I slumped into the chair opposite a fellow writer at a neighborhood coffee shop. She and I hadn’t met in a while because of Covid restrictions. Naturally, I was delighted to see her looking well. She told me she’d taken a hiatus from adding to her ongoing Sage Adair mystery series. In the interim, she’d been editing the “how to” book her Tai-chi teacher had written. Hearing her, my eyes scrolled to the back of my head. “Just what the world needs, another Tai-chi book,” I thought. My smirk disappeared when she said an agent had sold the manuscript for several thousand dollars.
Admittedly, I’ve never made much money from my novels. I write because it is my passion. American author Anne Lamott advises that passion is the only reason to write. She is a teacher in order to make ends meet and is careful to warn her students … that the odds of their getting published and of it bringing them financial security, peace of mind, and even joy are probably not that great.
The situation is similar in other parts of the world. In his blog, one South African lawyer who longs to break into fiction echoes the same lament. He believes the copyright laws in his country are killing the artist’s opportunity to profit from their work. …those who aspire to make a career out of writing? They have my innermost sympathies.
One negative he fails to mention is that publishers make profits a higher priority than art. As such, they no longer forage through authors’ submissions; they rely on the keen eye of agents who know the pulse of the market. Agenting has become so competitive, many have dropped from the field. These days, to find one’s book in print, most artists are obliged to self-publish. To succeed, not only must they have talent but marketing and distribution savvy. Unfortunately, learning these additive skills comes at the expense of following their passion.
To begin with, an author needs a well-designed webpage. It should include links to social platforms and might require a web manager to address changes in technology, computer glitches, and mischief-makers. Unless the writer is an artist, someone will have to design the book’s cover. A technician to formant text is also imperative because layouts vary with the different distributors.
An intellectual property attorney is useful to read through service contracts and to keep the author from running afoul of copyright law. At last, when the book is in proper form as either print or electronic copy, prepare to pay distributor fees. Finally, if sales are brisk, an accountant is useful to ensure the IRS gets its fair share.
The next challenge is marketing. Covid has done much to disrupt the traditional routes to an audience. At the height of the pandemic, conventions, bookstore talks, library presentations, and discussion groups disappeared. Health prohibitions have eased of late, but risks persist and so the yellow brick road remains narrow.
An author can and should submit advance copies of a book to reviewers, newspapers, podcasters, and book bloggers. These are the safest venues while Covid is a concern. Unfortunately, the pandemic has inundated these program hosts with interview requests, so patience and persistence are the names of the game. As for garnering television and radio appearances, collecting buffalo feathers is easier.
Consultant and ghostwriter Erin Donley has affirmed that self-publishing isn’t for sissies. I agree and at age 86, I find the challenges too daunting. My upcoming memoir, Getting Lost to Find Home, will be my final book. To those who continue on their self-publishing journey, I wish them a safe harbor. If the signposts I’ve provided are of any use, my work is done.