The Dream of Living off my Writing, and Why it Is only a Dream

So when I was nineteen, and still naive and starry-eyed about the world, I wrote a book. I self-published it (in a way), going with a small “publisher” without editing or proofreading or cover or marketing but with a contract and without upfront costs (I think, except maybe a very small listing fee?). This “publisher” was one of the first self-publishing venues in Germany, back in 2007 or 2008. I was so proud, and somehow thought my dream of becoming a well-known author and of being able to live off my books was just around the corner. Oh boy, how wrong I was! That book, the longest I’ve ever written with just above 80,000 words, was in dire need of a good editor, and was overpriced due to the “publisher” using digital printing instead of offset printing (meaning they printed each book individually, resulting in a higher production price per book). It’s been long since pulled off the shelves, in case you were wondering.

The more I learnt about the publishing world, and the more the self-publishing scene gathered momentum, the less likely I thought it was for my dream to come true. I learnt that even well-known authors often struggle financially unless they’re one of a select few mega-bestseller authors. That a lot of well-known authors have a day job and write in their free time. I still tried, I learnt, I found new ways to self-publish, I hired a great cover designer, I had people proofread my books (which, by then, I was able to edit on my own–I still needed those critical readers to help me straighten the last bumps in the manuscripts), I marketed. And I hoped. Every time a reader praised my books, said something nice about them, I hoped. Every time I found out about yet another great marketing tool that worked wonders for a self-published author, I tried it out and I hoped.

With the years, hope turned into frustration, desperation, finally resignation. Every time I hear or read of yet another self-published author hitting it big, selling thousands of books, I sit there silently wondering: Why them, why not me? Or rather, why not me, too? (Believe me, usually I’m really happy for every writer who’s managed to become successful. There are just those where I understand their success even less…) And every now and then I hear about some author who made big money gaming the system, cheating, copying others’ work. And I get angry and the little voice inside my head asks louder: Why them? Why do they make money, and I’m not?

I write children’s books and middle grade/YA novellas. They are praised, yet I also often hear about my novellas that they’re too short. Truth is, I can’t seem to write longer stuff. At least not well. I’m a slow writer, I don’t pad my stories (don’t know whether I could even if I tried), and they’re pretty straight-forward without much of a side plot. Plus, shorter books are less daunting to edit. To be honest, I hate editing my own work. I’m always afraid it might not be good enough, or that the task is too big. I still have a first draft of a longer fantasy novel that’s sitting at about 71,000 words and needs considerable amounts of rewriting and adding stuff. Guess what? I haven’t even started. I haven’t even read through it since I finished it some years ago.

Last year, my best-selling month was January with a whopping total of 16 books sold. No, sadly, that’s not a typo, and that’s across several books (print and ebook). I know my books can’t be that bad (in fact, some of those reviews I got seem to suggest that they’re quite good), yet they don’t sell. And I’m completely flummoxed as to why, even with all the marketing that I tried throughout the years. So, yeah, time to bury my dream of living off my books at some point, I guess…

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