The headline of this post isn’t a trick question. There isn’t only “one right answer.” As writers, we’re allowed to have different goals. Some might dream of money, others of making a difference in readers’ lives, or some a combination of both.
Too often in the discussions about “how to be successful,” the emphasis is on income alone. For many of us, that measure works.
But if our goal is focused more on quality, or readers, or inspiration, or whatever, we might feel left out of the discussions. Or worse, we might feel like failures.
There’s No “One Right Path” to Success
That’s why I loved Anne R. Allen’s post about two publishing paths. She labels the two paths “hobbyist” and “professional.” But for many of us, the label of a “hobbyist” would give the impression of someone who didn’t take their work seriously.
In fact, what Anne is talking about are the two paths for authors who do care about quality. The major difference instead is whether we have a business mindset, so I’m going to refer to the two paths as “artist-author” and “professional-author.”
The honest fact of the matter is that not all of us have a business mindset. I wrote long ago about whether authors who didn’t have business sense were doomed:
“The push to force writers into a business model could make those without business savvy feel there’s no place for them in the industry. Many creative people don’t have a money-wise bone in their body, and I’d hate to lose their stories from the world.”
At the time of that post, I said writers without business sense were not doomed, and I still believe that. But I wasn’t as clear as I wanted to be about how to approach that situation. Luckily, Anne’s post does a great job of explaining how the two paths work, and more importantly how we get to define our idea of success.
Writing Path #1: Artist-Author
The Artist-Author knows their goals. They don’t measure themselves by income. They write for the joy of writing, and money is, as Anne states, “gravy.”
They don’t need to worry as much about their platform, or sticking to a single genre, or spending money unrelated to their stories—no advertising or fancy websites unless they want to. They don’t need to pressure themselves with deadlines or backlist unless they want.
In short, they can be just as educated about the craft of writing as any other author. This path isn’t a dig about their writing quality. However, because they have goals other than money, they don’t need to do all the stuff that comes with treating their writing as a business.
I say again: There’s nothing wrong with choosing this path, and it’s not a reflection on the quality of their work. Artist-authors can be just as serious—if not more serious than others—about writing quality.
As Anne points out, the only risk for these authors is if they get wrapped up in the goals others have. Artist-authors should not focus on the rejection cycle of queries or the money-suck cycle of expensive publishing services.
(In fact, Anne cautions artist-authors on pursuing traditional publishing. Like she says, it’s not unheard of for traditional publishers to expect releases on a pressure-filled schedule, require authors to build a platform, and offer cut-throat contracts—all issues at odds with a non-business-minded path. Any artist-authors going the route of traditional publishing should look for partners that respect their goals.)
Instead, artist-authors can stick to the simple and the free or low cost options for self-publishing. With the proper partners helping with beta reading, editing, and covers, this route doesn’t have to cost much.
Self-publishing is enough to get their work out into the world, and since they spent next to nothing getting their work out there, they’re not worried about making their investment back. Rather, they’ll measure success in other ways: the reviewer touched by their story, the reader they didn’t have before, the joy they get from the writing itself.
If this artist-author path sounds like you, embrace your goals and check out Anne’s full post. And if it bothers you to see “hobbyist,” just fill in the label “artist-author” whenever you see it. *smile*
Writing Path #2: Professional-Author
The Professional-Author knows their goals. They treat their writing as a business, so they measure themselves against typical business-oriented specifics—namely, income.
Just as much as any business person, they have to keep up with the industry and technology relevant to their job: writing. They need business plans and a brand. They need to invest in their business, with professional assistance and publicity, to maximize their return-on-investment.
Also, just like the artist-author path doesn’t automatically indicate low quality, this path doesn’t automatically indicate high quality. Plenty of professional-authors have decided the way to maximize their income is by releasing lots and lots of crap. (Or in too many cases, deciding plagiarism is the way to go.)
Some professional-authors will pursue traditional or hybrid publishing partners and some will pursue self-publishing. Because they’ve spent time studying the industry, they’ll hopefully know scams to watch out for and contract clauses to avoid. They should have a long-term business strategy for how to balance traditional, self, and hybrid publishing for their goals.
But because of the investment aspect of this path, the risks are higher. They can lose money, potentially a lot of money, by choosing the wrong strategies or partners. They can struggle with finding a balance between writing time and business-activities time. They can lose sight of the writing craft in pursuit of faster releases, even though those shortcuts eat into their bottom line.
(Beverley Kendall’s report on self-published authors backs up this last fact. Almost 40% of authors with 60+ self-published releases(!) make less than $10K because they’re skipping professional editing or book covers in their single-minded focus on release numbers.)
Lessons Learned: How to Maximize Chances for Success
Beverley Kendall’s report is a gold mine for those on either path. Her results show what works for maximizing income, but many of the tips are also no-cost ways artist-authors can reach more readers:
- Write a series
- Make a series-related short story, novella, or the first novel free
- Include excerpts of other stories, especially at the back of the freebie
- Price novel-length books in the $2.99-$4.99 sweet spot
- Build a backlist of quality stories
- Don’t expect success overnight—think in years
“Of authors who earned over $50,000 in 2013
95.93% have 4 or more books up for sale
93.91 % have been self-publishing for more than 1 (one) year.”
Remember those years I mentioned? Time and backlist, everyone, time and backlist. *smile*
- For authors over $50K:
- 96.93% of their bestselling books were part of a series
- 68% offered one or more books in the series as a freebie
- For authors over $500K:
- 100% of their bestselling books were part of a series
- 88.24% offered one or more books in the series as a freebie
- For authors between $0-$10K:
- 25.60% have not written a series
- 32.53% offered one or more books in their series free
- 41.87% do not offer a freebie from their series
However, not every author should offer a freebie. This is where a long-term strategy comes into play. We can lose money and potential readers if we don’t have other stories available, as shown by this post:
“After downloading and reading a free digital book by an author, 88.54% of readers have gone on to purchase other books by that author.”
Only a few of her insights on how to maximize our chances for success apply more to professional-authors willing to invest or write to the market:
- Use professional-level editing and book covers
- Beverley notes one reason why those from a traditional publishing background make more money: “22.69% MORE authors who were originally traditionally published had their books edited by someone with a publishing background than authors who had never been published before.”
- Choose the “right” category/genre (note: this often involves chasing trends(*), so your mileage may vary)
- * New Adult Romance: 43.48% earned more than $50K
- Mystery/Thriller: 30.77% earned more than $50K
- * Erotic Romance: 28.57% earned more than 50K
- SciFi/Fantasy: 19.15% earned more than $50K
- Non-fiction: 10.34% earned more than $50K
Finally, after I pestered her for more insights, Beverley did another analysis for what the statistics would be when an author did everything “right.” Of the 121 respondents who:
- Have been self-publishing for more than 1 year
- Wrote a series
- Put one or more of their books free
- Have 4 or more self-published books available
- Price their work between $2.99-$7.99
- Acquire professional editing and book covers
The stats revealed that 81.82% earn over $10K and 57.04% earn more than $50K. Click through to this link to see the full breakdown.
Beverley’s report is invaluable for showing what works. Lumping all self-published authors together (the serious and the non-serious) dilutes the lessons we can learn from those doing it with a plan for success. As Beverley said in her follow-up post:
“So does it matter really if 80% of self-published authors don’t make more than $1000 in a year if you intend to emulate the 20% who are doing it right and making a very comfortable living doing it?”
…And now I’m burnt on numbers posts for a while, but I hope this has been educational and enlightening. *reassembles brain*
Personally, while I consider myself on the professional-author path because of my business mindset, I don’t want to be hyper about it. A lot of the artist-author attitude appeals to me, like doing the platform building I want to do and that’s it.
In other words, there is no “one right way” and we shouldn’t let anyone tell us differently. Our first priority is to figure out what we care about, what our goals are. Only then can we judge the right path for us, plan for how to reach our definition of success on that path, and hopefully ignore the divergent opinions of those on other paths. *smile*
What do you think of these two paths? Which path appeals to you more and why? How can we avoid the traps along each path (artist-authors feeling like failures due to others’ measures of success and professional-authors losing focus on the craft)? Do you think artist-authors should pay attention to the lessons they can learn from business-oriented strategies, like from Beverley’s report? What can professional-authors learn from the other path?Pin It