Never before has it been easier to write a book and publish it. Never before has it been so easy to generate income from the words you write. Never before has it been so easy to skip the gatekeepers one had to go crawling to on hands and knees for the opportunity to publish (books and articles). Never before has it been so easy to become a full-time writer.
But as of late, many authors who were making a substantial living at this game just a few short years ago, are now having to either supplement their income with a side gig, or they’re quitting full-time writing altogether and taking a day job. Something they thought would never happen to them again. Not when it’s so easy to publish what you want, when you want.
I’ve been extolling the virtues of the indie scene for a long time now. Ten or so years anyway. In that time I’ve sold tens of thousands of books. No that’s not right, hundreds of thousands (The Remains alone has sold well over 200K and still sells anywhere from 5 to 10 per day). My experience is not unique in that I once nailed a mid-six figure two book deal only to have the publisher be bought out by another publisher prior to my first book coming out. The cover was botched and everyone working in the industry was worried about their own asses. Would they have a job tomorrow, or be out on the street? The answer to that one came pretty quick when I found my editor in chief walking out of the Bertelesmann building with her desk lamp in her hands and tears in her eyes. “Good luck,” she said to me with a gentle kiss on the cheek. In other words, RIP Vince. I never saw her again, nor have I any clue what she’s up to.
This is an ever changing business, and because it doesn’t pay its overworked editors very well, the door is always revolving. It’s more of a passion than a job. Since I started professionally over 20 years ago, 98% of the publishing professionals I’ve worked with either in editing, marketing, or agenting, have moved on to other pursuits. My first agent, who was dynamite, is now a professional magician. That’s right, you can’t make this shit up. Another agent gave up, got his MBA and is now in big business. Another agent got into public relations. And so on and so forth.
Of the many authors I’ve known and liked along the way, lots have disappeared. One or two, like Harlan Coben and Don Winslow, have just crushed it and deservedly so. They are perhaps a part of the last class of traditionally published authors who can count on a steady paycheck. Other authors whom I admire who have had staying power, such as Blake Crouch, Lee Goldberg, Russell Blake, Scott Nicholson and more, are in a league of their own. They were mavericks in that they recognized the power of indie publishing very early on and in the process, single handedly changed the way books are published today. They will be around forever.
This latter group of authors taught me a valuable lesson along the way. There was a time when I would have considered self-publishing a novel about as appetizing as swallowing my own vomit. And I’m not trying to be overly dramatic here. But while the guys (and gals, like Diane Capri), were making bank and building a steady fan base without the need for the gatekeepers, I was busy banging my head against the wall trying to grab another six-figure advance.
But it wasn’t until I started publishing independently that everything changed. I sold a ton of books and ironically, nailed a bunch of big advances again. But by now, I’d learned another valuable lesson. It was never keep all those farm fresh eggs in one basket. I learned to diversify. I kept a steady income stream of writing trade journalism and the occasional feature. I also began my own publishing imprint, Bear Media. As a third means of income, I continued to write for publishers big and small. Something I still do today. The point is that I would never be without an income, no matter how humble, on a monthly basis.
So what have I learned along the way?
The books I publish with other publishers do the poorest. No reflection on the publishers, but they just don’t have the time or resources to pour into my titles when they are publishing so many titles so fast. Those authors I mention in the opening graph? Many of them were still dependent on these traditional publishers and in turn, their income stream was not sustainable.
Consistency is key. I write new words everyday, rarely taking a day off. I also spend part of the day editing a book that’s already written. It’s not unusual for me to have two or even three books going at once. One must feed these beast as they say. Consistent publication means consistent sales. I’m shooting for 100 titles/products over the course of the next three years. When that happens, even humble sales will generate me $6-7K per month, although I suspect, that number stands the chance of being substantially higher.
Jame’s Altucher’s bestselling book, Choose Yourself, has been a terrific inspiration for me. He published five books traditionally, never earned back his advances. Then he decided to self-publish Choose Yourself. It sold like, well, hotcakes. He never considered going back to the traditional publishing world and why would he when he not only owns his own copyrites, he makes a 70% royalty on each copy sold.
It’s true that the indie publishing space is indeed way more crowded than ever. But I’m not competing against someone who sells self help for instance, or low content books, or billionaire romance, etc. I’m competing against a relatively small percentage of authors who publish hard-boiled mystery and noir. I don’t have to be top dog to be making a decent living, although every now and then I get lucky and get to hold the position of top dog for a while.
Luck. The only sure thing in publishing is indie publishing. The success you achieve is a direct reflection of the amount of time and effort you put into it. Not everything is going to sell. You’ve all heard of the 80/20 principle. Only about 20% of your books are going to make you 80% of your cash. What’s this mean? The more books the better. Content is still king and Amazon, for instance, rewards authors who publish consistently because it means you’re making new content available for its customers.
So even though the publishing business is hard (it’s always been hard), the more you choose your own destiny the better the chances of never being without an income. It’s hard work, but eventually you will reach a tipping point where you can’t help but make a very nice passive income. And guess what, if you wake up on a crappy, rainy, cold Monday morning, you can turn right around and go back to sleep. That in itself is quite the reward.
BUY MY NEW NOVEL IN HARDCOVER ON MAY 28