Thursday, June 13, 2013

Professional, Activist or Hobbyist

Recently, I've been discussing various issues related to indie publishing. I've been thinking about them because I am preparing a course called Ridiculously Simple Self Publishing. I hurt someone's feelings I think when they made the comment that they intended to pursue indie publishing "professionally" by outsourcing everything except the writing (which they nearly outsourced by having content editors and book doctors help rewrite). However, they added, that they spent a lot of money, and would not recoup their expenses, but they were proud of the professional job done.

Sorry, folks. It may be a quality job (or not). It may be a polished job. However, a professional job produces a profit. If you are not showing a profit, you are not pursuing a business, you are pursuing a hobby.

There is nothing wrong with doing something for the sheer enjoyment. Nor does it imply a low quality item just because it's produced as the result of someone pursuing a hobby. It doesn't mean someone isn't serious about what they are doing. My mother crocheted afghans that will outlast anything I've bought in stores. She was very concerned about the quality of the materials and the work. However, she never sold any of her work. If she had, she probably would not have been able to get a price that would have adequately compensated for the time and materials she had in the product. She was a hobbyist. A very skilled, very serious person who did a craft for the joy of the craft itself.

Many writers are like that when they decide to go into indie publishing. I say, God Bless them. If they can afford to take a loss in order to turn out some piece of art, that's great. However, they should not deceive themselves or others that they are more "professional" than those of us who watch our costs and produce a product that first the reader can afford and second will turn a profit.

To be professional means you make money on what you do. It doesn't necessarily mean your product is better. Indeed, it might not be as polished. A handmade cabinet done by your grandfather in his shop that took two years to complete, is probably much nicer than one produced by a furniture company. However, his costs would make it a product only a few could afford to buy and unless he lived in a high income area, he would probably not show a profit if he did that type of work all the time.

I know it sounds very noble to talk like we are artistes above the concerns of commerce, but, whether we like to admit it or not, books, even ebooks, are products. If you are an indie publisher, you are a manufacturer of books.

If you are only interested in writing for the sheer joy of it and can afford to outsource all the various parts of your project, more power to you. If you are an activist with a cause to pursue or a message to get across, likewise I wish you well. However, I do have a problem when those who are doing this at a loss advise others who may be pursuing a profession as an indie writer/publisher to do the same. That's bad business advice.

I have been writing a series (and I will return to it this weekend) about self-editing. Why? Because this is one area where an indie publisher can save some money. Even if you do eventually outsource the final proofreading, it reduce the work your editor has to do and, thus, save you money.

If you, like my friend, prefer to "just write" and are willing to take a loss, that's great. I honor that. I just ask that you not make those of us pursuing this as a business to try and do things your way.


  1. This attitude about authors writing for the joy of writing and not for profit actually started in traditional publishing. I know several writers who were told by their agents that they were expected to spend the entire advance for their first book on marketing.

    I know one author who financed her own book tour for her first book. Now, she lives in New York City and has a house in the Hamptons, so she's obviously not hurting financially, but that tour had to cost a fortune. She scheduled a stop at Clues Unlimited here in Tucson and the only people who turned out for her talk and signing were me and two friends who came down from Phoenix. I expect that kind of turnout was not unusual.

    I've also seen a tendency for authors pursuing the traditional publishing route to hire content editors before submitting to an agent. As far as I'm concerned, this is crazy talk unless, like you said, the writer doesn't care whether they make a profit or not.

    My neighbor is like that. He wrote one book. He has no intention of writing another book. He paid CreateSpace for their services to get his book published. He's spent money promoting it, renting booth space to sell it at various events around town, etc. He's happy he has a book to sell. And that's fine.

    But I'm like you. I expect to turn a profit from my writing. Now that I've seen the return from my first book, I'm seriously looking at following the taco truck method of building my writing career.

  2. Well, outside of Indie publishing, fiction writers are unlikely to make a living writing anyway. Few midlist writers can make it both because the royalties are low and they are often limited to one or two books a year.

    Traditional publishing has created a situation where the majority of fiction writers are not compensated well enough to allow them to devote enough time to their craft. Then they complain about a lack of quality work. Seriously, it is possible to be a full time traditionally published author. However, the best opportunities for that sort of thing are going to be in the indie world.

    I do like your term the Taco Truck Method. That would make a great title for a how-to book (indie published, of course) on self-publishing.

    I don't intend to indicate that the hobbyists are any less serious about their writing than those of us who approach it in a more businesslike manner, or that they produce lower quality work. They just are not going to show a profit. That is fine. That doesn't bother me.

    What bothers me is that these people who are going into the hole on every book are advising others that the "only" way to do indie publishing "right" is to hire all these specialists. In other words, they are saying I'm spending a fortune with only a dream of recouping it, you should do the same.

    If they want to be hobbyists, that's fine. Just don't treat that like it is the only way to go.