Thursday, May 31, 2012

No one ever said it would be easy...

“Lies, damned lies, and statistics” as a great man once said.

This survey by the Taleist website has been doing the rounds of the media recently. It’s interesting to see the headlines it’s generated.

“Half of self-published authors earn less than $500”
. That’s pretty good considering half of those writers (and others like them) were probably earning $0 a decade or so ago.

“Self-Publishing: under 10% of authors earn living”. And they were before…

It’s a Writer versus writer thing. People in media tend to be Writers. They have a strong vested interest in stamping on the fingers of those ‘orrible grubby hobbyist writer-types currently clambering over the ramparts and threatening to eat their lunch. And so we get “Half of self-published writers earn less than $500” instead of “Half of self-published writers earn enough extra lolly for holidays in the south of France”, or “10% of self-published writers earn enough to give their boss the finger and live the dream, baby!”

Last year I did better than the median, but I still fall more into the ‘free-holiday-somewhere’ category rather than the ‘give-the-boss-the-finger’ category. I have a day job and I write part-time in the evenings. I expect this arrangement to continue for the foreseeable future. There is nothing new with this. Look at the bio’s of your favourite authors and you’ll see many of them continued with their day jobs even after their first couple of books were published.

You become a full-time writer when you earn enough to become a full-time writer. That’s the way it’s always been.

It’s heartening to read that one in ten self-published writers managed to pass that threshold. Congratulations. Well done. I wonder what percentage of writers submitting manuscripts to publishing houses ever reach that goal. I suspect it’s much smaller.

And for the rest of us floundering around in the long tail, it’s not actually that bad. A book is like a little mini-me you cobble together from grey matter and bits of your soul. It runs out into the world like a demented little busker, eager to entertain the masses and be showered with their pennies. Then it collects those coins in its hat and brings them all back to you. And it does this year after year after year. It takes a lot of time and effort to create that mini-me, but once created it will continue to collect those pennies on its own, leaving you free to make more and more, until you have a whole army of mini-me’s out there working for you. At that point we’re talking about a lot more than pennies.

It’s not surprising that 95% considered themselves successful. They finished a book and put it out there for the world to read, an achievement in itself. They earned some money for that achievement and will likely continue to do so in the future. Most importantly, their work is out there and ready to be discovered rather than mouldering away on a slush pile or in a desk drawer somewhere.

Statistics. Make of them whatever you want…

M.E. Hydra

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