Don’t Cry for Me Argentina (Or Alternatively Muddling Through the Gold Rush… ;-)

Hi I'm Robert Stanek and I founded Go Indie and Read Indies to help and support independent authors. I've been an indie published author since 2001 and a professionally published author since 1995.

The writer’s life can be a great one. I don’t regret this writer’s life. Not in any way. But I am kind of tired of hearing about how poverty has chosen our profession and I am equally tired of hearing about writers who once made $45,000 in a week and now have a marketing book about it. Hence this post and its title: “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.” And alternatively, “Muddling Through the Gold Rush.”

Recently a writer said in his blog that his indie bestseller made him nothing. The author said his book was on a particular bestseller list for about a week, expected it might make him a millionaire and was disappointed to find that he’d only (his word) earned about $15,000 that whole earnings period (which I assume covered a 3-month or 6-month period of time, based on the post). The disappointment in the post was quite the opposite of the “gold rush” euphoria of some others. But why the disappointment in the first place? Events like that one are fun times. String a few of those together and you just might have a career in this crazy business.

Some time back I read a blog post from a writer who had been a full-time writer with several modestly successful books yet only made about $35,000 a year as a professional writer for most of his career, but now that he’d gone indie he’d “hit it big” (his words) and was enjoying income of $75K a year or so. He’d been a “successful indie” about two years at the time. Based on the price of his books, it wasn’t hard to figure out this “success” was about 50,000 book sales a year in total. Good numbers, not necessarily big numbers. The truly BIG numbers come over the long term like when you continue to sell 50,000 books year after year for a decade or two.

Another indie expert I met along my travels was a writer who had a single period of success. She made $45,000 in a week during the holidays a few years ago and then rushed to publish a marketing book about her big success and to offer her indie marketing expertise. She’s had continuing sales but not like that one holiday success. I understand the “indie gold rush” euphoria that makes writers say and do things like this. Everyone in this crazy business of the writing life should. 

My thought on experts in any field is that there are very few actual experts. Be careful with that word when positioning yourself. Be honest too when you talk about your success and actual experience.

My thought on success in the writing life is that: You are a success when you know you are a success. Success isn’t about other people. It’s about you. John Steinbeck once said that “The writer must believe that what he is doing is the most important thing in the world. And he must hold to this illusion even when he knows it is not true.” 

Still, the truest success in this writing life really is something you can only look back on to know fully. The truest perspective comes with time. Time measured not in a handful of months or a couple of years but in many years, maybe even a decade or two.

Some of the biggest disappointments related to the writing life come from a misunderstanding of how the industry works. This business has feast and famine—boom and bust. What sells today might not sell tomorrow; what didn’t sell yesterday or today might sell tomorrow. You can be a failure today, a success tomorrow; a success yesterday, a failure today but a success tomorrow. Neither one sale nor one million sales make an expert—time and actual experience make an expert.

Don’t forget that in this “indie gold rush”–as with any gold rush—the ones who are going to strike it rich are more likely to be the ones on the periphery providing services than those of us who write the books. Mark Coker said something similar in a recent blog post. Now there's a guy who is an expert.

Thanks for reading,

Robert Stanek