If your dream is making a living as an author, it’s time to wake up

Sorry. I know that being an author, having a publisher, and an agent is your dream, but is it?

I’ve always wanted to be an author

I’ve always wanted to write novels. I’ve always wanted to touch people with my stories. I never dreamed of specifically having an agent or a publisher.

Publishers and agents were always just the things that used to be required of the process, but now they aren’t.

They are not only optional today, but they can also take away your ability to share and create your stories, not add to it. You lose control of your work, your words, and your copyright, often for life, plus seventy years. That’s just the way it is with the big publishers, and they aren’t going to budge unless you’re someone special.

Yes, there are small publishers, micropublishers, and specialized publishers, and other exceptions, but many are scams, many have similar issues as the big ones, and most of the others aren’t going to help you be a career author to the extent that being independently published can.

Yes, there are plenty of things that publishers can do for your book, but you have to research how much those things even matter, how much they limit you, cost you sales, and whether they can actually hurt your bottom line. For life. Plus seventy years.

Want to be in a bookstore? Yes, traditional publishing can do that for you, but what does that get you other than the rush of seeing your book on a shelf (if you can even find it during the short window it’s there).

What they don’t tell you is that six months later you see that 80% of your books were ‘returned.’ Stripped and pulped, actually. Your publisher gave them the money back, too. Your money. That’s like selling a negative number of books.

“Yes, I Know That is a Dream for Many…

…but it is a horrid (and I mean horrid beyond words) path for writers now in 2018.”

– Author Dean Wesley Smith

Yes, there are some good reasons to have a publisher

Although making a living as an author isn’t a good one for most people. Still, there are valid reasons to look at for a publisher.

Building authority

Non-fiction authors building authority are the number one reason. You’ve been vetted in the eyes of your prospective readers. This is valid, but you’re probably not trying to make a living on your books. You’re using your book to help people, as a calling card, to support your business, or to gain new clients.

Those are all valid and great reasons, but if you want to make a living as an author, you’ll want to look at independent publishing for at least some of your books, because you can control the covers, the book descriptions, the calls to action, the pricing, and even do your own marketing and advertising.


Many indie publishing experts roll their eyes at this, but validation is actually a good reason, and despite it being a vanity thing, I get it and understand it.

But we’re talking career author here. Making a living as an author. That’s hard to do with books that are published by someone else. Even some of the most successful Indie Authors turn down traditional deals because they make far more on their own.

Choose wisely

Still, if you go the traditional route with one of your books, I’d recommend a standalone book, not a series, and not using a world and characters you have big plans for in later books.

Whether the book takes off or not, the odds are you won’t have the rights to do whatever anymore. Your publisher has those rights now, so you’ve likely lost the ability to write what you want in subsequent books, and possibly in the same genre. You won’t have the control to do good advertising, and no profit margin to spend on ads even if you could.

I dream of being an author

I want lots of people to read my books, love them, recommend them, and buy enough of them so that I can be a full-time author.

Not one of those things requires one of the big traditional publishers anymore.

In fact, that last one, making a living as an author, is virtually impossible if you’re just a traditionally published author, yet it’s highly possible on your own.

If you want to yell at me for crushing your dreams, know that it’s not just me who feels this way.

Wool author Hugh Howey let traditional publishers handle his print books, but he continues to publish his ebooks himself

Star Wars and Star Trek author Dean Wesley Smith has hundreds of books with trad publishers but is an outspoken proponent of Indie Publishing. You can read Dean’s top eight reasons to stick to indie publishing, here.

I know it’s a paradigm shift, but it’s actually a good one. Indies today have a good shot at making good money if they write good books, use professional covers, catchy book descriptions, and embrace the digital age of email, advertising, and the thriving and generous indie publishing community.

I hope you’ll instead consider what you can accomplish if you dream just a little differently.

Instead of just dreaming of being an author, dream of being an indie author!

Talk soon!


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