Guest Post by Michael Hurley Author of The Vineyard
This is a wonderful time to be a writer. Until very recently, publishing a new book on your own and bringing it to market meant a substantial investment in design, layout, typography, printing, warehousing, distribution, shipping, and returns. Printing the first book cost just as much as printing the first five thousand books, which meant that in order to recover those costs and make a profit you had to find a way to distribute, market and sell thousands of physical copies. If you were an unknown author—even a very good one—you were not only dependent on irascible bookstore owners to stock your book, you faced the daunting task of getting thousands of their customers to pay the same price for a book by an author they’d never heard of as they would for the blockbuster displayed at the front of the store. The likelihood of commercial success with any debut author was low to the point of despair. Henry David Thoreau, a few years after financing the publication of his first book and seeing most of the copies returned unsold, famously lamented: “I have now a library of nearly 900 volumes, over 700 of which I wrote myself. Is it not well that the author should behold the fruits of his labor? My works are piled up on one side of my chamber half as high as my head.”
In the last five to ten years, the revolution in e-books and print-on-demand technology has empowered authors to become self-publishers with far less upfront expense. This is transforming the bookselling industry and leveling the playing field. Self-publishing is becoming to publishing what craft brewing has become to the beer industry. Nowadays, if it’s indie, it’s hip and the cool thing to do. However, it’s still just as hard if not harder to get your book noticed among the hundreds of thousands of new books published every year.
Some authors today are going into a hole, financially, purchasing a variety of author services and busying themselves going to this or that writer’s conference and spending hours upon hours of time on social media trying to publicize and promote and sell their books. A lot of this can be fun, but some of it can be very expensive. The implicit if not the explicit message from many of these author services companies is that a novel will be a failure unless thousands of people pay money to read it. I think that’s the wrong message.
When I was studying piano as a child and beginning to improvise a bit on my own, no one took the view that if someone didn’t eventually pay me to play for them all my practice and study would be in vain. Everyone, including me, knew that the beauty of the music was its own reward, as was the outlet that it afforded to me to express myself creatively. So it is with writing, I believe.
My advice to new writers is to write what you love, make it the best it can possibly be, and then sit back and be satisfied with your accomplishment. If you’ve written a great book, it will be a great book whether anyone buys the first copy. If you have written a piece of trash, it will still be trash no matter how many times you sell it. In the end, it’s not about the hits or the likes or the followers or the Goodreads reviews or your Amazon ranking or the royalties. It’s about creating something on the written page that will have the ability, long after you are gone, to make people laugh or cry or think about something of real meaning in their own lives. And that will say something important for ages to come about why you were here.