Let’s be frank: at this point, I haven’t been had enough success to tell anyone else how to be a success in publishing. But I’ve been in the indie-publishing scene for a couple of years at this point, and I’ve at the very least I’ve learned a couple of things that I won’t do anymore and stumbled upon a best practice or two. So if you’re thinking about publishing a book, I’m hoping my perspective can offer you some value (on top of other resources that you should check out).
So first up, let’s examine one of the defining traits of my career as an author: I haven’t quit my day job.
The Economic Reality of Being a Part-Time Author
To date, Orconomics has sold pretty well—it’s not even close to a blockbuster, but it’s significantly better than the average indie book. A 2015 report found that 71.8% of indie authors sell less than 1,000 books, and 59.7% sold less than 500. Orconomics has sold multiple times those figures, so although I don’t have enough data to say this conclusively, it’s a fairly safe bet that it’s in the top 20% of indie books by volume sold. In other words, I’ve tasted success.
But I’m not even close to quitting my day job.
In my best-selling month ever to date, Orconomics: A Satire and The Cabal of Thotash combined made me about as much money as I’d make working at a fast food restaurant. Most months I make less than half of that. And I’m grateful for those sales, but I’m also past the age when I can afford to be a starving artist. (Been there, done that.) These days, I’ve got a mortgage and two kids who might want to attend college someday. I’ve got bills to pay. And since one of the great things about having a full-time job is that it pays the bills, I can safely say that for the time being, I’m a part-time author.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being a part-time author. (I certainly hope not, as we’ve established that it’s the only kind I can be for now.) And there are some advantages to working a full-time job while you write. If you haven’t quit your day job either, here are my five tips for making the most of your time as a part-time author.
Tip #1: Accept Your Disadvantages
When I look at the big successes of indie-publishing, it’s easy to get discouraged by the volume of work they churn out. I don’t have as much time as some of the other authors out there, and that means I can’t keep up with their publishing schedule. I don’t have the house they do to dedicate to writing, let alone what they can spend on marketing, speaking engagements, podcasting, etc.
Of course, the primary piece of advice that any credible indie-publishing resource will tell you is that to write full time and make decent money, you need multiple books (preferably within the same series—oops.) This is a bit of a conundrum; what I need to be a full-time author is to have more books, and what I need to produce more books is to have more writing time. It’s dishonest to say this isn’t a challenge, but it’s unhelpful (and kind of whiney) to say that it’s an insurmountable one.
Let me be straight; nobody has enough time. But as a part-time author, you have less of it. Accept that, because once you acknowledge that you can’t match your full-time peers in quantity, you can dedicate your energy to matching or beating their quality. After all, it’s better to write a few good books in your write than to churn out a personal slush pile of mediocrity.
Tip #2: Leverage Your Advantages
You may not have as much time as a full-time author, but your career might give you your own advantages.
- Professional skills: Maybe your day job gives you some skills that you can leverage in your publishing career. I work in web design with a former career in the arts, which taught me enough to build my own website. If your job isn’t directly applicable in publishing, perhaps you can leverage your knowledge or experience in your next book.
- Professional connections: The people you work with can teach you a lot. Conversations with my team’s marketing department have helped my email list management and online ads. Your peers might be able to teach you new skills, provide valuable insights, or even offer services after hours.
- Financial freedom: A full-time job means a steady stream of income outside of your sales. If you make enough, you can invest in your first books’ publication, and you can re-invest revenue from sales into making the next book better or advertising. A full-time author has to make a living from their writing; you just have to grow your audience.
Tip #3: Outsource Everything You Can
One way to offset your lack of time is to outsource as much as you possibly can. That’s both so you can leverage other people’s strengths to shore up your weaknesses, and so you can spend as much time as you possibly can doing the work that only you can do: writing, revising, networking, etc.
For Orconomics, I made my illustrated cover originally. I like the drawing, but the cover overall wasn’t so hot, and I spent weeks on it. Later, I hired Bookfly Design to redesign the cover utilizing the initial illustration. I thought the result was a big upgrade, but just as importantly, it took a lot of the work off my plate.
For the cover of Son of a Liche, I’m outsourcing even more; I worked with Steven Noble to transform a sketch of mine into a world-class engraving before I sent the artwork off to Bookfly. Anything I can do to save my time without sacrificing quality (or better yet, while enhancing quality) is a good use of my resources.
If you can’t afford to pay to outsource everything, you may try swapping work with another indie author or an artist who could use your skills. As long as you’re both getting ahead on time and/or quality, it’s worth it.
Tip #4: Define Your Own Success
Define what success means to you. I don’t mean in the pedantic “just-publish-for-yourself,” kind of way. (There’s nothing wrong with writing for yourself, but publishing for yourself is both a paradox and a waste of time.) But there’s a lot of different levels of success in between not selling anything and wild financial prosperity. If you sell enough of your book to cover the publishing costs of the sequel, that’s success. If your book’s sales make enough money to send you to conventions and connect with fans, that’s success. If your book sells enough copies to help you pay off your car or send you on vacation, that’s success. And if you can someday retire with a nice stream of supplemental income from publishing books, that’s success.
The point is, even if you don’t earn enough money self-publishing to make it your career, you can still make enough money to make it fulfilling and worthwhile. And it’s important to recognize that because each victory you win helps encourage you to work towards the next one. After all, wild financial prosperity is a possibility, but only if you keep at it.
Tip #5: Play The Long Game
It’s been said before, but indie publishing has a long arc. It’s taken me years to turn my books from an expensive hobby to a financially stable hobby, and it’ll take years more before I reach the next level.
In order to do keep progressing, I keep at writing books, but I also work on filling my site with content, connecting with other writers, penetrating new markets, growing my mailing list, increasing my social footprint, and otherwise building my author platform. Because a full-time author needs all of those things.
And I don’t plan to be a part-time author forever.