The web has been abuzz lately (for example) with stories of Amanda Hocking’s incredible self-publishing success (and similar success by other indies). In a nutshell, Hocking has nine self-published works available on Kindle (and other ebook stores) and is selling hundreds of thousands every month and making more money than most writers ever dream about. Well, we dream about it, of course, but never expect to actually see it. Hocking sold 450,000 books on Kindle in January alone. At a 70% royalty that’s some serious moolah. Traditional publishers won’t be picking her up because none of them can offer a deal that’s even close, let alone better than the one she’s managed on her own.
Naturally when a story like this comes along, everyone immediately starts shouting stuff about how the world has completely changed and publishers will no longer be required. People everywhere can self-publish on Kindle and make themselves a million dollars a second. Of course, it’s all bollocks.
Anyone that knows anything about me will know that I have no problem with quality indie or self-publishing. The keyword there is QUALITY, but that’s another post. I’m absolutely chuffed for Amanda Hocking. It’s fantastic to see the kind of success she’s had. But let’s get realistic for a moment. She’s an exception, not a new standard benchmark. Remember Dan Brown and J K Rowling? They’re phenomenally successful authors with traditional print deals. Did every other traditionally published author suddenly become a sales behemoth because they did? Of course not. The fact that it can happen doesn’t mean it will every time.
I blogged back in January 2008 about a Japanese girl that wrote a novel on her phone and ended up with a print deal and 400,000 sales. Did Japanese girls everywhere start making fortunes with mobile phone novels? No.
When it comes to Kindle self-publishing there are some people making huge money and selling massive numbers (like Hocking, or J A Konrath, who used his already high profile to take control of his own ebook sales). There are also some people making moderate to good sales, some making poor sales and some making none. I don’t have any figures, but I’ll bet you that the people making none or low sales outnumber those making high sales by a factor of hundreds of thousands. Just like in print publishing. The music industry is the same – for every Justin Bieber there’s a million wannabes struggling to get noticed. Just because massive success can and does happen occasionally, doesn’t mean it can and will happen to many.
Also, every overnight success is usually on the back of many years of hard work. Just because these people shot to fame and success in short timeframes doesn’t mean they spent no time getting there.
Hocking posted this on her blog a couple of weeks ago, which includes these salient points:
So much of what people are saying about me is, “Look what Amanda Hocking accomplished in a year,” when they really should be saying is, “Look what Amanda Hocking accomplished in twenty years.” Because that’s how long I’ve been writing, that’s how long I’ve been working towards this goal…
There is a common misconception that I published the first novel I ever wrote, and that is not true. The first book I ever published was My Blood Approves, and that was the eighth novel I’d written…
There are no tricks or schemes with self-publishing. It’s just about writing a good book, polishing it really well, getting a good cover, pricing it right, and putting it out there. There are no short cuts. If you want to be successful at this, you have to do the work.
You should really read the whole post, it’s very good. I would also point out that even if you do take Amanda’s advice (which every writer should) and write well, polish, edit, get good covers and layout and so on, you’re still not guaranteed success. You’re giving yourself the best shot, but becoming the next Amanda Hocking or J K Rowling is akin to winning the lottery. It happens very rarely in the grand scheme of things, to a very lucky few. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t chase that kind of success, it doesn’t mean it can’t happen to you and it doesn’t mean you don’t deserve it. We all deserve recognition for the hard work we do. The truth is, most of us get a lot less recognition for our hard work than we’d like. That’s life.
Work your arse off and aim for the stars, but don’t get lost in unrealistic expectations. With any luck your hard work and attention to detail and quality will pay off. Certainly we’re going to see more and more people achieving very satisfying success indie publishing their stuff. Things are changing, self-publishing is losing its stigma and new vistas of success are opening to all of us. But even so, success stories like Hocking’s are likely to remain the exception and not the rule.