Why I Bootstrapped My Author Career?
Over seven billion people (plus or minus a few thousand), and if you ask anybody if they have it in them to be a writer, enthrall the world with their magical words, and the answer would more likely than not be: “Sure, why not?”
Why do you think people say ‘yes’ to this question?
Because most people think there is a story within them.
Their life lessons are weighty enough to be taught in schools.
How to get this story out there?
Write a book.
All you need is a pen, paper and time at hand. Then like a squirrel stashing away nuts in an ever-growing cache, you too can keep accumulating words, pages after pages, and one day you’ll have a story worth preserving till the end of humanity.
Sounds simple, right?
Yet, a rough estimate says that out of a thousand random people, only thirty follow through with their dream of writing a book.
And only 3% of those thirty people complete their stories.
That means only 0.3% of people complete their stories.
How many among these, only 0.3% go on to publish those stories and find readers for them (apart from family and friends) is a whole different matter.
I have told you my story already.
My goal of sharing stories that would fascinate and inspire readers was noble, but in the absence of a monetary reward, dreams generally lead to destitution and frustration.
You might want to give your whole life to your passion, but your circumstances probably will not have that kind of patience.
So, you finish college, get a job, and then work 60 hours a week to make a living. And in this race to nowhere, you let your dream die a slow, painful death.
Like I said, I started with traditional publishing, but the measly checks once in a blue moon made me realize that it was not the way to earn a living. If you are not a star earner for your publishing house, you need a separate profession to sustain yourself, and then you have to burn the midnight oil to keep your writing passion alive.
This led me to look for newer avenues. When I found indie publishing platforms, I thought it would be easier with no gatekeepers blocking my path to publication.
I published my dream project with this naïve belief. When the book bombed, selling only seventeen copies in total, I realized that, while traditional publishing was a long arduous process, indie publishing wasn’t a walk in the park either.
I started to look for mentors to guide me back from my debacle.
And I found videos, podcasts, books, and so much more, filled with information on the Dos and the Don’ts of indie publishing.
Here was the catch: the right way to do it required money.
Two to three grand for editing. Three hundred to a thousand dollars for cover design. As for advertising, the sky was the limit on how much you could spend. In short, you need somewhere between twenty-five hundred to four thousand dollars ($2500-$4000) just to make your manuscript publication-ready.
I checked my bank account. I had $57 in total and it wasn't even the end of the month.
It was a steep uphill battle for me. I knew that with my income, no matter how hard tried, I couldn’t save 4 grand even after a year of work.
And no matter if even have that kind of money, that’s still a big ask for a story that might only sell 17 copies and make just 11.87 dollars in revenue.
What do you think?
This is also where I disagree with most authors who say that your book should be prim and proper before you can even think of publishing it because the market is too tough and people are not looking for half-baked products.
They are correct to an extent, but based on what I did with the limited resources that I had, I think most of these gurus don’t know what they are talking about or have not bootstrapped their author career from almost zero dollars. I have gone through hundreds of hours of podcasts, interviews, videos, and books, and found very few who talk about the bootstrapping aspect of one’s author journey.
The reason is that most of these authors started their careers before 2016 when competition in the indie space wasn’t that fierce.
Amazon had different policies where page reads were not in the scheme of things. When free promotion day downloads were counted as sales, and when readers lapped up everything with a semblance of a cover slapped on it. That era is called the Amazon gold rush for a reason.
Anyone who has started their indie publishing career after 2016 knows that the market is now crowded and getting more so every day.
There is a glut of books, but at the same time, there is an increase in readership with more and more people getting their hands on Kindle, Nook, and iPads in countries like the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, and Germany.
Most authors who made it big then, have now gone back to their day jobs. The few who are still around have a good backlist, so even if their newer books are not working, they still manage to survive on their backlist and through other avenues.
Only a few of those since that time who have survived all of this and are still thriving, have done so by molding their business model as per the market demands.
Today there are four types of writers in both traditional and indie publishing area:
Super-rich: Earns a 7-figure annual income or more. Has other sources of income like courses, podcasts, videos, consulting, etc. apart from books. A small team supports him. Huge budget for promotions.
Rich: Earns a six-figure or high five-figure annual income. Has other sources of income like courses, podcasts, videos, consulting, etc apart from books but still doing everything almost on one’s own. Considerable budget for promotions.
Mid-list: Earns high four-figure to mid-five-figure annual income. Use freelancers or family to keep his publishing costs low. Publish at a high speed to add more books to his backlist to counter the high cost of book publishing. Runs promotions at mid to high budget.
Lower mid-list: Earns low to mid-four-figure annual income. Uses a DIY approach. Bootstrap his author career. Runs promotions at a low budget, uses a sniper approach to find readers.
Penniless: Earns pennies or is even losing money yet continues publishing just because he/she wants to write. These authors generally don’t have enough training on running promotions and access to quality cover designers and editors.
By the look of it, I lie in the second category (Lower mid-list), NOW.
When I started, I had 57 dollars in my account, a failed book, and possibly the end of my dream.
But I was determined to make amends to my strategy. I was committed to making sure that this was not the end of my dream but the start of a new challenge.
How could I do what no one had ever documented as done?
How could I kick start my career with an idea and almost no money in hand?