Business advice for indie authors
As we enter a new year, I felt it appropriate to pass along some advice.
Followers of this blog know that I place a lot of confidence in Kris Rusch’s blog and always find it more than worthy of following. Keep in mind, though, that she speaks from the perspective of writing as a BUSINESS, a self-run business.
Even if you are writing as a hobby, meaning you’re only interested in writing for fun and sharing your work with others, perhaps hoping to sell your work to enough readers to supplement your current income, you still need to pay attention to this advice.
Some of you may say, “Why would I need to treat my writing as a business? That’s a lot of extra hassle…” Let me be very clear here. In today’s indie publishing world, you can’t afford to be naive. Here’s a little story from Dave Chesson at Kindlepreneur to prove my point. I subscribe to his mailing list and receive his emails, but couldn’t find a link, so I have excerpted the key points:
About four years ago, I woke up and checked my email and there it was… A message from Amazon saying that an author was claiming copyright infringement. My book was taken down and my KDP account was frozen.
I was devastated. Here I was making over $1,600 on average with my first book over the past 6 months, and now, I was being sued. […]
So, I got a lawyer and created a response to prove the claim was absolutely false. In the end, Amazon restored my KDP account. The claim WAS completely false, and it turned out that it was just a competitor wanting to knock my book off the market.
(Side note: The process to submit such things through Amazon is SUPER easy, and therefore, wholly ridiculous.)
But here was the thing… My lawyer pointed out that all of my personal assets had been at risk. If the person claiming the copyright infringement had won and claimed damages, they could have gone after my home, car, savings… everything would have been at risk.
It was then that my lawyer recommended I start thinking about my online writing as a business… not a hobby or side hustle. When we create products of any kind, we are at risk. When we put ourselves out there, we are at risk. Now, at the time, there wasn’t much information about starting a publishing company. Many people who did talk about it, only discussed the “fun” of starting your own publishing company and selling other people’s books.
But there wasn’t anything out there that also covered people like me—who didn’t want to sell other people’s stuff, but wanted to house my own stuff and keep my personal assets secured.
A separation between person and business.
Dave Chesson says he’ll be covering the whole story in an upcoming podcast, so you may wish to subscribe to him:
His site, and his blog in particular, offers a lot of excellent advice and resources.
The lesson here should be clear. No one is safe from this type of claim. You can’t be just a little guy and expect that you’re immune to lawsuits and other nastiness. It’s very easy for someone to file a false complaint. Amazon, unfortunately, assumes the complaint is legitimate and acts accordingly.
Unlike the “innocent until proven guilty” of our legal system, with this type of complaint, it’s up to you to prove the claim is false, even if you’ve done nothing wrong. I don’t know if Amazon acts against the false claimant once you prove your case. I’d like to hope they do.
Let’s get back to Kris Rusch’s advice. She recently wrote an article on subsidiary rights for indies, specifically foreign rights. Please read this article even if you have no intention of pursuing foreign rights. You may want to change your mind. But you should also be prepared on the outside chance that a foreign publisher or agent happens to contact you and is interested in your book. You will need to know what to do and what not to do.
KRIS RUSCH: SUBSIDIARY RIGHTS FOR INDIES
Two more pieces of advice from Kris deal with writer burnout and sustaining your writing and writing business. PLEASE READ THESE ARTICLES so that you can recognize problems before they advance too far and so that you’re prepared to deal with them if they do happen.
Here’s a scenario based on a real situation (not mine). An author (who I’ll just call AUTHOR after this) self-published a book series, and over the past couple of years has seen remarkable sales (high 5-digit sales, according to AUTHOR) by writing in a genre I will call X (not romance, by the way). And AUTHOR has quit a regular job to pursue writing full time. Further, AUTHOR has decided to start a publishing company to publish primarily genre X, presumably on the assumption that AUTHOR can achieve similar success for other writers.
Here’s the problem. Just because you can successfully sell your own stuff and have found marketing techniques that work for you does NOT mean that you will be successful at selling other writers’ work or that those marketing techniques will continue to work in the future. Even the Big Publishers are not so naive as to believe that every book they undertake to publish will become a bestseller. At best they hope the books will, and they try to select books that they expect won’t lose money for them.
AUTHOR, by the way, also offers an advance, something no other small publisher I know of does—because it’s risky. In my opinion, AUTHOR is being naive. Worse, AUTHOR may not have taken into account that book sales of any given book will usually dwindle with time. In order for AUTHOR to remain successful as an author, AUTHOR will need to continue to produce books and hope they continue to do equally well.
Many small publishers have folded or dropped into near obscurity because they learned that it’s not always possible to pick winners and to sustain the business. I will certainly keep my eye on AUTHOR’s publishing business to see how it shakes out. I do hope for the best in the endeavor, but I remain skeptical.
The publishing world today is changing far too quickly. Anything can happen, and this is precisely why I strongly suggest that you read the articles I have posted links to here. The old adage “forewarned is forearmed” has never been more appropriate: prior knowledge of possible dangers or problems gives one a tactical advantage. And that is precisely what one needs to maintain success as a writer today.