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

 

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2017 Smashwords Survey

Every year, the CEO of Smashwords publishes a survey on the company’s blog. It talks about things like genre popularity, most effective price points, most popular book lengths, etc. Definitely worth checking out if you get the chance. Obviously, it’s not the only source of market statistics out there, and it only includes data from Smashwords titles, but it’s still the most comprehensive I have come across so far. Given the number of titles published through the platform, do you think it’s reasonable to extrapolate this data to the eBook industry as a whole?

If you don’t follow Mark Coker’s blog, do yourself a favor and click that Follow button. You can read the 2017 Smashwords survey here.

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