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! <3

 

Continue Reading

The REAL Picture Ain’t Always Rosy

This article came out in 2012, with statistics from a self-published book world survey saying that about half of all self-published authors make less than $500 per year from book royalties. Now, keep in mind that this was five years ago, right about the time when the self-publishing boom peaked. Things have changed quite a bit since then and, while inspiring stories of success still abound, the hard, ugly truth is that there are now more independent authors, and more books getting published on a daily basis than ever before, which further reduces the odds of any one book making it big. The landscape of stores and distributors has changed as well. As always, Amazon still dominates both the market place and the discussion, with its ever-expanding reach into different aspects of the publishing world, but keep in mind the eBook industry is international, and current events in foreign countries will also play a role in the success of a book or author.

In many ways, the bleak statistics from the article make sense, given that a vast number of self-published authors don’t follow the “standard” format of publishing. Since distributors and stores only impose the most basic quality controls, a lot of self-published books suffer from lack of sales because the author simply didn’t deliver at a level readers expect for the price. Maybe the cover is awful. Maybe the book isn’t formatted properly and is difficult to read. Maybe it hasn’t been edited, and the reader gets tired of seeing fifteen typographical errors on every page, and having to guess at the meaning the author may have intended. Maybe the author doesn’t really care. Maybe their only intention was to make their stories available to a small circle of their friends and loved ones, and they have no interest whatsoever in making a career out of their writing.

The great thing about self-publishing is that anyone can do that. The bad thing about it is that the circle of distribution is never that small.

This has always been and always will be a sore point between authors and readers, and the sales slump we are seeing now could very well be a sign that the market is self-correcting: weeding out the “bad apples” so the good ones can thrive.

However, another reason for low royalties is the continuing downward pricing pressure in the industry. With subscription services gaining popularity, voracious readers can now consume dozens of eBooks for a low monthly fee. When comparing that “basically free” phenomenon with a regularly priced eBook, and given the high volume of books they read on a regular basis, those regularly priced eBooks can seem overpriced. Any savvy consumer will want more for less–that’s perfectly understandable. But it puts the pressure on authors to price their eBooks lower, to offer some or all of them for free, and to do it with a smile on their face, even as they are (metaphorically) cutting off pieces of themselves to gain a foothold in the fickle book market.

Publishing has now become a matter of quantity, rather than quality. The more books you publish, the more sources of revenue you have. You make more selling 100 copies of a $0.99 book than you would selling 10 at $3.99. Faster releases piggyback off their own buzz waves, and keep the word of mouth flowing easier than if an author publishes one book every two years. Even if those slower releases are longer, better, and better presented, many times they will fail simply because readers lose interest and forget by the release date. With so many other options to choose from, instant gratification tends to win out.

From where I’m sitting, those 2012 stats don’t look like they apply any longer. I would estimate that the average annual income for self-published authors is slightly lower now and, having seen a number of authors quit over the last couple of years in order to get full time jobs because of financial problems, it hasn’t gotten any easier to make ends meet on just book royalties.

For this, and many other reasons, the best advice any author or industry professional will ever give you is this:

Write what you love, because you love it.

That love will sustain you through good times and bad. If you don’t have it, if writing doesn’t spark a fire in your soul and consume your every waking moment, all the hardships, setbacks, obstacles, and detours will eventually wear you down and kill any enjoyment you may have started out with. You can’t write to popular trends, because those change in a heartbeat. You can’t write to your audience, because their tastes will change and evolve overtime. You can never please everyone, and readers will feel your lack of passion through your written word.

Every author secretly holds out hope for the “bestselling author” title and J.K. Rowling-class fame, but if you write for the fame and fortune alone…well, as you can see, there is precious little of that to go around.

So here’s another piece of advice I feel I should impart:

Go into this with your eyes open, and a backup plan at the ready.

Knowing what you’re getting involved in, what you can expect, and how to compensate will not only save your sanity, but also keep you afloat when others around you might be sinking. Set the groundwork before you publish your first book: have an online platform and a strong social media presence to build a powerful wave of initial interest. It could mean the difference between creating a readership and fading into obscurity before you have a chance to shine. If you have a day job, hold onto it to pay the bills. Save up for the initial expenses (because they do exist and are necessary) and budget yourself to only what you can afford. Keep abreast of what’s happening in the industry and make a plan for every contingency. And above all, don’t put all of your eggs into one basket. Hedge your bets, publish everywhere possible to reach as many readers as possible.

Continue Reading
Close Menu