Written by: Jyoti Arora
Do you know what’s common between Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Stephen King, Virginia Woolf, Mark Twain, William Blake, Walt Whitman? They are all literary giants who self-published at least one of their books. So self-publishing is nothing new, and it is not for inferior writers only. It has been there since ages and numerous great writers have used it to kick-start their literary career. And now technology has given it a new spurt and expanded its reach and popularity.
What is self-publishing?
Self-publishing is where the author takes complete ownership of a book’s publishing and distribution process. The author is responsible for every aspect of book publishing. Editing, proofreading, book designing, cover designing, distribution, etc. are all done by the author or professionals hired by the author. This gives authors the freedom to develop, design, and price their book as they want. They are not only directly responsible for the book production expenditure, but also get a greater share of royalty.
The rising popularity of self-publishing
In recent times, self-publishing is proving to be the fastest-growing segment of the publishing industry. A study in 2014 found that 30% of eBook sales come from self-published authors. This number has increased significantly now. A report also found out that self-published authors are now earning nearly 40% of all eBook royalties on the Kindle store. And over 30% of Amazon eBooks are self-published.
Till some years ago, people looked down upon self-published books. It was a common perception that books are self-published because they are not good enough to be traditionally published. But with the rising popularity of indie books, that perception is dwindling now. If you scroll through the romance books bestseller list on Amazon, many trending titles would be independently published.
Self-publishing is no longer ‘the last option’ for authors. Many authors take this route by choice. Believe it or not, some successful indie writers have rejected million-dollar deals in favour of self-publishing! Many have even made self-publishing their business.
Why is self-publishing becoming so popular?
There are many reasons leading to the rise of independent or indie
publishing. Self-publishing takes less time. You don’t have to wait for months or years to see your book in the market. You earn bigger royalties and can edit the book, change its price, put up discounts whenever you wish. You have complete ownership of the book and complete creative freedom. Whether you have a one-page story or an epic-length book, you can publish it.
The easy availability of self-publishing services is another reason for the rise of indie publishers. With just a few clicks, you can upload your book on Amazon and become a published author.
Is self-publishing better than traditional publishing?
Self-publishing is no longer only a last resort. It has become a matter of choice now. Of course, many of the independent authors would love to be traditionally published. Traditional publishing means less hassle and more prestige. And achieving success through the Indie route is still harder than the traditional route. Yet, as I mentioned earlier, there are also authors who rejected lucrative publishing deals to stay independent. Because success through self-publishing is possible if you have the skills to achieve it.
There’s too much competition in traditional publishing. And many good writers may never get published if they don’t go indie. Also, while self-publishing can be expensive if you hire professionals for cover designing, editing etc, traditional publishing often costs money too. Many publishers in India now ask money from the author to publish their books. Whether it’s in the form of buy-back copies or ‘partnered publishing’ or other ‘helpful suggestions,’ the author may have to pay money to get published. And I have seen that traditional publishing is no guarantee of error-free book. Also, traditionally published authors have to market their books by themselves too because the publishers spend promotional money only on their star authors.
The traditional publishing does have some advantages over the indie route. The author does not need to bother with the publishing process. This includes getting the book edited and proofread. It is said that a book which is not already famous has less than 1% chance of being stocked in an average bookstore. The traditionally published books have a better chance of winning this precious shelf-space.
How to self-publish?
The most popular service to self-publish eBooks is Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). It is free, easy to use, and makes the eBook available on the Kindle store. Other services like Smashwords and Draft 2 Digital (D2D) make the eBook available at other retailers like Kobo, iTunes, etc.
Self-publishing can be as cheap or as expensive as you can afford. Technically, you can create an eBook without spending a rupee. You can edit and proofread the book yourself and design the cover using any of the cover design services available online. Most self-publishing services have cover designing tools too. However, a professionally designed cover and professional editing and proofreading ensure better quality. Of course, that costs money too. Once you have your book and cover file ready, just upload them, add the relevant details, and hit Publish.
Publishing print copies
is more difficult. You can get your book printed at a local printer, pay money to vanity publishers (many available now) or publish through a Print On Demand service. This POD service is the cheapest alternative as it requires no investment. The POD services like pothi.com earn their profit by taking a cut from the sale price.
How to be a successful self-publishing author?
While self-publishing is easy, becoming successful as an author is a different story. I’ve read that an average U.S. nonfiction book is now selling less than 250 copies per year and less than 2,000 copies over its lifetime. The competition is even tougher for fiction. The availability of thousands of free eBooks has made selling a book even harder. Why would anyone buy a new, unknown book when there are numerous free options available?
Ultimately, success depends upon the author’s marketing skills. A best-selling indie author I know states it clearly that success as an author is ‘20% writing and 80% marketing.’ Marketing for author involves social media, blogging, guest posting on other blogs, seeking book reviews, reading sessions, and more. The harder you can work at marketing, the greater are your chances to succeed. Otherwise, even a literary masterpiece would fail if nobody knows it exists.
The rise of author promotion industry
The trouble is that most authors are not good at marketing. But they all are desperate for success. They need marketing help. And this has given birth to a huge industry offering ‘help’ to authors. Some of these help-givers might be genuine, but most just prey on the authors’ desperation. These include vanity publishers asking a huge amount of money and delivering poor service, fake book awards, dubious digital marketeers, bulk review providers, social media influencers, and so on. Even many young readers have now joined this bandwagon to pull free books and ‘reading money’ from the authors in return of brief and often generic reviews. I’ve even had Instagram accounts dedicated to fitness, parenting, and celebrity fan clubs asking money with offers of promoting my books. The authors need to be careful in using such services or they end up wasting their money.
So, is self-publishing the shortcut to fame?
Self-publishing is a shortcut to becoming an author. But achieving fame takes a lot more than a published book.
My first novel Dream’s Sake is traditionally published. My other books Lemon Girl, You Came Like Hope, and #JustRomance are self-published. So, I’ve experience of both routes. Traditional publisher put my first book in bookstores and book stalls at airports, railway stations, bus stops. But it had taken me six years to get that book published. So, I decided to try self-publishing for my next book. I’ve self-published three books till now. My indie books are only available online. But they don’t lack in quality, have received great reviews, and are performing as well as my traditionally published book. In fact, my second novel Lemon Girl is even listed in an international wiki list of ‘9 well-written books that put women front and centre.’
Self-publishing is a quicker process than traditional publishing. It saves you from the heartbreak of rejections. It gives greater freedom and bigger royalties to the author. The number of best-selling indie authors is steadily rising. But becoming a famous writer is a hard battle no matter which publishing route you choose. The competition is immense and the interest in reading is dwindling. Even Ruskin Bond said in one of his interviews, “I think with so many people writing now, there is a danger of having more writers than readers.” To be a successful author, it takes a lot of hard work, great marketing skills, and that mysterious magic called good luck. And, of course, good writing helps too.
Connect with Jyoti Arora or check out her books and blog at jyotiarora.com