Words to Profit

Publishing Tip

Story of the Successful (but Broke) Author

by Diane Eble

This is the story of a Successful Author.


Successful Author (SA for short) grew up loving to read, and she wrote at an early age. Her first story was published in the eighth grade school newspaper. She was thrilled.


SA went off to college. She majored in English, but did not want to teach. Strangely, she took only one creative writing course. She knew she wanted to write, but the one course made her doubt her abilities more than believe in them. She did take a course in publishing, and decided that was where she belonged.


"Publishing is too difficult to break into," everyone told her. In her heart, she doubted. Could she write? Could she break into publishing somehow besides the secretarial route? (Which she knew she would never progress in; administration was not her strong suit.)


SA decided to teach herself to write by reading books on writing, and doing lots of writing of all kinds. Before she graduated from college, she interviewed at various small publishing houses. Not in New York, where the competition was fierce.


In the Midwest.


And she got a job! With a publisher, no less. A forward-thinking publisher who started a radio show. SA helped produced the show. She got to interview authors, write up radio scripts, edit the shows, and even run the direct marketing aspect of the program.


When the radio program was discontinued (production costs were high, in the old days), she was asked to write marketing copy for a book club. Then, to manage the book club.


Then she heard about a job opening at a magazine. She got the job. Started writing articles. Her very first article won a First Place award.


Soon she was writing books as well as articles Then she went freelance, writing books, editing books, writing marketing copy. Writing, writing, writing! She loved it.


She got really good at writing book proposals. Got to the point where, whenever she got a book idea, she'd write up a proposal and sell the book. Then she'd write the book. It would get published. Eight, 10, then 11 books in all. Every book published! Yes, surely she was a Successful Author.


But the publisher didn't do much to promote the book. Successful Author had ideas, but the publishers were not very supportive of some of her wild ideas.


Successful Author realized she would need to put some money of her own behind promoting her books. But she preferred to write them, not promote them! Wasn't promotion the publisher's job?


Besides, how could she make a living writing, if she had to take so much (unpaid) time to promote her books? Finally, with the paltry royalties paid (she made an average of $1.16 per book), she'd have to sell 1500 books every month just to pay the mortgage!


Successful Author continued her day job (to pay the mortgage and other sundries), and saw her books go out of print, one by one. When her favorite book went out of print, Successful Author was both heartbroken and outraged.


Hadn't the book sold 12,000 copies—in hardcover? Wasn't that way above the norm of 4000 or less books sold? Why would it go out of print, only 18 months after it was published?


Successful Author sent the book to SuperSuccessful Author, who loved the book and endorsed it in her newsletter in glowing terms. Unfortunately, the book was out of print. Ironic timing.


Successful Author wrote yet another book proposal and went to Book Expo America one year to promote it to publishers. Two publishers made offers. Successful Author's literary agent fumbled one offer, and so the second offer was accepted. The book was published yet again.


Successful Author wrote yet another book, this time with another author. It took two years to write. A great book but … too much time, too much work, for too little money.


By now Successful Author was learning something.  A couple of things, in fact.


1. You can't make enough money to live on writing just books. The publishing industry is set up such that royalties are paltry, advances shrinking. That's if you get a contract. With technology making is easier for anyone to publish, there's a glut of books and traditional publishing is getting more and more competitive.


2. The author must take full responsibility for all marketing and promotion efforts.


How can any author afford to do number two, given the realities of number one? Can an author who likes to write make a living from writing books? Successful Author set out on a quest find answers.


In this quest, Successful Author discovered more truths. Both happy and sad truths.


Sad truth: Good marketing is much more important than good writing. (True for nonfiction authors. Slight variation for fiction authors: While marketing is important, good writing in fiction is still important. Arguably more important is the ability to be prolific. One novel per year does not a living make.)


Happy truth: Marketing is fun, it can be learned, and it can be adapted to your own personal style.


Moral of the story: If you want to be a Truly Successful Author—as in, someone who actually makes a good living as an author—you need to take full marketing responsibility and be open to new models of operating as an author.


What are those new models? Some clues can be found on this website, and on the Your Book Publishing Coach blog.


But here's a hint: The traditional way books are created and sold is exactly backwards!


Next time I'll reveal what I mean by that.


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