When I started writing and sending out my stories for consideration, they went in envelopes that took a lot of stamps. Then journals accepted submissions by email, and I save a lot of money, even when a small reading fee was charged. The traditional print journals, usually associated with an English department somewhere, often pay contributors in copies only. Not much money to be made publishing one’s short stories, then or now, since the slew of online journals that’s come into being don’t pay their contributors, either.
The bigger change, financially, seems to be in book publishing. While it’s true that cost to self-publish a book can be very low, around $400 or less if you’re well-versed in how to do layouts on your computer and are comfortable with graphic design, a lot of those books aren’t very good. And they flood the Amazon market, making it tough for readers to know what’s worth reading and what isn’t. If you want to self-publish a book, and do it really well, you have to hire people to help you. Who are they? Graphic designers, proofreaders, and in some cases, editorial coaches who help you develop your book and get it ready for publication, though I don’t really endorse that. I’m not slamming development coaches at all, it’s just that as a writer I had to learn when a story – or book – was ready to be read, had reached publishable quality. I learned how to self-edit, in other words, which I think any writer worth his salt knows how to do already.
But, to continue, when you’ve got the book all designed and laid out, you need to promote it, and that means spending more money. You need a publicist – a good one – who knows social media inside and out, and is adept at improving and enhancing your website to direct viewers to your new book. Did I mention having a website before? I should have, because all serious writers need one. And again, quality matters, so spend good money on a good web designer.
In the “old” day, big publishing houses bore a lot of these costs, (not necessarily for a writer’s website) and handed out a small percentage of royalties. So, put simply, self-publishing means that the cost of getting a book into the world means that you, the writer AND publisher pony up. And keep everything you make, after you break even. Yes, self-publishing means you don’t have to wait around for months while an agent decides to represent you, or a big house decides to take a chance on you, but it also means that your pocketbook is going to get pretty lean before it fattens up again, if it ever does.
Writing itself hasn’t changed. It probably never will. But publishing certainly has changed a great deal, mostly by shifting costs from publisher to author. My advice? Be ready to spend and spend well.