So, this happened recently.
People much smarter than me – including some with experience and education in statistics – have debunked Hugh Howey’s claims in a rational, calm and logical manner.
Here’s one: How (Not) to Lie with Statistics
And another: Some Thoughts on Author Earnings
Dana Beth Weinberg, a professor of Sociology at Queen’s College – CUNY, also ran the numbers here. Of course, since Weinberg is associated with the Writer’s Digest/Digital Book World survey that has drawn so much ire from Howey, Konrath, et al, she was immediately dismissed as a charlatan by Howey. Others threw their scorn at Weinberg’s Phd from Harvard as if that automatically makes her INeligible to run the numbers instead of the truth: she’s just that much smarter (and more qualified in data analysis) than them. Sorry, those are the real world breaks.
Here’s the thing:
Howey has apparently decided that it is his job to be self-publishing’s chief evangelist and head cheerleader. Part of the job description seems to be to tear down all critics, no matter how well-reasoned or well-supported their arguments, even when they are on his side regarding self-publishing as a viable and lucrative alternative to publication for writers. See the above attacks on Weinberg as a traditional publishing suck-up, when just two days before Howey issued his Report she released data that showed self-published authors had a slight advantage over the traditionally published in satisfaction. He’s also gone after Chuck Wendig for daring to suggest readers should not be seen as the new gatekeepers, and authors should instead focus on putting out their best books. He’s stayed off Courtney Milan’s and Dear Author’s asses as near as I can tell, but his acolytes got in lots of sniping.
And man, does Howey have followers who are eager to fall into line with Howey’s high-stepping cheerleading routine! I don’t blame them. He has a very potent message. He’s selling the American Dream, damn it. From the keyboard of The Howey himself, in his original Report:
There are no short cuts, just a lot of effort and a lot of luck. Those who do well often work ludicrous hours in order to publish several books a year. They do this while working day jobs until they no longer need day jobs. This is also true of the writers earning hundreds or even thousands a month.
In other words, if you are a failure, you didn’t work hard enough. Flip the message, and it’s Horatio Alger all over again: If you do work hard enough – plus, y’know, luck – that Malibu mansion will be yours.
But that’s not true. It wasn’t true in Alger’s time and it’s not true today. Some authors are making scads of money off books that wouldn’t have made it past a cursory glimpse from a publisher slush pile reader. These books – including one that was among the top ten selling books in the Kindle Store just a few days ago – are rife with spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors, compounded by tissue-thin characters, cliched plots and zero research. They seem to have been dashed off during a lunch break, and it shows.
Some authors work very, very hard and will never see a big payday, because their writing is not easily put into an Amazon category and they will never catch the eye of the influencers. But if they had published with a traditional or small press publisher, who had the means and authority to put their book in front of reviewers and known recommenders – who knows? In fact, many book blogs are closed to self-published authors, not because self-publishing has a stigma, but because the previously accepted books were crappy and their authors unprofessional. How many self-published books might have found champions on those blogs, if they had come from publishers?
Some authors – and here’s where The Howey would step down from his cloud and smite me – should never publish at all. Because when the dollars don’t start rolling in and the one or two reviews they receive are lukewarm – and they worked super hard, they’re the first ones to tell you they slaved and agonized over their baby: they melt down. In public. And usually by throwing a very nasty tantrum at an unsuspecting reader, who then swears never to try another self-published book again.
Also, no one can predict the zeitgeist and what will grab the public’s imagination. If people could, then no movie would ever flop, no TV show would ever be cancelled, and every book would be a bestseller. While I’m sure Howey took his writing seriously and worked hard, luck – e.g. hitting the zeitgeist just right – played a huge role in his success. As it does in most people’s. Hard work is important, but it’s not the only factor in hitting the big time.
And here’s the final straw man Howey and his apologists keep throwing out: All those critics who have issue with Howey’s reports are just traditional publishing stooges! Look, self-published authors make money! Neener, neener, neener! (To which I reply: well, duh. That news is soooooo 2012. Oh, and Hugh? Maybe if your side took your advice to STFU, perhaps ALL authors could cease being distracted by the “Us vs. Them” divide you insist on perpetuating and get back to what matters: writing more stuff.)
But categorizing everyone who has a problem with his Report as “anti-indie” or “pro-traditional” couldn’t be further from the truth. Not that the truth actually matters when one is proselytizing. Only conversions matter. The end justifies the rhetoric.
No, we just might not like bad math and unsupported conclusions being sold to us as “the real story of self-publishing.”
I’m sorry Howey apparently feels rather ashamed of being self-published. That he has a chip on his shoulder is evident in the “Bitch from World Con” post. The chip is evident in his sniping at Chuck Wendig on another post: “But one side needs a bit of cheerleading, because it has suffered from awful stigmas for far too long.” The chip is evident here (self-loathing?! The self-published authors I know are very happy with themselves).
It doesn’t take a “data guy” from MIT to hazard a guess why the chip exists: New York didn’t recognize Howey’s brilliance soon enough.
So Big Five as a first route to market was closed to him (he did find a small press for some of his wares). So what? Yay for Howey, he found multitudes of readers anyway! Woo Hoo (or is that Hugh?)!!!! But apparently being a writer in this amazing amazonian age of opportunity isn’t enough for him. No, New York must die. Or at the very least, kiss Howey’s ring and crown him king.
A less charitable person might suggest this is the root of Howey’s beefs with Wendig or Weinberg or anyone else who supposes perhaps traditional publishing isn’t the devil incarnate: how dare they appear to advocate for the establishment that rejected him?!
But New York doesn’t reject everyone. And there are many, many other publishers outside the Big Five.
Howey is trying to make his numbers prove that self-publishing returns greater rewards to all authors, period (just look at his ridiculous annual income projections, no matter how “hypothetical” they are supposed to be. They’re fairy tales, based on bad assumptions). And he asserts a crappy book that sells one or two copies is better than an unpublished book languishing on a hard drive. To which I say as a reader who accidentally stumbled into a few not-ready-for-publication books: WRONG. Regardless of money spent and/or refunded from Amazon, I can never be compensated enough for my loss of time.
Howey’s math is as wonky as his agenda is crystal clear. He fails to recognize that advocating only one path is doing disservice to the authors who would be better off with a publisher, or not publishing at all.
Self-publishing is not easy. Even Howey admits that. It’s not for the faint of heart. It pisses the reader off when it is done poorly (thus costing the author future sales, sales they might have received if they had published properly right out of the gate) and it takes up time that might be better spent writing. Not everyone has a good eye for graphics and book design. Not everyone has a head for marketing and PR. Not everyone wants to deal with formatting and reporting issues and forming an LLC to hide their real name from their author store (a concern for erotica authors who hold down day jobs in conservative fields). And many would benefit from an editor’s eye on their material.
Self-publishing is AWESOME if you are a fast writer who can build a readership base quickly (although New York is increasing publication speed, too. Howey is wrong when he says “Big Five authors are limited by non-compete clauses and a legacy publishing cycle to a single novel over [a year] of time.” I personally know three authors published by Big Five imprints who have multiple books coming out in the same year, and another author published by a Big Five imprint who doesn’t want to write more than one book every twelve months, but her publisher is making her write one every nine months. And that’s because the author drew the line at nine. I’m sure there are dozens and dozens more out there. Again, Howey doesn’t seem to hang in romance circles.)
Self-publishing is great if you are entrepreneurial. If you enjoy running fine-teeth combs over details. If you can effectively hire and manage freelancers to do the things you’re not good at: developmental editing, copy editing, formatting, cover design, marketing/PR.
If you’re not: traditional publishing – and remember, there are a myriad of houses not named MacHarperRandomPenguinSimonHachette – might be the optimal route for you.
If the publishers say no because you’re not ready for publication yet, but you’re still determined to put your work out there: publish it for free on Wattpad or Scribd or FictionPress or your blog. Using paying customers as your beta readers is despicable, according to angry readers on Goodreads who are tired of being used in this manner. Want feedback from strangers on how to improve? Don’t ask them to pay for the privilege of essentially working for you on their own time. And who knows, you could be the next Abigail Gibbs or Sarah Maas.
I plan on self-publishing.
Because it is the right choice for me. I’ve done my due diligence.
Not because Hugh Howey said so.