Sunday, November 4, 2012

Indie Author vs. Indie Entrepreneur

As you may have noticed, it's been a LONG time since I've posted here. There are good reasons for that, like the fact that my former house was foreclosed in August and I had to move on short notice, plus some divorce-related challenges that I can't really detail for you here.

But I've been thinking about this post for weeks now, and I'm sorry to tell you that it won't come as a welcome insight to everyone. Still, judging by the recent blog posts or inactivity of many of my online writer friends, I don't think it will come as a huge surprise to very many of you, either.

I've said all along that in order to really make a go of earning a living as an indie author, one must approach it with all the verve, dedication and business acumen of an entrepreneur. I stand by that to this day, but here's what's new: maybe not all of us need to be, nor even want to be, indie entrepreneurs.

This new paradigm of indie author-entrepreneur (I'll abbreviate it to IAE in this post) is totally different from what the idealized picture of being a Published Author was just a few short years ago. While the IAE has much greater control over her work and career, with that control comes greater responsibility, too.

You've got to SELL, SELL, SELL. You've got to PROMOTE, PROMOTE, PROMOTE. You've got to LEARN, LEARN, LEARN. You've also got to WRITE, WRITE, WRITE, because having a large published catalog is one of the commonalities among indie authors who are truly making a living at it. And once you get that momentum ball rolling, you can't stop pushing it, EVER. Not if you want to continue selling, that is.

So making it as a fulltime author means working at it, fulltime. It also means coping with the same stresses and uncertainties as any entrepreneur: unpredictable income, all the administrative duties and headaches that come with running a small business, the constant pressure to produce and promote, et cetera.

A few years into it, many indie authors are stopping to reassess. The initial rush of excitement over being able to call our own shots and write our own tickets is over, and now we're wallowing in the morning-after hangover realization that being a successful IAE means spending at least as much time on the business and promotion side of things as on writing.

All those years we spent daydreaming about being a Published Author never included scenes of bookkeeping, coming up with promotional campaigns, buying our own ISBNs, boning up on ebook tech, strategizing over our books' prices, and so on. We weren't daydreaming about running a small business, but unless we're willing to go back to the old ways of querying agents and praying for a mainstream publishing contract, that's exactly what we have to do.

Those who are trying to transition to being a fulltime IAE while working a fulltime job to pay the bills are finding it very difficult, if not impossible, to manage. It was never easy finding the time to write, let alone query agents, enter contests and so on; being an IAE adds many, many more hours of work to the authorship equation.

I've concluded that for me, it's just not worth it.

I'm not willing to give up so much of my life to this effort, even if I knew for a certainty that I'd be a Joe Konrath at the end of it: making a comfortable living as a fulltime IAE. I'm not willing to trade years of stress and 80-100 hour workweeks to achieve that particular goal, then continue working 60-hour workweeks to maintain it. Considering that I was never in it for the money anyway, I guess this is not a difficult decision for me to make. For those who are struggling with it, consider this:

Being the next Konrath may not be realistically possible for most of us indies, anyway. Remember, Konrath went in with the advantage of already having a large back catalog of mainstream-published books (plus the royalties that go with them), and he was already a fulltime author before he went indie too. His journey to fulltime IAE was much shorter and less difficult than what the rest of us are facing.

At the outset, my goal for my novels was to get them published and know they'd reached an appreciative readership. My hope as an indie author overall was to see indie authorship go mainstream and become a respectable alternative to mainstream publishing within my lifetime. I've achieved the first goal, and seen my hopes for indie authorship realized far beyond my original notions, and much more quickly.

I have a 'day job' I love that's steeped in books and media (Editor in Chief of Kindle Fire on Kindle Nation Daily). I've come out of a marriage of over 18 years, and I'm facing the happy prospect of building a new life for myself, exactly how I want it to be. I'm also thoroughly enjoying these regrettably short years of remaining time before my kids are grown and out on their own.

So while I'll still write and publish, I'll continue to run Publetariat, and I'll remain active in the publishing and indie author communities, I'm not working toward the goal of becoming a fulltime IAE, and I guess I never really was. Anyone reading this who DOES want to be a successful IAE, you have my admiration and I support your choice completely. I'm certainly not making any kind of value judgment, or trying to imply there's something better about my choice in this.

All I'm saying is, if you have decided, like me, that being a successful IAE isn't really your dream after all, that's okay. Choosing a different path does not make you a failure. Just be glad that as indie authors, we now have the flexibility to design our own career trajectories. As with pretty much everything else in indie authorship, there is no one-size-fits-all answer.


Robin's Random Rants said...

Well spoken, as always.

Sarah Wynde said...

Congratulations on making that decision. It sounds very healthy!

I did a presentation on self-publishing back in August in which I argued fervently for treating self-publishing as a wonderful way to extend a writing hobby instead of an all-consuming profession. I specifically referenced JA Konrath's mention of 10 years of 17-hour days. Yes, you can get rich as a writer, but if your goal is to get rich, writing is such a long shot--real estate or finance or even starting a franchise business in a good location has better odds if you're really willing to work 17-hour days for years. In fact, working a minimum wage job and buying lottery tickets with your entire paycheck is probably just as likely to pay off in the end.

As a hobby, however, self-publishing opens wonderful doors for writers. Amazon doesn't have to be your path to the NYTimes bestseller list -- it can be your local art show, a bake sale, a craft sale. Writing can become the sort of fun hobby that knitting is. You can do it simply to make books for friends. I made exactly five copies of a collection of short stories and gave four of them as thank yous to people who'd helped me out. Or you can publish a book and post it for sale, not bother to SELL, SELL, SELL, but simply accept every random sale as "yay, a coffee from Starbucks today" treat.

So much that of that "IAE" brainwashing makes it sound as if in order to be an author, you have to make tons of money from your work, and that's just wrong. You're an author because you wrote. And if you love to write, you can continue being an author forever, without ever doing all of that SELL, SELL, SELL. You might not get rich, you might not ever have a best-seller, but you can still have fun writing. And isn't that why we all started to begin with?

I wrote a blog post back in June about being a hobbyist writer ( in which I wondered whether there were people who felt like I did about all the crazed pressure but were just quiet, so I'm really glad that you spoke up and wrote this today. I hope other people will start to feel the same way, too!

V. J. Chambers said...

April, just want to say that you were a big inspiration to me to start self-publishing in the first place.

I've been able to support myself for this entire year on solely the income of my writing, but it hasn't been easy.

I'm seeing a lot of this kind of sentiment on the internet right now, and I think it's interesting that so many of us are in a similar place.

Unlike you, I have never been burdened with being the spokesperson of a movement or with any obligations outside of my writing, so I haven't really felt that the work was too much.

Instead, I suppose, I've had to work through my erroneous assumption that the harder I work, the more successful I will be. (I've had to disillusion myself of this before, and it didn't stick. It's a tantalizing idea, probably a remnant of the Protestant work ethic that pervades so much of American culture.) The truth is, I have very little control over my success. And so I've come to conclusion that you have.

It's not worth it.

My creativity cannot be burdened with the demands that it also feed me. When it does, I must take it as a gift from the benevolence of the universe. When it does not, I can't blame my efforts, my creativity, or my productivity.

I know that I'm not a hobby writer. I'm a career writer. I know that. But if this is going to be a career, I want it on my terms. And beating myself up for not being able to maintain my income is not only silly (because I can't make people buy things), but demoralizing. I might have to find some other way to make money for a while, but I'm okay with that.

In some ways, I think we have to let go of the goal of being successful fulltimers. Because it really can't be a "goal." It's not something we have direct control over. It's a dream. Sometimes the universe smiles on us. But I think we're all happier if we're smiling on ourselves and not driving ourselves crazy with the pressure.

Joanna Penn said...

Hi April, I totally see your point and I hear this from a lot of authors. I have had my own business for over 10 years in different guises, and I'm a serial entrepreneur anyway - so being an author-entrepreneur is a natural extension - but I totally get that not everyone enjoys the whole small business thing.
I would say that it's not just indies who have to do this stuff though - so people need to question whether they want to be a fulltime author in general. Because agents and trad pub also expect marketing effort from the author, and authors should ALWAYS manage their own money, regardless of how the income is made.
You were an early inspiration of mine as well, so I hope you keep writing for fun at least!
Thanks, Joanna

Eva Caye said...

Bless your heart! Yes, for some of us, we recognize this is just another phase in life, that we've explored it (just like any other career) and it's time to move on.

Nevertheless, realize you've blessed the world with products of your imagination, and that people years from now will still be reading and discussing the fruits of your ingenuity. Surely that's as close as anyone makes it to immortality, no?

John M W Smith said...

I have read your blog carefully, and it is absolutely right of you to have decided what you have decided. I, too, have a full time job that accounts for 66 hours a week. It is tiring and boring, and does not stretch me intellectually, and I get really tired. But for me, all I have in my life is my dream. I cannot live without it. Life wouldn't be worth living any more.
Each to his/her own. I am sure you have made the right decision based on your circumstances. I think we all have to, based on our individual circumstances. Indie author or indie entrepreneur, I don't care as long as I end up selling lots of books! Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Well, April, I can just tell you one thing, your book was the most informative one I've read in a long while. I wish you well in the future. You have given many people the information and tools to create their own literary works of art... as far as the mainstream being willing to acknowledge those voices, it has always been an uphill battle. All the best, Amy

McColl Magazine said...

Thanks. I intend to continue plugging away, and with that in mind,

Anonymous said...

Being an indie writer full time is definitely a difficult task. I've taken it on alongside my full-time job as a real estate agent, and it is very time consuming. It's a difficult decision to make.

Ireland 2024 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ireland 2024 said...

I totally agree with the above post! When I finished my second book, I said to myself, "I just want to be a bartender!" (vs. promote, promote, promote) and a year later, I am one. Balance is everything.

Ireland 2024 said...

And I'm still writing. It's more fun now than ever.

Harry Nicholson said...

April, thank you for articulating so well a situation I've been hazily trying to grasp.
The neurotic urge to promote can now crawl away somewhere. I feel better.

Anonymous said...

Totally feeling your situation. I've been an indie for less than a year and am overwhelmed with marketing. Every expert says they have the answer and the answer is going to cost. Most of the expert advise contradicts itself. It seems that the indie publishing is changing so quickly that we as authors are the experts in making it happen. There is something very organic about writing and touching people with thoughts and experiences.
I wish you and everyone great success in all their endeavors and life choices. In the end that's the real golden rule to do what makes you feel fulfilled. Best wishes, Susan Spira

April L. Hamilton said...

Thanks for all the comments, and support. I'm glad to see a lot of mutual support among indie authors on this point, as so many are prone to feel they've failed or given up if they don't keep charging full steam ahead toward IAE success.

I *do* intend to publish a new book later this year, nonfiction, so rest assured: I'm still writing and publishing. =')