This article (Only 40 Self-Published Authors are a Success, says Amazon) has prompted some people, including me, to ask why Amazon defines financial “success” as having sold a million e-books over the last five years. Self-published writers tend to price their books between $3 and $5, and often at only $0.99. They can earn up to 70% of the retail price. In my view, one can sell a lot fewer than a million copies and still be earning a decent income.
At the same time, the article has prompted others to say that just having their books “out there” is all they need to feel successful. They feel that if they do a great job of writing a story, have a great editor and a wonderful cover artist/designer, they are fine with the results of their avocation. Far be it from me to criticize that view. One might have similar feelings about creating music, making art, sewing quilts and other creative arts and crafts.
I am grateful for each reader, for every honest reviewer, for having a wonderful publisher and editor, and for all of those who’ve interviewed me, talked about my books, and otherwise been supportive. All of that is a viable form of success.
If you sense that a “however” is coming, you’re right.
Even the IRS considers that if we never show a net profit as a writer, we aren’t really a business. Writing books isn’t a free undertaking. One has to buy reference books, a computer, an Internet connection, office supplies, travel to locations where the novel is set, and (if self published) pay for your editor and cover designer. If these costs exceed the amount of money from royalties and direct sales, then one is running at a loss. Whether one calls his or her writing a business or an avocation, those costs can reduce the happy feeling one gets for having his or her books in print and getting some good reviews.
I grew up in another era, long before e-books and Kindle Direct Publishing, so I believe writing (fiction, especially) is always a long-shot proposition. One can never expect to earn a John Grisham or a J. K. Rowling income, or even enough to write full time. Most writers can’t survive on writing income alone and, as more and more readers expect 99 cent or free books, it’s getting harder and harder for most writers to cover costs, much less see real profits. So, my “however” is that if one wants to have a successful writing career, that “success” has to at least provide enough income to cover expenses.
Creative people are somehow expected to take pleasure in the work they do even if they are bankrupt. I suppose you can say that writing passion exceeds having a viable business, or that we feel at our best when we’re creating what we create. However, while I don’t need to sell a million e-books to feel successful, I do need not to be running in the red. I don’t think that’s too much to ask in order to feel successful in a career where–some have said–winning the Powerball is a better bet.
So, having my books “out there” is not enough. It’s wonderful, but if “out there” is all there is, it’s not paying the bills. Worse yet, it’s costing writers money and taking them away from their families.
If you’re a reader and/or a writer, do you think it’s possible to feel successful as a writer–or any other creative artist–if you’re expenses are higher than your sales?
See also: Falling book prices could force authors to abandon their keyboards – The article notes Amazon’s penchant for running at a loss with low prices and low payouts to writers.