Let’s be clear. I’ve never met Ros Barber, as far as I know and can recall. Since she’s an academic and poet living in England, I’m probably pretty safe saying we’ve never met, but there are these great things called airplanes that take people across the great big waters and there is a chance we’ve met and I just don’t remember it. But i really don’t think so. So I don’t know the lady. She’s probably a perfectly fine human being. I doubt she kicks puppies or takes away walkers from old people or tosses children’s ice cream cones on the ground or does anything generally despicable.
What she has done, as have many writers for The Guardian in the past, is written a clickbaity article decrying self-publishing as a viable career path for writers and generally insinuated that self-published writers are less talented, less skilled, and generally less writerly than other writers.
And people that are generally intelligent are taking her word as gospel, and that’s a shame. Because, like I said, these people are generally intelligent, but may have blinders on about some realities of the writing world today. So I decided to take a close look at Ms. Barber’s article and apply the filter of my own experiences to it. I don’t know if I’ll go point by point, because frankly, I may get bored and may have to go actually, you know, write at some point today, since that’s how I make my living and feed my family. I don’t have the backup of writing pissy articles for a website or teaching at a university to cover my living expenses, I have to do it through my fiction writing, unlike Ms. Barber.
Before I begin, I want to say this – self-publishing isn’t for everyone. For a lot of people it’s not the right choice for a variety of reasons. But to deride it as a viable career choice is frankly bullshit, and to make every self-published author out to be an unskilled writer with a lifestyle more akin to carnival barker than storyteller is unfair, uninformed, and makes you sound like an elitist assclown.
- “You Have to Forget Writing for a Living” – right out of the gate, Ms. Barber talks bout how much time is spent promoting a self-published book, or series of books. She jumps right into the deep end, talking about how self-pub writers spend 90% of their time on promotion, and only 10% of their time writing. Let’s look at my typical work day to provide an example of how much time in a day I spend on book promotion.
Wake Up – 7-8AM – I’m generally in front of my computer answering emails and eating breakfast by eight each morning. I spend the hours from 8-10 usually goofing off on Facebook, answering emails, putting out fires either with books in production, projects coming up from Falstaff Books, or just watching cat videos.
Write – 10-11AM – I usually shoot for about an hour of actual writing each morning. That gets me 1,000 words on the page in the morning, and that’s pretty decent.
More email/Facebook – 11AM-Noon – also frequently means editing something for Falstaff, doing a cover design, working on a book layout, working on a calendar of releases, confirming travel details, whatever.
Lunch – Noon-1PM – Suzy and I try to have lunch together, and I try to stop staring at the computer screen for an hour.
1PM – 2PM – Answer emails, finish up pre-lunch business
2PM – 3PM – Write – the goal is to get another 1,000 words in after lunch.
3PM – 5PM – Edit, work on covers, check in with my partners at Falstaff about their ongoing and upcoming projects, help Suzy lift a few heavy things out in the yard, maybe do a little prep work for a convention if there’s one coming up that weekend. Make sure I have inventory ready for upcoming conventions, and start looking at/booking conventions for 2017. We’ll call that 30 minutes of convention work “promotion.”
5PM – 6PM – Read for revisions and sometimes in the evenings I try to get another 1,000 words in.
I honestly spend perhaps half an hour each day on real promotion of my work, plus an hour on weekends setting up social media posts for the week. That equates to roughly 3.5 hours out of the let’s call it 50 hours each week that I work. That’s about 7% of my time spent promoting.
I try to write for two hours each day, and some days I get an extra hour, so we’ll guess that I write for about 12 out of the 50 hours I work. That’s 24% of my time spent writing.
What happens to the other 69% of my time? Well, 3-4 hours each day are spent working on one of three businesses I run – a publishing company, a lighting sales rep company, and a Magic card sales company. And I watch a lot of cat videos on the internet. So just like at your job, not everything I do in a day results in words on a page. Sometimes I write long blog posts.
2. “Self-Publishing can make you act like a fool” – So can being hired to write for The Guardian. Yes, lots of people behave like jackasses on social media. Let me introduce to a gentleman named Rob Gronkowski. Moving on.
3. “Gatekeepers are saving you from your own ego” – I had a lot of snarky responses about saving me from the ego of PhDs with accents, but deleted them because that’s not where I want to go. Let’s just say that agents and acquisitions editors are not the arbiters of taste or quality writing. They are looking to buy books that sell, not necessarily books that are brilliantly written. So the gatekeepers that will save you from your own ego? We call those readers. And if they don’t like a book, they won’t buy it. Or worse, they will, and they’ll leave savage reviews everywhere to save other readers from their pain. So yes, gatekeepers will save you from yourself, but not the gatekeepers you think.
4. “Good writers become good because they undertake an apprenticeship. Serving your apprenticeship is important. – In some ways I actually agree with this, although not at all with the feudalist in which it is phrased. You do need to learn to write before you self-publish a novel. And you can best learn to write by writing a lot of terrible shit that is unworthy of publication. And some of us do that by blogging for half a decade and writing 400+ semi-journalistic poker articles before we branch out into fiction. Some people just write a good book the first time. You don’t get to decide who’s good enough, or educated enough, or talented enough – the readers do. This is the core educational elitism that i take issue with. Just because you’re an award-winning poet with a PhD doesn’t mean you’re qualified to judge anything about my self-published work. I’m an award-winning poet with the word “Publisher” behind my name on my business cards, and I still don’t get to tell you anything more about the works of Christoper Marlowe than you get to tell me about computerized theatrical lighting control systems (unless you’re also an expert on those, which it doesn’t mention in your bio).
5. You can forget Hay Festival and the Booker – so can every genre fiction writer in the world. Stephen King and George R.R. Martin give not a single fuck about those prizes. And frankly, Pat Conroy did pretty well writing literary fiction without ever winning any of those awards. So write what you want, and fuck awards.
6. You risk looking like an amateur – only to elitist assclowns. Readers who see me at a table with Faith Hunter, Gail Martin, David Coe, A.J. Hartley or any of my other traditionally published friends can’t tell the difference between my self-published paperbacks and their traditionally published paperbacks. The only people who give a shit are writers, and mostly wannabe writers.
7. “70% of Nothing is Nothing” – True. You might not make any money as a self-published author. You might lay out a grand to get your book edited, get a decent cover, get it proofed and converted, and then maybe make less than a thousand dollars off the book. You might also get a $5,000 per book advance from a traditional publisher, give 15% of that to your agent, get your book published and on the shelves in local bookstores, then not sell worth a fuck and get dropped from your contract before book 3 in the series comes out. Then you’ve got $4,250 per book, a series you can’t finish, and years of your life you can’t get back when you could have been writing something else.
Or you could bust your ass and make a living. I do. I don’t make a glamorous living. I’m not living in a mansion, but I make my mortgage payments. I don’t drive a Mercedes, but my truck will be paid off this year. I don’t eat caviar, but I don’t miss any meals, either. So if you want it, it’s out there. But you have to want it. And you have to be willing to work harder than anyone else, because that’s what small business owners do. And if you don’t look at your writing career as being a small business owner, then you’re not ready to have a writing career, no matter how you plan to publish.
Writing is hard. Writing novels is hard. Selling books is hard, and anybody that tells you they’ve got a silver bullet for you is a fucking liar, and keep your hand on your wallet while you talk to them. But don’t shit on anybody else’s dream just because you can’t make a living at this. Don’t spout your barely-researched half-“truths” because you wanted to write poetry and literary fiction, but you were too scared to take the leap, so you got a job teaching “to fall back on.”
If you want to be a writer, be a fucking writer. if you want to encourage people to choose a career path you love, go for it. But don’t look in from the outside with no experience and tell the world that one path is the wrong path just because you’re afraid of looking stupid and trying it. If you don’t have to guts to jump, don’t stand at the bottom of the high dive platform and tell everyone on the ladder they’re stupid. Buy a ticket, sit in the stands, and applaud the bravery of others. Or suck it up and jump in the pool.
John G. Hartness is a teller of tales, a righter of wrong, defender of ladies’ virtues, and some people call him Maurice, for he speaks of the pompatus of love. He is also the author of the EPIC-Award-winning series The Black Knight Chronicles from Bell Bridge Books, the Bubba the Monster Hunter series of short stories and novellas, the Quincy Harker, Demon Hunter novella series, and the creator and co-editor of the Big Bad anthology series, among other projects.
In 2016, John teamed up with a pair of other publishing industry ne’er-do-wells and founded Falstaff Books, a small press dedicated to publishing the best of genre fictions “misfit toys.”
In his copious free time John enjoys long walks on the beach, rescuing kittens from trees and playing Magic: the Gathering.
For samples of John’s ridiculous sense of humor, check out these free ebooks – http://bit.ly/1U8eASF