In yesterday’s New York Times there was an opinion piece by Gary Gutting, a professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. Here’s a quote:
“Even highly gifted and relatively successful writers, artists and musicians generally are not able (to) earn a living from their talents. The very few who become superstars are very well rewarded. But almost all the others—poets, novelists, actors, singers, artists—must either have a partner whose income supports them or a ‘day job’ to pay the bills. Even writers who are regularly published by major houses or win major prizes cannot always live on their earnings.”—New York Times, The Real Humanities Crisis
You know this is true as well as I do, and it speaks to several larger truths:
- the low regard most creative artists who are not “superstars” generally command in our society
- the lack of leverage most creatives have in dealing with corporations who license their work
- the disempowerment of writers who are not “bestsellers” and who, by and large, are poorly compensated for their work
Stable jobs with dependable income involve helping the wheels of commerce keep turning, or unavoidable occupations like road building and health care.
But try making a living as a poet, a writer of histories, a novelist, a short story writer, a playwright, or any kind of writer whose work isn’t essential to making a living, and you better not give up that day job.
We don’t need to comment on the values this reality expresses, but we do have to deal with the consequences.
Now, with all the new tools of publishing, we can take a bigger role in our own publishing careers than ever before.
Talking to authors—and especially authors who have already been published by big traditional publishers—you can see the excitement and anticipation when this subject comes up.
The chance to publish what you want, when you want to, in the way you think best. The return of power and influence to the actual creators of the content. That’s exciting.
Earning 100% of net royalties doesn’t hurt either.
Meanwhile, we’ve learned that many authors have made very little money from their books, and that’s awakened a lot of writers to the harsh realities of this line of work.
More Authors, More Books
One of the reasons there are so many self-published books is that there are a lot more books than corporate publishers can handle.
Just think about all the books that don’t fit the traditional model and you’ll see what I mean, books:
- with topics that have a very small potential market
- unusual formats or experimental writing for which an audience has to be created
- works of odd lengths that don’t fit into the production necessities of publishers
- by authors who don’t have a “platform” or established audience
Books have to show a profit. They have to fit on a particular shelf, cost a specific amount, and appeal to a targeted audience.
But the business model of an individual author is completely different from the business model of a large corporation. That’s where self-publishing comes in.
Self-Publishing and Social Media
It has been our good fortune that social media and self-publishing are developing at the same time.
Social media, including blogging and the connections available in the social web, is powerful. Combined with tools (like keyword analysis, trending topics, and others) that allow us to gain insight into readers, it’s revolutionary.
Now authors have the ability to identify, locate, and engage with their readers on a mass scale, immediately and directly for the first time in history.
I’ve often said that for a solo entrepreneur, a blog is the most powerful marketing tool ever invented.
Even more so for authors. If the web is largely text, and what people do on the web, outside of playing games and shopping, involves reading text, then it just makes sense that authors have a huge advantage in this new world.
Today’s savvy authors understand that studying social media is, in its own way, just as important to their careers as studying their writing craft.
This doesn’t mean we let go of other ways to promote our books. But the ability of a solo author to learn to promote her books in social media levels the playing field in a very powerful way.
Ebooks and print on demand technologies allow us to escape the need for corporate-level financing, and social media gives us an inside edge in marketing our books.
Publish Today, Publish Tomorrow, Publish Forever
At this point, for many authors, self-publishing really is the best alternative for some, if not all, of their books. Smartly managed, with a clear understanding of how to move toward your goals, indie authors are creating their own publishing models.
To be a self-publisher, you have to be willing to take on the study and work necessary to learn the basics of getting your book to market. For many of you, the most difficult lessons are behind you.
There are lots of ways to do this, and every one is right for some people:
- You can hire publishing professionals to help you create, produce, and market your book.
- You can learn the parts that really appeal to you and do them yourself.
- You can call on a book shepherd or book designer to handle your entire project in consultation with you.
- You can partner with an established publisher to co-produce your book.
The options for how to get a book to market continue to expand. That’s a good thing.
Every book you publish now will add to your “list,” increase your professionalism, create more points of engagement for your readers, and help create real assets that can support you for years to come.
And that’s why today, for many writers, self-publishing and social media marketing really are the change we have been waiting for. And why writers really need to know how to publish their own books.