The Hard Truth About Self-Publishing

The conversation I saw went roughly like this:

Indie Author: Everyone so concerned about Amazon removing reviews… They’re doing it to remove fake reviews. Reviews should come from strangers, not from your friends.

Other Indie Authors: You’re missing the point. They’re removing legitimate reviews for no reason and with no notice.

Indie Author: If Indies are so worried about Amazon, they should start their own Indie platform. You gotta spend money to make money. You should be doing ads to get more sales like I do.

Other Indie Authors: Dude, most Indies don’t have that kind of money.

Indie Author: Ha ha, then they should get a job. I figured a lot of people would disagree. You guys just don’t get it.

I’m still waiting for an explanation of what this “it” is supposed to be that Indies aren’t getting and a manual on how to do it “the right way.” I don’t think one will be forthcoming.

So let’s look at some facts, stats, and numbers from an AuthorEarnings and WorldOMeters report to see why Indies might not be getting the sales their books deserve, or why their net royalties might be less than they expected…

  • As of Feb 2017, Amazon accounts for 82% of English Language eBook purchases
  • Indie Publishing accounts for 34% of the U.S. market
  • Comparing Indies with Big 5 authors, 91% of Indie sales come from Amazon (this includes KDP Select exclusive), versus 70% for Big 5 authors
  • Amazon-exclusive authors are earning more dollars than widely-published authors earn at all non-Amazon retailers combined (this includes scammers, however)
  • As of April 2017, the per-page payout from Kindle Unlimited was $0.00488/page. At this rate…
    • A 250-page book would earn a royalty of $1.22.
    • Compare that to the same eBook selling as a stand-alone title at $2.99 and 70% royalty rate where the author would earn $2.09.
    • At $3.99, that royalty would be $2.79
  • In 2010, 328,259 new titles were released in the U.S. alone. That’s almost 900 new titles every day, and that number has likely grown since then

Where you publish matters. How you publish matters. But even if you do everything right, with proper formatting, a professional cover, several weeks on Pre-Order, and a vigorous marketing push through various outlets, that last statistic alone is a staggering hurdle to overcome.

On any given day, your new release is competing for attention with about 1,000 titles. The next day, it’s 2,000, and the day after that, 3,000. This is just to stay visible at all, much less in any significant capacity. Authors who don’t have the backing of a Big 5 publisher are essentially tiny plankton particles floating around in an ocean filled with other plankton, pollution, and lots of much bigger creatures, all of which make them pretty much invisible without either a massive, pre-established audience, or a hefty advertising budget (and the expertise to make it work).

Believe me, every single Indie author out there with at least one book release under their belt is aware of the factors affecting their (lack of) sales. Every single one of them knows (or should know) that writing is art, but publishing is business, and it takes money to make money. The problem is, the vast majority of them don’t have the initial capital necessary to invest in that business. Many of them have limited resources to work with, and they often choose to spend those resources on making a quality product.

Here’s the problem with the publishing business: Quality is no longer the determining factor in book sales. It doesn’t matter how amazing your book is if no one ever gets to find out about it. It doesn’t matter if you have the most beautiful cover in the world if no one ever sees it. It’s not the best Indie authors who get the sales, it’s the ones with the cleverest advertising strategy and/or questionable ethics.

Here’s the other problem with the book industry: Publishing is expensive–for the author. Everyone takes a cut, everything costs something, and those costs add up fast, especially when the pressure is so intense to price books lower or free.

Helpful hint: If you give your product away for free, you’re not making any income. If you invested any money into its production, that money is now a net loss. If those hundreds of downloaded freebies don’t lead to sales of your other books, you’re dead in the water on that front, and right back at square one. Yet authors have been told to price their books free for so long, it’s now not only accepted, but expected as a standard practice.

Bottom line: Telling someone they need to invest more into their book business is like telling a drowning man he just needs to swim harder.

If you’re financially successful as an author, kudos. You earned it, and I’m happy for you. But don’t put down those who are struggling daily to make a go of their dream. That just makes you a jerk.

If you’re out there, making sacrifices, losing sleep, losing friends, ignoring loved ones, and hustling every free moment you have to not only write your books, but make sure they’re seen, you have my most humble respect. I see your struggle. I share it. I wish I had a winning strategy to share with you, but I don’t. All I can do is share what I know in the hopes that it’ll help someone else.

No one ever said it would be easy, but I don’t think any of us ever expected it to be this ridiculously hard. Stick with it, anyway. Write your heart out, give your book the strongest wings you can, and then let it fly. Your words are your legacy to the world. They deserve to be shared, and they deserve to be enjoyed.

I love you, fellow Indies! ❤

 

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9 thoughts on “The Hard Truth About Self-Publishing

  1. Being an author is hard work, yet so worth it! Even if authors have thousands of dollars to spend on advertisements – there are no guarantees they would make any book sales. My 83 year old Father has his own publishing business that he does for fun without making a profit (my books don’t fit his genre) and many of his authors are lucky if they sell 100 books; however, these authors continue to write on…

    Liked by 2 people

  2. The bottom line is that it is a business and people miss that. Many of those huge numbers aren’t people who will stick around because like you and I know, in those first few years the struggle is beyond hard. (I don’t let numbers like that bother me to be honest.) Finding your place, your voice, what works for you. It’s freakin work, lol. And even those who’ve been in it for over twenty years, they are still learning and doing everything we do in the beginning minus maybe finding their voice. Maybe it’s improving their voice more so. Or finding new ways to express their voice. Far too many think it’ll be easy, but like any start up business, ya better sit down, roll up those sleeves, and be prepared to work to improve every aspect all the time. Pull back at times to refresh your strategy, then make a new comeback.

    Time will temper that individual’s attitude. As hard as those first few years are, they can be amazing in terms of sales because we’re the new face, fresh face. Then we are no longer “new” and reality sets in. Some it can be quickly, some take years, but all of us face that lovely plateau that hits like in working out. First the water weight comes off and we’re all “woohoo!” then we keep going and “oh my god, I want to give up,” hits.

    I have a friend who hit that rare jackpot in terms of getting a six figure deal as a fresh new author with a major publishing house. Before I hit social media vacation I saw her post a few weeks ago that even she suffered the fate of the above. She’d been the new it face, had massive pushes all over for marketing (we’re talking a HUGE amount invested in it), had advertisers and such who helped famous people I won’t name drop, and STILL she faced that plateau after a few years into the business. I think she’s around 4 or 5 yrs in if memory serves. Now she’s hit the reevaluation placement and she dropped a lot of her excess expenditures to compensate, is thinking of going a different way with her writing (screenwriting instead) and interesting other aspects. It was eye-opening to see that even an author who went traditional faced/faces the exact things we do as self-publishers/indies.

    The best way to make it (personal opinion obviously from what I’ve learned and seen) is simply being humble and continuing to learn, push forward. Time is our friend and getting better, building that fan base slowly and surely without being anything but authentic. We’re all in the same beautiful boat. Saying what works for one doesn’t mean it’ll work for another. We all have to learn our individual paths.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. 100% true on everything you said. 🙂 The Indie/eBook industry as a whole has hit a major plateau. Gone are the days of exponential growth. The new technology and the new self-publishing trend has been fully adopted and this is the new normal now. Traditionally published authors and their publishers don’t have it much easier. One of my all time favorite authors gets brand new covers for all her books every couple of years or so, just to freshen them up, maybe get new interest in old books. We all do what we can to stay afloat. And yeah, it’s hard, hard work that never ends. Unless you decide to give up.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Redoing covers is a good idea. I heard about that a long time ago from someone I follow who’d been around for a bit. Forget who it was, but they were mentioning how just times change too so it makes sense. Also different countries will respond differently to images of one sort versus another too so there’s another reason to change often. I know there are a few of mine who’ve undergone changes a lot too. Fads change, personalities, etc.

        Liked by 1 person

          1. It’s a lot of work to change them too often.I have no real thoughts on how often for mine. Some I’ve never changed, some have undergone many changes because they didn’t feel right. But if I did each one too often? That’s massive amount of time and energy (to me) that’d be too exhausting and spent on that versus writing more. All the time to find the images, have them made (or make them yourself) and that’s not even uploading the new version, lol. Especially if you do wide distribution. That’s a lot of different versions of the book to change. I try never to over think on those aspects. TRY being the important word, haha.

            Liked by 1 person

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