(Before I get into this month’s post, a quick note that NIGHT OF THE PONTIANAK has entered the editorial cycle. But I’m still banking on a January release.)
When I first started researching self-publishing, I was surprised by how many authors concentrated on the gate-keeping hurdle of traditional publishing, and not on the business angle of self-publishing. Having nurtured several start-ups, it was plain to me that self-publishing was always, first and foremost, a small business. And, as with all small businesses, it’s never enough to merely produce the product, you have to quality test it, package it, monitor distribution and sales channels, do your best to come up with effective marketing, and so on. And, being a small business, initially at least, all of that massive “other” work, completely unrelated to the product itself, must be carried out by the founder.
I knew, just from what they were blogging, that a lot of authors weren’t mentally geared to step into the shoes of a Small Business Owner. I also knew that the failure rate of small businesses within the first five years is phenomenal. Start Up Business Hub, for example, has the following chilling statistics
Failure rate of small businesses:
Year 1 – 85%
Year 2 – 70%
Year 3 – 62%
Year 4 – 55%
And while self-publishing is the gentlest of small businesses to begin with (and I’ve started a few, so believe me when I say that), I knew that the failure rate would still be high.
This is a long introduction to my thoughts on a recent post from April L Hamilton, founder of that wonderful site, Publetariat and, at one time, committed self-publisher. In her post “Indie Author vs. Indie Entrepreneur”, April says:
I’ve said all along that in order to really make a go of earning a living as an indie author, one must approach it with all the verve, dedication and business acumen of an entrepreneur. I stand by that to this day, but here’s what’s new: maybe not all of us need to be, nor even want to be, indie entrepreneurs.
I completely agree with her. Being a self-publisher, where the goal is to be a commercial success and make a living from self-publishing, is hard. Where I disagree with her is with the comparison that you must approach it “with all the verve, dedication, etc.” To my mind, that’s drawing an artificial line between self-publishing and business. There is no line. It’s the same thing. If you’re not an entrepreneur, then the chances of succeeding in self-publishing are slim to nil, in my opinion.
This new paradigm of indie author-entrepreneur (I’ll abbreviate it to IAE in this post) is totally different from what the idealized picture of being a Published Author was just a few short years ago.
No, I disagree. The idealised picture was, and still is, concentrated on the book and not the activities surrounding it. What has changed over the past few years, is that more authors who started a few years ago are now having the realities of what they’ve done (and not done) shoved into their faces.
A few years into it, many indie authors are stopping to reassess. The initial rush of excitement over being able to call our own shots and write our own tickets is over, and now we’re wallowing in the morning-after hangover realization that being a successful IAE means spending at least as much time on the business and promotion side of things as on writing.
Yes but, again, only if: (a) you didn’t realise what you were taking on in the first place; and/or (b) you thought you had the skill set to pull it all off but are now coming to the swift realisation that that’s not the case.
To my mind, self-publishing is at that intersection of two very difficult, and philosophically opposite, activities: writing (creative, sporadic, nail-biting) and small business (pragmatic, methodical, nail-biting). What they have in common, besides the nail-biting, is the need for a strong, unbreakable belief in what you’re doing. And if that belief wavers in any way, then you’re headed into failure country.
So my prediction is that more and more self-publishers will find that the constant worries, frustrations, issues, time-traps, and lack of quick returns are just not worth it for them, and they’ll drop off the self-publishing wagon. And that’s an entirely valid decision to make. Knocking your head against a brick wall in the hope of breaking through is only for a small segment of people. As I’ve said, I’ve done it a few times in other industries so my head has grown accustomed to the pain. But I can well understand people who think that that sounds like nothing more than a cup of insanity. In my more sober moments, I tend to agree.
For those people who are self-publishing as a hobby, nothing has changed. They can continue as they always have done, for the sheer love of it and nothing else. For those who are looking to make a living out of it (and I don’t understand why we need to be coy about that goal when we live in such capitalistic times), but find that they are unwilling to dissipate their time- and/or resource-limited energies in non-writing related tasks, the digital presses and traditional publishers will still be there for them. I’m stubborn, and maybe even stupid, enough to keep going at this gig for a few more years. But that’s just me.