Of all the money spent on ebooks in the USA, what percentage is earned by self-published authors? Would you say 5%? Even 10%?
Make that more like 25%.
Each quarter, AuthorEarnings.com tracks ebook sales on Amazon, and each quarter, the figures show the same trend. Self-published authors are increasing their share of the market and profits at the expense of the “Big Five” publishers. In the latest report, market share for self-published authors stands at just under 45%, while their revenue has grown from 15% to 25%.
We’ve come a long way since the days when authors had no other option but to knock on the doors of agents and publishers – or failing that, from paying “vanity publishers” for the glory of seeing their name in print, along with 500 unsold copies languishing in the basement.
Gone, too, is the stigma of being self-published. Now, authors revel in their independence and are building their own writing and publishing platforms; solely responsible for their marketing, sales and digital rights.
So what changed? I’ve worked in academic and educational (print) publishing, and I’ve also been traditionally published. But in the last three years I’ve been self-publishing, I’ve seen the industry go from strength to strength.
Here are six reasons why it makes sense to be self-published.
1. Shorter publication times
It can take around 12 to 18 months to get your book out with a traditional publisher. There are layers in the process to work through, from commissioning (and I’m not even counting the pre-commissioning stages of submitting ideas, writing samples and getting them approved) through to manuscript delivery; editing and production.
Compare this with the much faster process in self-publishing. You write, you edit, you get a cover design, you upload, you’re done.
2. Accessible publishing services
One of the great benefits of traditional publishing is that you work with a team of professionals: editors, designers, marketers, and so on. But an entire industry has now grown up to serve self-publishers in exactly the same ways. You can outsource to freelance editors, cover designers and formatters, or learn the ropes and do it yourself.
Many successful authors also get to grips with their own marketing and promotions, through social media advertising; box set and audio book production; and setting up book deals, rights selling and promotions.
As an independently-published author, you don’t have to ask permission from anyone else. You have complete control over how your book looks, what price to set it at, and who to work with. If you want to revive flagging book sales with a price promotion, you can lower the price with one click. If you’d like to cross-promote sales with another author in your genre, contact that person directly to set up a joint promotion or contribute to a multi-author box set.
You have all the freedom you need to respond to market changes, and none of the waiting around while the publisher’s marketing and publicity departments get back to you.
One of things I appreciate most from being self-published is the support, advice and encouragement from other authors. We might be “competing” for readers or sales, but many of us happily share our tips and experience. In a fast-moving industry where you need to keep up and respond to market changes this is a great advantage.
The author community is a pretty accepting place, I’ve found. Whether you want to share a triumph, get a boost when you hit an obstacle, or just sound off, there’s usually someone there who will cheer you on. One of the most active communities is the Writers’ Cafe on Kboards, but there are also many Facebook groups catering to authors.
Traditionally published authors tend to get a royalty of around 10% per book sale once their advance has been earned out. Even allowing for the usually higher cover price of a traditionally-published book, Amazon’s 70% royalty (on most books) is a much better deal for authors.
But it’s not just book sales where self-published authors can make a greater profit. With publishing independence comes the right to do what you want with your own content – whether that’s selling translation / foreign language rights, or re-using your material in other formats or on other platforms. You get the greatest cut – not the traditional publisher.
As the self-publishing industry and markets grow, keeping control of your content will become even more important. We’re still in the infancy of self-publishing, and the prospects look great.
6. A direct line to your readers
You obviously aren’t going to be successful if you don’t have readers to buy your books. But because traditional publishers don’t generally sell direct to the public, they have very little idea of who the readers are – and therefore far less ability to connect.
On the other hand, self-published authors can build their own reader lists. This is a hugely powerful marketing strategy: being able to contact your readers directly is one of the greatest insurance policies for growing the market for your books and increasing sales.
Successful authors work hard at building a win-win relationship with their readers. It’s not just a question of letting them know about what you’re writing. Instead, authors can create buzz and excitement around new releases by offering books in return for honest reviews and asking fans to help spread the word.
Canny authors also tap into their reader base to fine-tune or beta-read their work. Readers are very often delighted to help an author out, and of course, this input into the creative process further cements the relationship, leading to greater sales and goodwill.
I believe that great things are going to happen in self-publishing. New markets are opening and the tools to access those markets are also emerging. So if you’ve only considered traditional publishing as viable up to now, think again.
That 25% of the market can only get bigger.