Totally random rant about the writing world that went on for way too long. I'm sorry.
(No animals were harmed during the making of this rant. I apologize in advance for any eye bleeds that occur while reading this ridiculously, unplanned, how did this happen rhapsody.)
Been thinking a lot about self-pubbing and talking to friends from the RWA who have switched to that route. They are much happier, which isn't that hard to believe considering all you do as a traditionally published author these days.
While it's hard for a self-published author to get into bookstores, particular chains like Barnes and Noble, it's not impossible. Local bookstores are usually open to self-published books, depending on their preference and the popularity of the novel.
If you're just starting out as a self-published author you might have to wait to establish a following before local stores are willing to sell your book. However, that's not to say they won't consider it, again if the novel is to their liking or style. It never hurts to ask, but don't rely on it to boost your sales. That, like any other published author, is on you. Most people, non-authors and some newbie writers, think if you are traditionally published you don't have to promote your book because the publishing house will do it for you.
That is entirely not true. They'll add your name to their list of authors, get you some PR and in bookstores, but even that is based on if you are considered one of their "big" authors. If you're their prize author at the moment, you get a big--bigger advance, more PR, a stand in the bookstores, but that is short lived. The shelf life for a book is two weeks, meaning if your books aren't selling off the shelf, your novel is moved.
The promotion of your book is still on you and, in some cases, publishers want to know what you're doing--in writing--to sell your book. Break out the Excel. And the bigger the advance, the more work, sales they expect from you. Plus, if you're lucky enough to land a very nice deal, remember other peeps get a piece of that too. The agent and Uncle Sam to name a couple.
Let's do a hypothetical. Say you get a six-figure deal. $100,000 (Not paid in a lump sum. Usually, in increments of 3 throughout the year.)
Half goes to Uncle Sam because of the way it's taxed. $50,000
Your agent gets a cut—of the total, not the taxed amount. 15%
Leaving you with around $35,000
That doesn't include any of the money you put out to get your novel to where it is (freelance editors, proofreaders, website designers, etc) or the money you will be putting out to promote the novel (website designer, pr, book tours, gas, hotel, food, babysitters, dogsitters, etc) As I stated earlier, the publishing house won't do all the work for you, but they will expect your sales to be as awesome as that advance. *The more you make, the more you better sell.
**Not so fun fact - 7 out of 10 titles do not earn their advance back**
Did I mention you don't get royalty checks until you earn your advance back, and if you don't earn it back, you are not on your publisher's successful authors list?
This is a great article on the breakdown of how an author gets paid.
So … is it harder to sell a book when you don't have the backing of a traditional house?
It depends on what you're writing. If your preferred genre is young adult, middle grade, or chapter or picture books, I'd say yes. Internet access, while ever growing and gaining younger users, isn't where most parents and children/teens purchase books.
Some older young adult novels might do well as an eBook, depending on how much marketing you're willing to do. New adult and adult novels have a stronger chance of gaining an audience, fan base, and sales. Although, putting your book on Amazon isn't going to magically make that happen. Your internet presence, online fan base, newsletter subscribers, website, public relations, book blogger relationships, and, if you're extremely popular, friends, of friends, of friends, of friends who will help promote eBook sales will.
You can higher the help, part of the help, or do it all yourself. Again, I know authors who do this and are successful—with success being subjective to their happiness and needs.
Some people want stardom, some want to pay the bills and afford to be a stay-home or full-time writer. Some want to make extra cash doing what they love. Some want to afford to allow their spouses or partners to quit their day job and become the sole provider. (I've heard all of these from writers)
I also know people or friends of people, who are meeting their desired needs. Maybe not stardom, but again that is subjective to a person's definition of stardom. Steven King? Nicholas Sparks? John Grisham? Stephanie Myers? J.K. Rowling?
No. I don't know anyone on that level.
The New York Times best seller list?
No. I don't know anyone with a number one or top ten bestseller. *Shrugs*
Writing is hard. Making a career out of it is even harder, whether you choose the traditional, small press, Indie, or self-published route.
When I discuss the ins and outs of writing with regular people (non-writers), they are blown away by the traditional process. They can't believe how slow the industry moves and how long it can take to get an agent and then an editor. They can't believe how many submissions you make as an author for each novel and how many revisions are done before your manuscript is ready for submission to an agent, and then to an editor, and then to the people.
They have no clue how often a good writer is rejected and how subjective those reasons can be. They don't understand how a novel can be liked, even loved, by an agent or editor but not sell because of timing.
The premise is unique but not unique enough. The story is too similar to one we just signed. The manuscript matches a trend that is on its way out, or is a flooded genre—meaning too many of novels on this subject have already been published and agents or editors are not accepting titles on that subject.
Your book can also be rejected because the agent and/or editor could not connect or relate to your story or character/s. This is disheartening when you find an agent who loves your book and characters, and has worked to get your manuscript in top shape to go on submission to publishing houses, but the editors he or she has relationships/contacts with don't agree. They can't relate to one or more of your characters.
Getting an r&r (rewrite and resubmit) is more difficult than you'd think, too. In my experience, agents are more likely to ask for an r&r than an editor. When agents or editors sign an author's book they have to read it multiple times and, therefore, have to looooooove the story and characters that will consume days and months of their lives. That's a serious feat. It makes me wonder how anyone gets published.
I came up with a scenario to compare the likelihood of an agent or editor loving your ms enough to read, proof, edit, sign, and devote endless hours to the book.
It's called the Salad Bar Theory.
Imagine eating lunch at a restaurant and ordering the salad bar. Now, imagine another person eating at the same restaurant on your same day and ordering the salad bar. Now, imagine that person loading their plate with the same ingredients as you. The same lettuce, olives, cheese, shredded carrots, artichokes, bacon bits, peas, etc. Even the same salad dressing, a mix of ranch and vinaigrette, and the questionable cold pasta dish at the end. Is that chicken or is that tuna?
That's a lot of similarities and shared tastes. That's what needs to happen to get a book deal. Your agent and editor and publishing team need to loooooove the same salad stuff you love.
So that's my theory.
It's not to discourage, it's to help you realize the odds of getting published in today's industry and the options available to you. If you self-publish, you have to find fans that share similar tastes in salads as you. They don’t have to like or agree with everything in your salad—err—novel/characters. Fans, not all, are less picky because their income, sales, and success aren't based on how much they like your novel, unlike a publishing house.
With a traditional house or even small press, they have to like everything you like and have in-house departments, senior editors, marketing teams, etc, agree that the book is right for the company's success. It is a money-making business, and there is money to be made, but if you think it's of the A-list kind you are mistaken. Those moments are rare. Most published authors make a modest living. Several have second jobs to maintain a steady income and necessary insurance/benefits. This is real, which is why you have to choose what works for you.
Writing and publishing is an emotional journey with ups and down all the way. Even authors who do well with a book/series through a traditional publisher struggle to get their next deal and sell their next book idea. Most have to submit multiple ideas (book premise and summary) before one is considered by the editor and publisher who signed their other novel/s, which they don't always do.
Authors agent and editor hop too. That is a topic that isn't talked about a lot, but it is real. Authors split from their agents for many reasons. Some go through three agents before finding one that sticks. You can't be afraid to do this, especially if you're not happy. Also, you don't have to do it in a bad way. Be respectful, even if you don't feel you're being respected, and end things on amicable terms. The writing industry is smaller than you think.
I could go on and on with all I've learned about the industry in the seven years that I've been writing, which is why I'm shutting up!
I can't believe I ranted for as long as I did. I never do that. I plan and rants aren't planned. They just happen.
Regardless, I hope this rhetoric helps clarify certain things in the industry and opens your eyes to possibilities you may not have considered.
Writers write because they love it, right?
The publishing route you choose should be specific to you and your needs. Don't be afraid to take a chance. Don’t be afraid to fail. Don't be afraid to be successful. Have faith and believe in yourself—sometimes you are the only person who will.
The world is surprising, diverse, and ever-changing. People like what they like. People disagree. People ban together. People don't always do what they are told, follow trends, agree something is great because someone tells them it is, or agree something is a flop because lots of people tell them it is.
People like to experience and decide for themselves. And people like a good story, no matter where it comes from—traditional house, small press, indie, or self-pubbers.
Choose a path and follow it to the end. If that doesn't work, choose a different path and follow it to the end. If that doesn't work, make caramel and fudge sundaes, hang out with your besties, enjoy a glass (bottle) of wine, watch a movie you love, read your favorite book, and then try another path.
Good luck! May the writing force be with you!!