Authorpreneurs and VC Publishers
I was listening to Joanna Penn talk at an Apple event in Covent Garden a few days ago, and I was surprised that the sentence she repeated the most was: “Writing is hard! It’s extremely hard. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.”
I immediately drew a parallel to starting a company. Everyone knows it’s hard, but keeps forgetting it. Why? Because, technically, anyone can do it. You sit down and write. You fill out a form and incorporate your company. No special skills required.
What does that mean? Well, you end up with thousands of “wannabes”. The I’ll-write-someday-you’ll-see-ers, the I’ve-had-this-great-startup-idea-for-awhile-and-I’m-working-on-it-ers. I don’t have the numbers, but I guess less than 10% of these “wannabes” become authors, or entrepreneurs.
This took me back to an article by the same Joanna Penn that I read a few weeks ago: The Arc Of The Indie Author Journey. From First Book To CEO Of Your Global Media Empire. Penn writes: “You don’t have to know everything now. You can learn on the job. We all have to. None of us are born with the knowledge of how to do these things – we just find out along the way.” That’s what I do every day at Reedsy. I learn along the way.
Indie authors are entrepreneurs in addition to being authors. This is what makes independent authorship particularly difficult, and definitely thrilling for some. “Taking control” is a dream for many; some are even incredibly good at it. But success takes a lot of self-discipline, a business mentality, boldness and a natural (or very well-trained) ability to promote yourself.
Oh, and money. Editing and cover art, if done well, are not cheap (nor should they be). So either you keep your day job for a while, or you try your luck on Kickstarter (the former is highly recommended).
That’s a lot of requirements. The good thing is, if you’re committed, you “learn along the way”. But what if you’re not? What if you just want to write?
The Future of traditional publishing
If you don’t have an entrepreneurial mentality, you don’t start your company and you don’t self-publish. It’s as simple as that. Many people don’t want to take control, don’t want to have to choose their editor, cover designer, publicist, etc. They excel at writing, and at that only.
In my opinion, that’s what publishers are (or should be?) for. Not to pin down those who want to fly with their own wings, but to help those who can’t.
If we keep the parallel to entrepreneurship, we can consider that a few decades ago, it was impossible to start your own company without a lot of money. You shopped your idea around until you found a partner to finance your operation and in return you gave up a hefty majority of your company’s equity. Only as technology has advanced, most startups are able to prove their concept with almost $0. You can raise millions in the early stages of your company without giving massive chunks of equity away.
The emergence of self-publishing is a very similar phenomenon. Technology has lowered the barrier to entry, and authors are able to “show traction” (i.e., sell thousands of books) without support from publishers.
You can only ask 80% of a company when the company has no choice. Today, startups and authors have a choice.
But let’s be honest. These successful “indies” would sell ten times more if they had a publisher backing them and opening bookstores to them. Hugh Howey and the whole self-publishing community know it. Publishers are slow to realize it.
Some are starting to offer print-only deals. Some others offer 50% net royalties instead of 25%. “Exceptions”, some might say. Well, the future is made of today’s exceptions.