Posted on by M. Edward McNally on Indiesunlimited.com (and reposted with permission).
Warning: I’m going to talk a little bit about my own writing in this post, which I usually try to avoid on Casual Friday in favor of topics that are of more general interest to people who are not, well, me. But I’ve got a point, I promise.
I am presently in the midst of writing the fifth book in an epic fantasy series, and quite suddenly, the wonderful absurdity of that statement hit me. The first book (The Sable City) went up at the usual virtual book stores about 20 months ago, and the next three volumes followed at slightly irregular intervals. They have sold…okay. Fair to middlin’. I’m not earning a living wage by any means, but enough to put some bacon on some cheeseburgers now and again. As I did not go into “Indie World” thinking I was going to be John Grisham in a month, I’m perfectly happy with that. Can’t complain.
What I am very happy about, is that I am now writing book five in a series that nobody would mistake for a colossal success. I am totally confident I am doing so only because I am an “Indie” author.
I’m not claiming to be any sort of expert about trad publishing, though I did do the usual two-step with the industry many, many moons ago while I was still a grad student in Lit; know plenty of trad published authors, have done the conference circuit, all that stuff. I can confidently say that if the first couple books of the Norothian Cycle were traditionally published and had sold what they did over the course of the first year they were available, there is no way I’d be under contract to write Book V. Yes, each time a new volume comes out, sales go up all the way back to book number one. But that is not the way trad publishing works: You don’t get to build an audience over time. You get one deal, you pretty much have one shot to score big. If you don’t, there are ten thousand other authors waiting for their turn on the Tilt-a-whirl.
Some might argue that with a publishing house behind my books, instead of just lil’ ol’ me, of course they would all have done much better, gotten wide exposure, etc., etc. To which I can say nothing stronger than “maybe.” But probably not. Lots of people, even writers, seem to think the four or five most famous authors in the world are somehow representative of the “typical” trad author, and from my own experience I have absolutely no doubt that is totally false. The Kings and Pattersons and yes even the E.L. James are very much the exception to the rule. The vast majority of trad pubbed authors, particularly the first-timers, face a day-to-day reality much more like that confronting the average Indie writer than what Stephanie Meyer is looking at.
Trad houses do not have infinite ad budgets, and take a look at how they spend their money. J.K. Rowling’s new book came out not too long ago, and has since sold somewhere in the neighborhood of a bazillion copies. I have seen ads for that book everywhere: Facebook, Goodreads, The New York Times, newspapers, TV,everywhere. And you know what? That book would have sold a bazillion copies if the publishers hadn’t spent a nickel on advertising: It is J.K. Rowling’s new book, for crying out loud! And yet, gigantic ad budget to sell a book that needs no publicity, thus allowing everybody at Little, Brown and Company to pat each other on the back and congratulate themselves on what savvy business people they are.
I did not decide to put books out in the world because I had any delusion that I was going to be fabulously wealthy as a result. I wrote, and am writing, the books that I want to write, and I put them out there because I think some readers might find them enjoyable. And readers have, quite honestly more than I really ever thought they would. That is very cool to me, and it makes me happy. So does being an Indie, because no matter the frustrations, the slow days or months, the pitfalls or pratfalls, this is still the absolute best time that has ever existed to be a writer, and to have a reasonable shot at getting your work in front of readers. Those readers then get to be the sole arbiters of what they like, or what they don’t. Though it might not seem true each and every day, today is the best day to be an author that has never been. I have not the smallest shred of a doubt that is true.
So back to work on Book V for me. Because the story, as ever, goes forward. 😉
M. Edward McNally is the author of the Norothian Cycle