"Self-publishing is simply a more viable path to earning a living and reaching readers than sending query letters to agents, and it isn’t even close." — Hugh Howey, Feb. 12, 2016.
EL James. Andy Weir. These are a couple of the household names of Indie Publishing. How about Hugh Howey? No? Don't worry, he doesn't care if you haven't heard of him. He's only written a pile of science fiction bestsellers, sold movie rights and signed distribution of his self-published work to a major publisher for bookstore placement. He's building a boat so he can sail the world while he writes. It's what we want, right? Then there's Russell Blake, whose indie career landed him a job co-writing Clive Cussler books. Okay, that is a little strange, but at least Clive is alive. Tom Clancy has been dead since 2013 and he keeps pumping out books like they're Tupac records. Play your cards right, and you might be writing novels for Harper Lee. Too soon? Sorry.
Back to Hugh Howey. He isn't just opining from the throne a successful Indie writer. He goes to the trouble of pulling the data and studying this stuff. Check out the latest where he crunches the numbers. Or go straight to the Author Earnings Report and see how Indie Publishing is growing and traditional publishing is "collapsing." The narrative that "if you can't find a publisher then you self publish" is DEAD. Self publishing has become the smart business decision — the better investment in time and resources. Don't let your cocktail party friends smirk when you tell them you self published a book. Tell them it has a better ROI (be sure so say "ROI" because it's so obnoxious, and then make a mental note to write an annoying character based transparently on that person.)
OK, now, don't get too excited. Indie Publishing isn't some Utopia where success is guaranteed. You still have to write something good. I don't know why the book about a time traveling Thomas Jefferson didn't resonate, or why a series called Unicorn Western did (it's real and it sold well) — but I think part of it had to do with the experience of the writers and the quality of the editing. You have to write something that people will read. That doesn't mean write some vampire erotica just because it sells (unless that's your genre.) But do think about your genre and set your expectations accordingly. I received an email from a reader who writes historical fiction. They were thinking of mixing in some romance to make it more commercial. Not a bad idea if it's handled well. I'm going to send you back to Author Earnings to look at sales by genre and how they were published. As a percentage, Romance and Science Fiction indie writers are having a lot of success, while self published Literary Fiction is... um... not. But that's OK, Literary Fiction isn't selling for anyone. Sad, but true. The critics may love it, and you may win a prize, but high-brow doesn't sell.
Think about why. People who read romance, read romance like CRAZY. There's a direct relationship between the number of cats romance readers have and the number of books they buy in a week. They consume these books like candy. The same goes for Science Fiction readers. They are rabidly reading these things on their cell phones through strands of green hair (Editor's Note: Not all Sci-Fi readers have green hair, and I only have two cats.) I'm not saying that you need to start picking what you write by genre, but know your audience. I knew that when I wrote a thriller it would be a lot harder to get noticed because there are a lot of good, well-marketed, traditionally published thrillers to compete with. That's not meant to be a dig at Romance and Science Fiction — it's just possible the indie writers in those genres are doing a better job of giving their audience what they want.
I'll finish by getting back to this whole concept of "writing something good." You can't write something good. You start by writing something that isn't very good. Because the first draft is going to sound like it was written by Rick Scott's speech writer. It's like the first coat of paint in a room: You've still got that damned blue tape all over the place, and you aren't even sure about the color you picked. That passion you started with has waned and you're ready to be done. The hard part is getting all the edges just right so guests can't tell you painted it yourself. But nothing happens until you get that first coat on, so this week, write something. Write a chapter. Write the opening scene. Or do what I do... write the ending first. It gives you someplace to write to and it's a lot harder to get lost. But for the love of god, close your browser and write something, right now.
P.S. On Wednesday, March 9, I will team up with my friend Nathan Van Coops for the SunLit Festival Pub Crawl happening in cool "joints" all over St. Pete's "Edge District" (Central between MLK and 275). We'll be unveiling a piece about what happens when two seemingly normal, self-published authors end up living across the street from each other. Egos and manuscripts will be destroyed. 7:00 p.m. at Bodega on Central in St. Pete.
By day Jonathan Kile is a peddler of petroleum products, navigating a Glengarry Glen Ross landscape of cutthroat sales. By night he assumes the identity of novelist and child-wrangler. Jonathan’s first published novel The Grandfather Clock is available on Amazon. He's writing his second and third novels, blogging at Well-Oiled Writer and cursing his editor. You can email him here.