The Constant Hustle of Publishing

There are two points of the year when authors sink into a funk, and that’s March and October when we’re paid. Did you know that writers receive approximately ten percent of the Recommended Retail Price of their book? After publishers take off the costs of production, printing, distribution and marketing and a bit of cream off the top, there’s sweet FA left. And that’s what the writer gets. Next time you’re holding a book in your hands, please feel the warmth of our love and gratitude, but also spare a thought for the future of writing and the literary arts if this carries on. It’s a constant hustle.

I never expected Apple Island Wife to be a best seller (just as well!). It was published with an independent in the UK, and I’ve had to work extremely hard to get copies distributed out here in Australia. Even now, it’s not working brilliantly. My distributors get it out to shops in Tasmania, but not the mainland. I’ve wondered whether to try for a partnership with a different distributor, but I think I’ve missed the boat on this book. My publisher, Unbound, offers a fifty percent share for the writer. They’re disruptors in the industry. But they don’t have the marketing capacity of the mainstream publishers.

That said, Apple Island Wife has found a modest readership and gets great reviews. With the word ‘Tasmania’ in the title, and sitting in the categories of books about Australia, it attracts the readers I thought it would – people curious about Tasmania or thinking of moving here. Twice yearly, the sales data is consolidated by the fairies and elves of the publishing world, and we writers get a statement. I’ve looked at mine and thought, well it’s not a salary, but it’s a small income stream. And it will remain in the market indefinitely. So I’ve been content.

The statement I’ve just received was not one to be content about. It was quite piddling, actually. But it’s been a funny year.

I’m halfway through writing the sequel. They say nothing sells your first book like your second one. I’ve got 107 thousand words at the minute. That’s far too long. It’s not quite War and Peace but it might be Anna Karenina. I’ve got lots of rewriting, adding and whittling to do.

This time round, I’m thinking of self-publishing. Self-published authors receive around 70% of the RRP of their book, I believe. They bear all the responsibility for getting it out into the market, but they retain complete ownership. That’s sounding increasingly attractive. Marketing Apple Island Wife was pretty much down to me. I figure I may as well do it all again this time round and not share the hard-won profits with anybody except my husband, over a nice lunch.

While I haven’t looked into the whole Print-on-demand and Kindle Publishing Direct game in great detail yet, I’ve seen enough to know it’s definitely worth considering.

If you’re a self-published author, an Unbound author like me, or an informed reader, I’d love to hear your view on this.


18 thoughts on “The Constant Hustle of Publishing

    1. My book is memoir, but it’s travel memoir. I’ve always thought that’s a huge bonus, because I sit in the categories of books about Australia, and there’s a lot of international attention on Tasmania as a travel destination. I’m pretty confident it has helped. As for marketing any other type of memoir, yeah, I reckon you’re up against it!

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    2. It probably depends on the subgenre. I wrote travel memoir, set in Tasmania, which is a powerful keyword in itself, so I made sure it was in the subtitle. Facebook groups of people specifically interested in Tasmania have been really handy for me, although you can’t deluge them too often.

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  1. Congrats on making the bestsellers list! Sounds like a crazy journey, and one that’s going to be crazier with the attempt at self-publishing. Wishing you the best no matter what you choose 🙂

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  2. Indie author here and wouldn’t have it any other way. I like the control that I have over my own work. It’s been a steep learning curve but I welcomed the challenge and have no regrets. BTW 10% is a pretty generous estimate of how much the writer receives. Traditional publishers are limited in their distribution, will only give bestsellers top billing in bookstores and you still have to bust your gut in marketing.

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  3. I’m an indie author and publisher, Fiona. I’ve published four books to date. I do struggle with marketing. However, the genre of the books published so far may have much to do with that, with the latest being a free verse poetry memoir (not a highly popular genre). I’m happy doing it this way. You seem to be really good at marketing, especially on instagram and with keeping your blog current, so I imagine you’ll do great!

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    1. Hi Camilla! I think I might just be good at doing Instagram posts, I’m not sure whether it translates into marketing!! That said, I have sold a few books to people I’ve ‘met’ there. Since I will be officially out of work in about two weeks’ time, I’m thinking of offering some teeny, fun online classes in how to do Instagram if you’re an author or avid reader – bookstagram for beginners. We’ll see how that goes. It’s lovely to hear from you! Take care, and stay safe. Fiona x

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  4. Fiona, I was trad published for 10 years with pitiful payments – before being self published, now Indie, became respectable. After being duped and getting the rights back (fought with author service legal support and my own law clerk experience) I am now happily ebook, paperback, large print and audiobook published with a backlist of 21 books. I now enjoy respectable monthly royalties paid directly into my bank account with no hassles or delays. And that’s with little promo but having my own website and FB exposure. Go you and good luck.

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  5. Good luck with your self-publishing journey. Don’t go for any company that offers a f’ull’ service for a lot of money and a few copies for you – they are rip-off merchants. Unbound is an interesting model, and there are new players coming into the market. Don’t automatically go for Amazon (a because it’s horrible greedy behemoth and b) because there are lots of alternatives). And a lot of successful indies are avoiding KDP like the plague. Players like Bookbaby, Publish/Drive and others not only provide production services (quite expensive) but a lot of retailing options which seem like good value. One other thing to remember: 50% of something is better than 100% of nothing. You need to work out if the extra volume of sales via a publisher nets you more than the lower sales as an indie, even with much higher royalties. Also – if you’re going into print, don’t forget about warehousing, distribution (physical post & packing). And if you go for bookshops, almost all will insist on your using a book wholesaler eg Gardeners or Bertrams, and on a sale-or-return basis. these two factors will wipe out much of your revenue. Books definitely work on the diminishing marginal returns concept – if you can afford to print in the tens of thousands to supply the network of bookshops, great. But if not (like most of us) you’ll lose a lot in the logistics of production and distribution. You could look at mail order for print, plus ebook, POD, and other digital forms. It’s a steep learning curve. Fantastically satisfying when it works!!!

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    1. Thanks for dropping by, Arabella! I’m definitely going the print-on-demand, ebook route, no warehousing or stockpiling for me. Thanks for all those tips. I joined ALLi a few months back, the Alliance of Independent Authors, after listening to their podcasts, and they are an excellent source of coherent knowledge for guiding authors like me along the path. Thank goodness there’s so much intel out there.

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  6. Fiona you’ve struck a chord. We share a publisher in Unbound, btw, and my learning from that experience was that (a) anything that they did well, which was editing, cover design, and production, was outsourced by them and could be purchased directly by an author, and (b) without author marketing, there are no sales, unless you are a big-name author, or with a big-brand publisher where sales just happen. Author marketing works (FB Ads did well for me) but costs. Authors have to generate enough margin from incremental sales to justify their marketing spend, and I suspect that only indie margins make such promotion economically viable. If you haven’t already found them, I can recommend Jericho Writers ( https://jerichowriters.com ) who have both a free community and a subscription channel with immensely valuable video tutorials about indie publishing, and other stuff.

    Good luck. I may follow in your footsteps.

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    1. Hi Geoffrey, I recognise your name from the Unbound author forum. I fear you’re right about that experience! Lovely people though they are, and delighted though I was with the product, I wouldn’t go that way again. My goal is to keep self-publishing until I’ve got a number of products out there in the market, earning for me rather than a publisher who does nothing beyond publication date. I’ve got enough ideas which I think are commercial, and they say nothing sells your first book like your second, so here’s to back catalogues! I joined ALLi, the Alliance of Independent Authors a few months back; they came highly recommended, and I can see why – they’re a fund of coherent intel about going the self-pub route. The podcasts are an excellent place to start, if you’re interested. Thanks for dropping by.

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  7. Hi Fiona – I have three books published three different ways. The first was piecework: I was given a brief by the publisher and wrote it for a flat fee. The second was my own book, and I went the traditional route and found a publisher. The third is self-published. I can’t say any one route is better than the other – traditional publishing is great for credibility (I do non fiction) and distribution, whereas self-publishing lets me get something out there quicker and experiment more. I’ve realised I don’t really care at this stage about marketing. I’m more focused on improving as a writer. I also wonder, if we’re spending time and money on non-writing activities, if it is better to do my research up front to find out what people want to read, rather than write what I want then market something readers aren’t that interested in.

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