In case you don’t know, I’ve been in the publishing industry over a decade and worked for two small indie publishers and done editing work for many self-published authors as well as several larger writing websites (now defunct). Sometimes it doesn’t feel like a decade, but when I look back and realize how much time has gone by, my brain hurts, and I my joints ache. I don’t like to feel old. So I try to ignore it. However, this week’s blog is germane to that experience, so I get to own up to my age for once and lean into it.
On average, publishers invest about $10,000 in your book and in you when they pick up your book. That is almost as much as an in-state four-year college degree in some states. (At least according to Business Insider’s metrics based on 2020’s numbers). If you are self-publishing, you may end up paying a similar amount in editing, cover design, formatting, ISBNs, distribution, and marketing. That number comes both from personal experience as well as Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual (a book I recommend to all authors).
You don’t necessarily have to spend that much money on a book to publish it well if you have some skills, access to well-priced editors and cover designers, and so on. But that isn’t an unrealistic number as far as investment goes. That said, some of that investment may be in billable hours you put in rather than just in money out of your bank account, and it doesn’t count the time you spent writing your story or revising it.
While I cannot speak for every publisher (some out there just slap books out without much attention and likely do not invest that kind of time or money into their authors), I can certainly speak to myself when I say that this kind of relationship is an investment. I am putting my money where my mouth is and betting that you can earn back what I’ve put into your book.
There is this insidious mythology out there in the writerverse that once your book is picked up by a publisher (or you self-publish), you no longer need to do anything except sit back, bask in your own genius, and rake in the profits. Unfortunately, that cannot be further from the truth. In fact, being picked up by a publisher is just step two in your author journey. What it means is someone thinks your book is good enough to invest in.
If you are writing a book with the intent to publish, you are embarking on a business journey.E. Prybylski
If you are writing a book with the intent to publish, you are embarking on a business journey. You are, in some ways, an entrepreneur. Moreso if you are self-publishing. While, yes, you can write for fun and invest nothing and hurl your book at Amazon for friends and family, if you want to really live those dreams of being famous and having anyone care about your writing outside of your nearest and dearest, it is hard work. Worse, it is hard work that has nothing to do with writing.
Publishing a book is, to a lot of authors, this mythical unicorn in a forest they imagine they can catch just by writing the next world’s greatest novel. Writing your book is good, but it’s just the beginning.
If you are going to go into the business of authorship, you need to be prepared to do a lot of miserable leg work. For example, I spent twelve hours yesterday sniffing out bloggers who read books in my genre and adding nearly two-hundred of them to an Excel spreadsheet so I can track my pre-release review requests. This list is available if anybody wants it; I don’t mind sharing. But these reviewers are mostly geared toward Urban Fantasy, so you’ll want to make sure your book fits into what they read.
That kind of work doesn’t fit with how many people view their life as an author. It was exhausting and tedious, but it was also necessary. My book doesn’t come out until January 13th, 2022 (which is Make Your Dream Come True day, for those curious about why I chose that day), but I am going to be starting to send out review copies in November and have already approached a few reviewers who have said they are booked six months out and require in-advance registrations. (That was a nail-biter for sure.)
In addition to that, I’m in talks with a fellow author and friend of mine, Dr. Joe Weinberg, to get my podcast back up and running as the two of us having chats about writing-related subjects a few times a month. I also write these blogs which are, make no mistake, a form of marketing. That said, I like to think I give enough value in what I have to say that I’m not hammering anyone over the head with “PAY ME FOR STUFF.” Which is kind of the point.
My life–outside of my editing and publishing work for other people–is full of scheduling blog posts, making graphics for said scheduled blog posts, networking on social media, reaching out to blogs/podcasts/vloggers/bookstagram to see who might want to collaborate, interview me, have me write a guest post, or review my book, and studying my social media metrics.
All of that, and I don’t even have a book out yet.
Which isn’t to say this is an all day every day sort of thing; I typically write and edit my blog posts in about an hour each. Sometimes I really get into the groove and write an entire month’s worth in an afternoon and get all of that out of the way so I don’t have to think about it for awhile. Or, if I am going to be traveling (like I am in early September for my wedding anniversary), I plan things in advance so content gets created while I’m gone. I also spend about 20 minutes of targeted networking time on social media a day. I don’t limit myself to one platform and am still feeling out where my target audience is. I think it’s probably Twitter, but I will be honest that I haven’t really started to hit Instagram yet and need to start working on my branding there.
Most of my marketing efforts I set aside to do in small chunks every day, but an ambitious or busy individual may take one day a week and put them all in there (scheduling social media posts for when they aren’t around, for example). I know several authors who operate that way, including my dear friend Jayce Carter who writes delicious erotic romance, if that’s something you’re into reading. I cannot recommend her highly enough. Also, she’s just a delightful human being.
All in all, if this sounds like an awful lot of work, you’re getting the idea. It is. What you’re doing is launching a business like any other. You have a product to sell, and you have something you want the world to see. Even if you did manage to write the next world’s greatest novel, if nobody knows you exist, they can’t read it.
Even if you did manage to write the next world’s greatest novel, if nobody knows you exist, they can’t read it.E. Prybylski
Even Raymond E. Feist, author of the Riftwar Cycle and man who has sold more than fifteen million books, told me that when he started out as an author, he was beating feet around his downtown in the 1980s, approaching local bookstores and trying to sell his wares. His publisher didn’t do that work for him, and he didn’t gain his fame overnight. He was very frank about the fact that marketing is necessary for authors, and it’s going to take a lot of hard work. (Also, he’s a super nice guy and tries to reply to everyone on his social media.)
Author life is more than book signings, events, speaking engagements, and sitting alone with your whiskey at 3am while you wrestle with your words. Any lingering idea that you can just “make it” without marketing yourself or putting in the un-glamorous backend work is a lie authors are telling themselves and each other. While, sure, lighting could strike, you also could win Powerball. The odds are about the same.
E. Prybylski has been in the publishing industry as an editor since 2009, starting at Divertir Publishing and eventually partnering with her close friend Richard Belanger to begin Insomnia Publishing.
Ever since childhood, E. has been an avid reader and writer of fantasy. The first chapter book she remembers reading is The Hobbit, followed swiftly by most of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series. In high school, she perfected the skill of walking while reading without slamming into anyone. Mostly.
When she isn’t reading or writing, E. is an active member of the Society for Creative Anachronism and has a B.A. in European history from SNHU. In addition to her many historical pursuits, E. is a musician of multiple instruments, a cat mom, and a loving wife to her husband, J. E. also speaks out for the disability and chronic illness communities being a sufferer of chronic migraines and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.