I’ve come to the conclusion that becoming a writer is a risky business. The important word here is “business,” not so much the word “risky,” though that’s a part of it. After all, writing is a business, as much as accounting or medicine or law or installing air conditioning. And while all those vocations have certain inherent risks, there are risks to being a writer too.
If you’re an accountant or a lawyer or a doctor, you can count on a market for your talents being there when you start work. With writing, that’s not guaranteed. If you write books about zombies, or hungry girls competing for food, you may feel there’s a ready market for your books, but the fickle winds of publishing can change faster than you can say “iPod.” What’s hot today may not be tomorrow. That’s why they (that ubiquitous “they”) tell you to write your own kind of book, and don’t try to imitate others. Do your own thing. Play by your own rules. If you don’t, then by the time you publish your novel about werewolves in London, the fad will be over and you’ll have to pay back most of your hard-earned advance.
But that’s just the point, isn’t it? If you take a big chance and write the book you want to write, there’s no guarantee that anybody will read it, even if it fits within a well-known genre, like science fiction or mystery or even a cookbook. You may have a great idea for a novel, maybe even a great idea for a book that will define a new genre, and you seriously hope it will be read around the world, but you (and I) are at the mercy of the winds of fashion, and that great book or genre could languish on the shores of abandon, and you’ll have to pay back most of your hard-earned advance.
It takes guts to be a writer. And a willingness to take risks. Your future may rise or fall on the basis of conventions you have no control over and probably don’t understand, and couldn’t control even if you did. Do you really want to get out there and join that struggle? If you’re like me, of course you do.
All of that applies to publishing in general, whether by traditional methods, or by self-publishing. But self-publishing has its own dangers. If you self-publish, you assume the role of not only author, but publisher, cover artist, copy editor, accountant, and so forth. Do you know how to do all that? Can you learn? Of course. Do you want to do it?