Please welcome my friend and high school buddy John Kelly to the blog today. John has taken his love of writing to the world of Amazon self publishing. John gives you the pro’s and con’s of his side hustle.
Why do I write? I have a better chance of winning the lottery than I do writing a best seller. Amazon’s webpages are filled with plagiarized works. Scammers pollute the system, making just as much (if not more) than legitimate authors. Amazon recently tried to put an end to people rigging the system by instituting a “get paid by the pages read” policy. What did people immediately do? They put a link on the first page to win a $100 gift card that would jump to the last page. The scammer would get paid for them having “read” the entire book! Anyone trying to make an honest buck, much less an honest living, would have to be insane to enter the fray.
Five years ago there was a gold rush in self-publishing, also known as “indie publishing,” where anyone who had the idea of writing the next best novel also had a good chance of making some money. If they had the wherewithal to do it on a regular basis, they could make a living at it, and possibly even strike it rich. Those days of fortunes made overnight are waning, but now more than ever it has become easier to write and publish a book on your own.
I started my journey the same as many, with an insatiable desire to write. The average novel falls in the range of 60k to 90k words. A few years ago, it was easy to trick the algorithms that run on Amazon’s servers to favor shorter novellas and short stories, which fell in the 5k to 30k word range. A person could write a story in a weekend, publish it on Amazon, and price it the same as a full-length novel written by a big name author.
Amazon changed that scheme last year, and now favors more traditionally sized stories that take even the most prolific writer a month to churn out. And churning is important! Those that are writing for a living, referred to as “mid-listers,” write books that are never best sellers, but enough people buy them to pay the bills.
Typically, these books will sit on Amazon’s “HNR” hot-new-seller list, and enjoy a 30 day ride on Amazon’s webpage before sinking into the abyss. Thousands of books are published on Amazon every day, and if the book doesn’t gain enough traction to become a best seller, the algorithms are merciless in their efficiency in separating the wheat from the chaff. The only way to stay on top is to write another book.
In addition to being a story producing machine, there are several hats the indie writer wears. Unless one has a few hundred dollars to spend on a book cover, there is the learning curve of Photoshop, or other image editing tool. There’s editing of the story, which can cost at least a thousand dollars, and no guarantee the person editing the book is even qualified to do so. Finally, there is marketing, which takes up a small chunk of time with the release of each book. The better the product at each level, the easier marketing becomes…but the whims of the public are ever shifting, so it is always something that needs tending to.
There are more pitfalls than windfalls in the writing business. Scammers are always waiting to take an eager and naïve writer’s money, with the promises of large mailing lists, or cheap editing rates. It’s imperative to seek and reach out to established writers and hope they can give you advice on who to trust, and what warning flags to heed. The biggest one of all is the promise of striking it rich. In all honesty, one can make better use of their time working a minimum wage job for a year, since 99% of all writers will never make five figures from their efforts.
Writing is not for the faint of heart. You need a thick, calloused skin to ignore the criticism of strangers, the skepticism of loved ones, and the ability to temper your own optimism. Strictly by the numbers, you need to write a thousand or two thousand words every day (weekends too). The rule of thumb is you also need to write a million words before you find your writing voice. That means about two years of untold, unshared stories. I have computer folders filled with half-finished novels…and they’re unfinished for a reason!
My advice is to start small. Read twice as much as you write. Become confident enough to submit short stories to websites in your preferred genre (romance, fantasy, horror, etc.), and accumulate rejection letters. Eventually the rejection letters will become personal, and when they do, that means you’re getting better. An editor will leave a note stating that you’re close, but not quite there. It’s at that point that you need to focus and really hone your craft. It’s possible for anyone to write, and the satisfaction of someone saying your story made them laugh, or cry, or think…you can’t put a price on that. That’s why I write.
Links to my work: