in this creator economy, individual creators need not mistake themselves for organizations.

An individual simply cannot, and need not even aspire to, create and produce on par with a larger team or organization. That way lies madness and burnout, at the very least.

in this creator economy, individual creators need not mistake themselves for organizations.
Photo by Anna Zakharova on Unsplash

A popular author I follow on YouTube recently announced the launch of her subscription service on Ream. As is wont to happen, I began to wonder if that's what I too need to do in order to be successful in the current market and economy.

This thought cropped up, notwithstanding the fact that I did indeed experiment with offering a subscription-based service last year and found it didn't align with how I worked.

I was also on the verge of joining Ream, having had an insightful conversation with one of its co-founders, Michael Evans, who's absolutely lovely to interact with. But shortly before I did, I knew it wasn't the right thing for me and I informed him accordingly. His response was nothing but encouraging and completely accepting of my decisions.

I still have the privilege of being one of their founding authors if I ever join them, but for the time being, I accept that a subscription-based model is not something I wish to execute again in the near term.

Yet, that doesn't stop me from wondering about its allure (the promise of recurring revenue) and whether I should push myself to do it.

In the quiet of my mind, in the sanctity of this space, I know and trust the best choice I can make for me, given who I am, how I work, and how much time, support and capability to work I have.

Amid the noise of the world outside, it feels scary to choose the contrarian path.

This dilemma has been cropping up, not only in this instance of offering a subscription-based model, but also when it comes to the countless other things that authors, especially independent authors, could potentially do today.

  • set up their own store,
  • sell not only books but also merchandise based on their brands,
  • attend conferences,
  • promote and advertise their wares,
  • maintain active social media channels for the entertainment of the masses (because writing books for people's reading pleasure is not enough),
  • execute in-person sales,
  • keep track of their revenues from myriad sources,
  • file taxes,
  • while also not forgetting to write stories, design covers, and publish books in the first place.

The options are endless. The choices are many. And that is extremely exciting!

But the last time I worked in an organization—I was a commodities journalist—there were different departments responsible for executing each of the above roles. And these departments had multiple-employee teams to carry out these tasks.

When did we come to mistakenly believe that we, as individuals, somehow needed to carry out all these tasks, which takes an entire organization to execute?

Over these past few years of writing and trying to make a living from it, I've come to see how the industry has inadvertently encouraged practices that are unsustainable to say the least.

The indie author and the start-up mentality

The term 'authorpreneur' has a cool ring to it; we're not just creatives, we can also (supposedly) make a living from our creative work.

I used to think an indie author is equivalent to a start-up. I'm beginning to rethink the accuracy of that analogy.

Like a start-up, we do begin with a small idea that we are excited about and hope to put it out into the world and find an audience for it.

That's where all the similarities end.

  1. Unlike a start-up, we're writing in isolation. It's not a team of members working together, sharing the ups and downs of the journey, and invested in the success of the venture to (more or less) the same extent.
  2. There is no seed funding/VC backing from an external source. We dip into our savings, rely on our day jobs or a partner with a full-time job, to fund our enterprise, which means, keep paying the bills while we're earning nothing in the present moment.
  3. It's mostly a one-person venture, and we are required to don all the hats that would take entire teams in large organizations to do so.

No wonder so many of us begin to question our sanity after that initial high of writing and publishing our first book (or first few books) wanes.

The indie author as a content machine

Subscription is all the rave now. Or perhaps it has always been, since Patreon has been on the scene for longer.

I understand its allure. It gives patrons a way to support an author/creator consistently, and gives creators the chance to earn an almost predictable monthly revenue.

Taking away the uncertainties of an inconsistent revenue stream can certainly be helpful in letting a creator focus more on creating beautiful content instead of worrying about the latest marketing or advertising gimmick to indulge in to be able to pay their bills.

But if the onus to keep churning out all that content remains on a single person, that sounds like a recipe for disaster. It's demanding the creator to be the CEO and a junior-level employee and all other workers in between at the same time.

Even when we expand the team, the content creator still needs to invest time and effort in providing oversight/guidance/input and make strategic decisions while also creating content alongside. There's a constantly increasing investment of time and money to be made by the creator.

Personally, I found that I couldn't handle having so many things on my plate and try to keep them all going all the time. Too many balls to juggle and keep in air constantly!

The indie author as a business owner

Recently, author coach Becca Syme wrote the following over on Threads:

As a writer, I did not get into this to start a small business. Or run e-commerce websites. I started writing because I want to write. I am less and less interested in doing things that require me to run businesses instead of write.
In 2024, more writing. Less businessing.
~ Becca Syme

An immediate counter-argument to this is that one can't be a full-time author/creative these days unless we treat this endeavour as a business and take the steps to make it a profitable venture.

If we look at other small businesses, they usually start with a product that they offer to the market. An increase in demand for that product leads to expansion of the team, and subsequent addition of more products.

A book is not quite like that. Not anymore, at least. It probably used to be that way in the times of the Kindle gold rush.

Now in a saturated market, where discoverability seems to depend on countless factors that no one can list entirely for certain, it appears as though an author could write for decades and not find success in terms of sales, while another author could hit it right out of the park with just a handful of books.

Publishing is poker, is a truism that many authors in the industry have come to reckon with in recent times.

The indie author as a single human being

In all this madness and mayhem, it has become easy to forget that we are only human, that our time and resources are limited, no matter how much we wish to rail against this truth, no matter how much we wish it were otherwise.

As much as I'd love the whole world to read and love my books — or at least hope for as wide an audience as is possible — there's really only so much I can do in terms of marketing and stuff without it taking too much time away from writing and publishing.

The one thing I really love though is connecting with readers. Some have become close e-friends, and we exchange emails regularly. That human connection is something I truly cherish.

All this is not to say that any one way of being a full-time author is better or worse than the other.

There are countless ways to be an author these days. The choices are endless. But our time and resources are not.

We really have to choose what to invest our time and attention on. Often, we won't see results unless we've stayed on our chosen path for a reasonably long period of time.

How long that should be, no one can tell. When you should pivot, that too no one can tell.

There are really no rules in this business endeavour. No guarantees.

Except for one: the writing is its own reward.

Otherwise we wouldn't be doing all this in the first place.