Sunday, October 17, 2010

What do you want from a Writing Career?

Last week a wonderful writer friend of mine came to town and spoke to my writers' group. She talked about writing careers and options availble to writers. Here are some of her thoughts and mine on writing in the current economy and the future of ebooks.

Most writers aspire to see their books in a bookstore and published by a big New York publishing house like Simon and Schuster or Harper-Collins. With the increased proliferaiton of small presses who focus on epublishing, there are more options than ever before. Unfortunately, there is also a snobbery toward these small presses and a prevailing attitude that if you aren't published with big house, you're not really published. Add to that a lot of confusion between being self-published and being published by a small press.

Over the past few years, I've watched fellow writers get a NY contract only to be dropped after their first couple books because they didn't make enough money for their publisher. Most of these authors were unintentionally "setup" by their publishers for failure. They were given small print runs, next to no marketing dollars, and very poor distribution. Once the publisher drops them, other big presses are reluctant to give them a chance.

If you're considering a writing career, especially writing equestrian fiction, don't discount the small press option. It's extremely difficult for debut authors to make it with bigger publishers in this economy. Also, if you're thinking of writing as a good way to quit your day job, don't quit yet. Advances are getting smaller and smaller as are print runs for debut authors. I've heard the average NY advance in romance fiction is in the $2000 to $6000 range right now. The earn out can be as little a $6000 a book, and you'll wait upwards of a year or two to get your royalty check.

It's not my intention to discourage aspiring writers, I just want you to be realistic about your goals. Most of us write because we have to give life to the stories in our heads. We can't NOT write. It's as necessary as breathing. If you're one of those people, you need to ask yourself some serious questions.

What are your writing goals?
  • Do you want to make money and write full-time? This is possible but you'll need to be prolific. Most writers are midlist and the only way to make a living as a midlist author is to publish 2-4 books a year. They say it takes about ten books to build a name and a following.
  • Are your readers more important than the money? Do you write because you love sharing your stories with others and the money is secondary? Are you trying to reach a niche of readers who like to read what you write?
  • Do you write to convey a message or emotions to your readers? Do you write about overcoming obstacles and bettering your life? Do your characters struggle but keep their hope and eventually triumph? Do your books contain a lesson? Such as good conquers evil? Is it this lesson you wish to share with your readers and inspire them?
All of the above questions should be considered when you pursue a writing career. For me, I work a full-time job in which I make enough money I will not be quiting my day job to write full time. Realistically, I know I couldn't keep up with the NY pace and pressure to produce and market yourself. I've chosen to stay with small presses because most of my books don't appeal to mass market publishers. They appeal to a niche group of readers. I don't write about vampires of werewolves, both of which are currently hot with NY romance pubs.

All in all, when you're considering publishing don't discount small presses. Check them out carefully and make sure they're legitimate. They shouldn't ask for any money from you to publish your book. If they do, they're essentially "self-publishers." They should provide editing, cover art, and distribution free of charge to their authors. I have a a really good series on my Jami Davenport blog on writing for small presses that you might want to check out.

Whatever you decide to do, remember to hang in there and keep trying, Perserverance wins in publishing.

Next weekend, I'm participating in a equestrain pilates clinic. It should be interesting. I'll try to remember to take pictures and notes for my next post.


Susan said...

It's so complicated isn't it? If only the bottom line was producing a good book instead of money. I've written before about my adventures in self-publishing my first book. I still don't know if I should have tried the traditional publishing route or not. There are pros and cons either way. I do believe it's a good story though and am working on a sequel, as well as promoting A Story of the West all by myself. Thank goodness for the internet.

Jami Davenport said...

Susan and others, in romance there are tons of options for aspiring writers with small presses. Others choose the self-publishing route for several reasons, one being you don't have to share your earnings with a publisher, who will take at least half or more of the proceeds.

Bouncin' Barb said...

Very informative. Thank you.

Alison said...

Great post Jami--realistic and informative.

Mikey said...

Excellent post!

Laura Crum said...

Great post, Jami. Since I did eight books with a big NY publisher (St Martin's Press) and am on my fourth with a small press (Perseverance Press), I thought I'd chime in. I pretty much second all you said, including the very realistic dollar amounts you gave. I was always a "midlist" author, never a bestseller, and I think the most I got for a book was about $10,000 all told (paperback rights, royalties..etc.)And for many of them it was closer to $5000. Big presses in general, do treat authors as you describe--my books had no promotion, small prints runs...etc. I was not dropped, simply because my editor liked my books.

Changing to a small press has been good in many ways. I make only slightly less money--and obviously, I never made much, and I have far more control. I get to choose my cover art, no one tries to control what I write--though my editor still cleans up my mistakes (very handy). The small press I am with is a traditional one, however, and does not do e-books.

I think you are probably right that e-books are the likely future of writing. If I were trying to break in today I would take that path. I do recognize that there is still a stigma against them in the traditional publishing world, but I believe that this will change as time goes on. As you say, as long as they give you money and don't charge you to publish your book, and they provide you with an editor, they are a legitimate publishing house.

Self publishing is risky because there are so many TERRIBLE self published books. There is a stigma attached to this approach for a reason. Anyone can self publish--anyone. Self published books range from masterpieces to books where not one word is spelled correctly. This is why most people involved in the publishing business look down on those who are self published. At the same time, we all know there are some great self published books out there, some of which go on to become mainstream hits. And lets not forget the blogs, which are a form of self publishing. Lots of well known bloggers have gone on to become published authors. So, self publishing in its many forms is a possible way to get discovered. But self published authors should recognize the obvious peril of this approach. And lets face it, those of us who have jumped through the hoops and been acknowledged as acceptable writers by an independent third party can cast a somewhat jaded eye on those who simply announce that "my book is good enough to be published--don't need anyone else's opinion on that, thanks." No insult intended to Susan or any other self published author--I'm sure you can see the reality of the situation as well as I do, even if your own book is a true delight.

Jami Davenport said...

Laura, I couldn't have said it better. The problem with self-publishing is that readers have to wade through a lot of REALLY bad stuff to find one good book. They're more inclined to find a few high quality small pubs and/or epubs and give them their money.

I've heard predictions that self-publishing will ruin small print and epubs. I don't believe it. We need those small presses to be the gatekeepers for quality. Not so say that many self-published books aren't high quality, but they'll get lost in the shear amount of books out there.

BTW, if you write romance, there are so many good small presses, please take the time to try one of them before you turn to self-publishing. I can't speak to other fiction genres. I know romance readers have fully embraced epubs.

Leslie said...

Great post! Thanks for all the information. I also found your series on your blog very helpful,Jami.It's really nice to have access to this kind of experience in writing and horses from everyone that contributes here.