Sustainable Publishing

from my old blog at, published July 2017

For a few years now, my husband and I have been micro-farmers. Our philosophy is to live sustainably, and to leave our farm ecosystem in a better shape than we’ve found it in. And while I scythed the pasture today, I realised that as a writer, I have been working on sustainability, too.

You might define the term sustainable as purely economical: Put X amount of money and time in to get X+Y amount of money out. Which is one way of looking at your life as an artist. Not very rewarding but necessary when your funds run out by mid month and you have to chew on dry bread for 2 weeks until the next Amazon cheque arrives in your mailbox.

Writing your stories and publishing them often results in readers. People have bothered to purchase or pirate your art, and then went so far as to read it, and that is quite awesome if you ask me. And if you had fun creating your book and don’t depend on the royalties, you can call that sustainable. But if you lean toward nutcase-ism as much as I do, and you quit your day job to do the art thing full-time, the sustainability gets a lot more complicated. Making a living as an author means – in my case – to earn enough to support a family of four and pay the mortgage.

My masterplan was to sell truckloads of books (please insert as many LOLs as you like here). Surely, no other author had that idea. So I learned the art of Facebook ads, Twitter ads, Instagram ads, Amazon ads, and BookBub ads, I learned copy writing and worked as a copy writer for small companies. I ran BookBub features (also: ENT, Pixel of Ink, BookSends, OHFB, and more), and worked on getting more newsletter subscribers. I learned how to design my website and worked as a web designer for small companies. I worked on my web traffic, on writing blog posts, and…ugh, well STUFF until I felt like my brain was bleeding out through my nose. And when the financial apocalypse struck, I had to learn the hard way how to turn a dollar into five through advertising alone. I’ll so not miss the adrenaline showers I got every time I invested $500 into ads, knowing that all we had on our bank account were red numbers. It worked out, though. I’m still here, and we don’t live under a bridge. Much of that I owe to my friends – people who once were “only readers.”

And that’s why – although I’m one of the lucky few who make a living with art  – I feel the need to complain, *cough* I mean, explain. You see, my income depends on corporations. Mainly, Amazon. My sales depend on how Amazon serves my ads, how often BookBub features my books, how Facebook serves my ads, and how my competitors perform. I can predict with some certainty that what works splendidly today won’t work splendidly in a few years (months?). So I basically put the wellbeing of my family in the hands of algorithms. If that doesn’t give you nightmares, I don’t know what does. Most marketing gurus will tell you that, to be independent of algorithms, you need newsletter subscribers, and sell your products to them.

From what I learned from my own (nearly 5.000) subscribers is that I am not a sales person. I hate telling people to buy my shit, even though I know how to write a newsletter so that it doesn’t sound like “buy my shit,” it’s still me asking them to buy my shit, because that’s what a newsletter is for: to create the need in people to buy my shit. Besides, I would need ten or a hundred times more subscribers to earn a living through them, because a book is cheap and only a fraction of subscribers are ready to buy, no matter how super-duper the copy and the list are.

So the sustainable thing (for me) to do is a bit of everything, but to put the main focus on my fans, readers, and friends. Oh, did I mention that until very recently, I thought “fan” derives from the wind-making thing? And then I realised it’s probably short for “fanatic.”

The joys of being a non-native speaker 🙂

Anyway. Back to sustainable publishing: Whether you write for a living or just for the fun of it – give your fans lots of love. I wish I could go back to my beginner-self when I published my first book and believed that no one wants to know anything about the stupid author. I was very puzzled when people wrote me emails to tell me how much they enjoyed my story. I rarely answered them, because I was dumbfounded and didn’t know what to say. Also: introvert!

It took a long time for me to learn that I was an idiot (I still am, but in other ways). Recently, I started The World of Anna Kronberg (this is no longer available). It was an experiment and I didn’t expect much, except that it would fail utterly. But oh was I wrong! This isn’t just a one-way thing as in: anonymous reader throws money at Amazon and gets my story in return. There’s a small monthly fee involved, but that’s not why I love this project so much. It’s because the book club is a supportive community. They are friends. They cheer me on, share their ideas, even support me in my background research. I had no clue it would turn out so lovely, and that the once-lonely writing job isn’t lonely at all anymore.

If you were to ask me for advice on how to make a living as an author, I can only tell you this: There’s no silver bullet. Your chances of success will increase with knowledge, but even that is no guarantee for bestsellerdom. I could tell you to work hard and learn hard, but you and I know that’s nonsense, because millions of people work had and learn hard, and still live in poverty.

But whichever way you go, whatever business you start or lifestyle you choose: build a community! Make a special place for your fans, co-workers, or customers, and you’ll find friends that sustain you more than any algorithm could ever do.

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