Today as I was doing my morning reading, I came across an article written by Bob Mayer as he attended Thrillerfest, a big-deal writers conference / writing workshop event in NYC no one bothered to invite me to. Bob is a NY Times Best-Selling multi-published author and has his own publishing venture called Who Dares Wins. In that post, he was waxing poetically on the subject of being an indie writer these days. I'll dissect a key paragraph in his post:
Those who are finding success with it are finding they can’t keep it up on their own.
Here, "those who" refers to authors and the first "it" is a stand-in for publishing without the support of a publisher, big or small. I think I'll chose to read this sentence as simply "Guess what? Being a successful indie author is harder than some thought it would be." Granted. Let's move on.
Even outsourcing a lot of the work on one-time fees doesn’t really work because writing and publishing is an ongoing and evolving thing to be a career author now and make a living at it. Sure you can pay someone to do cover art, editing, formatting and uploading, but that’s only the foundation of the business.
I had to re-read that a couple of times to unpack it.1 Again I'll give Bob the benefit of the doubt and assume he's saying "Sure, you can outsource some of the things that a publisher typically does, but there's more to publishing than finding a good editor and cover artist. To have a career, you have to keep up with the changes and adapt to the industry." Granted again.
But here's where it goes off the rails for me.
Doing promoting, marketing, trying new things, foreign rights, audio, etc. etc. while still doing the most essential thing which is producing more books is almost impossible for an individual to accomplish alone.
This is a typical example of old thinking from back when publishers actually did things like promoting, marketing and trying new things. I'm sure that Bob received support like this from his publisher during his career. That's the only logical reason he assumes publishers do this for every author. They don't. While publishers may spend some energy today on their tried-and-true authors, they generally expect new and unproven authors to do the lion's share of marketing and promoting. And new things? Please. There are few industries more risk-averse than publishing.
Authors in the world of digital publishing today must do all of those things, and they are all essential. The good news is that the tools to do all of those things (with the possible exception of foreign rights, which is quickly becoming a moot point) are becoming more and more accessible to indie authors every day. Publishers won't. Authors now can. And must. And are.
... Some of the authors who have indie success are now banding either with agents, publishers or other entities to take the heavy lifting on with those things so the writers can focus on the writing. That’s simply a reality.
Yes, many collectives are forming. And it's working well. Some publishers are even responding to pressure. But the days of old where an author can simply "focus on the writing" and leave everything else to someone else are long gone. For the new author, at least. Writers must understand all aspects of the publishing world. They don't get to sit in the corner and write, feeding pages to someone else to sprinkle with magic dust so other people feel compelled to trade them for money.
You, the indie author need to recognize the new reality. Don't want to do all this? Well.. tough shit. You have to. Deal.
1. Not a slight on Bob's writing, as this is a blog post written, as I said, at a conference. I tend to spend much of my down-time at cons in the hotel bar in "business meetings", which is why you don't see much from me when I'm on-site.