Writers who’ve been around the block ask me every day if self-publishing via POD and e-books is becoming more acceptable. New writers don’t even ask—they see the successes of those who have done so, and often just assume that’s the way to go.
Of course, there’s no quick or easy answer.
Even 10 years ago, you’d have gotten a rapid-fire (and unanimous) response to that: NO! Still five years ago, you’d get the same answer (albeit not quite as adamant). Today, well, oh, Lord. We’re watching things change so fast everyone’s head is spinning.
Within the industry, there is still a huge distinction between authors who are Traditionally published (i.e., a house has purchased the rights to publish the book, including advance and subsequent royalty scale), as opposed to those who self-published (the writer paying to have the book published). The however is, we’ve watched this perception change radically on the outside.
The fact is, readers can’t tell how your book was published.
If your self-published book sells 50,000 copies or so, you will be welcomed into the insiders’ world with open arms and champagne toasts. Selling that many copies is, well, not impossible but it’s danged tough.
Some of my writers have broken in that very way, and done so superbly. Naleighna Kai did this, self-pubbing her first books. Then, her Every Woman Needs a Wife was published by Strebor Books (an imprint of Simon & Schuster). She’s a marketing whirlwind!
She, as well as others who’ve gone this route, busted their butts marketing, pure and simple. Which is of course the name of the game whether you publish your book under your own name, or it comes out from Random House. The marketing is primarily up to you.
Sales numbers continue to be all over the map. Publishers Weekly reported that sales of adult trade books dropped 2.8% in the first half of 2016 compared to the same period in 2015, according to figures released by the Association of American Publishers. Sales in the children’s/young adult segment, meanwhile, rose 0.9% in the same period.
The largest decline in the six-month span came in the e-book format, where sales fell 18.1%. Sales of physical audio dropped 12.7% in the six months, while hardcover sales declined 4.5% and mass market paperback sales fell 2.5%.
Paperback and hardcover formats accounted for the 0.9% sales increase in the children’s/YA category. E-book sales actually fell 34.9%.
The only category to have a sales increase was Religion, which was up 10.4%.
According to a 2014 report in PW:
- The Big Five traditional publishers now account for only 16% of the e-books on Amazon’s bestseller lists.
- DRM (digital rights management) “harms e-book sales at any price point.”
- Self-published books now represent 31% of e-book sales on Amazon’s Kindle Store.
- Indie authors are earning nearly 40% of the e-book dollars going to authors.
- Self-published authors are “dominating traditionally published authors” in sci-fi/fantasy, mystery/thriller, and romance genres but — and here is the surprise — they are also taking “significant market share in all genres.
2015 brought a number of high-profile success stories to self-publishing as well. James McGuire’s Beautiful Redemption found shelf space at Walmart. Andy Weir’s The Martian (which was originally self-published) became a major motion picture starring Matt Damon.
The list goes on.
And more and more traditionally published authors are also self-pubbing other titles.
So where will this all lead?
No one knows. Publishing has never been a great predictor, but rather, makes future decisions based on hindsight.
And with the flux of things the last ten years, no one knows where we’ll go from here.
So, where does that leave you, the aspiring author?
In the midst of authorpreneurship. No matter which route you aspire to, the marketing will be mostly if not all up to you. There’s a reason that “platform” matters to Traditional publishers—it’s how they sell books.
And it’s also how you’ll sell books.
Welcome to the brave new world!