Or, Empathizing with the Other Side
I had a moment the other day where I kind of actually understood writers who are still willing to sign everything over to a publisher even with the plethora of other options available now. Let me state up front that I have not gone to the dark side and changed my mind about self-publishing, simply that I understand a little bit where those who have made a different choice might be coming from.
A lot of this comes down to finances. Right now, I am looking at about $400-450 in expenses for my novel. I have arranged a license for a fabulous piece of cover art, found a swoopy and romance-y font for titling to purchase, and will have to pay for a proofreading medium (currently debating printing the final rough draft at a shop ($50+ per book) or buying a Kindle ($79 one time) since I have recently heard good things about editing on eink devices). Editing and proofreading will, thank God, not be a financial expense for me, only a time expenditure.
I thought I was nearing completion of the book back in March, so that was when I priced my cover and font. Since then I have been saving all the piecemeal income I get from ghost-writing web articles ($20-40 a month) and tackling a couple sewing projects for friends. I have just over $200 in my PayPal account right now that is waiting to go out to my cover artist, plus one more sewing commission worth $50 I plan to finish before I’m ready to publish. That leaves roughly $150-200 out of pocket. That’s not…inconsiderable to me right now. In fact it’s a lot of damn money to me, because my current paycheck leaves no room for errors. Even if I get a raise at my day job in the future, it’s not going to be enough to give me $400 in “pin money” without spending little to nothing on myself for six months in advance of a book launch. That’s basically how I’ve made this one happen.
If I am being honest, this upcoming novel is the only time I’m going to be able to afford to do this self-publishing thing “right” if the results do not pay for themselves. I can’t drop $400, from “nonstandard income” or otherwise, on a venture that does not earn the money back plus at least enough profit to pay for the next one. I am looking at this as a business, but the truth is I can’t be in business if I’m only spending money and not making money. If this story flops, I’ll keep writing. I’ll keep blogging. I’ll keep publishing the best damn stories I can. But what I won’t do is put a red cent into the process of publishing. I will treat writing like a hobby, and if it makes me money, great, if not, whatever, it was time I spent for my own pleasure to create something and would have done it even without the means to transmit the story to any interested others. Yes, I know, long-tail game. I am stating my financial reality, and that is that I cannot afford to lose money for the first two years I am “in business” before the investment pays off. I can’t. Not with a $50 personal spending allowance every month and kids looming on the horizon in a year or two.
But say the results do pay for themselves, and then some. At that point I am going to be expanding my plans…and all of them involve either more time or more money or both. One of my goals would be to streamline this blog into my only website and set up different pages (including different looks) for different worlds I write in. Right now it’s just one world, but later I plan to add others (both as LWL and my erotica side-name, whatever that ends up being). That means either learning custom CSS or paying someone to do it. Time, or money. If I keep publishing I will continue using awesome covers, which will mean time to find them and money to pay for them, or money to pay someone to create it specifically for me.
None of these things would, strictly speaking, be necessary for me to keep writing stories and publishing them. But they would be necessary for me to look as professional as possible, and that matters to me. I don’t do things by half-measures.
Which leads me to the flash of understanding that I had. With self-publishing, the more success you find, the more time (or money) you need to invest in aspects of the business which have nothing to do with writing. And, y’all, I can barely find time to write in the margins of my life right now. I don’t know when I’m supposed to have time to learn how to write wordpress code and find a gothy romantic artist and a fantasy romantic artist and a science fiction romantic artist to complement the romance novel romantic artist I’m using on this upcoming book (luckily she is prolific and possibly a multi-use artist, but still!)…much less try to hit up book blogs for review requests or do any interviews or any other kind of marketing, etc., etc. When? When is that supposed to happen? And when am I supposed to write, then? If my time is more valuable to me spent writing, then that means more money I am paying out of pocket (or out of book profits) for someone else to do those other things for me to give me back my writing time.
Thus, the insight I reached: maybe it would be worth it to some writers to have to spend that time on nothing but the writing, and get a guaranteed chunk of money for their time. Maybe it’s not a lot, but you know what? $5000 a year tops out IRA contributions…or pays for one hell of a vacation…or takes a year off your house loan if you give it all to the mortgage bank as additional principle. And there is no money coming out of your pocket.
I can see the appeal of that. I can see where, for someone who is going to write anyway, the guarantee of a bit of extra income and their words reaching any interested reader with no extra effort on their part, would seem like a better deal than the time and money and risk involved in self-publishing.
So I’m going to try to be less hard on what still seems to me a nonsensical choice to sign away a lifetime’s worth of rights and potential profits for what seems a very small up-front gain. I know that for me, this year, $5000 coming in would have been a thousand times more useful to me than $500 going out…but I’m just hard-headed enough to get more annoyed at the thought of being exploited than I am by not getting to buy a new pair of shoes for five months.