Can We Just Put The Attitude Away, Please?

Hanging around at sci-fi conventions, what always struck me most about writers was how humble they were. I never got the impression that I was speaking with someone who thought that they were better than me. These are, by and large, people who love what they do for a living and like hanging out with fans, even if those fans have never read a word of what that particular author has written.

And then there’s J.A. Konrath, who gloats about how he made $100,000 in three weeks. I don’t begrudge him his success, I think it’s wonderful. I even think it’s wonderful that he’s making that amount of money in a way that wasn’t available to most authors just a few short years ago. I know how much work goes into finishing a book, and he’s done several, so let it not be said that he hasn’t earned every penny, because he has. And as a data point highlighting what self-publishing can do, he’s doubly interesting.

When I first started reading his post, I thought something along the lines of, “Damn! This is interesting, I wonder where this Kindle Direct Publishing program is going to go from here.”

And then I got to the part where Konrath said this:

This is no longer a question of choosing between accepting 17.5% royalties from a legacy publisher or doing it yourself. This has now become the best way in the history of mankind for a writer to earn money. It may be one of the greatest ways to ever make money, period.

That’s an outright lie. Let’s break it down. Konrath says it’s the best way in the history of mankind for a writer to earn money, and yet it would take him 50 months at that rate to earn what Audrey Niffenegger earned in one. fucking. day. From traditional publishing. Quite a few other authors earn a shitload more than Konrath on a regular basis.

So what does it all mean? It means fucking nothing, that’s what it means! It means that Konrath did what a lot of other authors did. He a) wrote a book that people wanted to read and then he b) got lucky. Traditional publishers continue to make money, self-publishers continue to make money, but going back to my title, it’s the attitude that kills me.

George R.R. Martin doesn’t say that you need to traditionally publish to earn success, because he knows that he’s an anomaly. Sidney Crosby doesn’t go around telling people that being a professional ice hockey player is the best way to earn money because he knows his $8.7 million annual salary is an anomaly, and he knows that his salary doesn’t compare to what the top earners in pro baseball or basketball manage to bring in. Or the top actors in Hollywood, or the top earning music artists, or the top corporate CEOs. Or, or, or…

I think it’s safe to say that the people who are at the very top of any particular game are going to earn a lot of money, which might encourage a lot of people to attempt the same thing. I think that it’s also safe to assume that the vast majority or people who DO attempt the same thing are going to earn next to nothing. For every J.K. Rowling or Stephen King, there are a thousand midlist writers who struggle to make ends meet, and for every midlist author there are a thousand who can’t make a dime. For every Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin, there are a thousand players in minor leagues who earn a fraction and ride buses for ten hours between games, and for every one of those minor leaguers who still slog through it there are a thousand more players who practice and bleed their whole lives and still can’t get a contract.

The odds of success don’t change just because J.A. Konrath made a fortune doing something. I agree with him that the platform is growing, and that if he’s tied to a growing platform, then right now there’s no visible ceiling for income. But for every Konrath there are probably ten thousand who can’t make $25 a month. His success is certainly repeatable, and it almost certainly can be exceeded even, but it’s HIS success and there’s no guarantee that doing the same thing he did will net the same results. There’s almost a guarantee that the opposite is true. Could a midlister earn more switching to self-publishing with Amazon? Who the hell knows? Insufficient data. Maybe some could, but if they all tried I think you’d see a range (and a massive one at that), not a sudden leap across the board where all of them suddenly start pulling in six figures a month. And certainly the authors at the top of the traditional publishing game are still out-earning Konrath. So maybe it’s the best way for J.A. Konrath to make money as a writer, but that should be clear.

There’s a DIY element to self-publishing that seems to have people thinking they’re somehow sticking it to the man, that they somehow owe it to the human race to self-publish a novel to take money away from “The Big Six”. And you know what? It’s probably time the major houses changed what they were doing, but to go out and actually tell people that Konrath’s way is the only way to do things seems ridiculously arrogant to me. Maybe it’s a push back against what’s seen as the attitude from traditionally published authors who look down on self-publishing, but it’s still arrogance. There are better ways to get your point across, because the people on the side of self-publishing already think it’s worthwhile, and those who aren’t won’t be swayed by a line like that.

Really, I’m just tired of hearing both sides argue that their way is better. What I’d like is just more data points and success stories without the “Ha ha! In your fucking face!” mentality.

EDIT: Konrath has a second post up. I much prefer the tone of this one, where he addresses a few things he’s seen in response to the $100,000 post. Worth a read just to see how much work he put into his writing over the years.

2012 Resolution Progress:
28555/1,000,000 words written (2.85%)
15/15 days blogged (Target: 366/366)

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