I read a very interesting article this morning (OK, most of an interesting article) in regards to the recent Taleist survey of self-published authors. I was one of the 1,007 respondents and received my comp copy of the survey results yesterday, but haven’t had a chance to read through it yet. However, the Guardian has, and posted this article, with the somewhat-negative headline of:
“Stop the press: half of self-published authors earn less than $500”
The article starts off as a bit of a wet blanket, though not the sky-is-falling doomsaying one might expect from that headline, so I’m here in defense of the poor, downtrodden self-published heathen.
Disclaimer: I have been very fortunate over the past year and am on the other side of that half, so take what I say with a grain of salt.
Three things I take out of this article – one is an assumption, one is my thought on the self-pub/traditional income subject, and closing with a stat Taleist came up with.
Those who want to do best at self-publishing, they found, would be well advised to focus on romantic fiction. Romance authors earned 170% more than their peers, while authors in other genres fared much worse: science-fiction writers earned 38% of the $10,000 average, fantasy writers 32%, and literary fiction authors just 20% of the $10,000 average.
I don’t like this one bit. Whether it’s The Guardian or the Taleist survey conclusions, this paragraph screams at me in a shrill tone. Apparently this is saying if you want to be successful, write into a successful genre.
Phooey. Write what YOU want, write what YOU enjoy reading, and above all, DON’T write for what is successful NOW. Ten years ago it was boy wizards. Two years ago, it was sparkly vampires. Ten years from now? It may be literary fiction featuring trolls and light sabers. Who cares. Write because you want to, don’t try to fit into a preconceived box that will make you ‘more successful’. That may work when choosing between jobs, but not when it comes to pouring one’s heart out onto paper.
Half the respondents failed to reach $500 in royalties in 2011, and a quarter of the books are unlikely to cover the direct costs of production. “Sobering” news, wrote Cornford and Lewis. “Who’d come back for more?”
So 503.5 respondents earned less than $500 last year. If every one of those had submitted their work to an agent, then on to the publisher, then on to… (you get the point), how much would they have earned? About as much as I earned for writing this post. Squadoosh. Those authors took a leap of faith and sent their work out into the world, and a handful (or several handfuls) bought it and read it. In that same time, going traditional, their book most likely wouldn’t even have been in pre-production by the end of 2011. And that’s assuming they would be accepted through the slushpile. What’s the percentage who get published traditional? Very low – let’s call it 5%. So of those 503.5 authors, 25.175 (okay, I’ll round off – 25) get the “deal.” The other 478 continue to lick stamps, send emails, and so on, without a dime to show for it. And those 25? If the stars align correctly, they may see a portion of their small debut-author advance before the year is over. This is always a frustration of mine when I see traditionally published bring up the ‘low income by self-publishing’ subject.
Which brings me to a much better 5% subject:
But money isn’t always the primary goal for self-published writers, they discovered, with only 5% considering themselves “unsuccessful”. The respondents were also still keen to continue self-publishing: nearly half plan to release more titles this year than they did last, and 24% have a whopping five or more works due for publication this year.
Of 1,007 respondents, over 950 consider themselves successful – by extrapolation, 478 of the authors who didn’t “cover the direct costs of production” finished 2011 with a smile on their face, toasted loved ones with champagne on January 1st, and considered themselves successful. And they’re still writing and publishing.
I consider anyone who takes that leap of faith incredibly successful, covering costs or not. Let’s keep this amazing ball rolling, friends.