Paper, Print & Pixels

Books and Publishing in the Digital Age

Self-Publishing is a Gamble

direct publishingSelf-publishing, formerly known as vanity publishing, used to be considered a last resort for those who had trouble gaining representation from well-known publishers. The value and the talent of self-published works were often called into question. However, in just a few short years self-publishing has become an almost reputable avenue for those looking to break into the publishing industry.

The process of book publishing has been disrupted and revolutionized by digitization. Any writer can easily type up a manuscript and self-publish directly to any number of online publishers within minutes. Self-publishing allows writers to bypass industry representation as well as the production process of printing, processing, and distributing a novel.

Publishers are taking less financial risks which means they are seeking fewer and fewer new authors to represent. The incredibly large advances that celebrity authors receive for their books are calculated risks that publishers are willing to take. If a book by a lesser known author does not sell as well as expected, the publisher loses that money and will likely be more cautious about future investments. Fledgling authors who cannot find representation are persuaded more and more to try their hand at self-publishing.

It is entirely possible for a self-published author to achieve financial success. In an effort to maintain control of his work, Hugh Howey decided to sell installments of his sci-fi series Wool through Amazon. Due to his financial success, Howey found himself in a position to receive and turn down a few offers from big publishers. He also sold the film option to a major studio company.

While there are several success stories repeatedly told for those who are looking to self-publish, the odds of a self-published author earning a six-figure income from royalties are slim. According to a recent Publishers Weekly article, a book only needs to sell about 300 copies a day through Amazon to make the bestseller list. As author Patrick Wensink discovered, writing a bestselling title that attracts attention from reputable media outlets provided him with royalty checks that added up to about $12,000. It’s a fair amount but not exactly the sum one might expect from a bestselling title.

Self-publishing is a gamble that can pay off for some authors more than others. If the novel is well-received and enough readers share it with their social networks, then the author could potentially make a nice profit and even gain the attention of established publishers.

Authors who have found notable success in self-publishing have all been unknown writers who managed to find an audience for their books. It will be interesting to see what happens if authors with large fan bases such as Stephen King begin to experiment with self-publishing. Traditional publishers still retain their esteemed reputations in publishing, but the rise of self-publishing might force the publishing industry to adapt and compete with new age of publishing.


One comment on “Self-Publishing is a Gamble

  1. Kim A. Knight
    April 22, 2013

    This seems to parallel the democratizing of other platforms, such as music and video. On a video platform, such as YouTube, there are varying ideas about what constitutes “pay off.” Undoubtedly this is sometimes the idea of fame and moving into mainstream systems of production and circulation. But for others, a lot of viewers or building a community might be the pay off. Do you think there might also be varying definitions of “pay off” for self-publishing?

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This entry was posted on April 16, 2013 by in Publishing and tagged , , .
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