Living The Dream

Beach DreamingThis month I want to talk a bit about living the dream. As a full time science fiction author, I’m in the sometimes unenviable position of working for myself. Like most things indie, it comes with good points and not so good points. It means the boss always knows when I’m goofing off and my employee is a bit lazy. It means I need to take responsibility for deadlines—or not. It means I need to decide—well—everything, really.

But here’s the thing.

My job as a writer isn’t really different from someone pursuing a traditional path. I have a little more flexibility in what I write. I don’t need to write a specific kind of story because of contract, or the kind of story my agent needs in order to interest an acquisitions editor. I can write the stories I want to read but can’t find, secure in the knowledge that my publisher—me—will accept it.

The flip-side is that I never know if the book is any good.

Of course, that’s the same problem Orbit has. Tor and Baen and the rest, too. Nobody knows whether the next book will sink or sail. Every publisher tries to publish the best books possible, but no publisher can predict—successfully—which book will be a hit.

As a publisher, I need to have a few different skills from other writers. I need to know how to put a book together, how to get my books into distribution channels, and how to get readers to find—and buy—them. I need to have a little more knowledge about the various markets, how they work, and what changes I should expect. I need to accept that not everything will work and to trust that enough things will. Generally, my publishing process is the same as any other press.

None of the skills are difficult to acquire when compared to the craft of writing. None of the knowledge is more complex than what I need to master in order to tell a story that people might want to read. None of the work is more complicated than tracking submissions, rejections, synopses, agents, publishers, and sales over the months and years that writers on the traditional path have to do.

As an indie, I control the vertical. I control the horizontal but still don’t know if we’re going to the Twilight Zone or the poor house. I have to trust that we’ll wind up someplace interesting with a landing I can walk away from, because I’m living the dream.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Nathan Lowell

Nathan Lowell has been self-publishing his science fiction and fantasy since he started releasing his books in podcast form in 2007.

He frequently writes about social media, marketing, and the life of a full time self-published author.

9 thoughts on “Living The Dream

    • Thanks, Terry.

      There’s a lot of misconceptions about what self publishing means. When it comes to publishing, I think it’s important for all of the RMFW members to understand that the differences between us are much smaller than the values we share. A good story, told well, packaged properly, and read by people who will love it as much as the author does.

      Getting paid is good, too. 🙂

  1. Nathan; Great perspective. I often wonder if self publisher’s reject their submissions? So far, I’m two-for-two, but the first one was iffy for quite some time. You are an inspiration to those who are still new on this journey. Keep up the good work (yes, I know you will or you will have to fire yourself on so many levels!)

    • Thanks, Dean.

      The thing is that I don’t have to reject anything because I can always fix it and resubmit. 🙂

      Some things have been moved to a holding bin until my craft catches up to my vision. That’s a different post, I think. 🙂

  2. Interesting perspective. You really do have a lot of hats to wear as a successful self-published author. I’d like see a breakdown sometime of the percent of time you spend writing vs. the percent of time spent on the business & marketing side.

    • I spend about 5% of my time on the “publishing side” – actual production of the books (formatting, layout, cover art, editing), accounting, and marketing.

      95% of my time goes into making up the stories to feed into the publishing process.

    • To be fair, when I started out I spent twice as much of my time on marketing and production. It took me some time to learn how to do both efficiently and effectively.

      • I swear I’m at a point right now where the marketing and business side is 95%. Part of that is because I’m trying to build my blog and podcast, but still, I need to find a better balance and get a little (and by that I mean a lot) more actual fiction written.

        I’m glad you’ve gotten to where most of the time is spent writing though.

        • If you’re spending that much time, that’s a problem.

          A lot depends on what market you’re playing to. Looks like you’re in the publishing business rather than the writer business – blogging, a podcast, and Theme of Absence. None of those is targeting readers and you’re spending a lot of effort trying to reach out to people who are not going to buy your books.

          The question to answer is “What’s your goal?”

          Numbers can guide you, but knowing what to count and how to assess what those numbers mean can make a big difference when it comes to creating new – salable – product.

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