Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Self Publishing’s Best Kept Secret

Anyone so much as considering self-publication these days has likely tapped into Joe Konrath’s blog and indulged in Amanda Hocking hitting-the-lottery-type fantasies.  (Not me, but that’s only because I never heard of her until only very recently, which shows you just how out of the loop I am.)  Self-publishing is the new paradigm; the gold rush is on so grab your pick and shovel, hitch up the mule and head west.
But if it’s that easy, why do we so often come across the beached bones of enthusiasts who set out before us?  They started out with a good book, great cover and a Twitter account; what could go wrong?
Plenty, but what I’m thinking of at the minute is time.
Most self-publishing gurus will remind you that this is a marathon, not a sprint, but they are referring to fact that you will likely not see any results for months or years (or, in most cases, never).  What they don’t emphasize as much is the amount of hours in the day you need to devote to self-publishing in order to do it successfully.
Wrote a book?  Good for you!  Difficult and time consuming, was it?  Decided to go the self-publishing route, did you?  Well, take the time and effort you put into your last book and multiply that by about three and you’ll be somewhere close to what you have so blithely taken on.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to discourage you; I’m just pointing out that, along with the pick and the shovel, you’d better pack a lot of hardtack to see you through some long winter days.
Publishing is a painstaking, arduous and uncertain business, which is one of the reasons they are having so much trouble competing these days.  But if the professionals (i.e. people who do this for a living) are having a hard time of it, it’s only going to be that much more arduous for you.  Still it can be done; it just takes a lot of our old friend, time.
A writer with a traditional publishing contract can, with a lot of hard work, hold down a full-time job and enjoy a writing career.  But if you add all the functions of a publisher to your to-do list, something must give way.
All of the successful self-pubbers I know of devote all of their time to self-pubbing.  (It’s hard to go wrong with a statement like that: either my observation is accurate or a raft of successful, part-time pubbers will pop up to prove me wrong, which I would heartily welcome.)
Joe Konrath and his circle of undie-publishers were all successful, full-time writers with large and enthusiastic followings before they started posting their work to Amazon, and Joe admits he routinely puts in 50-60 hour weeks, with only a portion of that time devoted to writing.  Amanda Hocking did have a job but she left it as soon as she could and—much to her devotee’s dismay—has recently signed with a traditional publisher because doing it herself was (wait for it) taking up too much of her time.  Even my new self-pubbing hero, Catherine Ryan Howard, notes that step one of her foray into self publication involved quitting her job and moving in with her parents.
I realize I’m going out on a limb here but my guess is a lot of us (say, like 99% of us) do not have that option.  I consider myself very fortunate in that I have the opportunity (plus a very understanding wife) which allows me to work part time.  Without that option, my book would, even now, be just an idea.  I put in some long weeks getting the manuscript ready, designing the cover and learning the ins and outs of CreateSpace, Kindle and Smashwords.  I am now ten weeks into this adventure; the book is out, the web site is updated, the release date is set, the marketing machine is idling and ready to roll forward and, as I noticed this morning in my writing log, not a single new word has been added to my WIP during that time.
There are simply not enough hours in the day.
For me, with the luxury of around thirty hours a week to divide between writing, cover design, formatting, proof reading, accounting, correspondence, webmaster duties and marketing, all I need to do is strike a better writing/pubbing balance (work/life balance went out the window some time ago).  But I’ll get a handle on that, I’m sure.
The real question is, if you are considering self-publication, is how will you divide your time?

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