For many writers and storytellers achieving the title of published author , is a dream come true. The title gives legitimacy, signals success, and elevates you in hierarchy amongst the literary community. But elevating your writer status and elevating your economic status are two different things; the relationship is not as linear as one may think. Publishing a book does not necessarily come with critical acclaim and great fortune. Even with a publisher’s backing, it can take two+ years and significant out of pocket cost to market and promote your book before you even earn out the advance and see royalty checks. And even then, there’s no guarantee you will break-even (make back the initial investment or start-up cost). Publishing a book is like launching a business. The difference is that start-ups usually sell a product or service in response to a market need but authors create the product (a book) first and then look for its audience (except in the case of educational books). It’s a beautiful example of creativity leading business! Right?
I believe in great storytelling. A literary work may not reflect the frameworks, techniques and training found in an experienced writer’s work but if the story is engaging, creates great imagery, is easy to read and most importantly, spreads via “word of mouth”, readers will follow. So what are writers to do from a financial perspective, between writing the book and the actual book launch?
Live within your means.
Get a side hustle.
Build your Readership.
Every article, editorial and blog about the publishing industry reveals the following:
1)The size of the publishing industry has shrunk. Instead of buying books, people rely on bloggers, online
writers, internet celebrities and other mediums to get information, advice or be entertained, 2) publishers have become more risk-averse, investing less (lower advances, less $ spent on marketing and promotions) in authors before a book launch; 3) Lulu, Create Space, Author House, IngramSpark and other self-publishers/distributors are a growing competitive force, lowering the barriers to entry for want-to-be authors and offering writers the platform to independently share their stories; 4) E-books provide authors a higher margin versus printed books and E-commerce sales accounts for almost 50% of book sales. With all of these environmental factors causing a shift in the publishing industry, it’s tough to gauge how successful your book, your creative work, your passion project will be, whether you follow the traditional channels or the unconventional route.
What you can control is how you manage yourself financially!
Live Within Your Means
If you pursue the publisher route, preserve your coins and spend wisely over the 2+ years between completing the pre-copyedited version of your book and launching your book. More strategically, have your agent negotiate payment of your advance in three installments in and around specific dates: the date you sign with a publisher, the date you submit final manuscript to publisher, the official launch date of book. This should give you about 2-3 years of supplemental income but find out from your agent and publisher what you have to cover with this advance besides the 15-20% in agent fees. Create a budget for each installment of the publisher’s advance.
For those going the self-publisher route, build a level of savings and donations from family, friends and people who have committed (via your website) to buying the book. Do a little research to find out the average investment necessary to cover your genre and style of book. Create a budget including those expenses a publisher typically covers: copyediting, proofreading, cover Design, ISBN #, public relations, marketing and promotional events and supplies. Find the right people to do these things. Don’t skimp on quality.
Get a “side hustle”
While your main focus for the next year or more will be preparing and launching your books, find a part-time job or regular gig that can help you build income. For those not familiar with the term. A “side hustle” is an urban term for the other income generating activities you do outside of your main job. This article lists “50+ side hustles you can start for $50 or less” and my new friend, Nick Loper, experiments with and blogs about different side hustles on sidehustlenation.com
Build Your Readership
In the old school of thought, literary artists wrote without thinking about their audience. Nowadays, you can’t afford to completely dismiss your potential audience as a writer. I say this not to stunt one’s creativity but to get writers to understand the risk/reward of not considering who you’re reader (your customer) will be. As discussed above, the publishing market is shrinking. The market for writers is crowded with experienced and unexperienced folks alike and publishers are looking more often, to sign authors with an established presence or platform. So believing in your work is not enough! Capture the hearts and minds of your potential readers before the book is even completely finished. Use social media, your personal and professional networks and any other form of media to build your brand, create a persona and create demand for your published work. The time you invest building a readership while make life easier before the book drops.
Writing and publishing a book will bring a great sense of accomplishment and elevate your status but may not elevate your pockets. Keep that reality in mind while simultaneously pushing for the NY Times best seller list! I wish all my writers and storytellers out there much success in 2016.
Your Fellow Creative Money Magnet,