Indie authors vs. Traditional authors

Posted: May 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

I thought that would be a good headline. Today a friend of mine posted this article from the Guardian:

The article is called “Stop the Press: Half of All Self-Published Authors Earn $500.00 Or Less

The story talks about a survey done among independent authors, how much they earn in royalties, and averaged them out.  I suggest clicking the link to see the total figures.It provided for some good discussion about how people like Hocking and Locke are the exceptions.  Most self published books sell a few dozen copies, then sit dead in some database.

Many folks take this to mean different things.  For one, I’m not sure just how scientific the survey was, but it didn’t really tell me anything I didn’t already know.  I paid for a professional cover designer, most indie authors don’t.  I know quite a few who do their own.  Now some are great with photoshop and cover design, so their stuff looks great.  The others, not so much. 

While I didn’t pay for an editor, I did have a pro edit my book.  My problem was it got messed up in my own attempts to format it.  I am now taking steps to fix it. A lot of self published authors don’t even bother having some one else edit their work, they just do their own.  I understand cost is a factor, it’s a huge factor for myself. So what does all this mean? First, I think there is some data missing.

That biggest piece of data is, what does the average traditionally published author make? I have a few friends who are with major publishers. One still has a full time job and he has six books out.  Another writes full time, but she’s always stayed at home while her husband works, so hard to say if her books are actually paying any significant expenses. I’ve seen a few that have posted their numbers on blogs, and some were able to squeak out a living. Others it wasn’t even close. I know others, but have no clue what their situations are since I don’t ask.

So here’s my take. There are thousands of self published books injected into the market daily. The bulk of these are probably crap. I have a lot of friends who are self published, some are excellent writers who are as good or better than anything I’ve seen come out of NY.  Others, God bless them while they are great people, their books are just not that good.  I’m not even talking about the editing. Just the writing itself, such as slow developing plots, scattered plots, shallow characters, poor continuity within the story. Then you have the ones with the poor editing, or the covers that look like they were made with MS Paint. 

It’s like when you see the tens of thousands of people audition for American Idol. Out of that whole bunch, there might be a few hundred who are any good at all.  The rest are horrible. Then the smallest handful is just spectacular. Writing is the same way.  Not to mention, I’ve known a few authors who write their book, throw it up on Amazon, do minimal marketing and after a few months of selling 3 copies a month, they hang it up. Others have kept going until they got a nice backlist built up and they were able to actually make a living off their books.

I’d say being Indie isn’t any different than being traditionally published in that, its all about what you put into it. It takes a fair amount of raw talent, and a little bit of luck doesn’t hurt either. For me, indie publishing is a business decision. For many, its almost a religion of sorts or an ideology. I don’t think any less of authors with big houses. They chose their path, and I chose mine.

 I had an awkward conversation with my 11 year old stepdaughter the other night. We saw a commercial on TV, and as a joke I said, “Once I make millions from my books, we can buy that.”  And my little stepdaughter goes, “I’m sorry, but that will never happen.  You’re a good writer Tim, but there’s just too many books out there.  The odds are just against it.”

I have to say, I was at a loss at that one.  She wasn’t mean in her tone when she said it. I think she was just saying what she honestly thought. Now, I am realistic about my dream.  I didn’t quit my job so I can focus on my books. I realize odds aren’t in my favor. But I also know this business is about persistence and attrition. The longer I persist, the more others will drop out. In the meantime, I get better at what I do, and my books will get better. Eventually someone will notice and things will break loose.

Until that time, I will take surveys like the above into consideration. But I’m not going to let them get me down, nor will it affect my current business plan. In the meantime, I’ll just keep writing.

  1. Helen White says:

    Definitely keep writing. Your self awareness is something too many would be authors lack. I’m lucky to know the good ones I think. And I’m looking forward to number 2!

  2. kgar2462 says:

    I agree. I’m going the indie route as well. It’s a conscious decision I made after spending considerable time weighing the odds. Is it likely I’ll fade into obscurity by self-pubbing? According to statistics, I suppose so. But stats can be manipulated to have a desired outcome simply by omitting something, as you mentioned above. I also know a couple of traditionally published authors who work regular day jobs. So whether I go the traditional route or take my own path, I would say I have just as great a chance of ending up a failure either way.

    • Tim Miller says:

      Well you’re right. There are plenty of mid-list authors who have vanished into oblivion over the years. I have no illusions about my books being timeless works for generations to come. Yet, if over the years, if I can entertain a few thousand people and support my family doing so, then I’ll have been one of the lucky ones.

  3. Your step-daughter is very astute. The thing is, that article aside (and the fact is that of the millions of indy authors out there, most of them are lucky to see $500 from their books, but there are a million more reasons than just the ones they pointed out) but the real point here is that of the truly talented writers–of which you are one–out there, only a few break out and get big money. Others make a fair amount of money, maybe enough to pay their bills, but it isn’t earth shattering. However, I have to point out something that most people aren’t aware of. They hear of the “million-dollar” deals from big publishing houses for authors like Rowlings, King, etc. They may even hear of those amazing break out indys that end up getting a deal for five or six figures. Those are not the norm, they are the exception. Think of the publishing world like the music world. There are millions of very talented artists out there, and only a handful get to be Beiber (ugh), Jackson, Madonna, etc. Sometimes it isn’t even a matter of talent, it’s a matter of luck. Regardless, if you market successfully, write the best you can and do the publsiher’s part since that’s what you are as well and put out an attractive well formatted book, you can do better than $500 🙂

    Also, if you go to my website, I have a page with a couple of videos I made on common formatting problems that mess up your Kindle book.

  4. I liked your comparison of indie publishing and American idol, it really brings the whole self publishing thing into perspective. Great post!

  5. Story Addict says:

    Great post, Tim! Loved every word. Yes, it is a process of not giving up. And if you’re not good enough, find ways to improve. Because the only way you’ll be able to do something you love is if you get better at it. Thanks for the thoughts and the encouraging words to keep us going!

    • Tim Miller says:

      Thank you Margaret, and you’re right. There’s been many actors, singers, writers, athletes who were later in life before got their break. They needed the time to develop and grow.

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