Flexibility, control, copyright, maximum percentage earnings.
These seem to be the key words for a new breed of entrepreneurs emerging in the publishing industry. As more and more writers self-publish, what was previously regarded as vanity projects are now big business – both for writers and for the digital book industry.
Where before books would languish in drawers, writers with some knowledge, a lot of time, perseverance and social media presence can self-publish and hopefully with some or even lots of success.
Self-publishing has many positive elements:
- The middle-man, retailers, are cut out and books are sold directly to the reader.
- The earnings from the sale per book are increased for the writer in comparison with traditional publishing; the latter which have to take into account their work, marketing, printing and selling costs. The figures banded about are 10% in traditional publishing and copyright tied up for x-number of years against 70% in self-publishing with copyright retained and non-exclusivity. Of course, there are variations of numbers and contractual terms within both sectors.
- Flexibility of sales technique is a major asset for those who decide to go the self-publishing route. There is the option to reduce and vary price,market special offers, including special promotions when a book might even be available for free. I know the latter is usually a major hit with many takers on the offer and resulting in increased reviews online. Also some authors can decide to part release chapters of their books via social media to tempt readers in. One major success of this tactic was Andy Weir’s ‘The Martian’. He released his book chapter by chapter on his blog, before collating it into a complete book for self-publishing as an e-book, audio book and physical book. By then the word was already out and the book was picked up by a division of Penguin Random House. It’s now a Hollywood blockbuster.
- Self-publishing also allows an author to publish a book no one in the traditional trade will touch as they consider it out of step with current market trends. One such example of miscalculation is the hugely successful ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, which E L James decided to self-publish following lack of interest by the publishing houses. She self-published, the book flourished and in due course was picked up by Vintage Books, which had the capability to bring the physical books nationwide and to an international market as well as offering the full support of its marketing team. To date the whole series boasts sales of a 125 million books!
- Many self-published authors have realised the popularity of series books and often have the flexibility to bundle the books together as such when selling them, giving the reader a better deal and for the writer an opportunity to increase financial sales and hopefully win longterm readers in the process.
- Another positive aspect to self-publishing is that books do not have to be standardised regarding length, with books varying much more in number of words and offering a larger scope for refreshing variety of books.
So how big is the self-publishing industry?
No one knows for sure, particularly as the largest operator (Amazon Kindle) refuses to release their sales figures, however it is believed that between 12-15% of books sold are self-published. Although the number might not seem large, according to Author Earnings the earnings from e-books by self-published authors in America is collectively more than earned by authors represented by the Big Five publishers.
This is a massive amount and one that is only increasing. Its own success spawns trouble for newcomers who are entering a flooded market and have to work so much harder to try and win attention and interest in their book. It is not impossible but it can be trickier than ever the experts admit.
There are numerous difficulties facing a first-time self-published author.
- It can be an arduous task to release over many platforms such as Amazon,Kobo, Google Play and Apple iBooks. For each platform there is the need to reformat the book each time. This can be both time-consuming and requiring yet more new skills.
- Furthermore there is the all important book design cover to consider. Whether to try and achieve this on ones own or search for help.
- The blurb is vital with any book and it is important to get this right!
- Last but not least the actual marketing falls upon the self-published author alone; not only to organise but also to carry out without support. This includes both the social media/online marketing and perhaps outside promotional events in eg. bookshops and libraries.
- There is of course also the financial risk to factor in. Many writers will want to have their manuscript professionally proofread. Perhaps a professional cover will be commissioned. Also if producing the physical books there is the printing costs to consider. Douglas Wright, a former journalist, took the opportunity to self-publish his first book but he is only now starting to recoup the costs.
If it all seems too much there is a huge network of support out there. Many here in WordPress are wonderful bloggers offering help, advice and support for various or all elements of the process.
Furthermore several companies exist to help with the whole package of self-publishing including Whitefox Publishing Services, Reedsy. Support forums also exist, such as Royal Road Self-Publishing Forum, Authors Alliance.
Finally, on a personal level the information above is of great interest to me as I consider which direction to take in the future. So many bloggers have successfully self-published not just one but many books and I hold them in high esteem. My admiration for their books and their ability is immense as I begin to realise the epic journey that awaits anyone contemplating this route. I am pretty tech savvy but the thought of trying to put all this together myself into an e-book instills a certain amount of fear and trepidation. The more I read the more confused I become. I will not let this hamper my efforts though and like the writing take it step by step should I decide to go this way, calling upon your invaluable help along the way!
* Michael Tamblyn, Head of Kobo talking about e-books on BBC news.
Data is from various sources including BBC news.