You should know something about me: I have absolutely no patience. Zero. Nada. Nothing. Part of the reason that I decided to go it alone when it came to get my book, Talk to God and Fix Your Health, published is that I figured it would take me at least a couple of years to find an agent, and who knows how much longer to find a publisher.
Writing the book had already taken more than a year, so I was keen to get it into print ASAP, and self-publishing seemed the best route, especially as most of the agents I was contacting wanted to see an online platform numbering in the tens of thousands.
Do you know how long it takes to get those sorts of numbers? Literally years, literally three or four years of solid blogging, guest posting, frequenting forums and all the other stuff they tell you to do. And even then, it’s not guaranteed.
So then, I decided to check out the frum Jewish publishing world, to see if that was a viable alternative. The first person I spoke to told me in no uncertain terms that I’d need to spend around $10,000 to get the book published, and then if I sold 1,000 copies in the frum Jewish book stores, that would be counted as a roaring success.
Hmmm. Even though the idea of working with a team to get the book out sounded really appealing, frankly I didn’t have $10k to spare at that point, so self-publishing really seemed like the only realistic option available.
So I took the high road, put together a team of freelancers to help me get the book proof-read, edited and designed, and decided to keep my costs low by printing on demand via Ingram Spark, and marketing it via Amazon, and online. After all, billions of people use Amazon…. Millions of people are buying books on Amazon every single day… I also had a base of a couple of thousand regular blog readers to work with… How hard could it be, to sell at least a thousand copies that way?
In the meantime, I spent a few months sending out advance copies to garner the all-important reviews on Amazon; I paid a couple of hundred dollars to get my Amazon pages optimized by book selling experts; I guest posted all over the place, name-dropping my book, including via my regular column on Beliefnet, that apparently has 20 million readers a month; I spent weeks crafting infographics, and organizing giveaways, and doing all the things they tell you to do if you want to sell your books.
It’s around two months in to that whole process now, and I’ve sold a grand total of….8 hard copies. It’s hardly record-breaking stuff. I think I’ve sold a few more via Kindle (but I have no idea how many, or how much I’m actually making on any of the sales) – and as the dust settles, I’m starting to think that my book, my precious book, is actually heading for oblivion.
The self-published reality check
Now, I really have no patience, and I know that many times, books get off to a slow start and then pick up speed. I hope that’s the scenario I’m looking at, but in the meantime, it’s been quite a big reality check, and it’s caused me a lot of soul-searching.
I don’t write as a hobby (despite currently making approximately $7.81 a month from my writing…) I don’t have another ‘real’ job that I’m doing while I’m waiting for my books to take off. Writing is my full-time job, and it has been for two decades. So now I’m faced with something of a crossroads: do I continue to write about things that I’m passionate about, and that I love writing about, and that excite me (and make my peace with the fact that it’s unlikely I’m ever going to earn more than $10 a month). Or, do I give up on writing for love, and go back to my soul-destroying but lucrative career writing pointless corporate dross and drivel, but for really good money?
I know I’m not the first author that’s faced this question, and I don’t really know what the answer is. What I can tell you is that getting my books out there the self-published way has involved a huge learning curve, and an even bigger reality check.
But then I think to myself: if I’d spent three years trying to find an agent and publisher, or spent $10k vanity publishing with a Jewish publishing house, would things really be looking any better, or any different, right now?
I mean, either there’s a market for your book, or there isn’t. If it isn’t going to sell, maybe it’s better to find that out sooner rather than later, and without having to pay through the nose for the privilege. And one thing is sure: most authors have to do their own marketing these days, even if they are backed up by a publishing house.
So do I regret going the self-publishing route? Yes and no. If I’d have had a publishing house willing to give me an advance, and prepared to market my book with me, for sure I’d have jumped at that chance. But given how niche my books are, and how small my online platform currently is, and how rare those offers actually are, I think the real choice boiled down to this: publish and sell 8 copies, or don’t publish at all.
And if that’s the choice, then I’m glad I took the route I did. The reality is, it’s very hard to make a living selling books. It’s something only an elite few actually ever pull off, and maybe I’ll just have to accept that if I really want to make some money, I probably have to quit the creative, original stuff and start writing technical manuals for Microsoft instead...
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