you're trying to do.

    Getting back to the original question/article: you could know everyone in publishing, but if you're writing nonsense, having a foot in the door probably isn't going to help. Similarly, writing a great manuscript and a stellar query letter does get you noticed in a slush pile. It gets you picked out, picked up, read and considered. I know; I've been there*. And for the agents who read my manuscript and, for whatever (explained to me and entirely justified) reason, declined to take it on, I doubt their answer would have been any different if I had been referred to them by someone else, or if I knew them personally, because the manuscript itself remains unchanged.

    I'm not denying that getting your work to a level where, say, an agent's existing client recommends it to said agent doesn't give you a bit of a headstart over the querying/slush pile process. But if your work's at that level, you're going to get attention anyway. I'm also not saying don't schmooze, because discussing the industry with people in the industry is a great way to learn heaps and heaps that's going to help you in your writing. But I'd probably recommend going into it without the expectation that it's going to directly "pay off".

    And no, you don't need an agent to go the traditional publishing route - plenty of houses large and small have their own direct submission processes - but pub house slush piles are also enormous, and your contract is going to be better for you if an agent is involved in its negotiation.

    *Editing to add: it's not just me. Every "how I got my agent" that I've read involved the traditional process: querying, full requests, The Call, signing.
     
    Last edited: May 13, 2015
  6. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    The chart is actually the summary of a large study commissioned by Writer's Digest and DBW. IIRC the price is $295 if you want the whole report.

    I have read it.

    The authors of this study, and related studies actually conclude that it is likely that the data we have now overstates the income of self pubed people, while the data is better for traditionally pubbed people. And the category for Aspiring Writers does include people who answered the surveys sitting is slush piles. That is why there is a category for making $0.

    To really even it out you would have to know how many people have written a work they are thinking about self pubing, but have not yet spent the coin on art, editing, etc. But you just can't get data on those people. You have to work with what you have.

    There is more hard data available for traditionally published people, but there is some good data available for the self pubbed crowd. People in the industry pour over it relentlessly. Some advocates of the self-pub model have gotten in some significant hot water for misrepresenting some of the advantages of that approach.

    I found a little more in depth analysis on the DBW site here:
    Self-Publishing Debate: A Social Scientist Separates Fact from Fiction | Digital Book World

    Their conclusion that relates to my point is:

     
    Last edited: May 13, 2015
  7. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Russ,

    I read the article you linked. Based on your post, I expected it to say one thing. When I read it, however, it seemed to say something quite different.

    Basically, the article says - those self publishers who are serious about making money from writing tend to make more money than those self published authors who publish crap that should have been left to rot in a slush pile.

    Really? Shocking! I had no idea!

    Basically, I'm not sure what the heck that article said that supports your contention.

    Thanks.

    Brian
     
  8. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

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    Hi Russ,

    No survey cuts it. None can because none have compared apples with apples.

    In essence you have to have two matched groups. And to make it more tricky, two studies. (Actually three but the third one is for those who are "aspiring writers" and haven't produced anything - and so the results are big fat zeros for both indies and trade.

    The first matched groups are those who have written a book they think is ready for publication and are determined to do so. Now either they will take their work and go indie or trade. The indies will win hands down here in terms of income, the reason being that ninety something percent of those who go trade will never be published. Maybe ninety nine percent. Whereas one hundred percent of indies can publish, and most will make money - if not a fortune.

    The next matched group to compare are those who have published, either through self publishing, or because they have been picked up and trade published. Now here the trades win in income stakes. Most indies make little money despite their advantages for a variety of reasons. However most trade published authors don't make a lot. Most don't earn enough to live on for example.

    The lesson here is simple. If you try to go trade, your overall chances of success in terms of income are worse than those who go indie. Ninety nine (?) percent of you will make nothing and never be published. But if you go trade and get picked up you do a leap frog in prospective incomes - but you're still unlikely to make a living at it.

    The decision to go indie or trade is of course up to each writer to make for him or herself. But whichever route you take, don't expect fame and fortune, and do expect to have to work damned hard and have a steep learning curve just to make a modest income. Plan for the long run.

    And above all else, do not let yourself be swayed by the success stories. The ones who say I went indie and sold a million books, here's how I did it. Or who say I would never go indie because my publisher sold a million books, and heres how I did it. These people are almost always full of the brown smelly stuff, seldom understand how much luck played a role in their success, and usually have bugger all useful advice. Because what worked for them won't work for most anyone else. These guys are the outliers.

    If you want advice go to the midlisters and the ones who have moderate and achievable success, because the chances are that what they did will work at least a bit for others. And in any case at least you'll get a reasonable perspective of what you can achieve if you really put your energy into it.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  9. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    You mean other than the quote in post 26 above that says exactly what I said? The part that says the chance for a financially viable writing career is better for traditional and hybrid authors than self-published? Which was my point?

    The only way that you can get to the false conclusion that self pub on average is successful as traditional pub is by conflating (inaccurately) that hybrid and self are the same group, they are not. Hybrid have more in common with traditional (which is why analysts deal with them that way) because both groups have gotten past the traditional pub gatekeeper.

    The article, and many other studies are clear. The chances of having a financially viable writing career may be best for hybrid and traditionally published authors.

    You also have to keep in mind that the more self published crap there is out there, the harder it gets for the reader to find self published gems and the louder you have to shout to get noticed even if you are good. Even the NYT has suggested that the very short golden age for super prolific self pubs is coming to an end.

    By the by, the data is clear, that study took into account people whose work was sitting in a slush pile and thus has never had a chance to make a nickel from a consumer purchase. And traditional published authors still average more income than self pub.

    I would be happy to see any data or study that concludes self pub authors are more likely to be financially viable. I spend a lot of time with people in the industry, on both sides of it, and I have never even heard of such a study.
     
  10. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    The lesson is not quite that simple.

    If you make $0 by not getting published, or take a loss at getting self pub, or make a small amount it doesn't change the point I was trying to make from the beginning:

    If you want to make a living at writing, your odds are better with the traditional publishing route. That is what the data, and the analysts are telling us.

    I do disagree with you about not being able to get useful information from people who have been successful. There is a lot to learn from them and I don't come to the conclusion that just because someone is very successful they are "full of the brown smelly stuff."

    I am not swayed by success stories, but I listen very carefully to people who have been successful because I am not convinced that luck plays a big a role as you suggest it does. Would you say the same for a master electrician teaching an apprentice how to wire a factory, or how to find work? Is there some reason to believe contingency, or luck, plays a bigger role in writing success than other professions? When I was a young lawyer I went to a lot of conferences where older successful lawyers talked about what worked for them and guess what...that same stuff worked for me too. Some portion of what lead to someone's success cannot be emulated, but a great deal can, and it is not that hard to spot the difference.

    Luck plays a role in almost everything, but to discount advice from people who have been successful for that reason strikes me unwise.
     
  11. PaulineMRoss

    PaulineMRoss Inkling

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    Statistically, that may (or may not) be the case. The studies are deeply flawed, and, to be fair, it's very difficult to make valid comparisons anyway. Every author is following a different career trajectory.

    The point *I'm* making here is that self-pubbers have a better shot at it because they have far, far more control over every aspect of their career. It's perfectly possible for a determined author to set out from day one to make a living from self-publishing - by choosing the genre, for instance, writing to a specific audience, marketing intelligently, constantly tweaking keywords, etc, and (most of all) by publishing frequently. It's hard work, but it can be done, and I've seen authors do this.

    Now, most self-pubbers really don't want to do that. A lot are simply publishing that one special book (a family history or memoir, say), or are hobbyists happy to make a few bob to supplement the day job. So that skews the statistics. But for those who *do* want to make a living from it, it's easier to achieve that by self-pubbing.

    Trad pubbers just don't have the same options for their career. You're in other people's hands, and nobody cares as much about an author's work as the author herself. There are innumerable cases of trad pubbed books that reverted to the author because they weren't selling, who then repackaged, self-pubbed and made good money (and they show up in studies like the one mentioned as hybrids, I believe, even though most of their money came from self-pubbing; just one more way those studies lose a lot of nuanced detail).

    I'm not trying to beat the self-pubbing drum here, because there are pros and cons to both sides, but self-pubbing is (in my view) a surer route to financial viability, for those prepared to do what it takes.
     
    psychotick likes this.
  12. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

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    Hi Russ,

    No. If you want to make a living at writing by trade publishing, your odds are considerably worse than they are if you go indie. 99 percent of people who go trade, never get an agent or a publisher. They just get rejected. Your odds become much better however, if you do get an agent and publisher. Then you have a better chance than the average indie of making a living from your writing. And unfortunately the option of getting an agent or a publisher is never in the writer's hands.

    People submit, and if they happen to submit on the right day with the right manuscript and the publisher had a good lunch etc etc, they do well. It would be grossly unfair to tell anyone, any aspifing author, that they have a better chance of making a living if they go trade. It is extremely fair to tell anyone who has gone trade and has got an agent / publisher that they are more likely to make a living than an indie.

    Now having put this into frame, take a look at the figures from that infamous income survey of writers, and ask yourself, what does it mean? Sweet FA I'm afraid.

    These are medians, and if you do not plan on being a median, if you intend to make writing a career, then your question has to be, which route will benefit me more?

    These days indie publishing has the edge for two groups of writers. Firstly for those who have no intention of making any sort of special effort to make their book the best that they can - because they would have no chance of getting representation anyway. So indie gives them a chance to make a couple of sales and let them call themselves authors.

    Indie also rules to an extent for those writers who are utterly committed to producing the absolute best product they can. Who will strive to master every skill out there. For them the advantage of going indie is control. The indie has total control of his or her product. They can publish as often as they want. They can publish in whatever genre suits. They can master cover design and blurbs, and carry out their own marketing campaigns. The only thing an indie can't control is if people will read and enjoy the book.

    By contrast the trade publishing writer who has not been picked up, has two significant areas that he cannot control. The first is as for the indie. He cannot make readers pick up, buy and enjoy his book. But by far the more important thing out of his control is getting an agent / publisher to pick up his book.

    I know there's this myth out there that books that agents don't pick up aren't picked up because they're inferior. In some cases that may be true. In many cases it simply isn't. Agents get far too many submissions. They can only accept a few per year out of the hundreds or thousands that they receive. And the shit arsed fact of the matter is that you can polish your book until it shines like a diamond and there is still no way you can force an agent to read let alone pick up your book. Your chances are still bad. You can make them not truly awful as they were originally when the book was a turd, but they're still bad.

    But you can publish it indie.

    So unless you have an inside edge - you know someone - or you can go to an agent with a proven track record of books published or alternatively untold thousands of followers on your social media what's it, your odds are better going indie if you fall into one of the two categories I set out.

    To put this into dollars and cents for you, last year according to my tax docs from Amazon I earned more as a pure indie than any of those groups in the survey. Not a fortune at all. Not enough to live on. But enough to beat the indies, the trades, and the hybrids in terms of median income from that survey. And the sad tuth is that if I wanted to make more money as an indie from my writing I could. I could start writing series which sell better. I could concentrate on the more commercial genres. I could actually get off my arse and do some marketing and social media - maybe even attend a con. Instead because I really just want to write for myself, I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing.

    Now if I can do that, and I claim no literary genius, while controlling only a couple of things in terms of selling - ie story telling, editing, writing more books, cover design etc, imagine what those more gifted and determined than me could do, if they were prepared to do the rest of it. And then imagine how many of those same people if they went trade (sorry I keep forgetting - tried to go trade) would still be earning nothing in ten years time.

    Makes you think doesn't it.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
    PaulineMRoss likes this.
  13. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Russ,

    Look at how the article defines a hybrid author:

    It further basically defines self published authors as mostly a group who throws out crap that should have been left to rot in the slush pile (as I quoted above).

    Therefore, the statement that you have more chance at success being a hybrid or traditionally published author is, using the articles definitions, saying:

    If you concentrate on being professional and making money writing, you have a better chance at succeeding than if you publish crap.

    I agree completely with that statement.

    That statement, however, when you consider how the author defines terms, absolutely does not mean that, if you're serious about making money writing, you have a better chance going traditional - which, as I understand it, is your contention.
     
  14. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    Let's compare your statement to the published analysis and data.

    vs

    While I respect your individual experience, the data and conclusions in this and other studies tells me otherwise.


    That is a bad way to look at statistics. Nobody plans on being median, or very few people do, but the median tells us, on average where more of the money flows. That is important information.

    This is correct. The hobby authors are better off indy publishing. For them it is really just a cheaper version of a vanity press. But they have never been the people I am discussing.

    You are over focused in this statement on the issue of control. In the area of making a living, control is not the key issue. The income level is. The income level for people trying to make a living at writing who are producing this good work is simply higher for people in traditional publishing, on average, than indy. There are a lot of factors that go into that, which we can discuss at length, but if you follow the money trail it leads to the traditional conclusion. While "control" is lovely, it does not pay the mortgage.

    The logic is not sound. If the traditional guy gets picked up he is likely to make more money than the equivilent indy guy. But if the traditional guy does not get picked up, he can still self pub, which can, and should be, his less lucrative back up plan. It is like being a car parts manufacturer. I can make more money if I get a contract selling to a big car company, but if I can't get that contract I can still sell directly to consumer. But there is more money selling directly to the big company.

    I don't know why you conclude that it is a "myth". Agents are in business, they buy books based on quality and market fit. They are imperfect and have subjective opinions, but many of them run a really good business. I guess I just think more highly of successful agents that you do. But once again, the money numbers support my contention.
     
  15. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    That is not how the study defines a hybrid author. That is some information drawn from the conclusions about hybrid authors who were defined as people who were attempting to publish through both mechanisms. Remember you are reading an article about the study not the study itself.

    The data in that study (and others) and the authors of that study concluded exactly as I did.

    Now, you can disagree with them, and you can think the data is not good enough to draw conclusions, but that is what they said, and that is what the numbers say and the sample size and analysis seems pretty sound.
     
  16. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    All I'm judging is the article you linked to. The author of that article clearly defines hybrid authors in that manner. The conclusion you highlighted is from the author of the article.

    I'm saying that, given the context of the article, the statement you quoted is not drawing the conclusion that you say it is.

    I have no idea what the authors of the study concluded. I haven't read the study. You didn't link to the study.

    The only thing I have to go on is that you quoted a statement from an article. I followed your link and read the article. The conclusion, after reading the article, does not appear to support your assertation.

    Perhaps the study does support your assertation. In my mind, you have not yet offered anything that actually supports that conclusion, though.
     
  17. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    I can't link to the study because it is not available for free on the web. It is $295. I do have a copy though.

    you should also know that the follow up years (there is now three years of data) show that the best way to make a living as a writer is through the Advance Traditional route, followed by royalty only route and hybrid route. That data has been taken out from groups categorized as serious writers, with minimum copy sales numbers for indie publishers (I don't recall the number off the top of my head). So the data is very robust saying that traditional advance against royalty publishing is the best way to make money in writing.

    If qualitative things like "control" are very important that is personal choice. But the numbers about who makes what are pretty clear.
     
  18. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Do you know how those numbers hold up when they're broken down by genre? As I understand it, a big portion of traditional publishing sales are the thriller and romance books that customers pick up on impulse. If you only look at some definition of fantasy, and maybe cross off the outliers like JK and GRRM, does Traditional still hold up as strongly as the best choice?

    Do the numbers show any group of genres or activities for which a subset of authors would see self-publishing as the better option?
     
  19. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    The only data I have seen that is genre specific is for thrillers and that confirms the traditional publishing advantage. I suspect I could get the romance data pretty easily but I have never read it.

    However my understanding is that many of the very successful self pub people are prolific mystery and romance writers, but I have not seen their precise numbers.

    Strangely enough, I, and many people even inside the industry have found it very hard to get good reliable numbers for Spec Fic. You would think the SF people would have the best data, but apparently not. :)
     
    Devor likes this.
  20. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I would imagine romance and erotica do the best simply because they have the largest fan-base. When I was working for a publisher in the past he said 90 percent of sales in the industry were romance. The other 10 percent was everything else. That made my jaw drop, but I'm not sure if that's still accurate.

    Also, I heard this but it may just be hearsay, but fantasy has some of the biggest number of self-published authors out there, but the supply doesn't necessarily match the demand. Again, don't quote me on that, just heard that tidbit floating around. That's worrying for me in some regards, but I realize that in some ways self-publishers can work in niches and hopefully carve one out for themselves to differentiate their work. Trad publishing may not offer as much flexibility in that regard. Again, I'm just talking out of my ass, so...yeah.
     
    Last edited: May 14, 2015
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