A Dose of Reality

Amanda Hocking may be single-handedly responsible for driving thousands of newbie authors to self-publishing, eager to replicate her astonishing success. But today she gave them a dose of reality. I just wonder how many of them will listen…

Everybody seems really excited about what I'm doing and how I've been so successful, and from what I've been able to understand, it's because a lot of people think that they can replicate my success and what I've done. And while I do think I will not be the only one to do this – others will be as successful as I've been, some even more so – I don't think it will happen that often.

Traditional publishing and indie publishing aren't all that different, and I don't think people realize that. Some books and authors are best sellers, but most aren't. It may be easier to self-publish than it is to traditionally publish, but in all honesty, it's harder to be a best seller self-publishing than it is with a house.

I don't think people really grasp how much work I do. I think there is this very big misconception that I was like, "Hey, paranormal is pretty hot right now," and then I spent a weekend smashing out some words, threw it up online, and woke up the next day with a million dollars in my bank account. 

She goes on to talk about the years of hard work she put into it…and the difficulty of finding good, professional copyeditors…and the huge amount of time she's spent marketing. And yet, she acknowledges that a lot of her success comes down to simple luck (she points out other self-published writers she thinks are every bit as good as she is and yet still have not broken through). Then she makes this point, which I'm sure few newbies want to hear:

I guess what I'm saying is that just because I sell a million books self-publishing, it doesn't mean everybody will. In fact, more people will sell less than 100 copies of their books self-publishing than will sell 10,000 books. I don't mean that to be mean, and just because a book doesn't sell well doesn't mean it's a bad book. It's just the nature of the business. Self-publishing and traditional publishing really aren't that different. One is easier to get into but harder to maintain. But neither come with guarantees. Some books will sell, some won't.

Great advice…and I applaud her for giving it.

5 thoughts on “A Dose of Reality”

  1. It’s a mild dose, if anything; I didn’t see anything there that I didn’t already agree with, but for the serious writers dedicated to their craft who have been at it for as many years as Ms. Hocking, there is no reason to stop or slow down.
    After a year and a half and three eBooks, I am now selling a book a day (sometimes two). I’m releasing four more this year (hopefully–one’s in the can and another is half done and the other two outlined so it shouldn’t be too hard, right?). By this time next year, I should be selling more than one book a day. She’s right about the non-writing promotional work that goes into the effort, it is indeed a menace, and takes up a ton of time, but there is no other way to let people know about your material other than to go out and talk about it.

  2. What refreshing honesty. It’s stuff like this that distinguishes Hocking from JA “anybody can do this and make a mint” Konrath.

  3. What Amanda is saying is absolutely true. I also think she’s handling her amazing success with great poise.
    However, what many people fail to grasp is that success or failure as a writer isn’t a matter of financial feast or famine.
    In other words, it’s entirely possible for self-published authors to succeed by simply making a living from their fiction. Frankly, based on what I’m making now, I think I’ll be doing so much sooner than expected.

  4. I’m posting this for Rick Helms, who made the comment on the Facebook version of this blog post…
    “I’m probably one of the most successful (in critical and award nominations terms) self-published mystery authors around. At Bouchercon several years ago, S.J. Rozan stated in a presentation that–when it comes to self-publishing–“…Rick Helms and Sandy Tooley did it right.” Both of us formed our own companies, contracted our own copyeditors, contracted with professional cover designers, offered industry standard discounts, and accepted returns. Every one of the titles I self-published between 2000 and 2007 made a significant profit. All but one title were reviewed favorably in Library Journal, PW, and Mystery Scene Magazine (never cracked Kirkus, though). I received three Shamus Award nominations. Probably would have been four if PWA’s ‘Rick Helms Rule’ had been in effect in 2002. At one point, Gerald So proclaimed me on an email list to be the “…king of BSP (Blatant Self Promotion).” Ultimately, however, I lost my shirt. It’s very difficult for a small, single-author press to accept returns and survive. When my last self-published book, CORDITE WINE, received a Shamus nomination (my third), big-box bookstores all over the country ordered copies. I watched the order numbers climb and climb, the way you’d watch a tidal wave crest over your head, and I knew the end was near. Clerks at most of those stores had no idea what the Shamus Award is, and no idea who Richard Helms was. It was just a matter of time before most of those books came home, and the booksellers demanded refunds. It’s one of the vagaries of publishing that you have to sell so many copies that STAY sold to pay for one return. When the returns begin to outnumber the sell-through, you’re doomed. The number of midlist authors who have fallen into this trap is staggering. It’s the primary reason why most major publishers decide not to continue publishing an author. If you’re a self-published author, it means you go out of business, owing a lot of people a lot of money. I recovered from this huge setback by going electronic, but I haven’t published a hard copy book since 2005, and probably never will again. I’m with a traditional publisher now (Five Star), and couldn’t be happier. Here’s my point. If I had to do it all over again, knowing then what I know now, I think I would be terrified. People ask me if it was worth it, and most times I’ll tell them that it was a fun ride but ultimately a disaster, and I probably wouldn’t do it again. It’s possible that–with the rise in popularity of ebooks–some enterprising young self-publisher will be more successful than I was. There is no magic sell-through ratio for ebooks, because there are virtually no ebook returns. The cost of publishing an ebook is negligible. Because of their nature, the covers are easy to design (no need for high rez or CMYK formatting). The primary cost associated with ebooks is promotions. With the publishing industry in such a state of flux, self-publishing may be an attractive alternative for some people just getting into the business. With the possible exception of ebooks, however, even those who “do it right” are likely to get steamrolled in the end. This business, at least for now, still belongs to the major publishers. Even so, we’re seeing cracks in that model. Many (if not most) of the very best mystery novels over the last several years have been produced by small independent (NOT self-publishing) presses. If anything is likely to come of the current sea change in publishing, I think it will be the return of the small niche press (places like Tyrus and Bleak House have done well lately). If I were in the advice-giving game, I’d steer new authors in the direction of small independent publishing houses rather than self-publishing. Trying to crack the major publishers with a first book is slightly less profitable than hitting the craps tables in Vegas. Self-publishing makes even less sense. I drove racing cars for 28 years. There’s an old saying in racing: The best way to make a small fortune driving race cars is to start with a large one. The same goes for self-publishing, at least when it comes to dead tree books.”


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