Folks, I am experiencing an existential crisis. I want to make writing my full-time job. I want to be able to support myself with my pen (or keyboard) alone. But….
Right now I do okay with the two books I have self-published. (Ooo! Look over there to your right! There they are!) I have another one that is more or less ready to publish but that I’m going to use to test some trad pub waters, and I have at least started the third book in my Medieval trilogy and have a goal to publish before September. But this is not enough to support a life as a homeless vagrant, let alone my comfy middle-class life in suburban Philadelphia.
Recently I read this interesting article from Derek J. Canyon’s blog “Adventures in ePublishing” with statistics from self-published authors who sell over 50,000 copies a year. And while it didn’t include a lot of the information I wanted to know (what promotional tools were used, what reviews said about these books, whether they were professionally edited, and how much they spent on editing and cover design) one of the big, noticeable stats was that many of these authors had published over 11 book. Some within a year or two.
Why does that statistic make me so angry? I’ll tell you why. Because I have this niggling feeling that somewhere along the line someone told self-publishing authors that they key to success is QUANTITY.
Now, I have no problem with writing lots of books. I’m a pretty fast writer myself. But I have this other thing called a full-time bill-paying job that for various reasons this year has been sucking up a way larger portion of my brain and energy than a job ever has before. And while I have about a zillion story ideas and a file full of ideas that have been outlined and expanded on, everything needs work.
Herein lies the crux of my argument.
I believe it was Ernest Hemingway who said “The first draft of anything is shit.” Preach old man!
It’s so true. I am very, very proud of my two novels, The Loyal Heart and The Faithful Heart, but I’ll let you in on a little secret. The draft that of TLH that is published is draft 8. It’s draft 7 for TFH. And the novel I’m currently slaving over to try out traditionally, Our Little Secrets, is on draft 5 right now … and I still have kinks to work out.
Sure, I could slap something together, spell-check it, save many hundreds of dollars by having a friend or two read it and then throwing it up on Smashwords. … On second thought, no I couldn’t. My head would explode. I need to knead my novels like bread dough. I need a professional opinion. And like bread dough, I have to let things sit and rise to get the best results.
Frankly (and I’m sure someone will take offense to this, so sorry in advance) when I see your average self-published author smacking together book after book after book and proudly proclaiming that they have fifty-leven titles for sale on Amazon and that they’ve never had to drop a penny on professional editing (because they have great beta-readers), I just want to laugh and say “Oh really? I’d like to see you get just one request for a full manuscript from an agent or publisher.”
Because I believe it’s quality that counts. Yes, we could all write penny dreadfuls until the cows come home. That article proves that there are some successful self-published authors selling 50,000+ books a year. But how many self-published authors sell 50 books a year? I suspect those numbers are higher. Much higher.
Okay, so let’s get realistic for a second. Good realistic, mind you. Your average traditionally published author in my genre of Romance publishes one, maybe two books a year. It takes about a year from the time the publisher says go to the time when you see the book in stores, maybe even longer. Why? Editing, cover design, copy-editing, care, attention. Quality. The publisher is staking their reputation and a lot of money on that book.
Yes, a lot of traditionally published authors working on this model have more than eleven books published. One of my personal favorite authors, Elizabeth Hoyt, has 13 books and a novella published. But she didn’t publish them all in the last two years.
My point is: Quantity is good. Quality is better. Quantity can happen over time. Publishing is a long game. The beauty of eBooks is that they don’t go out of print. They’re going to be there for a while. The best course of action in working towards quantity is to take your time now and boost your quality.
I strongly dislike the message being sent to self-publishing dreamers that quantity is the key to sales. Sure, it’s true, but I think that the way the message is being sent right now is ultimately damaging to the reputation of self-publishers everywhere. The message is being received as “Get as much as you can out there as fast as you can. Substitute beta-readers for professional editors if you have to. Never mind minor grammatical mistakes. Publish, publish, publish!”
No, people! Stop the insanity! Slow down and make sure that what you’re publishing is worthy of the imaginary ink you’re publishing it with! And definitely get the idea out of your head that you’re going to be one of the VERY FEW authors selling more than 50,000 copies of books a year! It’s nice when it happens, but to expect it? That way lies madness.
So what do you all think? Is there a message to publish quantity rather than quality out there or am I just imagining things? Do you think self-published authors need to adjust their thinking about this game?