The Experts Aren’t Always Right: Write at Your Own Risk…er…Pace, Part 2

Missed Part One? Play catchup here.

“The Experts Aren’t Always Right”

As an independent author, when it comes to writing and selling books, I have to take matters into my own hands. As much as I would love to have someone else handle my marketing, cover design, copywriting, actual writing, etc., I don’t have that luxury. If I want people to read my stories, I have to get the word out on my own, or convince others to help me by convincing them that what I have to share is worth reading. And to convince them to read my work, I have to market to them, which means, ultimately, the cycle is unavoidable, and I’m responsible for getting the word out regardless, help or not. If it’s near impossible to get any reader interested in reading my work, then it’s even more nearly impossible to get them to market for me. If I don’t do it myself, it won’t get done, and the book will undoubtedly flop.

But even if I do get readers, and even if I can convince a few of them to help me get even more readers, it doesn’t mean my career is set and ready to launch. I also have to figure out how to get and retain fans, which is even more nearly impossible than the even more nearly impossible task of getting a support system to help me find those fans.

But nearly impossible isn’t the same as impossible. Fortunately, impossible is a dead adjective in independent publishing. Okay, more like an animated corpse that seems lifelike. But it’s still dead.

Through traditional publishing, authors have a chance to get their books displayed on a shelf at a bookstore, and by proxy, open an avenue for exposure that indie authors often don’t have. This doesn’t necessarily improve the author’s chances at discovery, as any book that’s displayed with the spine out is no more likely to get discovered than a specific crack in a sidewalk in the heart of a beautiful park would get discovered. But even shy people can discover that crack in a sidewalk if the alternative is to make eye contact with other people, so at least it’s an extra opportunity.

For an independent author, that chance for discovery is almost entirely limited to marketing, whether via e-mail, or word-of-mouth, or blast system like Bookbub or Instafreebie, which tends to succeed only when the author already has a following or fat marketing account and strong copywriting and cover design, and getting a sale through that market or discovery is dependent on whether or not the moon passes by the sun at the precise time a chicken crows while a dog pees on its head, which is, to say, not easy.

And that’s just for one book. What happens when the independent author writes another one? How many times does the moon eclipse the sun? (At the time of this writing, the total eclipse is scheduled to begin in Oregon and proceed through the heart of the United States and into South Carolina in a few hours, so, timely! But by the time this goes live, it’ll be long gone, so ha ha, you gotta wait another 18 months for the next one! But I digress.)

Because it can be difficult to build an audience, and even more difficult to retain one, independent authors are often encouraged to write books quickly (one every month or two) to earn enough income to write full-time. And this is assuming they have at least 3000 e-mail list subscribers who are ready and willing to buy every book the independent author writes, or tens of thousands of subscribers that can balance the odds enough to glean about 3000 loyal readers from the list. With the average $2.99 e-book earning its author 70% of its sales, 3000 loyal readers can earn him over $6000 a book. And that’s great…if he can pop out a new book every couple of months on average.

Traditional authors can’t do that because the industry takes about 18 months to contract and release a book via publisher (the length of time you’ll have to wait for the next total eclipse to happen after today, August 21, 2017, aka the day I’m writing this post, not necessarily the day I’m posting it). But independent authors can release books as quickly as they can write them, which is awesome for anyone who writes quickly and cleanly and doesn’t mind ignoring his loved ones most days.

The key idea here being how quickly one can write, edit, market, and release a full-length book of about 200 or more pages (50,000 words or more) and still be good enough to keep the reader coming back for more. Is one-to-two months for each book really long enough?

I guess it could be. Ian Fleming wrote the James Bond novels in the summers he spent at Goldeneye, his home in the Caribbean (Jamaica, I believe), and spent the rest of the year working as a real spy, leaving his publishers to take care of the rest. That’s about two months per book for his part. I don’t know if he had to do anything more than just write the books. But even still, at that rate, he produced just one book a year. You could say he spent the other ten months researching.

I’d argue that producing a new book every one or two months is beneficial for keeping readers’ attention, but it may also be too much for those who feel oversaturated by reading books only from a particular author who, for some reason, is more prolific than even James Patterson or Stephen King. Ian Fleming had a dedicated readership, and even though it took him just two months to write each novel, it took about a year for his readers to get each one. In spite of the gap between stories, they came back anyway. They had other authors they could read in the meantime.

Indie authors don’t have to wait a year to get a book they’ve spent two months writing into their readers’ hands. But is that a good thing? I have authors I’m subscribed to that I still haven’t read because I simply can’t keep up with their pacing. It seems like every time I think about starting one of their freebies, they’re pitching me a new book. I’m not ready for it yet! Of course, it’s not their fault I’m not ready for it yet. I’ve just got so much else to read. Maybe a year between releases isn’t so bad. But, for the indie author, a year between releases is the same as starving. Seems like neither party really wins here.

I don’t know how involved Ian Fleming got with his books after he submitted them to the publisher, and it may be that two months dedicated to his author career was plenty, but independent authors don’t have the luxury to stop at the writing process or spend two months a year on a single book. They have to maintain the editing process, as well, and that can cost time and money. If an editor charges between $1000 and $2000, for example, then that reduces the author’s $6000 in sales profit to just $4000. And that’s not including cover design costs ($300 on average), marketing services (conditional, but probably more than $100 and upwards to about $600), and any subscriptions to web hosting or e-mail list providers ($100 a month or more), and now the author is down to earning an ROI of about $3000 or less for his book, and that’s assuming he’s grossing $6000, and if it took him two months to produce that book from zero to hero, then he’s earning about $1500 a month as an author, which is about what I make tutoring college students how to write.

It’s not a lot when you crunch the numbers. And it takes a long frickin’ time to get enough subscribers and fans to produce those kinds of numbers in the first place.

Now, these are estimated costs based on research and not based on experience. In contrast, based on experience, each book earns about $3 a year. This is without a mailing list, or marketing system, or editing service, and so on. This is based simply on writing and uploading a book to Amazon or Smashwords and crossing my fingers (what all writers wish they could do successfully) and seeing what happens. This is based on zero reviews, or a three-star average thanks to a one-star review cancelling out a five-star review, and, while I’m at it, wishing upon a star.

And that three-star average is based on cranking out a book in two months without editing, marketing, or having any real beta reading support, save for a single reader who says the book is “pretty good,” which isn’t the same as saying the book is “freaking amazing.”

It’s also based on beating a preorder deadline on the advice of experts who say preorders increase first-day sales and that preorders should be given to all books. No, I’m gonna have to disagree here. Preorders are yet another marketing stage for increasing exposure on a title that needs marketing to get that exposure, but it’s only helpful if the author produces a book that readers would actually want to read, which usually requires something called quality, which is hard to achieve on two months’ worth of writing, marketing, etc. I’ll cover that in more detail tomorrow.

But everything about writing and publishing independently comes down to costs, both in money and time, and neither produces guarantees for success, even though more of each increases the odds.

Now, there are things in my life I wish I could reset like a videogame, most of them having to do with career choices or women, but I don’t regret giving independent publishing a chance. What I do regret is rushing through my titles in order to match the speed that some authors claim they need to produce their own success. It’s that regret that has led me to the decision to otherwise disown the current version of my novel, The Computer Nerd, and seek to revise and release the story under a new title, and to do so at the pace I need to make it worth buying and reading. This isn’t to say that it’s bad in its current form, mind you. But it is to say that it needs better.

More on that tomorrow.

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Cover image by Pixabay

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