Self-Publishing—Is It a Career?

I will publish my second novel at the end of this month. I plan to publish a third by the end of October and more next year. Have I established a self-publishing career?

A few authors call their self-publishing endeavors a career by diversifying their creativity and making a livable income. Along with publishing books, they provide writing classes, consult, produce podcasts, and sell merchandise. But what about self-publishers who only publish books and do not make enough money to support themselves financially?

The U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) might classify their work as a hobby. Maybe if an author publishes one book it is a hobby. And there is nothing wrong with one book. Yet writing and publishing consistently is too much work for someone to call it a hobby. And does money make a career?

I never considered my writing as a hobby, despite what the IRS or other people think. I always pursued writing with the desire to be published, which I have done. I also do not plan to stop writing and I hope to continue publishing.

Does it matter whether I call my writing a career? It matters because it helps with motivation. It helps me to continue the path of writing and publication, always searching for more creative paths. It helps build confidence.

I think a career is a lifelong ambition toward consistent accomplishments. Income should be a minor consideration. With this definition, more people have a career than a hobby.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a career as “a field for or pursuit of consecutive progressive achievement especially in public, professional, or business life.” I have made consecutive, progressive publishing achievements and will continue to do so.

The Problem with Name Dropping

In an application, some grant writers list names from the past and present that are associated with the project. The writer, sometimes with the nonprofit’s encouragement, see the names as important and recognizable.

But are the names important and recognizable to the foundation? Usually not.

Even if a foundation member recognizes a name, they may not think the person was that great. The named person becomes a disadvantage in the application. Also, listing names takes up limited word space. Space that could be used to explain the project.

A list of names does not explain a project. Also, a biography will not help, but only take up more space. Name dropping is not worth the real estate in an application that could be used to provide information and data on the project.

Some nonprofits push name dropping. They believe, “These important people were associated with the project; therefore, the project is great.” The nonprofit puts more importance on names than accomplishments. If that person was so important to the project, why don’t they or their ancestors help raise money?

Another disadvantage of name dropping is that foundations could view it as trying to influence them. Influence needs to be carefully considered and it is rarely done well. Do you like to be influenced?

The only positive view to name dropping is when the grant writer lists current people who expressed support in the project and have done something. Such as a mayor or a council person. The title and position become important.

In a grant application, this is not a time to rely on the dead, their ancestors, or those alive who might not remember or have the resources for the project. A grant application is about the future, not the past.

Opening the Self-Publishing Door

I’m about to self-publish another book. They are short stories about commuting on a train, which I did going to the Pentagon for over 25 years. After my first book last year, I learned some things.

Last time, I designed my cover and it was not good. So, I had someone else design the cover, which I will do from now on. The designer provided more details than I could and gave a different perspective I did not have. I found it better hiring someone starting their career. This designer was more imaginative and willing to take risks to be different. More experienced designers tend to copy what worked before.

In my first book, I uploaded an MS Word document on websites using the available software to publish. Each software was different. The book looked okay, but not great. Plus, I had to learn each software.

The websites had an option to upload an already formatted book, which bypassed several steps. There was no need to get frustrated with learning more software.

There is software to format a book, but it requires a Macintosh computer. The software and Mac are expensive. (Other people are working on a PC version.) I hired a formatter. I could publish twelve books for the cost of buying a Mac and the software. I am a long way from publishing twelve books. (I’ve already invested in the PC version.)

In the end, I employed two people, which I will do this time, too. A cover designer and formatter. It was much easier and more professional to do this. I can upload a book quicker and it looks the same each time.

Self-publishing is not easy and authors should pursue whatever path will make it easier. Because, after publishing there is marketing and an author needs all their energy for that.

Which is better—Donations or Grants?

They each have their advantages and disadvantages.

Most donations have no restrictions.* People give to support the mission in general. Most grants have some type of restriction. Foundations tend to fund specific projects. Nonprofits should use donations to fund expense areas that foundations do not fund, such as salaries, and use grant funding to support projects.

Although grants have some restrictions, they can sometimes be less restrictive. As long as the money is used for the program, it can be used for any part of that program including salaries. If a nonprofit does this, they need to make it clear in the application.

The disadvantage of donations is most come in November and December and the amounts are unpredictable. To get donations at other times, nonprofits run a fund-raising campaign, which is usually for a specific project, or hold an event, like a concert, dance, or game night (there are many other examples).

The advantage from foundations is they publish a timeline for approval and issuing funds, along with a range of amounts, if they approve the grant. Also, some foundations provide money at the same time for the same project each year. A nonprofit can make plans and have reasonable assurance of a steady income.

As I noted in a recent blog post, Balancing Act, this is another reason for nonprofits to use equal effort and pursue funding from both donations and grants. I have worked with nonprofits receiving donations and grants and they have more stable funding.

* Note: However, some people donate for a specific program or operations.