The New World of Publishing: Investing in Your Own Future

The other evening, after a hard day of moving massive numbers of boxes and magazines, I invited writers Chris and Steve York and Lee Allred up to the new offices to sit around and talk. And an interesting conversation happened about the future of indie publishing that helped me get the nerve to finally write this topic.

I’m going to talk about how to handle the future. This is not a column of me pulling out the old cracked and dusty crystal ball and trying to look ahead. Nope.

This is a column about attitude.

Attitude about the future. And attitude about your writing now.

And sort of a continuation of the previous column about “Writers” and “Authors,” so make sure you have read that column before this one. It can be found right below this column.

The Previous Article

In the last article in this series, I went on about the difference between an “Author” and a “Writer.”

And in indie publishing, the difference can really, really be seen, with the “Authors” doing nothing but promoting “their book” while the “Writers” just get out to readers what they have written and then move on to writing new stories.

And let me repeat something I said:  It is the “Authors” who are going on and on about what indie “Writers” MUST DO.

That’s right, it is the indie “Authors” who are promoting like crazy and at the same time trying to tell all the rest of us what we have to do and don’t have to do in order to sell copies of our work.

Most “Writers” just shrug and think they will get around to all that stuff someday, when they have time, but of course, they never have the time because they are “Writers” and writing comes first. And then we “Writers” feel uneasy and a little guilty for not doing all that promotion stuff the “Authors” are shouting that we MUST DO!

So time for a little attitude adjustment for us “Writers.”

It’s time we “Writers” really, really ignore the “Authors” and just think long term. And here is one way to keep the focus on long term writing and publishing.

The Old Days of Publishing

When I say “The Old Days of Publishing,” I mean more than two years ago, when publishers had complete control over all distribution systems between writers and readers. Thus all writers had to fight through all the myths of traditional publishing, get editors to buy our work, wait around for years for the books to get slowly published, and then build a career over a decade or more, slowly, one book at a time, moving publishers, taking rejection, low advances, books kicked out of print for no reason, and bad edits, plus anything else traditional publishing could toss at us.

Most writers didn’t make it ten novels, let alone ten years. And when a writer spent a bunch of time on a book and it “wasn’t right” for traditional markets, the only choice the writer had was to put it in a file folder and try to forget the thing.

And in the old days heaven forbid you suggested a short story collection to your publisher. Just the idea might have caused extreme laughter and nasty responses from your editor about “waiting a few years until the market was ready.”

Two-plus years ago traditional publishers lost their control over the distribution system, allowing writers to go directly to readers with every book, every collection, and all our backlist and unpublished novels. And ever since great fun has ensued among the writers with the courage and the attitude to venture out into indie publishing.

The control by traditional publishers of the distribution system is forever gone. The horse is out of the barn, the genie is out of the bottle, and writers are forever free to write what the hell we want to write when we want to write it.

We are free to let readers decide if they want to read what we write or not instead of letting some guy in a bad suit in a New York sales department pass judgement on our work.

Let me simply say: I lived for thirty years in those old days, made my living in those publishing games, and not for a second do I miss those years. I love this new world. (I think I have said that before a time or two.)

But now it is time for indie “Writers” to start thinking long term, because the world we are in right now is here to stay in one form or another.

Investment

Most people work day jobs and so many of the day-job workers invest for their future, their retirement, whatever, in some way or another.

One of the most popular ways of investing for a future retirement is a 401(k).

For those outside the States, 401(k) takes its name from a part of our tax code and is a government-allowed way to put money into an investment account with tax relief. Inside the 401(k) the money is often invested in stocks and bonds by professional investment people. Lots of ways of investing inside 401(k)s, actually.

Many people I know with regular jobs put money every paycheck into their 401(k), trying to get the yearly amount up to the limit allowed by the government.

And a huge number of people every month don’t even open their 401(k) statements when they come in the mail. They just don’t want to know the ups and downs in their total caused by the stock market. They just want to know that the amount is growing slowly over time and in the future there will be enough there.

Starting to see where I am going with this? If not, hold on, I’ll get there.

The Deadly Wage Thinking

The hardest thing for newer writers to understand is that writing time is never wasted. But it often sure feels that way. Not only is the time spent practicing on the path to becoming a better storyteller, but that time also creates items, widgets (known as stories) that can then be sold.

Math Alert!!

You sit alone in a room pounding out a novel. It’s done finally.  Say you actually wrote 1,000 words per hour and the novel is 90,000 words long.

You just worked for 90 hours.

Let’s say you are pretty fast with all the other stuff like cleaning up the manuscript and getting it ready to go out and your total time spent on the novel is 120 hours. (This is an example…so take a breath.)

But consider this: If you had worked those same 120 hours at your day job for $20.00 per hour, you would have been paid $2,400 before taxes.

You would have paid some bills that month with that money, whatever, and the money would be gone. Poof into the air, unless you put a hundred or so into your 401(k).

Let me say that again. You will never be paid again for those 120 hours. They are headed into the past along with the memory of how you spent the money. And except for the $100 you put in the 401(k), you will never see any more money from those hours.

But that is not the case with the 120 hours you spent writing and preparing the novel. Those hours haven’t started to earn for you yet.

Just exactly like the $100 you put into your 401(k) last week hasn’t started earning anything yet.

It will take time for that $100 to earn any return.

It will take time for your novel to earn any return.

An Indie Publisher Investing Plan

Step One: Set a Goal to Publish Something New Every Two Weeks.

— It could be a short story or your latest book. It could be a collection, whatever. Just put into print one new item every two weeks. (I know of very few writers who haven’t been working for a time that don’t have backlist as well to help with this. If you hate the story and think it sucks, put it under a pen name.)

— Give yourself one week to miss, so you will have 25 books, stories, collections up in one year. (Even if you miss for three full months you will have 20 books, stories, and collections up. Not bad.)

— This investment plan will also keep you writing new work.

Step Two: Consider Each Publication a Deposit into Your “Future Investment Account.”

— So instead of turning into an “Author” with every new published item, consider each new published book or story an investment in your future. Just like putting $100.00 into a 401(k) every two weeks. Think of it in the exact same way.

— Just as you ignore your 401(k) statement most months, ignore how your sales are going. Focus on the writing of the next thing.

— And if you really want to use your writing as an investment, just let the money sit in an interest-bearing account as it comes in each month from your sales. You might be stunned at how fast that will grow as you keep writing and publishing. (I know some writers are already doing this with their indie publishing accounts.)

— Take the long-term approach. Think out five and ten years, not two weeks. (I know, impossible for beginning writers to do, but again, you are investing in your future. It’s all an attitude.)

The Results?

So what’s going to happen in five years?

Like I said, my crystal ball is cracked and cloudy. And I have no idea if that 27th story you might publish in year two hits a home run and starts selling like crazy and makes more money than even I can imagine. It might happen.

Or you might just go along selling a few copies per item, averaging anywhere from three to ten sales over all the sites every month. Some books never selling, others selling much better than average. Who knows. It’s publishing. As I have said many times, if anyone, including traditional publishers could figure out what will or won’t sell to readers at any given moment, this industry would be very, very easy. But alas, no one knows what will sell and what won’t.

All we “Writers” can do is create new stories we hope readers will enjoy and then publish them so the readers can find them.

And, of course, you have to price your stuff out of the discount bin and give nothing away for free so that your readers respect your work and each sale actually adds something to your “Future Investment Account.”

But all that said, let me pretend to look between the cracks of the crystal ball out into a future.

And to do that, my crystal ball needs to make a few assumptions.

Assumption #1: Electronic publishing grows to 50-70% or so of all fiction books sold and hovers there for a long time into the future. (Pretty safe assumption.)

Assumption #2: The outlets for electronic books continues to grow and grow (as it is doing now) and becomes even more international in nature, so we are selling books to the world, not just a region of the planet. (Pretty safe assumption.)

Assumption #3: You, as a “Writer” can continue to write regularly for a decade or more into the future and keep publishing your work as you finish it. (Not so safe assumption, since very few “Writers” continue past a few years. They often become “Authors” or “Whatever-Happened-To…?”)

Math Alert!

You get up 25 stories, novels, collections in the first year. Short stories priced at 99 cents to $2.99 depending on length, collections from $2.99 to $4.99, novels at $4.99 to $6.99.

To make this math easier, if you sold one of each item you have up, your average income would be $2.50 per sale. (Make up your own average number depending on your pricing and if you write more short stories than novels and have no collections, which is just silly.)

Ignore all money you make the first year as your list grows. Just let it sit there. I’m not counting it.

End of Year #2: 25 items up for the entire year, plus the new 25 that came up over the year as the months went along. Each sells 5 per month average x $2.50 = $12.50 per month per item x 25 items = $312.50 per month plus the sales on the new stuff.

So by the end of Year #2 you will have made more than $4,000.00 approximately, counting sales of the new stuff as well. Not a living and no “home run” sales like Konrath and others talk about, but still not bad.

Remember, that’s having 50 items priced right in your indie publishing program by the end of Year #2.

So what next???

You are a “Writer.”  You just keep writing, just as anyone working a day job keeps working. And you keep pouring more and more into your indie publishing program, letting it just grow and grow. (You know, like a 401(k).)

The income will go up year after year after year.

Why am I so sure of that?

Two reasons.

First, as a writer you are practicing. You are becoming a better storyteller by writing, and people like great stories.

Second, it is a proven fact in these early days of indie publishing that the more items you have for sale, the more sales you make and the more money you make. Think of it like having an entire section of books in a store instead of one or two books tucked down on a bottom shelf. People find entire sections of books.

It’s All About Attitude

The key for “Writers” is to think out ahead, to keep focusing on the writing and keep getting the writing, when finished, available to readers.

The goal is to drip regularly more and more product into your indie publishing program just as a day job person drips money every paycheck into a 401(k) investment account.

The point isn’t to make a killing tomorrow like “Authors” seem to want to do.

And remember, in the old days of publishing, it took a decade to make any money at all. And that was if you could survive and could keep writing.

Give your indie publishing program the chance to grow. Just as you would any investment account.

For “Writers” it is the writing that is important.

Have the attitude that the money and sales on your finished writing will follow eventually, if you just keep writing and publishing.

And you keep working to become a better storyteller.

And you give it time.

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Copyright © 2011 Dean Wesley Smith

Cover art copyright Philcold/Dreamstime
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