The Perils of Publishing - Part Two

Photo by Mikołaj on Unsplash

 A Zero Sum Game

When you imagine the life of an author what springs to mind? No doubt some may imagine authors are making huge amounts of money for every book they publish and are living a high life. Others imagine a struggling artist living on nothing but their imagination and despising the vulgar notion of receiving money for their art. I admit that these may be extremes. However, there are some truths here. Yes, some bestselling authors do rake in the income, yet they are in the minority. Many fall into the category of Midlist and are making a sustainable income. There are also hobbyists, who do consider their work as non-commercial art. When you consider the number of books published every year. I’m sure it will come as no surprise to learn that it can be difficult to make book sales.

Many authors have toyed with the idea of quitting writing at some point in their careers. 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 given by “publishing gurus” that seem to be in abundance. 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 and hopefully, I have learned from them. I continue to strive to improve my craft  and learn more about book marketing that doesn’t require you to have deep pockets.

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, without it they wouldn’t be able to afford to write and pay the bills. The same can be said for traditionally 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, 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 in the red and in some cases it 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 covers, although I still have to purchase stock photos and I prefer not to edit my 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 biggest wallets will win those prized spots. I have tried AMS advertising, albeit on a small budget. I have either broken even or made a loss. This made me conclude that the only one winning here is Amazon. It has been said in the past that books were always going to be a loss leader for Amazon. 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 e.g. Mailerlite are free to use if you have a small list. Those with larger lists are charged a monthly fee depending on the number of subscribers. StoryOrigin 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 in promotions to add subscribers to your mailing list, this comes with variable monthly fees depending on the optional extra services you require. Then there’s the cost of running a website.

While this article may have you thinking that I am somewhat of a Debbie Downer, it’s not what I wish to portray. It’s sensible to go in with your eyes wide open. The cynical part of me does think of self-publishing as a little like the gold rush, the ones making the money were those selling the equipment. For many authors, it can be a zero-sum game.