Perhaps because of the recent brouhaha in the blogosphere due to my hero Hugh Howey’s continued pioneering, this time in bringing full disclosure numbers via AuthorEarnings.com that paint a very different picture than traditional publishing would have us know, yesterday I heard from a talented writer who used to work in my former agent’s office. This person knew my writing from the get-go. She knew how hard the agency worked to sell my book series, and she had to find another job when my agent retired in frustration in 2011. She has continued to write herself, and watch my career as someone who has seen it from that very first version of Blood Orchids, that, while needing a complete rewrite, had enough promise to attract her boss. Spurred by the Authorearnings disclosure, and “on the fence” herself about which way to go with agent interest in her work, she wrote me a series of questions to help her decide whether to persist with the traditional route or make the leap to “author-publisher.”
The discussion was so good I thought I’d share it with other writers struggling with the same dilemma.
Writer-on-the-fence: Would you self-publish again?
As you know more than anyone, I was devastated when our agent retired in 2011 and I was left without representation. It had taken me two years to get an agent and 179 query letters! Then, we hadn’t sold the series in 9 months (well, we did get an offer, but it was too low and digital rights only.) Read more about my complex emotions here: http://tobyneal.net/2011/08/14/complex-emotions/
I felt after that much “lost time” I had to try self-publishing, and our agent’s comments on the market had been very discouraging, so I thought at least it couldn’t hurt to try. I did, however, go “high end” from the beginning, with a top-tier cover artist (Julie Metz) a publicist, and two rounds of professional structural editing… That first book cost me $12,000 to produce and market its first month. (Now I have my book development expenses whittled down to a mere $4-6,000.) However, Blood Orchids paid for itself within two months after debuting in December 2011, and last year alone I netted close to a hundred thousand in sales.
I think of my books as a start-up business, so I spent at least half of that on new book development and advertising. This has made my take-home income just replacing the middle-class amount I made as a school counselor, a job I was able to leave because my writing income had replaced the need for a 9-to-5. I choose to keep re-investing in new books because, as others have said, every title is a worker bee out there earning for me, and the model that works in indie publishing is capturing your readers and keeping them reading and engaged with a flow of new titles.