Novel Writing: The Go Broke Quick Scheme

Every once in a while, I still come across writers who operate within the fantasy that all they have to do is put a book out there and the money will start pouring in on its own. It’s a fantasy perpetuated by a long, long tradition of putting best selling authors on a mile high pedestal and poking fun at the average Joes and Janes by painting them as talentless losers. Authors make it all look so easy by design, because we all want to celebrate our successes. Admitting our struggles and failures is something we keep for our closest circle of friends and colleagues who understand exactly what we mean when we say, “My sales are going nowhere. I think my career is over.” They understand because they have been there, or are right there with us.

But there are still those who are either unaware, or intentionally dismissive of how the world works. A while back, I saw someone post a complaint about how they published a book on Smashwords a year ago and it never sold anything. The writer was very bitter over this, and blamed Smashwords for hyping up Indie authors and not delivering on those grand promises. In response to that, here is where I completely shatter the delusion that getting a book out into the world is a get rich quick scheme.

Click around this website and you will find echoes of the same repeated throughout: Writing is a passion. Publishing is business. It’s a 24-7 job for multiple people, all condensed into one frazzled and often burned-out author if they self-publish. It is relentless, never ending, thankless, hard work. And, unless you have a fortune with which to hire teams of professionals, no one else will do it for you.

The first mistake of that unfortunate writer who met with my less than sympathetic response was that they didn’t do their homework. They hadn’t even taken the time to understand who they were doing business with, and that lack of understanding led them to bitterness and disappointment–none of which was the fault of their business partner.

Everyone has their PLACE

Distributors like Smashwords, IngramSpark, and Draft2Digital, take what you give them and push it across their network of partners to get your book onto virtual shelves. That’s it. They literally do nothing else. That’s why your royalty rate is so much higher with them than it would be with a traditional or Indie publisher. The vast bulk of the work of getting your book edited, formatted, covered, and promoted, are on you, the author/publisher.

Publishers take your book, edit it, format it, cover it, and put it out there for sale (often times through distributors like those listed above). They assume most of the upfront production costs, and recoup those costs through royalties, same as you. That’s why they take a larger cut out of your pie. They may do some release day promotion, they may do some general marketing for their catalog, but the bulk of the promotional efforts will still be on you, the author. Why? Because that publisher likely has 100s if not 1,000s of authors on their roster and lavishing every single one with individual attention like that is simply not possible.

Marketing is what you, the author, do if you want your book to do anything other than sink into obscurity. This is where you will spend the bulk of your non-writing time. It’s unavoidable, no matter how or where you publish. With 1,000 new titles getting published every single day now, you can’t afford to skip a day of being actively out there in some way, talking about your book. Whether you’re chatting with someone at work, or on the bus, or on social media, unless you talk it up, no one will know it’s there. Period. Doesn’t matter how amazing your book is, or how fabulous the cover is, if you don’t tell people about it, it may as well not exist.

And marketing costs money. Running ads costs money. Attending author events, readings, and signings, costs money. Hiring publicists, bloggers, etc. costs money. Holding contests, virtual parties, and giveaways costs money. The only way to lower the amount of money you invest into this is to invest your time. Which costs not only money, but also sleep, health and self-care, relationships, reading time, and writing time. It means your next book may take two years to write, instead of 8 months. It means you will literally lose track of what day it is. It means missing out on social events, dates, girls/boys nights out. It means you will rarely have a holiday, or even a weekend to unwind.

And after all that, there is still absolutely no guarantee that your book will get the accolades it deserves. The odds of you making enough off your book sales to quit your day job are very much against. The odds of your book hitting a Best Sellers list are even worse. This is not a career to go into if you’re looking for a get rich quick scheme, or even a steady income. This career is more likely to make you go broke, and you’ll go broke a lot faster if you don’t do your homework.

Knowledge is POWER

It’s the power to say, “No, thank you.” to the vanity publisher who is promising sight unseen for a nominal upfront fee of $9,999. It’s the power of choice between two platforms when you know what you yourself are capable of. Knowledge of how algorithms work means you can schedule your release dates to build on the buzz waves, rather than just watch them pass you by. Knowledge of current social media trends is the power to leverage them to boost your visibility more effectively.

Knowledge of how the industry works will keep you from getting ripped off. It will keep you sane and grounded when it seems like the entire industry is going to implode. You have spent so much time and effort on your book, you literally cannot afford not to give the business side of it the same devotion.

Commit to LEARN

For January 1, 2019, I am presenting you with a challenge. Let your New Year’s resolution be to learn one new thing every week. Read up on an industry player. Check out a new tool. Play around on a new platform. Try your hand at something you haven’t done before, whether it’s a new genre or format, or photo manipulation, or website maintenance.

Remember, the world is not against you. It just keeps moving forward, whether you’re along for the ride or not and, if you stand still for too long, it will leave you in the dust. So keep moving forward, keep learning, and keep expanding your horizons. 🙂

Wishing you the best of everything in 2019.


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What was the most powerful lesson you learned during your writing/publishing journey?
Share in the comments below.

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