Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Above-Average Adventures of Your Average Author

The Guardian recently reported that one half of self-published authors earned less than $500 in the last year. Moreover, a mere 10% of the authors raked in 75% of the royalties. Not the 80/20 rule, but pretty close.

I still remember the day in my twenties when I realized, contrary to childhood dreams, that I was not going to grow up to be a millionaire movie star. Kind of a blow at the time, but it's become an amusing memory, accompanied by the more mature realization that, in the Great Scheme of Things, I'm actually filthy rich and, just by being born a middle-class American, I basically won the global Lottery of Life.

So then, what does this have to do with writing and publishing? Just that, having met with three author hopefuls in the past week (really must cut back--only on Chapter 3 of my WIP), I think the same maturing process takes place in a writer's life. First there are the dreams of being the next Suzanne Collins or Stephenie Meyer or Kathryn Stockett--there are visions of the garbage bags of money being dumped on your doorstep, which you're almost too busy to deal with because you're doing the book tours and talk shows and inking the movie deals and designing the action figures. Then there's the fear-and-doubt stage: actually no one wants to read the stinking thing you've poured yourself into, or if they do, out of curiosity or pity, they'll never read another. And finally, if you do the homework and get your ducks in a row and all goes right, you settle into the Reality stage. Not the Reality you first envisioned, perhaps, but, in truth, a pretty comfy and positive Reality all the same.

Meaning, between the 10% accounting for most of the readership pie, and the 50% accounting for almost none of the readership pie, there's a generous 40% to be spread among the writing realists. The ones who do not expect to retire on their book earnings or even to support themselves, but rather hope to make their writing love self-supporting or even modestly to the good.

I'm thrilled to report that The Beresfords is now, three weeks after debut, in the black. Thank you to my faithful reader base. I'm so grateful there are enough of you that I can continue on this writing adventure. Thanks also to those of you who took the time to write a review or to take me aside or shoot me a text or email to tell me how you liked the book. You are the best.

Of course, as the Guardian article points out, many self-published authors aren't in it for the money. They might just be putting up a book for family enjoyment, or printing just a few copies for an inner circle. Successful in meeting their goals? Yes. Successful as the world defines it? No.

If you, like a supposed 80% of Americans, cherish the hope of becoming an author to more than your twenty nearest-and-dearest, however, I have a few tips. The same ones I've been sharing at these author meetings:

1. Have a professionally-designed cover. I love my gal Kathy Campbell at Gorham Printing.

2. Have an honest critique group, preferrably huge readers who have sharp eyes and good grammar.

3. Hire an editor. (I actually don't keep this rule, since my hub and I have a PhD and M.A. in English, respectively.)

4. If you don't have a decent-sized base who would be interested in buying your book without guilt and coercion, don't print more than 150 copies. Do an ebook. Print-on-Demand can always cover future needs.

5. Read your work aloud. Write it. Read it aloud. Revise. Reading aloud catches word repetition, awkwardness, all kinds of things. Sometimes when I'm reading aloud my finished books at events or to groups, I still edit on the fly to "fix it up."

6. Expect some harsh words. Once your book gains readership beyond your immediate circle, it has entered cyberspace, where anything goes and it's often mean. Be prepared. Ferret through the meanness for grains of truth to grow from and try to forget about the rest.

7. Marketing takes work.

That's it for today. But those are the biggies. Keep them in mind and I think your odds are good. Easy as 40% of the pie.
My slice on the bottom left, courtesy of the Bellevue Farmers Market


  1. Hi Christina,

    Congrats on being in the black :) And thanks for the great tips. I have been selling my book in dribs and drabs, but getting great feed back. Marketing is really the bear isn't it!

    We are on our way back to Nova Scotia. Had a great visit with the kids and some friends while in Seattle. We will be back in August. Maybe we could sit down for a coffee or a piece of pie :) and I could pick your brain a bit about the marketing stuff. What do you say?

    See you on the Board! It's your move :)

    Peace & Love,
    Holly M. <><

  2. Holly--yes, marketing is work! We can certainly do some brain-picking, although our genres have different requirements, I think... LMK when you're in town.