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The Perils of Publishing - Part Two

By November 15, 2021

The Zero-Sum Game

Photo by Caio Resende 

When you imagine the life of an author what springs to mind? In my experience, there are those that imagine authors are making huge amounts of money for every book they publish and are living the high-life. Others imagine a struggling artist living on nothing but their imagination and despising the vulgar notion of receiving money for their art. OK, they may be extremes, but there are some truths here. Yes, there are bestselling authors that do rake in the income; however, they are in a tiny minority. There are hobbyists, who do consider their work as non-commercial art. When you consider the number of books published every year. It sure it will come as no surprise to learn that it is difficult to make sales. An article from Ebook Friendly (written in 2017) lists the figures by country. I expect this year those numbers will have increased. (Click on the button link below)
There cannot have been many authors that haven’t toyed with the idea of quitting writing at some point in their career. Low sales figures gloom and doom predictions and the closure of publishing houses don’t help matters. Selling anything in a competitive market is certainly not as easy as falling off a log, as hinted by some of the dubious advice that can be found out there. It’s a big learning curve for new authors and particularly those who self publish. When I first self-published I made a lot of mistakes, hopefully, I have learned from them. I am still learning, in particular how to market my books.

It is a bitter pill to swallow to learn that the manuscripts that you have lovingly slaved over, edited, re-edited, lost sleep over and cost money to produce and market, may only make enough royalties to pay for its production costs. Many authors have a day job, as do I. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to afford to write or pay our bills. The same can be said for traditional published authors, their advances have to be covered. Only when a book surpasses the advance given, will they then be paid more royalties. Those six-figure advances you have read about…they rarely, if at all happen.

After paying for editing, formatting, book covers, and marketing cost, which consists of book promotion sites, Amazon, and Facebook advertising etc, a book already, starts out in the red and in some cases may never recoup those costs. Even a free ebook comes at a cost to the author. Many authors do much of the work themselves and although there are a few ways to promote your book for free, promotional services like BookBub charge a hefty fee. I prefer to format and make my own covers, although I still have to purchase stock photos and I prefer not to edit my own work.

Since Amazon opened up their AMS – Amazon Marketing Services, to self-publishers the promotional playing field changed. Authors are pitted against each other in bidding for the best advertising spots and more often than not the ones with the deepest pockets will win those prized spots. I have tried AMS advertising, albeit on a small budget. I have either broke even or made a loss. I have come to the conclusion that the only one winning here is Amazon. It is said that Books were always going to be a loss leader for them. Hence, the reason why they encourage free and rock bottom priced ebooks. That $0.99 ebook only nets the author a 35% royalty payment.

There are other outgoings too: email-marking providers like Mailchimp etc are free to use if you have a small list. Those with lists over 1500 – 2000 are charged a monthly fee. Instafreebie and BookFunnel provide ways for you to gain subscribers by giving your book away in exchange for a free ebook. If you wish to use them to in promotions to add subscribers to your mail list, this comes with a monthly fee. There are also other useful extras that come with the fee-paying plans. Then there’s the cost of running a website. Google is now recommending website owners purchase/provide an SSL certificate otherwise their websites will be flagged as unsafe. This is of concern to those who have eCommerce merchandise shops on their sites.

If I was cynical I would think of self-publishing little like the gold rush, the ones making the money were those selling the equipment. For many self-published authors, it really is a zero-sum game.

©Paula M. Hunter