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Self Publishing Myths: Money

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I think there is a lot of goofy thinking about money in the writing and publishing world. So I’m lumping this in with self publishing myths. First, I will acknowledge that some writers do get lovely healthy advances. Some writers are in a solid place on the midlist, churn out regular books, have great distribution, and get a decent advance each time. And that’s wonderful for those writers.

But…I’m talking about newbies here. And while some debut authors get lucky with a major house and a good contract and advance, this is not that frequent. Most published authors (even NY pubbed) aren’t making a living writing fiction. Most still have full time jobs in addition to writing fiction. Most published authors don’t turn a profit on the first book. Because most published authors, if they get a royalty advance, spend a lot of it in promoting their book.

So I’m deeply confused by the person who tells me: “You can’t make any real money if you publish your own book.” Okay. As opposed to what option? If every writer with a good book was automatically getting through the doors of major publishing and getting a great advance I’d smack my hand against my forehead, say “Doh, I’m a moron,” and get back on the trad train.

But that’s not what happens for most writers. Most writers, no matter how they are published, aren’t making a genuine profit off their first book, sometimes not their first several books, because they’re reinvesting their money in promoting their author brand to build their readership.

And that’s important. But I hear over and over again: “Money flows to the author.” It’s a standard publishing mantra. If that’s true, then it flows really really slowly, and without much water pressure behind it. Money flows to the author until it’s time to promote. Then it flows right back out of the author’s own pocket again.

Self Publishing Myths: Money

But writing is a business and you should treat it like a business. It’s a business, but it’s not really your business if you can’t control the design, or distribution of your own product.

This “money flows to the author” mantra is one of the “anti-self publishing” mantras.

And at one time it was really valid.

Because most of what was happening was vanity publishing, and it was a horrible scam that took advantage of the dreams of writers. But this isn’t that. When going indie to build a platform or to sell, the amount of money you can spend or save on this is unlimited. You could go broke, or you could be thrifty. Fiscal responsibility is your responsibility. Whether you publish traditionally or indie.

Several years ago I had a small wedding coordinating business. The biggest mistake I made was over-investing funds to “look more serious.” It wasn’t that I wasn’t serious about my business, I was. But I believed it was necessary that I “look big” for people to take me and what I was doing seriously. So I blew way too much money in ineffective advertising and overpriced web design. (And the website was too much sales copy, and not enough helpful info.)

Too many people don’t know how to manage their money, whether it’s personal or in business, but it’s a skill you can learn. And it’s an important skill for all authors to learn, whether they’re going the traditional way or indie. Or a little of both. (It’s not like these are always mutually exclusive ways of publishing.)

Going indie means doing things differently. It means finding really good deals for the work you need to contract out. It means not hiring the most expensive people to make yourself look important. It truly is shoestring publishing, but it doesn’t mean the end product has to be of poor quality.

Something often overlooked about indie publishing is that it can be a community effort. When indies get together and share their skill sets, they can barter and trade for what they need. If one person is really good at editing, and another is really good at graphic design, you can trade those skills. Then time is spent instead of money.

To me publishing all comes down to a few things only (besides writing an actually decent book with good design elements):

Where is your financing coming from?

Who has control of the project?

How are you reaching readers?

If you go with a trad publisher you have financing but less control and still have to promote yourself. If you go indie you have to absorb all financial risk yourself and there is a big learning curve to the entire business but you maintain total creative control. No one is going to make changes to the work itself that you didn’t authorize. But it’s a high price to have that level of control.

Still. The writer-world relationship to money confuses me. Maybe it is best for awhile to view fiction writing as a hobby rather than as a career choice. Most fiction writing careers don’t bring in career-level money. And people do spend money on hobbies.

(I realize I do mention “fiction” a lot. Your book may be nonfiction, and this site will have plenty of information that applies to you as well, but there is a lot more support and info out there for nonfiction self publishing than for fiction self publishing.)

Other goofy things writers do with money: Hiring book doctors and editors before they even have an agent. Spending thousands of dollars going to writers conferences and workshops. Buying hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars worth of writing books and writing magazines. Buying the latest writing software or an Alphasmart. Or a laptop just for writing.

None of these things are inherently bad things, but the easy spending of most writers makes me question if they understand that money is money, and whether you spend it on a conference or indie publishing, it’s still spent, and it may or may not ultimately come back to you.

Only spend money you can afford to lose, whether you’re going traditional or indie. The business of publishing is too uncertain to handle money otherwise, in my opinion.