From time to time, I get the pleasure of talking to new writers. A lot of them are writing because they love writing. These are the best writers, in my opinion, because I think they have the best chances of weathering the storms that come with being a published writer.
Today in this post, I want to discuss something that isn’t often mentioned in the writing community but probably should be. You see, we’re typically surrounded by articles and videos about how authors are finding success with publishing books. Those are good. They give us ideas on what marketing strategies could help us also find success, and I believe writers, esp. those who love what they’re writing, should make money with their work.
But there is a void of information out there about the cold dose of reality that is a part of the published writer’s life. No job is perfect. No matter what you choose, there will always be downsides to it. These downsides aren’t a reason to avoid something. Instead, I think of them as things to be aware of. Why? One, you will know you’re not alone. There’s great comfort in knowing other people are going through something you are. Two, you can go into this with eyes wide open. Being forewarned is to be forearmed. There’s nothing worse than being confronted with a situation in which you don’t know what to do to resolve it. When you know the possible problems in advance, you can make a plan on how to tackle them. Make the plans while you have a clear mind instead of when you’re in the middle of the storm.
Alright, that aside, here we go. Why being a published writer isn’t for the faint of heart…
1. Sales are erratic.
Contrary to what we often hear, sales do now ALWAYS go up. Also, they don’t even ALWAYS remain steady. I get annoyed when people make it sound like the more books a writer publishes, the more they can expect to make. That simply isn’t true for everyone. For example, take me. I made more from 2013-2015 than I made in 2016. I made more in 2016 and 2017 than I make now. However, I did make more in 2021 than I did in 2019 and 2020. I published between 5-7 new romances every year from 2013 to 2021. I didn’t make major changes to my marketing strategies. I wrote the same kind of romances I always did. So just because you get more books out there, it doesn’t mean you are guaranteed to make more money or to keep your income steady. ALWAYS going up or ALWAYS remaining steady are myths.
Sales can be a seesaw. This seesaw makes budgeting difficult. And when sales drop, it can be scary. You wonder, will I ever see an increase in sales again? Is this the beginning of the end? Should I just hang up my writing hat and find another job? If possible, you can save money from your sales to buffer you from the dips. For some writers, though, they are doing good to pay this month’s bills from their writing income. If you have a family to take care of or own a house/car, there will be some unexpected expense that pops up. Unreliable income makes it a challenge to pay for those unexpected things.
You are self-employed. That means you will pay more in taxes than if you worked for someone else. When I worked for someone else, taxes were taken out for me before I got my paycheck. I didn’t even think about taxes. All I thought about was the amount on the paycheck. This isn’t the case with being a published writer.
First, your royalties are your gross income. That means you have to pay the taxes from those royalties yourself. So don’t assume you can keep all of that money. If you make enough, you will owe the government something. Second, since you are self-employed, you are the owner and employee of your own little publishing company. You will pay taxes as the employer and pay taxes as the employee. Basically, you are served a double whammy. Third, the amount of taxes you have to pay doesn’t stay the same. Part of it depends on what you make, and the other part depends on what new rules the government puts in. Like your sales, your tax rate will fluctuate. Four, if you don’t make your tax payments on time, there will be a penalty. Make sure you meet your deadlines.
I went into length on this topic because no one sat down to explain this to me when I started publishing books. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. Save aside money for taxes. Also, keep track of all of your expenses because you can use those expenses to help lower your tax burden.
3. You are your own advocate.
No one is going to come to your rescue if something goes wrong. This is, without a doubt, the most stressful part of being a published writer for me. Theft is a real problem in this business. I’m not the only author who has been subjected to the very unpleasant reality that someone stole my book and is out selling it as their own. I’m going to tell you right now that Amazon does not care about preventing this from happening. Google Play and Kobo are diligent about preventing duplicate copies of a book from getting on their stores. But Amazon really doesn’t give a flip.
I have had three cases now where someone stole my book, used my cover, used my description, used my name, and published it on their own KDP dashboard. What did Amazon do? Amazon replaced MY copy with the stolen one. Amazon transferred MY reviews to that book, and Amazon put that book in MY Author Central page. Do you see what’s happening here? Not only is someone stealing my book, but they are stealing my identity, too. It is like pulling teeth with Amazon to get these cases resolved. One time, I had to get a lawyer after them. The other two times, no lawyer would help me because I moved to a state where no lawyer seems to understand copyright law. Thankfully, I had the US Copyright Registration number to help me because that was the only proof Amazon would accept from me.
Just to warn everyone, yesterday on Facebook, I came across an author who is fighting with Amazon right now because a thief stole her book and claimed “copyright infringement” on the book. Amazon removed her book, and then Amazon put up the thief’s version. She is currently fighting Amazon on this, and I hope this gets resolved in her favor. She’s not in the US. I don’t know if authors outside the US can register their copyright in their country or in the US, but she doesn’t have that US Copyright Registration number to help her out.
Do most authors have to deal with this? It’s hard for me to say since I’ve been targeted more than once since I started publishing ebooks in 2009. To me, it feels like this happens all the freaking time. And Amazon just doesn’t give a flip. You are on your own. To my knowledge, there is no company out there that will help you, and depending on where you live, you might not be able to find a lawyer to help you, either. If you live in the US and you want to protect yourself, pay for the registration. It saves tons of time on how long you will have to battle with Amazon. Instead of going in circles for weeks or possibly a month or two, you can get it resolved in a couple of days.
4. There will always be a critic.
If you reach enough people, someone is going to complain about your book. I really don’t care if someone leaves a scathing review on a retailer about my book. Back in 2010 when my books started taking off, I did, and I almost quit because of those reviews. But these days, I either chuckle or roll my eyes. The longer you’re in this, the thicker your skin will get. Sometimes people will go to your blog, your social media page, or your website to lodge their complaints. I used to answer these, but now I don’t. I have learned you aren’t going to change their opinion. They just want to complain directly to you. Fine. My advice is to let these go. There’s no point in trying to convince someone your book isn’t bad when they believe it is. You have people who enjoy your book, and that’s good enough.
Even if you’re only writing to market, you will not satisfy every single person on the planet. Focus on the people you are writing for. If the people who love your other books notice something is off with one of them, it’s wise to pay attention to them. They may see something you don’t. I have a book that got quite a few complaints from people who love what I write, so I made a mental note to never write anything like that particular book ever again. I do listen to my readers, but I listen to the ones who already enjoy the type of stories I write.
5. You aren’t guaranteed a living wage from your work.
I’m lucky since I can help support my family from my writing, but there are writers who don’t make money. This whole, “If you write it and can market it, you’ll make a living,” thing is a myth. I’m sick of hearing it. I know authors who write excellent books with excellent covers and book descriptions. They spend money on ads. They are active on social media, they have awesome websites, and they have email lists or a blog to keep people updated on what they’re doing. They are marketing in the same ways the authors making a living are marketing. They try new things. They bend with the changes in the industry. But for some reason I can’t explain, they just aren’t making money. The genre doesn’t make much difference, either. This whole thing baffles me. I don’t understand why some authors make a living with their work and others don’t. But this is a downside to publishing books. You might not make the money you want. You can plug in all the right components, but at the end of the day, your book will either find your audience or it won’t. If I was starting out, I’d keep my expectations low but still produce the best book I possibly can.
6. The retailer won’t always get the book details right, and it’s up to you to resolve it because (once again) you are your own advocate.
Thankfully, it doesn’t happen a lot, but there are times when there’s some glitch in the system where the information you put in for the book doesn’t take. I don’t know what happens, but once in a while, you’ll look at your book page and realize something is off. I’ve had situations where the paragraph breaks I put in with the description didn’t make it to the book page, and I had to go back and redo it. I’ve also had a situation where my paperback linked to one of my other ebooks instead of the ebook that went with the paperback. I ended up unpublishing that paperback. Sometimes Amazon doesn’t link the ebook with the paperback or audiobook, either. Sometimes Amazon doesn’t link the series together. Sometimes you find out that Amazon removed the book for some reason and have to contact them to get it put back in place. I had a couple of books under a publishing company that were removed at the Australia store on the Amazon site, and my publisher didn’t get those put back up. Since those books weren’t in my dashboard, I couldn’t do anything about that one. Sometimes when you run a sale for a free book and buy an ad to promote it, Amazon switches the price from free to paid without you realizing it. So you essentially lost money on the ad and pissed off potential readers. Sometimes Amazon will send you an email saying if you don’t lower your book price within five days, they’ll remove that book from their store. (I had this happen before. It had to do with my book on Kobo being $0.02 cheaper in their Australia site, and since Amazon has to be the “best” deal everywhere, I had to make my book cheaper on Amazon to make them happy since I had no control over the Kobo pricing in Australia on my Smashwords dashboard.)
I could go on because I have more stories like this and I’ve heard authors share their stories of things that went haywire on retailers, but this post is long enough as it is. My point is that anything can happen, and it’s up to you to try to resolve them. Honestly, though, these are not that bad. Most of the time, it’s just a matter of taking the time to fiddle with something in your dashboard. Sometimes you have to contact someone for help, and that part is more of a pain. You just have to hope the person in customer support knows what they’re doing and actually cares enough to do it.
The only reason to write and publish books is because you love it.
To be frank, being a published indie writer has many joys, but it also has its share of stress. The money is nice, but money isn’t enough to stick with it. If money was the only payoff I got from this, I’d unpublish everything and quit today because no amount of money is worth the aggravation from #3 on the list I posted above. This job is not for the faint of heart. You are a writer, a publisher, a marketer, and the advocate. You are one person wearing four hats. I guess you can outsource some stuff to an assistant, but considering the fact that things didn’t work out with my last assistant, I’m stuck doing it all myself.
When I’m writing, I feel energized. When I publish a book, I feel an immense sense of satisfaction in seeing that book placed on my website with my other books. It’s not about the money. It’s about personal fulfillment. It’s about accomplishing something greater than myself. It’s my driving purpose in life. It’s what gets me up in the morning. It’s what keeps me going when the rest of the world is falling apart. I love my husband and kids, but this writing thing is at the central core of who I am. You remove my writing, you remove the essence of who I am. If this is how you feel about being a published writer, then you know what I mean when I say I do this because I have to. That love ends up overshadowing everything else, and it’s the only reason I think it’s worth going through all of the hassles that is inherent in the indie writing world. So do this because you love it and you have this burning need to share your books with others.
I was just talking to a group of college students about writing and publishing. And yeah, I tried to give them strategies to cope with the realities of writing, along with strategies. My last big tip was to take care of your mental health, because writing and publishing can take its toll on it. Hopefully they remember and find it helpful.
I’m glad you told them what it’s really like because it’s nothing like they show on TV and in the movies. People assume if you publish a book, then you get to sit back and relax while the book pretty much markets itself. Taking care of your mental health is definitely key to all of this. That’s an excellent tip that I didn’t consider while writing the post.
Yeah, but it’s something we really need to put out there more. Plenty of writers have mental health issues, and getting something published can exacerbate it terribly.
I agree. We do need to address it more. And yes, publishing can make things worse. I don’t know how many times I’ve felt like I was put through the wringer. People assume when you publish a book, you aren’t impacted by anything that happens afterwards. If only it was as easy as writing.
Yeah, that would be nice! Sadly, getting the stories out and going through the emotional rollercoaster associated with getting them out is the second most difficult part of writing. The first, obviously, is the submitting of stories.
Being an author, isn’t for the faint of heart. You mentioned several of the stresses, and there are others which come up like the one I got to have this year. My Web site is going to be no longer available since I cannot get into it to make changes, etc. I also am unable to get into my business e-mail, which makes it impossible for me to make changes on my Web site. This all occurred because Yahoo sold out to Verizon, and Verizon cannot find either my business e-mail address or my Web site. This also makes it difficult for me to send out my newsletter which also uses my business e-mail. One thing wrong and another occurs. My business cards and bookmarks will, in addition, need to be reprinted for they contain this unusable information. So, Ruth is right. Writing is not for the faint of heart. You do it because you love to write. God bless.
That’s something I hadn’t thought of when writing this post, but you’re right. What if your website provider suddenly changes, and you find that you can’t get into your website or email anymore? What a nightmare. You think you have all of your ducks in a row, and the rug gets yanked out from under you. 😦 Oh man, I didn’t think about the business cards and bookmarks. That’s another hassle in itself.
See how much time gets taken from the actual writing? Ugh. All we want to do is sit down and write without all of this hassle.
I’ve even had trouble with that with everything going on right now. God bless.