News of the potential merger of Random House and Penguin — likely reducing the number of publishers vying for authors’ works — is enough to send authors into hand-wringing depression as they bemoan the tightening industry that has already seen smaller book deals. But this merger doesn’t have to mean bad news for authors.
If anything, it’s a kick in the pants.
That’s because you can take this news as the inspiration you need to actually take charge of your own writing career. You don’t need a Big Six publisher to be successful. You don’t even need a small or mid-sized publisher. What you need, are the smarts, hard work, and good products to make it happen. In other words, you need you. Publishing success comes down to you, not whether some far-away publisher has deigned to grace you with a book deal.
We’ve seen fascinating examples of self-published authors who have made it big. They’ve hit the New York Times bestseller list. They’ve had the big publishers to come calling. They’ve gained incredible credibility.
But the truth is, most self-published authors fall flat. In fact, half make less than $500 for all their trouble.
I’m not telling you that to scare you, but to warn you.
Going it on your own will be a lot of work if you want to succeed. But if you’re willing to get serious about your project, you can make it into an amazing success. You don’t need to wait for a single person’s permission. Take charge of your writing career. Now. Your self-published book can do many things for you. It can be the tool to help you land a book deal. It can help you build a name. It can help you become a best seller. It can help you build a business. I know all this, because it happened to me.
I self-published my first two books before landing a book deal. My books helped grow my name and allowed me to build a business around my work. I leveraged my book success into business success. I formed my publishing company and self-published my first book in 2002. Ten years later, we’re still going. My family’s entire income comes from our business. And that all started with self-publishing.
You don’t have to be a New York Times bestselling author to have a successful career. I’ve not hit the NYT bestseller list yet, but certainly aspire to do so one day. But I’ve hit the Amazon list and some smaller lists. The lists, though, are only a small part of what defines success for me. Success is the fact that I get to make a living doing the thing I love to do and am good at doing. Success is the fact that readers email or Facebook me to tell me how much one of my books touched them. Success is the fact that I took control of my own writing future.
You can do the same. Do you dream of taking your part-time, side business full-time and kicking your boss to the curb? Do you dream of touring the country and speaking about your book or its topic? Do you dream of making a name for yourself as a writer?
When you take charge of your own writing career, then all of this can be yours.
A lesson from an upstart
The upstart electric car maker Tesla is taking on the auto industry by opening its own stores, rather than going through the auto dealer — the middle man — to get to consumers. And you know those dealers are ticked off. So ticked off, in fact, that they’ve sued Tesla, saying a car manufacturer shouldn’t be allowed to sell its cars directly to consumers. Sound familiar?
For the longest time, the publishing industry had us believing that authors shouldn’t publish and sell their own works directly to readers. Self-published books were bad and their authors were desperate rejects, was the word. And for quite a while, we bought that line. So much so that authors would rather leave their manuscripts collecting dust in the bottom of their desk drawers than self-publish. So much so that authors happily let publishers keep 85 to 90 percent of the money from each book sale. So much so that authors were willing to let publishers get the rights to their books without any payment upfront whatsoever.
But then something happened. More and more authors began to reject that thinking and to use available technology to produce better and better works and then get those works directly out to consumers, rather than letting an industry gatekeeper control their futures.
I don’t know how the Tesla legal matter will ultimately be decided, but I kind of like what Tesla did. Why should it be barred from getting its product in front of buyers?
Tesla decided to play it smart. As it sees things, asking auto dealers whose main money comes from selling gasoline cars to market and sell its electric cars puts Tesla at a disadvantage. Is the dealership really going to promote all the benefits of Tesla’s electric technology over the more popular, and often less expensive, gasoline cars? Who can better educate the public about what makes Tesla cars special — generalist auto dealers or specialist Tesla dealers? Why give a dealer a cut of the profits, when you can find your own buyers?
Tesla says it wants to make the best car it can and get that to consumers. Tesla is a small player in a large industry, with systems and processes — and, according to the auto dealers’ suit, laws —against it. The self-published author has a lot in common with Tesla. Like Tesla, the self-published author can strive to produce the best product it can, be different, and go after its own buyers.
That book won’t get written if you don’t write it
Don’t wait around for someone else to give you permission to tell your story, share your research, or produce your book.
So what if Random House and Penguin merge. This doesn’t hurt your chances of publishing success. They might not have offered you a book deal anyway. But you don’t need a book deal to succeed.
You need to take charge of your career. Get passionate. Do the best job you can. Find someone who has done what you want to do and learn from that person.
It’s time to do it.
Image: The Hollywood Reporter