Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Self-Publishing by the Numbers

Here at Storytelling Rules, some of us are going back to school to earn MFA's (very cool, Eileen!) and others are trying to get skooled in self-publishing.

In a moment (day? week? month?) of recent depression, I commented to Molly and Sinead that I felt like everything I'd spent the last 10 years learning about publishing had become obsolete. And while I didn't really mean it, not literally, it has felt that way at times. And there's certainly a whole new area of publishing to learn about.

Over the past year or two, self-published authors who've had success have been bragging sharing their enthusiasm for self-publishing with the rest of us, and while it's been difficult to know what to believe at times, certainly it's been hard impossible to ignore some of the huge successes that have hit the news, or the authors who've sold enough to hit the conventional bestseller lists. 

But I also had the feeling that some of the bragging claims were exaggerated. Not everyone could be doing that well, and some of the successes being reported didn't sync up with objective and public data like Amazon rankings, and bestseller lists, etc. 

Yes, some self-pubbed authors have been upfront about their disappointing numbers, but for the most part, the author community has heard most from the people who've been doing really well. And that makes sense, whether it's human nature or careful protection of a public image or whatever. Definitely makes sense that we've heard more from the people doing the best.

Then, last week, author Marie Force posted the results of an informal survey she's done, where authors reported their actual numbers, and most of them also disclosed their names along with their numbers, making it easy to check the facts against titles out there, etc. Thank you to all who participated. It's so much easier to learn and make decisions with some actual information. Bravo to all. 

My preliminary conclusions/observations after scanning the numbers:

1) It's time to start taking this publishing option seriously. (Okay, a year ago was probably the time, but since I don't have a time machine, now is the best I can do...)

2) Some of the authors are doing extremely well. Especially in romance.

3) People who were traditionally published first, seem to be doing better. But they aren't the only ones doing well.

4) Many are earning a lot more as self-published authors than they ever did as traditionally pubbed authors.

5) That said, even with the people doing very well, it's not quite as spectacular as I feel I'd been lead to believe on some loops where there was the impression that everyone was making 7 figures a year. (Don't get me wrong. Many authors numbers are super-impressive. It's just that with some of the talk, I thought some numbers would be even higher.)

6) The people who aren't doing that well, yet, really aren't doing very well. It almost seems to be hot or cold. Either people are earning a lot, or peanuts much less.

7) Related to #5, everyone's definition of success is different. Some people selling fewer books seem to be very pleased with how they're doing. And that's awesome. (What it's all about.)

8) There are no straightforward answers as to what works and what doesn't and who will do well and who won't.

9) Perception is important... and some of the people who tout their success, yet aren't that successful, might be smart like foxes... Sometimes the appearance of success builds success... 

10) Suddenly everything is both terrifying and exciting. And I guess that's a good thing.

If you're a writer, are you thinking about self-pubbing? Why or why not?

If you're a reader, do you buy self-pubbed books? Do you even pay attention to who the publisher is?  

10 comments:

Eileen said...

I saw the survey, too, and it was really eye-opening. I am in the process of getting my first book ready to put up as an e-book. To be honest, if it only earned a couple of hundred a month, I'd be beyond ecstatic.

The bad news for someone like me, is that it seemed that the more prolific people did much better. People who could get a book or novella up every few months seemed to have a leg up.

Stephanie Doyle said...

I agree - that content helps. It makes me wonder if the people really making $$ self-publishing are doing it as a full time career.

Imagine the extra time involved with writing, editing, formatting, copy-editing. Then promoting. I don't know how you fit all that in if it's not your full time job.

I will say with my experience I didn't come close to $100 a month it was more like... dollars a month. :)

Now that could be because nobody wanted to read a book about a female golfer - but alot of it had to do with the fact that maybe I didn't push it as hard as I should have? Who knows.

My concern is I have LOTS of books sitting in my drawer that maybe could be polished and put out there... but then you really have to consider your brand as well. Do I want people used to my current Superromances reading my old Bombshell books? It's a really tough call.

Maureen McGowan said...

Steph, if you have the rights to your Bombshell books, you should totally publish those!

Stephanie Doyle said...


I don't have the rights to my "published" bombshells. But what I do have is the last book that I wrote for the line before they discontinued the it.

But it's a crazy post-virus affected world story - not at all in keeping with my crazy historicals, crazy golf book or fairly normal Superromances...

That should be my brand... Crazy Stephanie Doyle Stories... :)

Eileen said...

I am 100% down with Crazy Steph as a brand. Maybe you could use it as a pen name?

I happened to like your crazy golf book and I'm not a golf fan.

Sinead M said...

Love the tagline"Crazy Steph"

Self-publishing is so interesting to me right now, especially as David Mamet just announced he plans to do the same.

And why not - a higher proportion of the profits for an industry that is largely digital. But what no one mentions is the amount of time and technical know how it takes.

Try uploading a book into the correct format across several different publishing platforms and then figure out how to let the world know it's there.
One successful self-pubb's author on my loop estimated her promotion time takes the same amount as her writing time.

Stephanie Doyle said...

Eileen - you are good for my ego.

Sinead you're completely right.

I think ultimately - publishers are going to have to radically overhaul their digital rates and the pricing of books in general if they are going to keep people from leaving the ranks to self-publshing.

But what I think so many forget is how hard it is. You have to do EVERYTHING. Currently someone copy-edits my books, I give an okay that I'm alright with the changes, then they make them!

They put it through reads and re-reads. They format it. They determine based on market research what covers will and won't work.

All I do is write, buy a few ads, and Tweet.

The problem is... when you start to really look at the numbers you feel like you're losing money you could be making based on "some" people's success stories.

That's the hard part.

Eileen said...

I think it's allowing several little cottage industries to spring up. People who format books. Cover designers. Freelance editors. I, for one, would much rather choose my copyeditor. I generally want to fly to New York and bitch slap the ones I've had by the time I'm done with a book.

I know. I know. They're just trying to keep me from embarrassing myself with stupid mistakes and trying to make my book better. I still hate reading 400 pages worth of comments on every mistake I've made.

The last one totally did not get my sense of humor and I found myself explaining jokes throughout the comments. I finally realized that I didn't have to and just started marking stuff with ... stet.

Brenda said...

I'll soon be plunging into the self-pubbed world. This is a romcom idea that I originally wrote for Harlequin's Temptation line, now expanded, revised and updated. So, one more read-through and then it'll be good to go.

MJFredrick said...

I was one of those who shared my numbers, and while they're not 7 figures, or even 6, I made more money writing than teaching last year (and this is my 24th year teaching) and I'm on track to make that again this year. The only reason I'm still working is that my son is in college and I'm paying for it with my writing income. He will have no debt when he graduates, if I can help it!

I hire people for editing, covers and formatting, since there's just no way I can do a good job with that. It's an exciting time to be a writer!

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