SpecFic for Fun and Profit
I’ve never bought into the genre writing vs. literary writing argument, because it doesn’t take too much research to find out which side makes most of the money.
You can’t eat accolades after all.
If you want to make a living from your writing, you have always had a better chance as a genre writer. But, until a few years ago, it was still only a slim chance.
If you are still pursuing the traditional publishing avenue, that slim chance is now next-to-no chance, as the sheer volume of work being submitted to the gatekeepers (publishers and agents) has got to the point that even high quality work doesn’t make it through the slush pile.
Yet the reports say that speculative fiction (SpecFic), especially science fiction and fantasy, are experiencing a renaissance; that more SpecFic writers are making a decent living than ever before.
So why the contradiction – why is it even harder to get published, but more and more authors are making a good living?
There isn’t a contradiction in my view – the renaissance is merely the traditional publishing world finally recognising what has been going on for about 10 years now – independent publishers have not only stolen the keys to the kingdom, but they have run away with the crown jewels too!
For clarity, an independent publisher, or indie, is a professional who self publishes their books either under their own name or through a publishing business they own. Not to be confused with the myriad small publishers who publish the work of multiple authors.
Indies account for half of all online book sales. In 2017 that added up to 113 million unit sales of digital books (eBooks) in North America alone. The so-called Big 5 (Random House et al.) were a distant second with 26% of total unit sales.
Of all the authors who debuted in the last five years, four out of every five authors making a decent living from their writing are indies.
Why is this?
The top reason is the difference in profit. Because indies cut out all the middlemen and sell direct to readers, royalties are much higher. In the science fiction and fantasy genre in 2018, the Big 5 publishers were ahead of the indies in terms of total dollar sales (41% vs. 35%), but the indies were taking home a whopping 3 – 4 times as much money as their traditionally published brothers and sisters.
Money isn’t everything, of course, your writing still has to be fun.
This is where I believe the true renaissance is. SpecFic writers have always explored the boundaries of the known (science fiction), dug deep into our psyches (horror and supernatural) and taken off into the realms of the impossible (fantasy).
Traditional publishing has always struggled with SpecFic, because much of the really good stuff is very hard to massage into a financial spreadsheet.
Indies have no such constraint. We can fly the depths of our imaginations without fear of what a publisher might think – we only have to care about what readers like. We don’t have to worry about shifting 10,000 units in the first week to cover our massive overheads, we just upload our book and start the next one. We don’t see numbers on a royalty statement every three months, we get to chat to real people every day; readers who are as passionate about our writing as we are. We get to make a living, and our readers get to read what they love.
We get to have fun.
And we all profit.
Nigel George is a traditionally published author turned successful indie publisher. He splits his time between writing and self-publishing fiction and non-fiction books and teaching other authors how to become successful indie publishers. You can find him at https://indiepublishingmachine.com.