Completing a book is a milestone. There’s a huge sense of accomplishment that comes from penning a story, and a writer deserves a pat on the back just for getting the job done (God knows it’s not easy). That said, a lot of authors are left rather lost regarding the process that follows. Unreasonable expectations can cause bitterness for those who don’t know what they’re walking into–and that’s if they don’t burn out completely.
The sad truth is that writing–as difficult a craft as it is–is the easiest part of the job. This isn’t because it’s simple to do but because writers generally derive pleasure from their work, or at least a feeling of pride in the final product. These emotions have the power to carry a writer through a first draft. But the novice, still riding that adrenaline high, is probably going to look at that last period and have one of two reactions. The first is to balk at the idea of letting anyone read the work. The other is the desire to share the story with as many people as possible.
Unfortunately, many who fall into the latter category probably have a lot of misapprehensions when it comes to writers. They may envision lucrative publishing contracts, lines at book signings, and big royalty checks–maybe even a movie deal. The truth is far less encouraging. Large publishers rarely open their doors to unagented authors, and agents are notoriously hard to come by. Small presses, while far more accessible, have nowhere near the resources to market or distribute a book on the grand scale most new writers imagine.
Payment is also far, far lower than most expect. The professional rate on a short story is only five cents per word, merely five times what it was in the 1920s, and few offer that. This gives one some idea of what to expect to make with books. The majority of small press publishers don’t pay any kind of advance, usually opting to offer a higher percentage of royalties. While this number may look promising on paper, the reality is that it’s going to amount to very little unless the author or publisher makes some excellent professional connections or has a knack for marketing.
Whether traditionally published or indie, authors find themselves with many tasks to do beyond writing. They’re charged with doing the majority of heavy lifting regarding promotion through social media, websites, blogs, and convention appearances. And if the writer is producing work independently, he or she will also have to deal with a number of other aspects including cover art, editing, and formatting–all of which will need to be paid for out of pocket. So yes, actually losing money on an indie release is a very real possibility.
Perhaps most importantly, many new writers are unaware of the level of competition they’ll face. There are often hundreds of books or stories vying for a few open slots at any reputable publisher. Even an excellent book can be rejected multiple times before finding a home. Some believe going indie will be a way around this process only to find competition in the marketplace every bit as challenging a prospect. Competition online is intense and finding traction is difficult in the extreme. Many authors don’t notice much of a positive shift until their third or fourth release. This isn’t only frustrating in the meantime, but the lack of sales can effectively cripple an indie writer who needs to recoup his capital.
So going in, know this is a long game. Writers, indie or not, face far more challenges than the craft itself and usually have a long wait for success, if it ever comes at all. But I urge you not to give up and start developing a thick skin. Because no matter how wearisome the process can be, no one can tell your story but you.