There used to be a time when self-publishing was the last resort of writers who had failed to find an agent or sell their work to a traditional publishing house. Companies willing to exploit writers’ burning desires to see their work in print – so-called vanity presses – preyed upon those desires and extorted large sums of money in return for producing copies that did not sell. Writers could also take the cheaper but more labour-intensive route of organising their own editing, cover, printing, marketing and distribution.
But the days of writers shamefacedly admitting their work is ‘only’ self-published are over. The numbers of writers earning a full-time living or more are increasing. For some, the decision to self-publish is not the last step in a long process of submission and rejection, but their first choice.
Analysing the mechanics of self-publishing, it is not difficult to see why.
- After publishing houses and agents have taken their cut, writers receive about 20% of the retail price of their work. An ebook that sells for $2.99 or higher on Amazon pays 70% royalties to the writer.
- Publishing houses devote their marketing resources to their guaranteed bestsellers, not their backlists. A self-published author retains control of their own marketing, and the number of venues for marketing books is large and growing.
- Editors and cover artists who offer a professional standard of work are increasingly available.
- Pioneers in the self-publishing movement have broken new ground in developing strategies for building readership that traditional publishers fail to exploit (if they are even aware of them), such as mailing lists, using social media and blog tours.
- Self-published writers retain all rights to their work.
According to the statistics stated at Author Earnings, self-publishers’ share of the ebook market is large and growing, which may be partly due to traditional publishers’ insistence on pricing ebooks the same or higher than print books.
What the future holds is uncertain. Traditional publishing houses may bluster that self-publishing is still the final resort of those who did not make the grade, but Amanda Hocking, Hugh Howey, John Locke and others beg to differ.