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Self-publishing is the publication of media by its author without the involvement of an established publisher. In common parlance, the term usually refers to physical written media, such as books and magazines, or digital media, such as e-books and websites. It can also apply to albums, pamphlets, brochures, video content, zines, or uploading images to a website.
Unlike the traditional publishing model, in which control of the publication is shared with a publisher, the author controls the entire process, including design, price, distribution, marketing, and public relations. The author may perform these activities themselves or they may outsource these tasks. In traditional publishing, the publisher bears the costs, such as editing, marketing, and paying advances, and reaps a substantial share of the profits; by comparison, in self-publishing, the author bears all of these costs but earns a higher share of the profit.
The $1 billion market of self-publishing has changed considerably in the past two decades with new technologies such as the Internet providing increasing alternatives to traditional publishing. Self-publishing is increasingly becoming the first choice for writers. Most self-published books sell very few copies, although there are approximately a dozen books that sell into the millions. The quality of self-published works varies considerably, with many low quality titles on the market.
Self-publishing is not a new phenomenon; after the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in 1440, numerous books have been self-published. In 1759, British satirist Laurence Sterne's self-published the first two volumes of Tristram Shandy. While most novels were distributed by established publishers, there have been authors who chose to self-publish, or who chose to start their own presses, such as John Locke, Jane Austen, Emily Dickinson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Martin Luther, Marcel Proust, Derek Walcott, and Walt Whitman. In 1908, Ezra Pound sold A Lume Spento for six pence each. Franklin Hiram King's book Farmers of Forty Centuries was self-published in 1911, and was subsequently published commercially. In 1931 the author of The Joy of Cooking paid a local printing company to print 3000 copies; the Bobbs-Merrill Company acquired the rights, and since then the book has sold over 18 million copies. In 1941, writer Virginia Woolf chose to self-publish her final novel Between the Acts on her Hogarth Press, in effect starting her own press.
Five years ago, self-publishing was a scar. Now it’s a tattoo.
Up until two decades ago, self-publishing used to be described by the negative term vanity press, with the connotation that the only reason that a book was being printed was to satisfy the author’s personal ego. Authors were considered to have been insufficiently talented to have been published the "proper" way via an established publishing house. Traditional publishers typically paid authors a percentage of the sales of their books, so publishers would select only those authors whose books they believed were likely to sell well. As a result, it was difficult for an unknown author to get a publishing contract under these circumstances. So-called vanity publishers offered an alternative: they would publish any book in exchange for an upfront payment by the author. With this arrangement, the author would not own the print run of finished books, and would not control how they were distributed. Critics of vanity publishers included James D. Macdonald, who claimed that vanity publishing violated Yog’s Law which states that "Money should flow toward the author." Vanity publishing usually required a one-time payment of $5,000 to $10,000 to do a print run of 1000 books; these books usually ended up in boxes in a garage.
Self-published books have had a negative stigma. To be sure, self-publishing is sometimes seen as a sign that an author believes in his or her work; for instance, photographer-turned-publisher Max Bondi said that "investing in a project shows that you believe in it". Nevertheless, part of the reason for the negative stigma is that many self-published books, particularly in past decades, were of dubious quality. For example, in 1995, a retired TV repairman self-published his autobiography in which he described how he had been stepped on by a horse when he was a boy, how he had been almost murdered by his stepfather when he was a young man in Mexico, and how his ex-wife had clawed his face with her fingernails. The repairman spent $10,000 to have his 150-page masterpiece printed up, and, for promotion purposes, he sent copies to a local library, to the White House, and to everybody with the repairman’s same last name. These efforts did not lead anywhere; today, the book is largely forgotten.
Even in the first decade of the 21st century, self-publishing was often seen as a "mark of failure", although there are many indicators that this is changing. The image of self-publishing has been improving, since many well-known writers, who generate high quality content, have first started by self-publishing, or have switched from traditional publishing to self-publishing. According to some views, the stigma of self-publishing is gone entirely, while others feel that self-publishing still has a way to go to cultivate respectability. Book critic Ron Charles in the Washington Post complained in an opinion piece that "No, I don’t want to read your self-published book", citing concerns that there were too many published authors, and that self-published books lacked quality, and were published by authors with little understanding of the audience or the market. But the negative stigma has been receding with the advent of dozens of authors who have self-published their way to literary success. Breakaway bestsellers such as Fifty Shades of Grey  and The Martian were first self-published, helping to lend respectability to self-publishing in general. Further, with new avenues of self-publishing, there are more opportunities for authors to break through directly to audiences.
For decades, the literary world dismissed self-published authors as amateurs and hacks who lacked the talent to land a book deal. But that attitude gradually began to change with the rise of e-books and the arrival of Kindle from Amazon, which gave authors direct access to millions of readers.
Today what constitutes vanity publishing is not clearly defined. An author who simply uploads a manuscript to an online service like Kindle or Smashwords, and who then expects a bestseller without doing vital marketing and promotion efforts, might be described as doing vanity publishing. Increasingly, vanity publishing is defined as a behavior rather than a definition of certain companies or individuals, although there remain a handful of companies that clearly qualify as vanity publishers. These companies offer the cachet of being published and make the majority of their income on fees for intangible services paid for by the author in advance of publication, rather than afterwards from sales revenue.
Accordingly, the line between vanity publishing and traditional publishing has become increasingly blurred in recent years. Currently there are several companies that offer digital and print publication with no upfront cost, although many of them offer fee-based services such as editing, marketing and cover design.
A huge impetus to self-publishing has been rapid advances in technology, particularly the exponential growth of the Internet and a general shift from analog to digital technology. The Internet has been described as a "great equalizer" in the publishing world, since it enables an author to put their books out there and "stand naked before the world." Costs for printing and distributing a book have fallen dramatically. Advances in e-book readers and tablet computers have improved readability; such devices allow readers to "carry" numerous books in a small portable device. These technologies make it possible to have a book printed or digitally delivered after an order has been placed, so there are no costs for storing inventory. Print-On-Demand (or POD) technology, which became available in the mid-1990s, can produce a high quality product equal to those produced by traditional publishers; in the past, one could easily identify a self-published title by its lack of quality. Print-on-demand was easy, since an author could simply upload a manuscript, choose an interior file format and a cover, and the book could be printed as needed, avoiding warehousing costs, and reducing the risk of being stuck with a huge unsold inventory. Further, the Internet provides access to global distribution channels via online retailers, so a self-published book can be instantly available to book buyers worldwide. A Canada-based firm named Wattpad offers streaming video productions based on the stories of self-published authors as of 2017.
Internet transmission of digital books was combined with print-on-demand publishing with the invention of the Espresso Book Machine which was first demonstrated at the New York Public Library in 2007. This machine prints, collates, covers, and binds a single book. It is in libraries and bookstores throughout the world, and it can make copies of out-of-print editions. Small bookstores sometimes use it to compete with large bookstore chains. It works by taking two Internet-delivered pdf files, one for the text and one for the cover, and then prints an entire paperback book in a matter of minutes, which then drops down a chute.
Amazon's introduction of the Kindle and its self-publishing platform, Kindle Direct Publishing or KDP, in 2007 has been described as a tipping point in self-publishing, which "opened the floodgates". It was an "exclusively electronic self-publishing platform" which was e-book only, free for authors to upload their books, and gave authors control over how their books were priced as well as access to the same distribution channels as major publishers.
In recent times the publishing industry as a whole is in a great deal of flux, in a sort of "Wild Wild West" state. The online retailing giant, Amazon, has had a huge impact on the book-selling industry, driving many brick-and-mortar bookstores out of business and making inroads into publishing as well. Amazon has enticed readers away from bookstores and into an online environment, and its KDP and CreateSpace distribution channels have spawned a huge growth in self-publishing. As a result, the numbers of self-published authors are ever-increasing.
There is an anti-establishment aspect to self-publishing, in that it has been seen historically as a way to defy authority or resist oppression. The self-publishing movement can also be viewed as a part of the Do-it-yourself culture which "flourishes in environments of communitarian support." A writer who is rejected by the usual system can find solace in self-publishing. Some struggling authors complained that the traditional publishing model was too "insular", keeping out different ideas about stories as well as ones with unusual characters or plotlines, or which dealt with minorities, and self-publishing was a way for these formerly outcast writers to connect with readers. Libraries have also become involved with self-publishing; the Library Journal and Biblioboard worked together to create a self-publishing platform called Self-e in which authors submit books online which are made available to readers. These books are reviewed by Library Journal, and the best ones are published nationwide; authors do not make money this way but it serves as a marketing tool.
The dramatic changes have impacted the standard publishing industry as well, which is controlling a smaller share of the overall publishing market, forcing many traditional publishers to consolidate to reduce costs. The squeeze has been applied to such authors, some of whom have complained that traditional publishers have often asked for the author to contribute part of the start-up expenses personally, in effect deviating from the usual model of the publisher providing all upfront expenses.
Self-publishing is still a "difficult and demanding way to go" but is increasingly becoming a respectable, if alternative, choice for a writing career. Self-publishers who are savvy, motivated and hard-working, can build audiences and make money.
In the traditional publishing model, editors and publishers act as a filter or screen, weeding out possibly radical or badly written or substandard content. In contrast, self-publishing enables authors to bypass this filter and sell their books directly to the public. The wide-open uncensored nature of self-publishing has caused problems and controversies with pornographic or abuse-themed content. Amazon has a policy against selling content relating to rape and incest and bestiality which states "We don't accept pornographic or offensive depictions of graphic sexual acts", but it is sometimes difficult for book distributors to distinguish what type of content is acceptable and what is not. Some retailers have had to remove problematic content. A survey found that self-published erotica was more extreme among self-published books than mainstream books. Erotica is about 1% of the mainstream market but 29% of the self-published market, according to one informal survey in 2013.
There have been some controversial self-published books, such as that of a man who posted a photo of his dead wife, whom he had murdered. Celebrity Kim Kardashian self-published a 445-page book which consisted entirely of selfies, a book described in Slate magazine as having "no literary ambitions at all – it barely has words."
While editors at a traditional publisher would often insist on fact-checking, and doing due diligence regarding claims made by an author, there are no requirements in the self-publishing model for this to happen. Self-publishing has attracted political provocateurs such as Milo Yiannopoulos who was able to publish his tome Dangerous on Amazon despite being dumped by traditional publisher Simon & Schuster as well as Breitbart after a video surfaced of him condoning pedophilia.
As a check on self-published content, and as part of its overall strategy of empowering consumers by giving more information, Amazon permits reviews of its products, including books that it sells. However, it is possible for self-published authors to game the Amazon review system to make their books appear better than they are, perhaps by encouraging large numbers of five-star reviews by paying anonymous reviewers to write fake laudatory comments. According to one view, the system is at serious risk of fraud and deception. Amazon has responded by emphasizing reviews in which the book purchase is verified, and it has fought back by, in some cases, suing people and service firms who sell fake reviews.
A problem for some successful self-published authors is plagiarism. It is relatively easy for a manuscript to be copied and changed in superficial ways, but changed sufficiently so that it is hard for plagiarism-detecting software to catch the similarities between the real book and the plagiarized copy; then the copy can be uploaded online under a new title and different author name, which can earn royalties for the plagiarist. For example, author Rachel Ann Nunes, who wrote A Bid for Love in 1998, found that her manuscript had been plagiarized, with a nearly identical book entitled The Auction Deal. Nunes hired a lawyer to track down the plagiarists. In the previous publisher-dominated system, a publisher would have been liable for selling a plagiarized book, but in the world of self-publishing, there are no liabilities involved if Amazon removes the plagiarized titles. It is often difficult to catch and prosecute the plagiarists, who can masquerade using false identities.
|Most fiction sales will come from e-books|
|Indie authors and smaller presses will be dominant|
|Amazon titles will be the bestsellers|
|Kindle Unlimited readership will keep growing|
|Increased competition as market is flooded|
|Audiobooks will become more popular|
|Facebook ads will be less persuasive|
|International sales will spur profits|
|Increasingly authors will work together|
|Source: Chloe Smith 2017|
The publishing industry, including self-publishing, is changing so rapidly that it is hard to make accurate predictions about where it is headed. It is likely that self-publishing will continue to grow, and that authors will demand more and more data about their readers as well as how well their books are selling. Self-publishing is growing in marketing sophistication and ambition, according to one view.
Regarding the e-book market, there are predictions that independent authors will be grabbing an increasing slice of this market. Traditional publishers are losing ground in the e-book market, according to several sources. E-books published by traditional publishers declined by 11% from 2015 to 2016. The drop in e-book sales was really more of a phenomenon in which established publishers were raising the prices of their e-books, and saw a relative decline in sales compared to their print offerings. In contrast, sales of self-published e-books have been increasing. An increasing number of e-books are being read on tablets as opposed to dedicated E-book readers. One forecast was that digital sales would continue to increase over time, and paper-based publishing would become a "niche market" like with newspapers and magazines.
A report in 2017 suggested that Amazon was working on a system to transform foreign language fiction into English with its AmazonCrossing service. Amazon accounted for 10% of all translated foreign fiction books, according to one report.
There are an increasing variety of resources for authors choosing the self-publishing route.
Publishing guru Jane Friedman breaks out the publishing routes for authors into basic categories:
|Steps to publication|
|Idea and concept|
|Layout and typesetting|
|Purchase an ISBN|
|Choose distribution channel(s)|
|Marketing and promotion|
The author as a self-publisher also takes on many of the creative tasks to complete the finished works, which include creative writing as well as selecting the writing software, editing, marketing, and cover design. While self-publishing means that the author is in control of the entire process of production, from writing and editing, to layout to distribution, and to choosing publishing platforms and selecting marketing variables such as the price, many of these tasks can be outsourced to professionals. Professionals can be located through search engines, freelancing websites such as Reedsy, word of mouth, identifying and contacting creative assistants who have worked on already-published books, and searching relevant forums. Authors can spend up to $5000 for a variety of services to assist with publishing.
There is strong agreement that self-published authors fare better if they are able to employ a skilled editor, preferably one with a financial interest in the success of the book, and who can bring a savvy understanding of the market as well as a strong sense of story development. Self-published author James Altucher describes working with an editor:
Nils and I went back and forth on more than 15 different rewrites for my book. The difference between the original version and the final version is like the difference between chicken shit and chicken salad.— Self-published author James Altucher in 2013
A liability for self-published authors is that if they can find a skilled editor, he or she is still being paid by the author for upfront editing work, and may not care whether the book is successful or not. A big advantage for working with a traditional publishing arrangement is having an editor and publisher who have a financial interest in making the book a bestseller.
A self-published author is responsible for the technical aspects of self-publishing, which include formatting for printing and digital conversion. Formatting can be complex and time-consuming but patient people can learn how to do it by themselves, but often hire this task out to experienced freelancers.
Unless a book is to be sold directly from the author to the public, an International Standard Book Number or ISBN is required to uniquely identify the title. ISBN is a global standard used for all titles worldwide. Most self-publishing companies either provide their own ISBN to a title or can provide direction about how to get one. A separate ISBN number is needed for each edition of the book. It may be in the best interest of the self-published author to retain ownership of the ISBN and copyright instead of using a number owned by a vanity press.
The dominant self-publishing platform is Amazon which controls the vast share of the market, but there are numerous competitors and platforms in which authors can upload and sell their books.
Kindle Direct Publishing or KDP is Amazon’s e-book publishing unit which was launched when the company began selling its Amazon Kindle book reading device in 2007. Books can be published in numerous languages. Amazon’s KDP has hundreds of thousands of self-published titles. Amazon’s KDP program uses ASIN identifiers instead of ISBNs to identify e-books. Amazon does not release sales figures of its authors. Many authors prefer Amazon for its global clout and reach. One analysis suggested that Amazon earned $2.3 billion from e-book revenues in 2016, and 25% of these were from self-published e-books; and Amazon released 4 million e-book titles in 2016, and 40% of them were self-published. Another estimate was that Amazon controls 70% of the e-book market.
Amazon's Kindle Unlimited service lets readers read any books in its catalog, provided that the users pay a monthly fee. Amazon tracks which books are selected and read by subscribers. An author who wants to have their book included in this program enters into Amazon’s KDP Select program, and as part of the agreement, the author promises to make their book exclusive to Amazon. The author can opt out of the KDP program every ninety days. An estimate in 2017 was that of Amazon's Kindle Unlimited market, about 60% of the books read and borrowed were self-published. Amazon initially began the program by paying authors whenever their book was chosen, but then it switched to an arrangement in which it pays authors based on pages read. Each month, Amazon establishes a fund from which to pay authors, based on Amazon’s accounting of which pages are read. Amazon has been criticized for short-changing authors by paying them out of this monthly fund. As a result of the program, many Amazon authors found that their income decreased substantially when the company switched to the pages-read basis. The collective fund for KDP authors in August 2017 was $19.4 million which was the "largest ever" of the monthly funds, but overall authors received the lowest amount, which was $0.00419 per page for that month. Some authors tried to compensate for less income by slightly altering and republishing their work, to try to increase the total of pages read. The change to the pages-read model was criticized as being a "huge pay cut" for authors. None of the big 5 publishers contributed books to Kindle Unlimited as of 2017.
IngramSpark lets authors to publish digital and paperback editions of their books. It distributes books to most online bookstores. Brick-and-mortar stores can also order books from IngramSpark at wholesales prices for sale in their own venues. It is run by Ingram Content Group.
Apple sells books via its App Store which is a digital distribution platform for its mobile apps on its iOS operating system. Apps can be downloaded to its devices such as the iPhone, the iPod Touch handheld computer, and the iPad. Apple pays authors 70% of its proceeds at its Apple iBookstore where it sells iBooks.
Smashwords is a California-based company founded by Mark Coker which allows authors and independent publishers to upload their manuscripts electronically to the Smashwords service, which then converts them into multiple e-book formats which can be read on various devices. Authors control what price is set.
Scribd is an open publishing platform which features a digital library, an e-book and audiobook subscription service. It began as an online sharing site for books, and evolved into a store; books published there entitle an author to 80% of the sales price.
Print-on-demand (or POD) publishing refers to the ability to print high-quality books as needed. This is usually the most economical option for self-publishers who expect sales to be sporadic over time. An alternative is to hire a printing press to do a print run in which a large number of books are printed at one time, such as a hundred or a thousand copies, which can result in a slightly lower per-book printing cost, but risks holding onto unsold inventory for an extended period of time. Print-on-demand means that a book is printed only after it is purchased, lessening the risk, which eliminates the need for expensive warehouse space. Many companies, such as Amazon’s Createspace, Outskirts Press, IngramSpark, Blurb, Lulu, Llumina Press, and iUniverse allow single books to be printed at per-book costs which are not much higher than those paid by publishing companies for large print runs. Ingram is the largest book distributor, and it can help self-published authors get access to 39,000 bookstores, according to one report. The physical quality of print-on-demand self-published books is generally the same as that from an established publisher, although quality can in some instances vary.
Generally self-publishing works best with e-books because, unlike print-on-demand self-publishing, it solves the twin problems of price and distribution. There are a variety of e-book formats and tools that can be used to create them. Because it is possible to create e-books with no up-front or per-book costs, this is a popular option for self-publishers. E-book publishing platforms include Pronoun, Smashwords, Blurb, Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, CinnamonTeal Publishing, Papyrus Editor, Ebook Leap, Bookbaby, Pubit, Lulu, Llumina Press, and CreateSpace. When a person buys an E-book, the buyer does not own the book, but owns a license only to read the book. Formatting standards for e-books continue to evolve; at present, there have been compatibility problems with some digital e-book readers. For example, a recent EPUB 3.1 e-book format is not compatible with earlier e-book readers such as the Kindle. E-book formats include EPUB, MOBI and PDF, among others. In 2017, there was a report in the Chicago Tribune that e-books sales are continuing to increase. Epublishing distributors allow an author to sell on multiple platforms, often providing conversion and formatting services, usually charge no fees upfront, and make money by taking a small percentage of each book sold.
Users pay to have their books published. While a commercial publisher’s market is the book-buying public at large, the vanity publisher’s market is the author himself or herself. Some authors buy substantial copies of their own book which are then used as giveaways or promotional tools. The term vanity press is considered pejorative since it suggests that a person who hires such a service is unqualified or unable to have their book succeed in the market, and that the author is printing the book only out of vanity. In this business model, there can be elements of fraud, such that some vanity presses masquerade as legitimate publishers, and pretend to be selective and choosy in their book selections, and prey upon a would-be author’s desire to be published. If a vanity press charges a higher amount to print a run of books than a regular printer, it can be an indication of deception and fraud.
There are numerous firms offering publishing assistance, and they include Aventine Press, Self Publishing Inc., Hillcrest Media, iUniverse, Xlibris, and AuthorHouse. The parent company of AuthorHouse and iUniverse is Author Solutions based in Bloomington, Indiana. Aer.io, owned by Ingram, is a service which allows authors as well as small presses to promote books via social media, with one-click book buying via a direct link. Wattpad gives authors data about which chapters are read by readers, and demographic information such as the ages and locations of readers. In the UK, author services companies include Matador and Silverwood.
CreateSpace is Amazon’s print-on-demand book publishing service. Authors can sign up for an account, and the online software can guide an author through the steps of publication, such as uploading a cover, selecting distribution channels and setting prices. Books uploaded to CreateSpace become part of Amazon’s online catalog and can be made available to book buyers around the world. Amazon collects revenues from book sales on behalf of authors, and then deposits royalty monies directly into an author’s account, usually after a few months or so after the sale. CreateSpace offers additional services to help authors, such as cover design and copyediting ($120+) as well as converting the manuscript file to a Kindle-compatible e-book file ($70). Createspace offers authors free book identifying numbers or ISBNs without extra charge, or authors can buy their own ISBN numbers.
Smashwords publishes and distributes e-books. Smashwords authors keep 60% of the sale price, and Smashwords keeps 10%, and the retailer keeps 30%; if a sale is made directly through Smashwords, the author keeps 85% of the sales price. Smashwords provides a list of freelance assistance services. In 2017, it distributed 250,000 titles for 60,000 authors to most of the world's e-book stores in exchange for a cut of the author's profits. Smashwords books can go on sale a few minutes after they’re uploaded.
I believe every writer is great and wonderful and has something to share with the world. Readers will decide if what they're sharing is worth reading.— Mark Coker of Smashwords, 2013 
Lulu publishes print and e-books and offers publishing-related services such as website design, cover design, editing packages, and strategies for social media promotions. It was founded in 2002. Lulu charges nothing upfront, and each time a book is sold, it keeps 20% of the profit and pays 80% to the author. Lulu offers additional services such as editing ($450) and cover design ($130) and other services such as design and formatting which can cost from $700 to $5000. Lulu enables authors to print books not only in paperback form, but in hardcover and comic book forms as well.
Author Solutions sells services such as editing, e-book production and marketing services. According to one report, it served 170,000 authors who wrote 200,000 titles as of 2017. Penguin Random House, a mainstream publisher, once bought, then sold, Author Solutions.
FastPencil sells editing services, as well as consulting services related to publishing and distribution, for a fee.
Reedsy is a British online author services firm which connects authors and freelance professionals. It has a network of vetted editors, cover designers, illustrators and book marketers and takes a 10% cut of each contract between author and freelancer. In addition, it offers online software tools to help authors convert files for publication in print and in e-book form, and offers training courses by email to help authors navigate the self-publishing process. The firm checks the credentials of publishing freelancers such as story editors, cover designers, marketers and others, by verifying their previous work experience for mainstream publishers as well as their overall track record in the publishing industry. Reedsy checks the credentials of writing contests as well to help writers avoid wasting time with fake contests and prizes. In addition, it offers online software tools to help authors convert their manuscript files to files suitable for publishing e-books, such as EPUB and PDF formats, as well as learning programs to help authors navigate the self-publishing process. In 2016, the Reedsy community included 20,000 authors and 500 freelancers, and had helped them publish 3,000 books. Reedsy began in 2014 after being funded by Seedcamp, founded by Emmanuel Nataf, Richard Fayet, Matthew Cobb and Vincent Durand. While the start-up firm is headquartered in London, it is a "completely officeless business" such that its staff is physically distributed in different locations, and conducts business via cloud computing.
Matador is the self-publishing imprint of Troubador Publishing Ltd, a traditional publishing company based in Leicester, United Kingdom. In the last 19 years Matador has published over 5000 titles in book and ebook formats, approximately 500 titles a year. The company not only has print 'on demand' distribution, but sales representation by Star Book Sales and distribution to retailers via Orca Distribution. It published Louise Walters second novel, A Life Between Us, in 2017, as well as Polly Courtney's Golden Handcuffs and Ben Hunt-Davis' Will It Make the Boat Go Faster, which sold over 40,000 copies.
There are a variety of freelance professionals available through the Internet who can assist with a wide variety of publishing-related tasks.
The largest, by far, percentage of authors are making less than $500 a year self-publishing, because there’s a glut. There’s over 350,000 books being self-published every year and readers are not finding them. There’s just no way to expose people to all of these books.— Novelist M.J. Rose in 2012
There is wide consensus that since the market is flooded with titles, the most difficult task facing self-published authors is attracting attention to their book. Some authors have tried unconventional methods to cut through the clutter. For example, self-published author James Altucher offers to pay readers if they can prove they bought and read his book; he explained that people are more likely to value what they pay for, and this offer entices them to actually read his book. While he takes a small loss each time a reader accepts his offer, overall he feels it promotes sales. Experimentation helps. One strategist suggested that an author should have a creative marketing campaign and try one tactic each day, while studying those tactics undertaken by successful self-publishers. One author spends roughly $70,000 annually creating and promoting her books, and hires a dozen freelancers for various parts of her operation. Another self-published author gave 80 books to friends, who told their friends, to generate positive publicity. A strategy that helps many self-published authors is to write a series, making the first installment free, and charging for subsequent versions.
Authors have tried numerous approaches to promoting and marketing their books, including...
Most book contests are open only to books published by established publishers, but there are a few contests open to self-published writers. One is the Illinois Library Association, in conjunction with BiblioBoards and with Reaching Across Illinois Library System, which sponsored a prize for best self-published novel; the contest is open to Illinois-based self-published writers. The British newspaper The Guardian, in conjunction with selected publishers, has a Self published book of the month award, which began in 2014; entries are submitted digitally and must be in the English language, and the contest is open only to residents of the United Kingdom.
Many writers are self-publishing. One reason for the expansion of self-publishing is that with the ease of technology, and declining costs and rapid time frame to publication, new opportunities have opened up for people to publish. The motivations of self-published writers are many, and include building a career as a writer and satisfying an ambition, along with money, which isn’t usually the top reason. Advice for aspiring writers who are considering self-publishing includes understanding one’s own goals, make sure your book is 100% ready with no mistakes before releasing it, seeking help for parts of the development process where it is needed, having fun, and promoting books through social media. Successful self-publishing requires an entrepreneurial mindset, and is a lot of hard work.
Many retirees are self-publishing the story of their life, to leave as a legacy to their offspring after they’re gone. Sometimes adults help write and edit the book for their parent; for example, Arthur Chiang helped his mother describe her life as an immigrant, adding photos, and helping with the technical aspects of preparing the manuscript for publication. There have been instances in which parents, to give their teenaged children experience with writing and to involve them in fun projects, acted as "publishers" for their children, paying some of the costs to have their offspring self-published. Eleven-year-old John Ruskin sold a book of poetry he self-published with his father. Author Brooks Olsen chose Amazon after writing her self-published book, which was edited in part by her parents, with a cover design from her boyfriend, saying she liked having Amazon’s clout behind her.
While almost all self-published books do not make much money, there are dozens of self-published books that have broken through to huge audiences and success, and which get much media attention. The number of authors who have sold more than one million e-books on Amazon from 2011 to 2016 was 40, according to one estimate.
|Golden Handcuffs||Courtney, Polly|
|The Celestine Prophecy||Redfield, James|
|Shadowmancer||Taylor, G. P.||Later published by Faber & Faber|
|The Shack||Young, William P.||First million copies published by Windblown Media; subsequently on The New York Times best seller list.>|
Traditional publishers can offer editorial guidance, marketing muscle, and access to well-established channels of distribution, and have been the preferred choice for writers for the past century. Still, there are increasing advantages for self-publishing, and there are increasing instances of writers moving between both the traditional and self-publishing models, for various reasons. Self-publishing is an increasingly likely choice for authors who are "midcareer, midlist, middle-aged, more or less middlebrow, and somewhat Internet savvy," writes journalist Neal Pollack, who extols the promise of being able to reach readers directly. Elizabeth Prybylski, publisher of Insomnia, an indie press, describes the main difference between self-publishing and traditional publishing is "who puts up the overhead of production."
If the author doesn’t have the money, time, or inclination to do all of those things for their book and to pay the costs of production, a publisher’s experience and knowledge can make up for that gap.— Elizabeth Prybylski of Insomnia Press.
Analyses have been made suggesting that self-published authors’ earnings have been comparing favorably to earnings from established publishers, and this may be a factor causing established authors to switch to the self-publishing approach. While a self-published author can typically keep 70% of the sales price, a typical contract with a publisher will be payment of an advance sum such as $5000 to $10,000, plus receiving 25% of digital sales and 7% to 12% of the list price for bound books, which the author will receive after the publisher recoups the money paid for the advance to the author.
Authors being published the traditional way have seen their income from publishing decline in recent years. A survey from the Authors Guild found that authors with contracts with established publishers were making 30% less money in 2015 than they had been making in 2009. Talented writers in traditional publishing, who have won prizes and awards, are earning less, with some living at or near the poverty line. Some books sell only 5,000 to 20,000 copies, some less than that. Factors identified as dampening the income levels of such authors include the online piracy of digital material, major publishing houses consolidating to focus more on profits, and the rise of Amazon and self-publishing.
Some writers have been dissatisfied with the marketing efforts of a traditional publisher. One writer got fed up when the publisher made basic mistakes with a book launch, and so he "decided to take his book back" and self-published it. He hired the firm Reedsy to redesign his book The Pink Marine, and went on to form his own imprint. Novelist Louise Walters felt that traditional publishers were "debut-centric" and obsessed with celebrities. David Mamet, whose book The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture had been on the New York Times bestseller list, chose to release his novella by self-publishing. He had been dissatisfied with the marketing efforts of his traditional publisher. There was a report that suggested that traditional publishers have lessened their marketing efforts on behalf of authors. Another example is romance novelist Courtney Milan who switched to self-publishing because she wanted to have "more agency over the background of her characters" and her stories. Some photographers, who felt hemmed in by the traditional photo book publishing world, have started up their own imprints as a way to publish their own books. Writer Sarah Grimm moved away from the traditional publishing approach to self-publishing because she wanted greater control over cover design, publication dates and the story content.
My first book went through so many different changes that when it released, I no longer felt like it was the story I originally set out to tell.— Author Sarah Grimm on why she chose self-publishing.
Novelist Louise Walters explained why she switched to the self-publishing mode, after her publisher rejected her second novel, describing self-publishing as an "exhilarating change":
Footing the bill to bring out the book means the responsibility is on my shoulders, but at the same time it’s incredibly freeing. I can market this book in any way I choose; I have real input into every decision regarding my work; I’ll even earn a fairer share of the proceeds from each sale … It’s only a book, after all, and self-publishing is a whole lot of fun.— Louise Walters in 2014
Still, it is likely that when a self-published author creates a bestseller, that he or she will accept an offer from a major publisher. Some traditional publishers troll the lists of bestselling self-published titles to look for new books to sell. Smashwords president Mark Coker predicted that it will become more difficult for traditional publishers to entice the best self-published authors, simply because traditional publishers don’t pay as much. Successful self-published authors have been courted by literary agents and publishers offering substantial sums of money. It’s getting harder for established publishers to woo away successful self-published authors since the royalty structure they offer may not match the profits to be made from publishing on their own.
Authors are no longer bound in their storytelling by what the traditional publishers think the market can bear ... Instead, because we can go straight to the reader now, we can write exactly the books that we want to write and exactly the books that our fans want to read. We don’t have to worry about whether an agent can sell the book, or if an editor and publisher want to buy the book, or if a retailer wants to stock the book. Personally, I think this new open market can — and does — make for much more interesting storytelling.
With self-publishing you don’t waste your time trying to get published, which can take years of query letters and agenting, and all this stuff. You go straight to the real gatekeepers, which are the readers. If they respond favorably and you have sales, you can leverage that into a writing career. If they don’t, you write the next thing. Either way you’re not spending your time trying to get published, you’re spending your time writing the next work.
There are significant challenges to self-publishing as well.
You risk looking like an amateur ... Good writers need even better editors. They need brilliant cover designers. They need imaginative marketers and well-connected publicists. All these things are provided by a traditional publisher, and what’s more, it doesn’t cost you a penny. They pay you! If a self-published author wants to avoid looking like an amateur, they’d better be prepared to shell out some serious cash to get professional help in all the areas where they don’t excel. And I mean serious.— Ros Barber in 2016.
You have to forget writing for a living ... Self-publishing can make you behave like a fool ... The vast majority of indie authors have tweetstreams that are 90% adverts, perhaps a reflection of the fact that they must spend 90% of their time marketing ... Good writers become good because they undertake an apprenticeship.— Ros Barber on the benefits of the traditional approach, 2016.
...Big bookstores will not always take you if you are a self-publisher...
...zines … self-published, unofficial magazines offered tangible glimpses of radical feminism, social-justice movements, queer history and subcultures … Devin N. Morris … sees self-publishing as a political and radical act...
”....survey found that the number of self-published books in the U.S. has almost tripled in the past six years….
”.... I think this new open market can — and does — make for much more interesting storytelling….
”... “The biggest thing you have against you in trying to sell your book is that people don’t know about it,” he said….”
”..."The act of self publishing has a longstanding roots, from the very beginning of the history of book making," adds Ceschel. "It has always been an act of defiance against oppression (religious, political, economic, sexual, etc). DIY culture is, by its nature, an ethic in opposition to society’s rules at large. It flourishes in environments of communitarian support, collaboration, and even informal barter economies."...”
”...Retailers including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, the UK’s WH Smith, and Canada’s Kobo have removed problematic self-published titles after the discovery of a slew of pornographic abuse-themed e-books...
In 1931, Irma Rombauer wrote "The Joy of Cooking," with her daughter… .
”...or Greg White … “Five years ago, self-publishing was a scar,” White says. “Now it’s a tattoo.”...”
”...They used to call it the "vanity press," and the phrase itself spoke volumes….”
”... Investing in a project shows that you believe in it....
”... midcareer, midlist, middle-aged, more or less middlebrow, and somewhat Internet savvy — self-publishing seems to make a lot of sense … why not start appealing directly to those readers?...”
”...Five years ago, printing your own book was stigmatized and was seen as a mark of failure...”
”......1. There are too many of you....”
”...the ones who are very successful at it are making a lot of money, which … can be hard to match with the traditional publishing royalty structure...”
”...Self-publishing continues to expand, with ISBN registrations jumping 21% from 2014 to 2015 …”
”...the Espresso Book Machine by On Demand Books debuted in 2006...”
”… According to Smashwords … the best-selling 1% of titles net half the sales….”
”... best-selling romance author who has turned to self-publishing in order to have more agency over the background of her characters … systemic problem in that publishing is insular … nobody understood … that people of color have inner lives …”
”.. free self-publishing platform called Self-e, a collaboration between Library Journal and BiblioBoard …. more of a marketing tool.”
”... new survey shows that self-published e-books contain more extreme sexual content than their traditionally published counterparts..”
”....The man who allegedly posted a photo of his dead wife … Medina … charged with murder … his slew of self-help books is all the more disturbing...”
”...This book consists entirely of selfies. That’s 445 pages of them, arranged chronologically … no literary ambitions at all…. ”
”... While Simon & Schuster had previously defended the decision to publish Yiannopoulos’ book … the publisher finally dropped the British provocateur...”
”… Amazon established its collective fund for self-published books, last month’s US pot, at $19.4 million, … authors got the second lowest payout ever ... at $0.00419 per page read...”
”.1. The Majority of Fiction Sales will Come from eBooks...
”...Self-publishing will continue to grow ....”
”..what’s really been happening is that the market share of established publishers has been declining, while sales of independently published e-books have been growing....”
”...At least among major publishers, ebook sales have plateaued or even begun to decline…
”...But AmazonCrossing, the publishing unit devoted to scouring the world for good tales, … accounting for 10% of all translations in 2016, more than any other publishing house. ...”
”... publishing has never been less stable … “cooperative” publishing, in which the cost is shared between the author and publisher…. software called Scrivener for book formatting...”
”.....tried-and-true formatters, cover artists and editors who don’t cost a small fortune...”
”...Since Bowker measures the number of self-published books by ISBN, its count does not include e-books released by authors through Amazon's KDP program ... they use ASIN identifiers rather than an ISBNs....”
......Self-published authors could be paid as little as $0.006 per page read under new rules ...
”... But change is well under way, starting with the dizzying rise in self-publishing… The average is driven by a small number of very successful writers, usually romance authors.”...
”...Penguin Random House has sold self-publishing company Author Solutions … Penguin Group had acquired Author Solutions … in 2012 for $116 million...”
”... Discover the finest writing contests of 2018 for fiction and non-fiction authors of short stories, poetry, essays and more. Updated weekly, these contests are vetted by Reedsy to weed out the scammers and time-wasters....”
”....Sales of physical books have risen for the past three years in the U.S… In the U.S., though, the shift away from physical books is reversing as e-book prices rise….
”...The production of self-published books has almost tripled since 2006.....”
”...International Standard Book Numbers (ISBNs) for self-published titles have climbed 218.33 per cent since 2011, according to the latest report from ProQuest affiliate Bowker…”
”...Last year, the trend continued, and self-publishing in electronic form no longer seemed as good a bet as in previous years. … ”
”...Bowman is among a growing number of authors choosing the self-publishing route...”
”... A handful of scholars, however, have turned to self-publishing to produce pet projects, such as blistering critiques of academic life.....”
”..Students overwhelming preferred to read digitally. … Reading was significantly faster online than in print … comprehension was significantly better when participants read printed texts...”
”...The contest was launched four years ago by the Illinois Library Association … librarians are looking for the same qualities in contest submissions...”
”....The idea behind the project is to give self-published authors — those who have made their books available for free through Amazon's digital ...........”
”...The prize is launched in response to the growing presence of self-publishing within the book industry....”
”...Chiang is among a growing number of first-time, self-published authors in the 65-and-older age group…”
”... hundreds of children and teenagers who are self-publishing books each year … mothers and fathers who foot the bill say they are simply trying to encourage their children...”
”....In 2010, Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin, a Swedish self-help author and life coach, self-published his first children’s book, “The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep.”...
”...Hugh Howey's postapocalyptic thriller "Wool" has sold more than half a million copies ..”
Polly Courtney [...] made money self-publishing her novel, Golden Handcuffs, in 2006. ... Courtney now has a three-book deal with HarperCollins ...
”...nobody ever does the marketing they promise....”
”...You used to be able to make an absolutely living wage as a writer. … it didn't usually mean you would be rich, but it had meant in the past that you could support yourself….
”..My second novel will be out there, available to those who want to read it....”
”.... With Amazon’s Kindle and CreateSpace as the major outlets, it continues to put money in the coffers of the company largely responsible for destroying author incomes in the first place....”
”.... some festival organisers still believe I don’t have as much to say about writing and selling books as a traditionally published author, regardless of their popularity...”
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