January 20, 2018, 08:29:45 PM

Author Topic: Why I don't generally recommend self-publishing.  (Read 8066 times)

Offline Kaybee

Re: Why I don't generally recommend self-publishing.
« Reply #30 on: October 12, 2016, 07:58:33 PM »
It's been a while since this thread was active, but wanted to agree with most posts here -- the quality control mechanism is gone with self-publishing.

I've both self-published (kids' non-fiction) and published with a boutique royalty publisher (adult non-fiction), but with self-publishing I put myself through hell allowing others to critique it to death for both content and grammar. In later years when I ordered self-pubbed books off amazon, I was nearly enraged at the poor quality. Worse than a rough draft from a creative writing class that specifically said "Use your right brain, grammar and spelling don't matter for this assignment."

One intriguing alternative, though. There is a group out of Bellingham, WA made up of authors who have previously been published in their fiction genre by an established royalty publisher. This group has formed a sort of group-self-publishing co-op, helping to promote each other and keep quality high. No one can join unless they've been accepted by a royalty publisher, but once in this group, they have the freedom that self-publishing can offer.
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Offline Bradley Darewood

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Re: Why I don't generally recommend self-publishing.
« Reply #31 on: October 30, 2016, 09:30:48 AM »
Everyone on this thread makes a lot of sense.  My WIP has been in revision... forever... so I bring no experience to the table, but I have quite a few friends who have self-published and make next-to-nothing each year.  But then you get the one-in-a-million stories like this guy...

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jun/02/adam-croft-self-published-her-last-tomorow-story

Damn, making bank from a best seller would be the dream, wouldn't it? That impossible carrot can be very motivating...  It doesn't mention it in the article but I think he spends a butt-load in marketing.

Offline Russ

Re: Why I don't generally recommend self-publishing.
« Reply #32 on: January 24, 2017, 10:12:09 PM »
If you've written 5 books, 10 books and you know they are incredible. The agent's aren't seeing what you and all your friends / beta readers see... then go for it. Maybe there is a niche that is ready and waiting for you. Maybe your writing style and content just isn't in fashion right now (in the agent's eyes), but you see and feel that they are missing the demand you feel is so obvious.

oh!  and this thought misses the joe konraths and barry eislers of the world -- those guys who are fed up with traditional publishers "screwing" them with draconian contracts.  there's a whole crowd of like-minded authors who are fleeing traditional publishing and moving to self-pub.  they're making silly, silly money and will happily tell everyone who listens about it.

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2012/09/konraths-sales.html

I thought this post could use a little update.

After only a short time as a loud and proud indy Mr. Eisler returned to traditional publishing with Thomas and Mercer.

And low and behold the great icon of self has just signed a deal with Kensington. 

The story behind both of these chaps is not often as it gets told in certain mythic quarters.

Offline Ryan Mueller

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Re: Why I don't generally recommend self-publishing.
« Reply #33 on: January 28, 2017, 07:14:05 AM »
Maybe I'm strange as a reader of self-published fantasy, but I'm okay if the book is a bit rough in places. I don't mind a few typos here and there. If they're all over the place, then that's a problem, but I generally stick to the better self-published titles, so I rarely run into major issues with quality.

In fact, I'm constantly amazed at the fact that some self-published authors can put out so many books that are enjoyable to read in such a short time. It makes me wonder sometimes if the publishing industry ends up making a lot of writers less productive than they could be.

I'm hoping to be successful in self-publishing myself. For me, it's about being in control of everything. I actually like the idea of controlling my own marketing, pricing, etc. I can experiment with different things and see what works.

I'm not looking to get rich from the process. If I can break even, or even get halfway to breaking even, that's initial success for me. If I can make even just a few readers enjoy my stories, that will make me happy.

If I can make a career out of it--well, then I'm one of the lucky few.

Offline gennerik

Re: Why I don't generally recommend self-publishing.
« Reply #34 on: January 30, 2017, 03:15:09 AM »
I know when I published Lamentation's Peak, self-publishing was my goal (Which Mark does actually touch on).  If it were longer, then perhaps I would have tried traditional routes first, but getting a 157 page novella published is, so I've heard, very difficult.  Unfortunately, the story found its end, and I didn't want to add 40k words of fluff to it just to make it a full-length novel.

I do understand that some people do end up publishing stuff after an agent has told them that it/they aren't ready to publish, and it does dilute the market and make it difficult for authors that are ready to publish to break out, but I do feel self-publishing is important because there are so many roadblocks in traditional publishing that could stop a great author from getting out there.
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Offline ksvilloso

Re: Why I don't generally recommend self-publishing.
« Reply #35 on: February 14, 2017, 04:41:08 PM »
A good article and hefty dose of reality check to start with. I think there's a lot of misconceptions about writing and publishing that many beginners don't get. The biggest thing I find, being the idea of becoming "published" as some sort of STAMP OF APPROVAL, in that you're not a writer before you get published, and then you are after. Like it's magic. Nooot quite. :P

Taking a step back, though, it's not really that traditional publishing is "better" because professionals are there to guide the beginning writer. It's mostly because it's a gatekeeper that will keep all the clueless writers out. There is no way in hell that a talented editor can work wonders on your manuscript if it looks like a reject from the Infinite Monkey Theorem process. For a beginner, this means that you either give up, or you learn to hone your craft over and over again until YOU become the expert (which I wholeheartedly believe has nothing to do with how much money you make, but how many hours you've spent honing your craft...I think the most accepted number is 10,000 hours).

So there is merit to the thought.

But the book publishing industry is still an industry. The reality is also that the traditional publishing industry can sometimes be a damned brick wall, and I've always gotten the feeling that certain works are taken in because they fill a "niche" and then unless you're the next J.K. Rowling you're going to get a really shitty deal out of it. So yeah, you may not have to pay for a cover artist or editor out of your pocket (so it looks like), but actually you are because if your book ever starts to pay over your advance (if you got one), those royalty checks will look severely thin.

In the end, as others have mentioned, it's a business. And the writer has the choice of becoming an "employee" and not have to learn anything beyond what their "boss" (the publisher) wants them to do, or becoming a business owner and having to wear many different hats--as well as hire their own professionals and have absolute control over the whole process--in order to get a quality product out.

And at the end of the day, only the customers/readers can decide.
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Offline Ray McCarthy

Re: Why I don't generally recommend self-publishing.
« Reply #36 on: April 28, 2017, 10:29:22 AM »
Self publishing can be appropriate, it's not for the faint hearted and takes three kinds of skills / work
1) When you have finished writing / editing you need to proof read & Edit (a 3rd party is about 1c a word) multiple times till you find nothing. You need to consult reference material and learn what is right for the language market. If you actually edit the content, then you are back to the start.

2) Formatting, software, etc for different platforms. Cover image procurement etc. Paper needs different formatting to eBooks. This takes time to learn. Writing Blurbs. Costs a lot to outsource this.

3) Self marketing; at least a blog and Author pages on Goodreads, Smashwords and Amazon. If you are REALLY good at social engagement, then also Forums, Twitter, Facebook, BUT not spamming your title. Your personality and comments have to have value and be the 99% thing, not your book. I think most authors / writers don't have the social skills for this, but you can learn. Just post, but not arguing or about your book. Learn by experience. Takes a year or  two.

If you write, you are a writer. If you complete a book, including proofing it to death, then you are an author. Getting published doesn't make you an author. Selling books doesn't make you more an author. Some best sellers are not much good!

I prefer writing to the three aspects of "self publishing" especially #3 which publishers want the authors to do. They spend serious money promoting maybe less than 5% of their authors. I've written nearly 2 million words and about 18 books (some are seriously drafty [sic]), I'll have 10 out by the end of June. Started submissions to publishers in 1992.

Offline WilliamRay

Re: Why I don't generally recommend self-publishing.
« Reply #37 on: October 09, 2017, 06:32:13 PM »
I'm still new to all this, but it's an issue I've considered quite a bit.  It's interesting to read through this and see that despite the voluminous verbiage, the principle arguments are only two-fold:
1) Self-published authors don't hire editors.
2) No one takes self-published authors seriously, giving them a huge marketing disadvantage.

The first, as a writer, is very easy to address - just hire an editor.  I hire two per book; a professional developmental editor (I use Writer's Ally for that step) to give the story polish, and then a copy-editor to clean up any typos (which I hired freelance).  My first copy-editor didn't do a great job, but one marvel of self-publication on something like Amazon is that when I find mistakes that slipped through, I can fix it very quickly, and remove the error from everything that goes out from that point forward.  For the second book I hired a better copy-editor.  Those are expensive steps, but if you want a quality product, they are unavoidable.

Which brings us to the second issue.  People expect self-published work to be crap.  Hell, some of my reviewers put in remarks on my grammar, like I'd uploaded a six-hundred page grade-school report.  Even in this thread, a number of commenters discuss the lack of editorial polish like it's an inherent aspect to self-publication.

The irony bridging these two elements is that traditional publishers screw up this stuff all the time.    R. Scott Bakker writes some amazing stuff, but I remember reading one of his books (White Luck Warrior, maybe?) where for the entire novel he had a guy who kept talking about fighting 'duals'.  I cringed every time, yet he's available in brick and mortar stores around the world.  I've seen errors in Stephen King and others who have no excuses to budget or inexperience.  It happens to everyone; but when it happens with an indie book, everyone rolls their eyes and claims it's an aspect inherent to self-publication.

A majority of self-published works are crap, but as the technology has rendered a number of publisher services increasingly superfluous, the main advantage they are left with is credibility.  A new author published by a major house gets professional reviews with no proof of sales (I need to prove $3k in sales before a number of places will even look to review my book).  A new author published by a major house gets their literal stamp of approval before anyone has read the book.

The trade-off is that you spend years going through their song and dance, vying for a spot on their limited roster.  You're not building readers, you're not paying off developmental costs, you're just circling the airport, hoping they clear you to land.

With either traditional or self publication, the entire trick is overcoming the default presumption of not being good enough for traditional publication... so the option is whether you want to try and overcome them by courting publishers, or try to overcome them by courting readers directly.

Given the usual multi-year pendency required to court publishing houses, as an indie author, if I can build to just over 2k readers within 6 years (and presumably continue to grow from there), then I've gotten a better deal.  I suck at marketing, but looking at the numbers, I decided to gamble on my own entrepreneurial efforts, and never actually sought traditional publication.  You've got to court the readers eventually regardless, so courting publishers first seemed like duplicative work to me.

That course certainly carries penalties, but you can't fairly compare the two without including the several years head start that self-publishing gets you.  To overcome the competence perceptions among readers, so far I've found two expenses most worth the effort:
-A cover.  People judge covers very heavily.  If you toss up a proposal on 99Designs though, you can get some really solid stuff for super cheap.  Plus, you can engage those designers for more than just the book cover... they can make website elements, business cards, forum signature banners, and all sorts of things using the same elements.  A professional looking cover is a major step to overcoming self-publishing prejudices.
-Professional reviews.  I used Kirkus, and they liked my book a lot.  Being able to tout an organizational review goes a long way to making your work look professional.  Despite being willing to review any book, Kirkus has a reputation for blunt honesty in their reviews - indie authors pay them for that service, but even major publishers pay them, they just get it as a subscription for all their books.

Self-publication is still a marathon of effort, but it's a mixed bag of advantages and disadvantages.  You start earlier, and manage things your own way, but you're also missing a lot of the expertise and connections traditionally published works get you, and you have to find that stuff on your own.  The challenge is to use that head-start productively to engage your audience and establish credibility.

I wouldn't give an automatic 'no' to a publisher who was interested in my work... but not being forced to rely upon them gives me an enormous range of options and flexibility in negotiation I wouldn't otherwise have.  For those of you who habitually discount self-published work, I encourage you to look beyond that, because the world is changing fast.

Offline cdmonline

Re: Why I don't generally recommend self-publishing.
« Reply #38 on: November 23, 2017, 11:21:48 PM »
I think this is a rather cynical perspective. Alas, I also think there's quite a bit of merit to it, albeit with some caveats. Perhaps the most critical points I agree with are those regarding good quality editing - an absolute must for any book (regardless of the publishing route taken).

For the benefit of this discussion, let's assume there are two types of self-published books out in the wild:

1. Those that have been rushed through, not good enough quality, but the author thinks terrific
2. Those that are really top quality and worthy of a reader's attention

The article is written from the perspective that all self-published books fall into the former category - tarring everyone with the same brush. That's not only harsh, it's damaging and does a discredit to self-published authors that have a great book to share.

Another point I'll make is that just because you've gone through an agent/publishing house doesn't necessarily guarantee you'll end up with a perfectly polished book - that's assuming you get past the minefield of scammers and charlatans looking to take your money. Yes, on balance, there are probably more trad published books that are better than indie books but let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

As an indie, I'll freely admit it can be a lot of hard work. There's a good chance you won't make a lot of money and if you do, you'll probably need to have several books out first and have cracked the whole marketing side of things. People can and do pull all of this off, however. There are also some great spin-offs possible from making the attempt. For example, I've joined forces with other authors on all manner of projects - including a rather successful author services company (http://DragonRealmPress.com/). I've generated a mini-business in visiting schools and talking to students about writing, literacy and being an author. I sell quite a few books this way. I've also been involved in thngs like box sets and anthologies and I know plenty of authors who have also been successful at various spin-off activities.

Let's say that publishing is like driving and your route to getting published is akin to how you get your driver's license. Some drivers get their license from overseas, where the rules aren't so strict. Does that mean ALL drivers that get their licenses from overseas are automatically rejected out of hand? If the analogy was with someone's race, the argument would be considered racist. Why should it be any different in this situation? All indie published books are bad because some indie published books are bad? I think not.

Offline Bradley Darewood

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Re: Why I don't generally recommend self-publishing.
« Reply #39 on: November 24, 2017, 07:23:40 AM »
As an indie, I'll freely admit it can be a lot of hard work. There's a good chance you won't make a lot of money and if you do, you'll probably need to have several books out first and have cracked the whole marketing side of things. People can and do pull all of this off, however. There are also some great spin-offs possible from making the attempt. For example, I've joined forces with other authors on all manner of projects - including a rather successful author services company (http://DragonRealmPress.com/). I've generated a mini-business in visiting schools and talking to students about writing, literacy and being an author. I sell quite a few books this way. I've also been involved in thngs like box sets and anthologies and I know plenty of authors who have also been successful at various spin-off activities.

Wow!  That's really enterprising and brilliant-- I love it! I've been trying to figure out creative ways to write and survive.... Some people around here do ghostwriting to fix messed up scripts, or freelance writing for blogs, online magazines, etc. As soon as I get this chapter done, I want to branch out into some freelance stuff.

RE: this thread's main purpose

I really don't think anyone (well 90%) of the people on this thread think an indie artist is somehow less of an artist per se, it's more of a question of whether indie publishing is a viable route to success.  So what is success? I think we can split it into 1) commercial success/distribution and 2) quality of work.

Starting with #2 (since I love disorder), it's important to realize that writers (like--ahem--Sanderson( spent ages writing a kajillion books before they managed to get one sold.  They failed, revised manuscripts over decades, started entirely new projects, forced to perfect their craft before selling anything.  An author might write something that's the best thing you've ever read and a publisher might reject it for some fickle reason, and you might indie publish it, but youre generally not put through the same gauntlet as traditional publishers.

#1-- Here's where it gets really interesting.  Indie publishing from the POV of Amazon, is all about the long tail.  1 milliion books that sell 1 copy ever make the same as 1 book that sells a million.  Amazon doesn't care.  That said, I think there's the illusion that trad published books make more money than they do.  Authors you've heard of and are semi-famous often make fuck-all (20-30k)!

Writer's Digest did a survey 2 yrs ago... granted their sample size is hardly favorable, but here's what they found:

“Just over 77% of self-published writers make $1,000 a year…with a startlingly high 53.9% of traditionally-published authors, and 43.6% of hybrid authors, reporting their earnings are below the same threshold. Only 0.7% of self-published writers, 1.3% of traditionally published writers, and 5.7% of hybrid writers reported earning more than $100,000 a year from their writing. (The typical writer in the sample was “a commercial fiction writer who might also write non-fiction and who had a project in the works that might soon be ready to publish.”)
https://publishingperspectives.com/2014/01/how-much-do-writers-earn-less-than-you-think/

That means half of traditional authors made 1,000/yr or less!!!  It's better than the 80% of indie writers, but still, it's not very good.  Those who made bank were 0.7% indie and 1.3% traditional-- only a 0.6% difference.  So clearly trad publishing improves your chances... but not as much as you might think.  It's a better commercial option, but only marginally so.

I guess the main thing is how do we get more people to start reading... and then what helps people discover your work-- that's something that both trad and indie authors could do with figuring out.  I have no idea.
« Last Edit: November 24, 2017, 07:28:49 AM by Bradley Darewood »

Offline Peat

Re: Why I don't generally recommend self-publishing.
« Reply #40 on: November 24, 2017, 07:57:01 AM »
Bradley, I read that as 77pc of SP authors make 1k or more, not 77pc of SP authors make less.

Which is no surprise to anyone looking at the figures. I think most SP authors pull back $2 a book - that's 500 books sold, or if you have 10 books (which is totes doable in a couple of years as a churner), a mere 50 copies of each book. Obviously this doesn't include editing (but if you're a churner, you use a copy editor at most) or cover art, which the trad published person doesn't have to worry about. But since (according to the first hit on google) the trad published might expect 80 cents a book for their paperbacks and maybe double that for the hardbacks... they need to sell about 8 books minimum to the SP 5, and they can't churn either.

If you want to make a living, self-publish. Maybe trad publish a few books for the added visibility and doors opened but the economics are in your favour unless you become huge. Although, tbh, if I ever became a huge author, I'd be tempted to open my own small publishing house, hire a few people to handle the logistics, and be the guy making the dividends on my book rather than whoever owns Penguin. It still boggles my mind how opening your own record label has been a thing in the music world forever but I never hear of authors forming their own publishing houses.

Obviously this doesn't cover things like selling audible rights (which currently heavily favours big name SPers) or the potential of film rights (write Sci-Fi). Or spin-off stuff from writing like cdmonline talks about.

Is there something to be said about going through the gauntlet of TP to make your work of the highest quality? I think so. But tbh, you can still go through the submission process... then head for the horizon as a SPer once you know its good enough to make it. Its not like we haven't all got stories of friends who got knocked back at the last for reasons of money rather than quality.
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Offline Bradley Darewood

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Re: Why I don't generally recommend self-publishing.
« Reply #41 on: November 24, 2017, 08:21:16 AM »
Bradley, I read that as 77pc of SP authors make 1k or more, not 77pc of SP authors make less.

No, it's less. If you look at the graph, ~20% of BOTH trad and indy make zero, the other 57% of indie writers make 1$-1,000. Important to note: only about 3% or so of trad publishers make 40k or more (what I consider a living wage), even less for indy.




More importantly, this includes romance and erotica which sells an order of magnitude more than anyone else.  If you cut them out this would look even more dismal!

Is there something to be said about going through the gauntlet of TP to make your work of the highest quality? I think so. But tbh, you can still go through the submission process... then head for the horizon as a SPer once you know its good enough to make it. Its not like we haven't all got stories of friends who got knocked back at the last for reasons of money rather than quality.

I totally agree with this strategy (if I ever get my WIP edited 200 yrs from now...) !

However I think the bottom line is that the market is simply not there for authors.  Not enough people are reading, and those that do read aren't reading a diverse # of books.  That goes for indy or trad publishing alike. If you're gonna write you need to be like Teb and write for video games, or some people here in LA and ghostwrite for TV writers who suck at dialogue, or try to do freelance stuff or do the stuff cdmonline was talking about.  I really like the idea of touring schools and teaching creative writing.  I think 1) that would generate interest in your book and 2) it would help encourage young minds around the world to appreciate the written word as a form of expression and possibly give us more readers in the world period.  A third of all men haven't read a book in the last year, tho I saw another stat somewhere that was more like 75%.

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/11/23/who-doesnt-read-books-in-america/


This is also very interesting

http://libraries.pewinternet.org/2012/04/04/part-2-the-general-reading-habits-of-americans/

Offline cupiscent

Re: Why I don't generally recommend self-publishing.
« Reply #42 on: November 24, 2017, 09:15:55 AM »
See, I just approach this one from the side of the reader, and I hit two significant points:
1) Because there is no guarantee that a SP book will have editing/proofing/design time/money put into it, I'm reluctant to try any of them, and I've yet to find a gatekeeper service that will sort the wheat from the chaff for me. (I admit, I haven't looked very hard, because my to-read list is out of control just with trad pub books.)

...which could probably be point zero here: I have so many trad pubbed books I'm excited about, I don't need to look further afield.

2) I only buy books unread when I know and love the author's work, or when I've heard so much and am so excited about a book that I just have to. (This happens approximately once a year.) Otherwise, I borrow books from the library and read them. If I love the book, I'll buy it after that. But I don't know about libraries elsewhere in the world, but my libraries here in Australia generally don't have SP books in their catalogues, not even e-catalogues. I'm not sure how conceivable it is for SP authors to get their books into libraries.


Given all that, as a writer, I'm not interested in self-pubbing because I don't read self-pub. I'm also more interested in the professional relationships around my writing that come with trad pub, but that's sort of a secondary concern.

Offline Ray McCarthy

Re: Why I don't generally recommend self-publishing.
« Reply #43 on: November 24, 2017, 02:51:22 PM »
Smashwords, Amazon and others give previews you can download, sometimes up to 20%. That's enough to know if it's proofed and fun.
Some authors may have a free title or 99c special offer periods.

Offline Not Lu

Re: Why I don't generally recommend self-publishing.
« Reply #44 on: November 24, 2017, 08:22:36 PM »
See, I just approach this one from the side of the reader, and I hit two significant points:
1) Because there is no guarantee that a SP book will have editing/proofing/design time/money put into it, I'm reluctant to try any of them, and I've yet to find a gatekeeper service that will sort the wheat from the chaff for me. (I admit, I haven't looked very hard, because my to-read list is out of control just with trad pub books.)

...which could probably be point zero here: I have so many trad pubbed books I'm excited about, I don't need to look further afield.

2) I only buy books unread when I know and love the author's work, or when I've heard so much and am so excited about a book that I just have to. (This happens approximately once a year.) Otherwise, I borrow books from the library and read them. If I love the book, I'll buy it after that. But I don't know about libraries elsewhere in the world, but my libraries here in Australia generally don't have SP books in their catalogues, not even e-catalogues. I'm not sure how conceivable it is for SP authors to get their books into libraries.


Given all that, as a writer, I'm not interested in self-pubbing because I don't read self-pub. I'm also more interested in the professional relationships around my writing that come with trad pub, but that's sort of a secondary concern.

Most readers I know don't care -- or even know who the publisher is. They discover books from friend recommendations, review sites, browsing amazon, or seeing an ad on Facebook or Twitter. As a result, they get a good mix of both indie and trade pubbed books and don't see a difference between them except for the mega authors like Brandon Sanderson, GRRM, etc. Those authors are talked about by name, but for the most part, I hear my friends talking about the story/plot without regard to the author (and never about the publisher) when recommending a book.

Trade publishers make it easy for an author to focus on the craft and leave the business to the publisher. But, the downside is that the publisher doesn't care as much about your success as you do. If your book sells, great. If not, then the publisher moves on to the next lottery ticket. That's why 90% of trade pubbed authors make less than 30k a year.

If you really believe in your work, indie publishing is probably the best path to success because you can dedicate the resources necessary over several years to get to the point where you make a living from writing (a publisher won't invest the time and money if your first attempt doesn't hit the mark). My advice would be, focus on your craft first. Then learn marketing and business management or hire someone to do it for you. And most important, remember you're playing a long game.