An e-mail and a tweet last week pointed me to two blog posts that expressed completely different ways that two writers have addressed the challenge of a changing media marketplace. Their differing attitudes and approaches to publishing in the Internet era explain to me why one writer is enjoying unprecedented success, while the other writer laments a declining career.
Let’s start with this post from author Joe Konrath, about his experience transitioning from a traditional book-publishing contract to self-publishing e-books.
“With self-publishing, in a single month,” he wrote, “I was able to earn the same amount of money it took me four and a half years to earn through traditional publishing.”
He crunched the numbers:
So far this month, I’ve sold over 18,000 ebooks on Kindle.
When I include Smashwords, Createspace, and Barnes and Noble, my income for January will be about $42,000.
Last January, I made $2,295 on Kindle, and I was amazed I could actually pay my mortgage on books NY rejected.
“Amazed” is no longer strong enough a word.
In just 12 months, I’ve seen a 2000% increase in income. And ebooks are still only 11% of the book market.
What happens when they’re 15%? 30%? 75%?
And yet, I still see some writers clinging to the notion that getting a book contract with a Big 6 publisher is the way to go.
But money isn’t the only reason ebooks self-publishing is preferable.
Konrath goes on to detail the thousands of hours he spent driving to bookstores around the country, chatting up customers as he tried to convinced anyone to buy his books. His publisher didn’t want him to tour – since that would require paying bookstores – but without a tour, he couldn’t connect with consumers.
I’ve heard from friends in the book business that publishing deals are getting even worse for authors: less promotion, less support and small advances and payments.
Konrath chose not to accept the decline of his career. Instead, he chose to self-publish, using low-cost e-books instead of the expensive, but more traditional, print vanity press.
The how-to of self publishing e-books would provide enough material for many, many other columns. So let’s leave this with the recognition that by rejecting a traditional career model, and becoming the publisher he used to work for, Konrath not only saved his career, he advanced it to a level he’s never come close to enjoying before.
Contrast his attitude with the writer of this post: Who would want to be a travel writer?
Today in 2011 it is almost impossible to be a full-time freelance travel writer unless you have a private income. Many of my contemporaries – well-known journalists and authors – have gone part-time, topping up their income writing corporate brochures, leading tours or – in one case – renovating bathrooms. Others have given up altogether.
On the other hand, it’s a lot easier today to become a travel writer. When everyone has a blog there is no difficulty in getting published in the first place. And there are countless opportunities to see your name in lights – providing you don’t mind working for free.
The author here seems unable to conceive any way for a travel writer to make an income other than getting a commission from a newspaper or magazine travel editor. He dismisses authors who write their own blogs as “working for free.”
I’m biased here because I earn the bulk of my income as… a travel writer who publishes his own blog. The four-figure payments deposited into my account each month are quite real, thank you.
I don’t write for free. I write for myself.
To ensure that the second statement doesn’t equal the first, I have to do the work of a publisher in addition to the work of an author. That means building a website (or buying a block of ISBNs, if you’re to publish e-books), then finding an audience and building demand.
If you’re not willing to do that work, and instead insist on waiting for someone to cut you a check before you put hands to keyboard, well, good luck chasing those dwindling advances and commissions.
The irony? Those who put in the work of building a business often end up with more time to do the writing that they love. As Konrath wrote, he doesn’t have to press the flesh at bookstore any longer. He doesn’t have to devote time to promotion. With his social media support having reached a tipping point, he can spend more hours writing.
I’ve found the same in talking with colleagues who are still pursuing freelance work. They spend hours of extra time for each piece they write networking with editors, writing pitch letters, reviewing contracts and filling out various publications’ expense forms. I just write stories – what, when and how I want.
While some lament the loss of secure employment for a handful of writers, I’m thrilled to live in an era when anyone with the will to write and drive to connect with a community can earn a living, without having to wait for some editor’s approval.