Where Will You Be When the Dust Clears?

There’s an old joke where two guys are camping and they see a hungry bear and one guy starts lacing up his sneakers and his buddy says, “You don’t think you can outrun a bear do you?” and the other guy says, “I just need to outrun you.”

Seems to me this joke kind of describes where we are now as authors on the verge of being successful in this e-publishing enterprise.

I recently read “The Self E-Publishing Bubble” in The Guardian that made some predictions about epublishing and ebook authors that started to make me believe that if we authors want to avoid being the ones that get turned into bear sushi by the parameters of the new publishing industry, we have to be mindful about one particularly important directive: we have to not stop.  We have to not stop writing, not stop believing, not stop publishing. I hate to add my italics and boldface to all the sappy, soppy edicts out there that will tell you that persistence is the key, but sometimes the corny stuff is the truth.

Persistence is the key.

When I spoke at the North Georgia State College’s conference on e-publishing last fall, I admitted that there was some truth to the “tsumani of crap” that e-publishing was seen as by many bewildered readers. But at that time I had yet to see the glimmer of hope that that tidal wave might dissipate. In fact, nobody was talking about the glut of self-published books diminishing. We were all just trying to imagine literary mechanisms that might help readers wade through the enlarged reading inventory, like reviews they respected from their genre or, I don’t know, maybe something brand new that nobody’s ever heard of but is invented to handle this new world order of ours that nobody could’ve envisioned five years ago!

So the story—and I do hope you read it—quotes the NY Times saying a recent survey revealed that as a result of the supposed ease of e-publishing 82% of all Americans are now interested in writing a book. (Holy crap! You think we got a glutted market now!)

Only before we all go strangle ourselves with our USB patch cords, the writer, Ewan Morrison, goes on to say that the lack of sales (fewer than 100 a year for most writers) and dearth of positive feedback (This is not a business for overly sensitive souls) and the realization that you are, essentially, “writing for free” (OMG, I’m laughing here!) and general disrespect would prompt most new e-book authors to give up within a year and find another hobby. Especially if there was a day job involved.

“After a long year of trying to sell self-epublished books, attempting to self-promote on all available networking sites, and realising that they have been in competition with hundreds of thousands of newcomers just like them, the vast majority of the newly self-epublished authors discover that they have sold less than 100 books each. They then discover that this was in fact the business model of Amazon and other epub platforms in the first place: a model called “the long tail”. With five million new self-publishing authors selling 100 books each, Amazon has shifted 500m units. While each author – since they had to cut costs to 99p – has made only £99 after a year’s work. Disillusionment sets in as they realise that they were sold an idea of success which could, by definition, not possibly be extended to all who were willing to take part.”

Add to the above an accepted formula for success in indie publishing (and it’s one that I believe in) that says inventory is key to making money, and you have even more reason to believe that most new writers will quit. Creating an inventory means you need to write a lot and fairly constantly (you certainly do if you want to build any kind of library of work while you’re still young enough to enjoy the profits outside the nursing home). Doing this with little to no money up front (“spec” we used to call it in advertising), when you’re exhausted from working a day job, probably a family demanding your attention and God knows what else a normal life requires of you, is going to be too much for most people.

Which is good news for YOU. Because YOU won’t give up when the rest of them do. Right? Because for every soldier who falls to the wayside, that is one less book in your genre you need to compete with. It’s one step nearer to the overworked reviewer choosing to smile on your book (if it’s good), and one degree closer to the reader discovering you. It stands to reason if the pile of available books is even a little smaller, your chance of being found is a little greater.

The interesting thing about all this—the thing that nobody is writing about—also happens to be the fly in the soup of the Guardian story and that is the fact that most writers that I know of (wait for it!) aren’t in it for the money. I mean it would be nice. What a dream, to get paid to write stories? But bottom line, you know you’re going to write anyway, no matter what.

And that is precisely why, when it’s all said and done and the dust has cleared and when e-publishing and Amazon and readers and trad publishing and all of them have done what they’re going to do and evolved where they will, YOU will be on the other side of it, quietly building that inventory, writing stories and publishing books for years and years to come.

I honestly cannot think of a better way to live my life.

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21 thoughts on “Where Will You Be When the Dust Clears?

  1. I’m very interested in the article, and will be looking it up (it sounds quite interesting, and I’m definitely interested in learning about self-publishing–it really is all for love of writing, you’re right), but I wanted to mention your links only get there by way of asking the person clicking to read the Guardian via their Facebook app.

    Also, I’m a newcomer to reading your blog, and have been quite enjoying it so far!

  2. Thanks always for shooting straight and keeping things in perspective. Isn’t writing a calling after all? Good to make money at it while we’re at it. And to be able to go with the flow of the business, whatever it may bring. If only I could make money off my gardening as well. Now that would really be something.

  3. This is so like the conversation I had with my mum last night.

    “You must earn a fortune?”

    “Why’s that?”

    “Well you work, you’re the mother of two children, you write blogs, you’re a student, you dance, and when you think about it some people only have one job and earn a fortune.”

    “Are you trying to telling me something, mother?”

    “I write because I have to and that’s it.”

  4. “I honestly cannot think of a better way to live my life” those words if true, are the key. No, they probably won’t make you rich (in terms of time spent per dollar in your jeans) but they will make “your life” rich. I’m lucky I have been given two gifts. The first gift “the ability to draw and think at the same time” I’ve used to make my living for most of my seventy five years, sometimes it made me rich, sometimes poor, mostly climbing the hill and then tumbling down the other side, but all in all it’s been a grand ride, the other gift I found in a box under my bed a few years ago during my move to paradise. an old beat-up box filled with yellow pads and scraps of paper covered with words and scribbles, stories from my life, it was like I found myself, I’ve had what was written years ago, as a book, turned into an award winning play and another performed as a children’s play, not much, no money, still at the same time I found myself. So now I earn my living doing what I’ve always loved and been good at, illustrating other peoples books, magazines and stories (even winning a CLIO nomination for an animated television commercial I wrote and animated) and now dancing with a new love, I found under my bed, writing and performing words that will find their life through printed pages and the Spoken Word. Guess some might say I’m rich.

  5. I like it. You give a bit of optimism like my son gives a compliment… “You’re not as ugly as most moms, mom.” Perhaps you could say, “Your dreams of being a writer aren’t as stupid as most people’s” hee hee. Good Read! Best Regards

  6. I am going to keep this around to remind me of why I write when I eventually only sell a few copies of my works to my friends and family. I write because I love it. We should all keep that in mind. Thanks!

  7. I nodded my head several times while reading this. You opened my eyes to the self-publishing industry. The truest thing you said here, among others, is that nobody writes for the money. Thanks for sharing Susan !

  8. I loved what you wrote here and it reinforced the idea that whatever else I’ve got going on in my life- I’ve got to write a little bit everyday.

  9. Thanks – that does put it in perspective. I have been really surprised to find that other writers can churn out four or more novels a year – someone I found recently wrote one just in January, and was planning to self publish as an ebook immediately.
    It takes me much much longer to write, review, re-review, edit, proofread etc, so I’m hoping that maybe quality will also help readers to wade through the great mass of stuff out there! Not that those books written quickly aren’t necessarily quality works – it’s just much quicker to build an ‘inventory’!

  10. I love writing for what I discover about myself as I write. I’m working on getting my first three books ready for ebook publishing and think it would be great to make some money…but bottom line is, whether I make much or not, I’ve had a BLAST writing them…and will continue. This post just reinforced my desire to do so. Thanks.

  11. I couldn’t agree more! I keep telling myself that I have to keep going and going and going like the Energizer Bunny. And then I had a week like last week where everything else in my life imploded and it totally burst the story bubble of what I’ve been working on. Now I’m desperately trying to regroup my writer-brain. But I think that’s the point that you’re making here. You have to keep writing in spite of the rest of the world falling down around you if you want to succeed at this game. And that the definition of success is different for each different author.

    That does make me wonder though, if there will be fewer self-published authors once the hype dies down….

    • Because it’s true life will always throw stuff at you and sometimes it’ll derail you for a bit (WIP-wise). But in the long run, it’s all fodder for our gist (if that makes sense.) Our writer brains will process it, maybe not now but eventually, and it’ll end up enhancing a plot or a dialogue exchange. I do believe writers process life through a different lens. I think that’s why so many writers are, naturally, such good observers. We watch, we reflect, we turn it into fiction! Riding the ups and downs of life may make some people stronger, but I believe it can also help make writers better writers. 🙂

  12. Cheers & Applause Susan! I read a long time ago that for the number that will want to write a book, there was a statistic that said something to the effect of less than 5% will finish it. Something to think about!

    I am a new follower to your blog and I loved your posts on Twitter and Social Media. As a result, I want to say congratulations on winning the Sunshine award. Details are on my blog if you are interested. I love your blog & belated congratulations on being freshly pressed 🙂

  13. That’s a great way of looking at this situation, and I think more writers would benefit from that perspective. A lot of people are rushing in to get part of the ebook-slash-Amazon pie before everything goes to crap again. At least that’s my general impression. People are rushing, rushing, rushing, and they’re forgetting the key ingredient is time and a damn good story. No matter what happens, you control the story, and therefore aren’t ever going to by stymied unless, for whatever reason, all forms of publishing go out the window.

    Wait, that would be a really cool plot! Haha.

  14. Hi Susan,

    I am thoroughly enjoying reading your thoughts.

    I work full-time in advertising as a copywriter, and also as a freelance editor, publisher and writer, so I not only appreciate the topics you’re covering, I’m also very inspired by your self-publishing journey.

    (In fact, I wish you’d post more often!)

    Thanks again,
    Amanda @ TasmanianTravels

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