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Is publishing really this easy?

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

  1. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    Well, but it did turn into a discussion on trad vs self, didn't it? *yawn*

    Back to the OP, cupiscent makes a key observation talking about rejected submissions:
    > I doubt their answer would have been any different if I had been referred to them by someone else

    It's been said by others. Quality first. It has to be a good story. If it's not, networking means nothing.

    If it *is* a good story, then networking *may* help.

    Given that, I'd say to the OP, take advantage of any opportunities that you find, but don't lose any sleep over this. Plenty of writers have come from Nowhere USA, and they didn't need to take out an apartment in New York to do so. At the same time, if you *do* live in New York, you've got more opportunities than I do here in Boise, Idaho. So good on ya.
  2. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    You're correct with what I've seen, for the most part. I'm not sure about mystery but many of the self publishers doing well on the Kindle Boards write romance and erotica. A lot of them do write fantasy and Steampunk, too although it seems the audience for that is smaller.

    With s.p. there is flexibility so I wouldn't worry too much to start. You can always fine tune and mix genres (like Pauline, who does romance and fantasy).
  3. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

    Hi Russ,

    Again you're missing the point. The study in question does not compare apples to apples. If you go through the breakdowns of who's counted in each group you'll find that the trade published group only includes those who have been picked up and published by a publisher etc. That's why their median income is higher than indies. However, if you count all those who have written and got a book to the stage where it is ready to publish and have decided to do so by either trade publishing or indie, you get a very different picture. Indies win in the income stakes. They only lose when they are compared to those who have already been picked up.

    What this means is that for the aspiring author - ie the one who has written said book and is ready to publish, the chances of making money - any money - are far better as an indie. If on the other hand they have a publishing deal already, the equation swings the other way.

    So lets look at this as a simple decision tree for authors. Ask the question have they got a publishing deal, or are they likely to have one due to some advantage?

    1) Yes - the chances are they will make more money going trade.

    2) No - the chances are they will make more money going indie because 99% (?) of those who try to get a trade publishing deal won't get one.

    Next, the issues of medians. This is actually the best way to look at statistics. Yes means, medians and modes are all interesting stats, and they can guide. But what they tell you is that if you do the average amount of work, have the average amount of skill etc, then there is an average income you will likely achieve. But what they also tell you which is far more important is that if you aren't prepared to be average, if you are willing to put all your efforts into this one endeavour, you can earn far more.

    Last, control. I'm not sure I believe you really could say that. Control is vital to income in any occupation - provided that you actually do have control. An indie can produce as many books as he wants. He can determine the quality of those books. Market them. Price them for sale. Write them according to saleable genres. Write series. Arrange cover design, editing, blurb doctoring etc. And all of these things will have an impact on sales and therefore income. He could do all of these things well or poorly, so make more or less money.

    Someone who has a trade publishing contract has far less control over these things. And someone who is choosing to try and get a trade publishing contract but doesn't have one is in a much worse position again. He has no control over whether he can get a contract at all. He can only try to improve his odds by writing the best book he can.

    You also said this: "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."

    I agree with this. The problem is that while this should be true, it usually doesn't pan out that way. People who have determined to go trade, are often unable to consider the alternative. They get the rejections and / or silences and immediately assume that it's because their work is not good enough. Then it's back to the rewriting and critiquing and all the other strategies that usually don't work. It never seems to occur to people that the reason their book wasn't picked up was simply that the agent had five hundred others to look at.

    This is why I strongly advocate to all those who decide to go through this ordeal (and yes it is that for most) that they set a limit. So many submissions without success. So many months spent submitting. And then if there is no joy - indie.

    There is for me nothing more excruciatingly painful than reading the stories of people who have spent years and done hundred's of submissions to agents etc, with no joy, who will then continue on down this path - tearing their books to pieces and blaming their poor writing for their failure. And always in the back of their minds there is this single thought process driving them - if only my book is good enough it'll be picked up. That is a myth, it's soul destroying and it has probably ruined more promising writing careers than anything else.

    For me it's like watching people beat their heads against a concrete block wall in an effort to break through it. I want desperately to stop them, to tell them to go around it or what have you. But they simply won't stop, beleiving with a faith that defies understanding that if only they keep trying, sooner or later it will fall down and they'll be able to walk through into the promised land.

    Cheers, Greg.
  4. Russ

    Russ Istar

    This is factually incorrect. I have the study sitting here on my desk. The trade group includes those who aspire to be published in traditional but have not yet landed a contract. Your assumption is wrong.

    I have never disputed this. But making a buck or two, or a few bucks is not making a living at writing. Which is what I have been talking about from the beginning. Earning your living at writing.

    Right. But if someone asks you the "odds" of something happening statistics is the only way to deal with it. The odds of being able to make a living in writing is better in the traditional route.

    IF you want to look at exceptional cases traditional publishing looks even better. But I think that can be misleading.

    Control is not vital to income in any profession, that is just inaccurate. For instance in Ontario the average guy who is a sole practitioner in law makes less and a mid level guy at a big firm. Who has more control? Control also assumes skill and the indy looses the advantages of size leveraging and specialists. He has to master all trades, marketing, art appreciation, finding and evaluating and paying editors. He has to spread his time and talent more thinly. In a world where specialization is becoming more important the indy, unless very well funded has to be a generalist. IT is also almost impossible for the indy guy to get into any reasonable number of bookstores, which even Joe Konrath admits is a great way to multiply e-sales.

    Every professional writer I know would disagree with that statement. Perhaps we should stop critiquing each other here if that is your stance.

    It is a tough business. But since more people make their living in the traditional model, if that is their goal, their odds remain better in the traditional side. The process is imperfect, but the fact is traditional publishing has launched and continues to launch way more "careers" than indy publishing. I note you use the word career.

    Of course you only look at one side of the argument. You "feel" (subjective and self referential) that this has destroyed more promising careers than anything else. I can state with certainty that traditional publishing has made more successful writing careers than anything else.

    Working hard to achieve something worth achieving is not soul destroying. Especially when more people are successful at making a living at it than the alternative.

    By the by, the study we are talking about has been extended over three years, the data has been narrowed to include only authors who have sold a certain number of books, and it shows that authors who get an advance and royalties do the best, the traditional model. Hybrid and royalty only are close, and straight indy lags behind. Those numbers have been confirmed and in some cases shown to be even broader gaps by several major writing groups here and the UK.

    The other interesting thing in the WD study is that for all three categories when asked where they would like their next book published, the very strong majority said traditionally. Is your theory that you have figured it all out better than they have and they are just foolish?

    If the promised land is making a living at writing, more people are arriving there through traditional publishing than indy. It may be a small number but more people are making more money through the traditional route than the alternative. You can dance around it but the numbers don't lie.

    Indy publishing is far easier, no doubt, but financially less rewarding.
  5. PaulineMRoss

    PaulineMRoss Inkling

    I'm hampered by not having the full study, so I can only go by the blog report you linked to originally. That says:

    The obvious interpretation of that is that those aspiring to be published were put in their own group, and not included with trade-published authors. That would mean that the trade-published group includes only those who already have (or have had) a contract. But since you have the full study, perhaps you can clarify this.

    The other point worth mentioning about the categories is the hybrid situation. Authors become hybrid-published for a variety of reasons, but many are self-pubbers who became so successful they were offered a trade contract, and also trade-pubbed authors who self-published out-of-print works. In other words, some of the most successful self-pubbers are actually included in a different category.

    All these surveys are problematic. The one you reference is based on a self-selecting sample. Hugh Howey's 'Author Earnings' reports are based on objective, but limited, data. And so on. There's no study which accurately reflects the entire industry because the full data just isn't available. So, to be honest, I think it's a mistake to rely too heavily on any one snapshot of the industry.

    Given your original premise of an unpublished author who's serious about making a career (ie a living) from writing, I have to agree with Greg: if they have a contract in hand, then sure, trade is likely to be more profitable. If not, self-pubbing is likely to be a better bet in the long run, given the vanishingly small chance of getting a contract at all.
    psychotick likes this.
  6. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

    Hi Russ,

    Please look at the graph given right at the top of the link you provided. How Much Do Writers Earn? Less Than You Think - Publishing Perspectives Annual Writer Income by Author Type. Percentages of writers in each income bracket listed in columns against the types of writers. Note how there are four groups of authors listed - Aspiring, SP, Trade and Hybrid. This clearly shows that aspiring writers are considered in the survey - in fact they represent the vast bulk (65%) of respondants - but they are not considered as part of the trade published writer's group in determining incomes. If they were there would be only one column for the two groups.

    Now go one step further and look at the aspiring writers column and note how almost all of them earn nothing - as you would expect. In fact I am still trying to figure out how any earn anything at all from their writing considering they have not published. Now a little simple math would tell you that if 65% of all survey respondants reported earning nothing more or less, and 8% reported as earning various amounts as trade published, and those two groups were put together, the aspiring authors salary ranges of basically nothing, would completely swamp the trade published in terms of frequency. In fact the income spread for trade published would look very very similar to that of the aspiring authors.

    To put this in a more simple perspective, if I were to do a survey of the speed seventy three cars were moving at, and sixty five of those cars were parked, the average speed of the cars would be far closer to zero than the speed limit.

    As I say this is an apples versus apples or oranges problem. The income spreads you want to compare are between those who are trade published (Ie they have got a contract out and been paid for it) versus those who are indie and have published themselves. And again as I say the evidence is clear.

    Among PUBLISHED Authors, the trade published earn more than the indie published authors. Among ALL writers including aspiring who are persuing trade publishing deals - which is practically all of them since indie authors don't have to aspire - the reverse is true.

    However, I would add several more points at this stage. First, there is an inherent bias in using self selected survey respondants as this survey does. Unfortunately it is the only way this survey could have been done.

    And second, the overall incomes for all four groups are utter crap.

    As to your lawyers in Ontario - I have no familiarity with the group. However if the situation is anything like the situation with lawyers in New Zealand, then again you have an apples and oranges problem. Yes the average income of those in the big law firms is higher than those out in sole practice. But the median income is actually not. My sister's a lawyer. The reality is that only a very few of the lawyers in those companies make big money. Most of those just leaving uni and getting a job in a firm, only work for those companies for a couple of years - and they get paid peanuts. Very few of them then get taken on to become long term employees and eventually partners. The rest are replaced by new uni graduates.

    The standard joke for those uni grads joining the big firms used to be that they were McChicken's. They got taken on for a couple of years, worked like dogs on an assembly line almost, and then got disposed of. The deal for those lawyers was that they got experience - including the important one for criminal barristers, the acknowledgement that having worked on so many cases they could represent clients in court on various charges.

    After that, once out in the private, sole charge and small partnership world, their ability to make money became almost completely a matter of personal control. If they wante to make more money, they took more cases. They sharpened their skills too, and by gaining experience were able to charge more.

    Last, I'd just like to address your final comment that indie publishing is far easier. No it's not. It's probably much harder if you want to do it right. Anything's easy if you don't put any effort into it. But if you want to succeed as an indie that is not an option. You will have a massively steep learning curve. You will work harder than you could ever have imagined. And the hours of your writing will seem endless.

    In fact for me that was always one of the things I used to envy about the trade published. That they could ignore all the publishing side of being an author, and simply concentrate on writing. Maybe that was a myth - the thought of doing nothing but writing then handing your book over to someone else and going to sit on a beach with a nice cold beer as you plan your next book. Of course in the wake of the rise of indie publishing that scenario has changed somewhat, and now trade published authors are asked to do far more for their advances. That makes trade publishing a less attractive option again to some of us.

    Look, we are clearly not going to agree on this. If you want to imagine that persuing a trade publishing deal is your best route to financial success as a writer, that's your right. All I say is do not allow yourself to be blinded to the pitfalls, no matter which road you choose. And they all have pitfalls.

    Cheers, Greg.
    PaulineMRoss likes this.
  7. Russ

    Russ Istar

    It's pretty dear at $295, but I didn't have to pay for it.

    I am working from home this am and my copy is at the office. I will check and get back to you when I go into the office this weekend.

    The data is this study suggests that the large majority of the hybrid category are traditional people who are enhancing their income through self-pub in various ways. The study in fact makes a whole list of suggestions on how traditional publishers can enhance value and experience for their authors (only a small fraction of its findings really get discussed publicly) and that includes offering authors more opporunties for electronic publishing of "odd balls" in house. A lot of the money for hybrids is work from successful trad authors publishing in formats and lengths or within the exceptions found in their traditional contracts.

    All surveys have flaw, and no study has complete data. All we can do, on any issue, is do the best we can with with we have. I do however point out that some data is a better basis for decision making than no data or anecdotal opinion. I could drown people with anecdotal opinion from authors and agents, but I don't see the real value in that. But I also cannot accept Greg's approach to suggesting successful authors are mostly lucky, and that the information we get from successful authors is mostly BS. There is something irrational about both those conclusions.

    Some people have a funny way of looking at it. The odds of making a living at self pub, based on all the data we have is vanishingly smaller than for traditional. In neither case are the odds good, but they are better at traditional on the numbers. And with the increase of free self pubbed books (I think they went up 30% least year) and the proliferation of self pubbed titles those odds don't appear to be getting better.

    There is a reason that the strong majority of published writers want their next book to be published traditionally. Must we conclude they have all been fooled?
  8. Russ

    Russ Istar

    There are two problems with this statement. Firstly the better analysis is medians which is why they are used. The second is that King and Child can drag numbers pretty far in the other direction. For instance Child sold more e books in a three week period than Konrath had in is entire life. Think how that deforms the curve!

    Now add in the space shuttle and a whole bunch of super sonic aircraft (very successful authors) and you have a more accurate picture.

    But when the study is extended for multiple years and the self-published group is cut down to those who have sold substantial units the numbers still favour the traditionally published author.

    SO then the analysis is this: Some imperfect data tells us that trad pub authors have a better chance to make a living. No data tells us the opposite. Which is more rational to believe?

    Industry publishing is, by definition, and your analysis easier. There is no bottom standard. No gatekeeper. IF I want to get into a school, and there are two schools, one has minimum entrance standards and standards to meet to stay is and the other has no entrance standards and no standards to allow you to continue other than paying, which is easier?

    Self pub is as easy or as hard as you make it. IT is just less lucrative.

    No imagining required on my end. The numbers tell us the best paid writers are those who get an advance from traditional publishers.
  9. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    Going back, for a moment, to the OP:

    Seems to me like publishing really is pretty easy.

    Write a book that people want to read, and, regardless of how you publish, you're likely to become successful.

    My reasoning:

    If you're going the traditional route, publishers are looking for books that are going to make them money. A book that reader's want to read is an easy sale. That's what the publishers comb through their slush piles looking for.

    If you're self publishing, readers are actively searching for books they want to read. When they find those books, they tell their friends.

    The fly in the ointment:

    1. Determining what readers want to read
    2. Delivering what readers want to read once you've made the determination
    Russ likes this.
  10. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

    I do think that publishing can be relatively easy and still be good. I know a lot of people say in order to be successful at self-publishing you have to spend a lot of money and it's long slog. That's why I've done a "soft launch" of my work without spending any money so far. I got lucky a good artist friend did my cover for free and I had a lot of help with edits as well. I think because I'm working with "quirk" my cover doesn't have to be classically fantasy. So I like that flexibility. Plus, my style is relatively straight-forward (despite being weird). I know oftentimes when people submit short stories to magazines, they're not paying editors and stuff like that, so I figured I'd save that for bigger work. For now, I'm going to stick with short stories and maybe novellas even though they're harder to market. But I do think they're easier to publish. Maybe we'll have some kind of golden age of short stories and that'll be the next big thing.

    So I don't think it necessarily has to be super hard to self-publish. I think if you're writing in an overcrowded market, you may have more difficultly. Or you may get impulse buys if you're in similar company. But if you focus on a niche and hope it has a fan base, then you can target a specific crowd. I guess my target audience is people that grew up in the internet age and not necessarily people that grew up reading the classics.

    And I do think it's difficult to go the traditional route simply because there are more factors to consider that may block you: an editor, your style, marketability, etc.

    But I personally want to try both. The wonders of modern publishing!
    Last edited: May 15, 2015
    psychotick likes this.
  11. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    I vote for a short story renaissance. I think that sounds awesome. Now how do we get readers on board? :)
    Philip Overby and Russ like this.
  12. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

    Hi Russ,

    Just a couple of points. First you said: "Now add in the space shuttle and a whole bunch of super sonic aircraft (very successful authors) and you have a more accurate picture."

    Yes that would be an issue if this study used averages. It used medians as you pointed out specifically to avoid the undue influence of the outliers. If an author earns a billion dollars he still only counts as one position in the ranks.

    You said: "SO then the analysis is this: Some imperfect data tells us that trad pub authors have a better chance to make a living. No data tells us the opposite. Which is more rational to believe?"

    No the analysis based on imperfect data is that trade published authors who have contracts in their hands have a better chance to make a living. Aspiring authors who have no such contract, have a far worse chance.

    You said: "But when the study is extended for multiple years and the self-published group is cut down to those who have sold substantial units the numbers still favour the traditionally published author."

    Haven't seen this study, or if it's the one that we're discussing this information has not been published. In any case this would be a ludicrous statistic. What are they going to do - survey incomes of only indies who've sold 5k books? 10k books? And who are they going to compare them to? All trade published? Those who've sold this many books? The results would depend completely on the selection parameters for those they chose to count. It would be meaningless.

    Lastly you said: "No imagining required on my end. The numbers tell us the best paid writers are those who get an advance from traditional publishers."

    Finally - agreement! Yes. The best paid authors are those who go the trade route and get advances. Ie those who have been picked up. The worst paid and the vast majority of authors, are those who aspire to be authors, who have not got a contract but are determined for whatever reason to keep chasing one. They will earn on average - nothing - until they finally go indie.

    Cheers, Greg.

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