Sunday, February 16, 2014

Guest Post by Joshua Guess

I am a full-time writer today because of Joe Konrath. I know he would disagree, but I'd have never had the balls to publish my first book without a year of reading his blog under my belt.
It's been a strange trip. I started by creating a fictional blog set in the zombie apocalypse. I'd read Joe's thoughts on piracy and how giving your work away was the most efficient route to creating interest. That's what I did. I wrote a free-to-read blog about living in the zombie apocalypse and updated it often.
So often that after six months I had enough material to collect into a book and sell.
Those early efforts were rough. I never saw Living With the Dead as anything but writing practice. That came through in my work, if I'm being honest. The first few months were an exercise in sharpening my skills, which was easy because I had very little in the way of skills to start with. I put out that first collection and forgot about it.
The first month I made $70. I was surprised, because I was just this guy blogging after work, sitting on his couch and mainlining the morning repeats of SVU. Month two brought in about $400, a fact I was unaware of until the following month, because I never checked my sales. Month three doubled that number. By then I was nearing completion of a second collection of my blog.
Let's fast forward and summarize:
The first full year, I made $6,000 from selling eBooks. It wasn't life-changing money. I couldn't pay off my house with it. But for someone working in a nursing home making $11 an hour, it was nice. The second year brought $12,000. I was stunned stupid by this. I knew this as a rough estimate when I did my 2012 taxes, but seeing the number on the screen kind of blew me away. Because my wife and I are religious about overpaying, we got a nice fat return.
When I got my return back in March of 2013, I quit my job.
Which was a stupid thing to do. I swore I would keep working and only go full-time as a writer if I already had the sort of income from it that would allow me to do so. A combination of other factors forced me to finally take the plunge, and I'm glad I did.
I took that money and lived on it, along with an IndieGoGo campaign. I had written two novels outside my LWtD collections, the first of which I deleted because it was terrible. The other was an urban fantasy, a labor of love, that made me about ten bucks in a good month. My readers clamored for actual novels written in the zombie universe I created for the blog, and I decided to take a few months and grant their wish.
 Victim Zero was the result. Published in early June of 2013, and with help from a fellow author, the book did very well by my standards. Since then I've worked with that author, the excellent James Cook, on a collaboration set in his own apocalyptic world. The Passenger remains my favorite work. I got to write from the perspective of a thinking man trapped in the body of a zombie. Being along for the ride sucks.
In December I released Dead Will Rise, the sequel to Victim Zero. When I quit the nursing home last year, I expected to put out one novel and have to go back to work. Hell, I still might have to.
I haven't been back yet. My financial situation will take me through the anniversary of going full-time at the least. In 2013, I made $32,000 from writing. More than I made at the nursing home by $7,000.
And you know? I could have survived on less. I'd have been happy on less. My wife works and is very supportive. I'm living the dream because I took a stupid risk, one that (thankfully) paid off. My sales might taper off tomorrow and I might have to go back to a normal job. I recognize the fluctuations in the market. For now, everything is sunny.
I've been reading over Joe's recent spate of arguments with people in the legacy publishing industry, and I can't help but wonder how many people like me are out there. Instead of waiting for a short rejection letter—I have never submitted my work, and rejected two unsolicited offers for my work from publishers—to know whether my books were worthwhile, I let the readers decide.
More than that, putting my work out there was the best possible way to grow and improve as a writer. I tell my Facebook fans that the best part of this job is interacting with them, and it's the truth. Without their support, I'd still be working nights and wearing scrubs. But it goes beyond that. Because of the constant feedback from them, I've been able to learn and grow as a writer magnitudes beyond any vague criticism from a rejection letter.
My gatekeepers aren't some harried agent or editor sifting through the slush pile. They are the readers, many of them happy to give constructive, concise thoughts on where and how I can improve my game. The reason it's becoming harder for readers to immediately tell indies apart from legacy authors is because we have that edge. With on-the-ground feedback in real time, we can fix and improve much faster than they can. Victim Zero has been re-uploaded at least seven times since June, every time tweaked to be a better book.
I spend a lot of time on my Facebook author page, talking about projects and bouncing ideas off people. I'm at a place in my career where I have a small but dedicated fan base that isn't too big for me to handle. I can answer messages, reply to comments, and stay connected in a way Stephen King or another big name would have a hard time managing. Right now I'm hosting an open chat thread on my author page about my next novel, a book about superhumans. The feedback I've already had helped me catch flaws I would have otherwise missed.
Why does this matter? Because as indies, we don't have a buffer between us and the fans. There is no giant, approval-giving publisher accepting our books. I've read a lot of interviews with a lot of legacy authors, and on the whole I don't see them as active with their fans as most indies are. I think that's a shame, because it's super fun and one of the best ways to build loyalty.
It's the strangest thing—and Joe has been spot-on about it lately—that every time someone from the industry speaks up about eBooks, sales, and all the rest, they always seem to ignore the actual people creating their content. Joe is right, as he usually is: there is a revolution going on, and the industry is just now beginning to realize it. While it frightens them that people like Joe and Barry, who have been a part of the industry and ran from it toward huge piles of money, creative control, and self-respect, people like me should scare them a hell of a lot more.
I never even considered querying. I never for a moment thought it was a good idea to submit a book. I am not alone or in the minority of this generation of aspiring and new authors. It won't be long before the legacy system begins to shrink by means of implosion. There just won't be enough authors to support their massive and outdated infrastructure.
I won't cheer for that. Like most of the people that read this blog, I've been a voracious reader for most of my life. But I won't shed tears when it happens, either. 
Joe sez: Congrats on your success, Joshua, and I hope it continues.
I'm reminded again of the old song "How you gonna keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen Paris?"
There are still scads of newbie authors who write a book and are clueless what to do with it. Some may wind up at the Authors Guild blog, or an agent blog, or the woefully anachronistic Absolute Write forum, and think the only way to reach readers is to submit to the legacy system. Others, who have heard of self-publishing, may come across AuthorHouse and likely get ripped off, leaving them with a sour taste and an empty wallet.
But a few authors will find this blog, and find outspoken authors like Dean Wesley Smith, Joanna Penn, David Gaughran, Bob Mayer, Courtney Milan, Kris Rusch, and Hugh Howey, and hear stories about Amanda Hocking, HW Ward, Brenna Aubrey, Blake Crouch, Barry Eisler, HM Ward, Marie Force, Bella Andre, Selena Kitt, Liliana Hart, Chris Culver, TR Ragan, Russell Blake, Darcy Chan, BV Wallace, Michael J Sullivan, and so many others. And they will be inspired to self-publish.
Two things helped legacy publishers maintain a quasi-monopoly on the marketplace (a cartel engaged in kabuki competition) for so many years.
1. They controlled distribution to bookstores and libraries, and there was no simple, direct way for authors to reach readers without them.
2. They indoctrinated whole generations of writers with the nonsense that they had to find an agent and submit to a publisher in order to be considered a real author.
Magazines, how-to books, conferences, conventions, all perpetuated and glorified that path to success: Get an agent. Sell your book to a major publisher. Become a bestseller.
The propaganda they used, and still use, is pervasive, insidious, and widely believed. Vanity presses are making a fortune.The Authors Guild and the AAR are steadfastly pro-legacy. Industry pros try to marginalize the self-publishing option by crowing how 70% of books are sold in bookstores, stating that self-publishing isn't really publishing, pontificating that no one takes self-pubbing seriously.
Self-publishing is a shadow industry that has grown without anyone fully understating how big and powerful it is getting. Yes, every hears about the huge successes, but very few hear about authors like Joshua, quitting their day job, paying bills. How many like him are there? How many more who make just a $1000 a year, but that's enough to take the family to a nice meal once a month? How many are paying their electric bill, or affording an iPad, or simply smiling ear-to-ear because some complete stranger gave them 5 stars and a glowing review on Amazon?
This revolution isn't about Konrath making a million dollars a year. 
This revolution is about writers, for the first time ever, having power.
We have a choice. And it's our duty to make ALL writers aware of this choice. 
Visit Fill out the survey and petition. Link to it. Tweet it. Discuss it on Facebook. Speak out and tell your peers what your experiences are. Even if you make $10 a year, you're not a failure. Failure is giving up. Failure is handing your fate over to someone else. Failure is not arming yourself with information.
Ebooks are forever. Understand what copyright is. Understand that money flows toward the writer. Understand that the more control you have, the less likely you are to be at the mercy of others. 
The first step, in any revolution, is making the exploited aware of how they're being exploited. We have a growing body of evidence that shows self-publishing is good, and legacy publishing is exploitative. 
We need to share that evidence if we want change to happen. 
Tell your stories. Be proud of your accomplishments. Stop succeeding in silence. 
I used to tell an old joke about Smokey the Bear. His catchphrase was, "Only you can prevent forest fires." And I was going broke, spending 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, without sleep, running around the country preventing forest fires. Because only I can."
In 2009, I began to live that joke. I blogged about Kindle, and self-publishing, and was met with disbelief, disapproval, and outright scorn. I was called a liar, an anomaly, and outlier. My success was falsely attributed to my legacy background. When I suggested others try self-pubbing, I was met with fierce resistance. I was despised. 
But some people listened. Others figured out what I had without me. And soon there were a whole bunch of us, posting our numbers, enlightening each other. 
It took five years, but the legacy industry is finally engaging us. And they're scared. As they should be. Because without authors, they have nothing to publish. And the more authors who know how easy it is to self-publish, and how unconscionable those legacy deals are, the better off we're all going to be. Legacy publishers, when faced with fewer and fewer quality submissions, will either have to change their terms, or perish.
The more writers who understand this, the better off we all are.
Talk about it. Be proud of it. Fight bullshit when you see it. Educate those who don't understand it. 
The exploitation of writers stops, right now.