BY SEAN CLARK
I’ve been noticing lately that a lot of people seem to off handedly toss both ebooks and self-published (e)books into the not “real” book category, or at least the not as “real” as those books published by an established publisher category. This is of course completely ridiculous. We do enough harping about ebooks on this site, but self-publishing doesn’t get much mention, so I thought I’d put together some quick ideas about self-publishing, as well as take a look on what the migration to digital text means for self-publishers. Most importantly, self-published books are sadly a largely unnoticed market, and there is a lot of great reading to be found by readers willing to take the plunge, so I’ve included some links to get you searching for your next, independently published read.
For starter, yes there are plenty of bad self-published books available. And there’s no denying that there’s a lot of get-rich-quick self-publishing stuff out there, but anyone who’s not an idiot can clearly see they’re mostly a bunch of crappy scams. And there’s also no denying that because a lot of self-published books are just this crappy, it is clearly for good reason that publishers ignore them. Yet some authors who self-publish are quite good, and just weren’t in the right place at the right time.
Ultimately, I don’t think who publishes a book really matters. If a book is good, people will read it. If it isn’t, they won’t. Churn out a book (even a 40 page tractor manual) in three days and I will guarantee you that it sucks. Sure, the publishers have agents and readers who carefully select authors from a very large and deep pool. They don’t create good authors (though they do try very hard to appear like they do); they just have the money and clout to market those they decide to publish. But how much marketing is that exactly?:
One wonders what a publisher, even a major New York publisher, can do for you if they aren’t planning on putting some major marketing push behind your book. And M.J. Rose claims that only 15% of all published books get more than $2,000 in marketing push. (from Indie Publishing Revolution)
Of course that’s no sum to sneeze at, and printing and distribution add to that cost tremendously–unless of course an author goes ebook only. It’s not an untouchable number for a dedicated author either. But just how often is it successful?
According to Beneath the Cover, 78% of all books are published by small run/independent means. However, 45% of all book sales belong to the 5 largest publishers in NY and 93% of all sales to the 20 largest firms. That translates to a whole lot of forks being jammed in the tiny piece of remaining pie. Especially considering how very unlikely each book is to be lucrative. Claims the Self Publishing blog on fonerbooks.com:
…the average self publishing author who reports income as a publishing business is earning less than $10,000/year in net profit.
As a reader, I see this as an encouraging statistic. To plunge headlong into a risky financial situation out of desire to have your work published means one of two things to me: the author is an idiot and deserves to lose money, or more optimistically, there is enough passion and drive in the writer that something redeeming is likely to be found in the book somewhere. I’d rather read a flawed work by a driven author than a cookie-cutter airport novel any day. Just because the big houses can afford to print and advertise enough Jody Picoult and celebrity biographies to fill so much of the market doesn’t mean that the remaining 7% is crap. Publishing is not a meritocracy.
But reading can be. And ebooks will cobble the path. Look at people getting rich off YouTube advertising. eBook publishers shouldn’t emulate this advertising model, but it goes to show how bloggers and internet memes are quickly evening the playing field between amateur artists and media conglomerates. Well-written books that aren’t picked up by larger houses clearly have a better shot on the internet than they do in a 500 print run. POD options such as the Espresso Book Machine also offer a lot of upside to the self-publisher as well.
For the reader this means that right now there are thousands of quality books available for free or low cost that you could be reading. And soon there will be many more. Not all will be good, but many will. And as readers continue to convert to digital reading, we’ll see better means of sorting through everything out there. So before you spend $7.99 on a novel you’ll leave on a train seat when you’re finished, try out a self-published novel. Here’re some links to get you started:
sources for self-published & small run books:
for more information about self-publishing: