It’s easy to look at the success stories of self-publishing and assume you should make a headfirst dive into an author career. As much as big name indies like Hugh Howey have referred to themselves as outliers, many new authors fail to heed their warnings. Industry veteran Kristine Kathryn Rusch has worked tirelessly to dispel the myth that the “Kindle Gold Rush” would last forever. Now that indie earnings have started to taper off, it seems like a good idea to listen to her wealth of knowledge and experience.
In a recent post, Rusch referred to the current state for some authors as “the garbage pit found at the end of the gold rush.” Sales were down for some as early as 2012, and the smarter authors changed along with the changes of the industry. They used tricks like KDP Select free days, price pulsing, and multi-author box sets to keep their books high in the rankings. As most of these tactics stopped working, authors who’d counted on their self-publishing income weren’t prepared for a drop in earnings. The situation has led to a struggle for many who were sitting pretty just months earlier.
We can’t take you back in time to better prepare yourself for a decrease in sales, but we can use some of the advice Rusch provided to better prepare you for your future as an indie author. Here are five ways to brace yourself for the harsh truths of the author career:
1. Develop a More Realistic Mindset
The Kindle Gold Rush wasn’t the first time content creators thought the good times would last forever. Bloggers who earned millions of dollars off Google AdSense were effectively shut down by the search engine’s algorithm changes. Advertisers who obtained leads worth hundreds of dollars for a few cents a click on Facebook now find themselves far from that wildly lucrative return on investment. Every business goes through a series of hills and valleys, and the author career is no different.
You need to understand that you’ll have huge waves up and massive troughs down during your writing journey. There’ll also be small growths and drops that’ll keep you from counting on consistent income. To be an effective career writer, you need to be willing to suffer both the lows and the highs. There are going to be setbacks, and you have to prepare yourself to suffer through them until you get to the light at the end of the tunnel. Essentially, you need to start by getting tougher.
2. Learn How to Pivot Financially
When news broke that well-known indie author H.M. Ward had lost 90 percent of her book sales for a variety of reasons, it sent a shockwave through the self-publishing community. It’s probable that more than half of the comfortable authors out there took a look at their last statement and wondered if they could survive a similar drop. What you may not realize is that decreases in income like this come with the territory, so you need to be prepared.
Rusch suggests that authors prepare for how things might turn out, how they probably will turn out, and what they’d have to do in a worst-case scenario. This is a classic hope for the best and plan for the worst scenario. Writers with a long-term career whose names aren’t King and Patterson have their eggs in multiple baskets. They’re prepared to take on many different writing jobs to pay the bills. They also save up money for a rainy day, month, or year, because if being an author is your profession, rain will be in the forecast.
3. Realize That You’re Not the Problem
If you survived the first wave of Kindle sales drops in 2012, then you’re probably not the problem. Most of the books that fell off the radar three years ago were the ones with poor covers and even poorer prose. Learning the lesson of putting out a professional product probably served you well over the last few years, but professionalism does not guarantee success. Even improving your craft over time isn’t necessarily going to turn your sales problems upside down.
Rusch said that she’s counseled many authors over the years who experienced rough times, and their usual solution was taking a writing class to get better at what they do. In most cases, it’s not your writing that betrayed you, it’s just the industry that’s changed. Craft classes won’t increase sales, so don’t assume that a several-hundred dollar investment in a course will get you back into the black.
4. Write More Books
The worst thing you can do in a time of crisis is quit. Plenty of authors who thrived in 2010 and 2011 are absent from the forums and best seller charts in 2015. Why? Because they gave up and figured it was too hard to compete any longer. If you’ve stuck it out all the way through the present day, then you need to give yourself the best possible chance of success. For the most part, that means writing more books.
Promoting your first or second book can be a waste of time. Spending your efforts writing more books will give you a larger backlist with a greater ability to market yourself when things start to uptick. Authors like Bob Mayer who had over 40 books on their backlists killed it in the early days of self-publishing (and many continue to do so) because they had such a vast catalogue of old work. When you have more books at your disposal, you have more opportunities to sell your work both independently and traditionally.
5. Get Steady Work
If you’ve had a major drop in income, you may need to get a job or take on something with higher earnings to pay the bills. Some authors may look at this as a failure, especially if they previously quit their jobs to take on writing full time. Getting a different kind of work other than your true calling is not a failure. Sometimes you just need to keep the electricity on and keep your family safe and sound. That isn’t a reflection on your worth. It’s simply an adaptation to your changing circumstances.
Here’s the thing. You can still write even when you have to work at a job or finish some freelance work. It’ll be hard, but if this post has taught you nothing else, you should realize that the author career wasn’t meant to be easy.
The Post-Gold Rush Trot
It’s okay that the gold rush didn’t last forever. In fact, it was probably an important eye-opener for the creative community. A strong business must prepare a contingency plan. When an author entrepreneur fails to plan for the worst, his or her business may fold when a problem arises. You need to be strong and you need to be prepared. Being an author isn’t an easy road to take, but you’re much more likely to get from point A to point B when you have a spare tire, a blanket, and a full tank of gas.
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