Over the past ten years there has been a significant increase in the number of writers who are self-publishing. The days of literary agents and big publishing houses may be numbered. Actual statistics are hard to come by due to the multiple modes of production. However, several big papers have attempted some estimations.
In 2011 the New York Daily News reported that 43% of all paperbacks were self-published, with overall publishing up 287% from 2006. The Wall Street Journal reported that self-published books were up by 160% over the same period. Amazon’s publishing arm, Create Space, told the New York Times that “its books increased by 80% from 2009-2010” alone.
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Self-publishing has now become a very viable option for even the most accomplished and prolific of authors. This mode of production puts the power back into the artist’s hands.
Last week I interviewed one such author – John Matthews. Over the past 30 years he has written over 90 books on Arthurian mythology as well as a volume of poetry and many short stories. His children’s book, Pirates, reached the number one slot on the New York Times Best Seller list in 2006. – See more at:
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H: After all this time, why have you decided to move away from traditional publishing to self-publishing?
J: Partly from economic necessity, partly from a desire to get some of our old books back into print, and partly to have some control over the appearance and content of the books.
All of our professional lives my wife, Caitlin, and I have had to contend with editors who felt they knew better than we did, who wanted to change the emphasis of various things, cut things out, amend spellings, and so on. In today’s economic climate, unless you’re Dan Brown or Neil Gaiman, you can’t afford to make any kind of a decent living. So we decided that we would do it ourselves. Fortunately we’ve been aided in this by our friend and colleague Wil Kinghan, who as well as being an incredibly good artist with whom we’ve worked several times, also trained as a graphic designer. His input means that the books will look sensational, and hopefully have very few mistakes. In fact, we think they look a lot better than some of the professional titles released by the big publishing houses.
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H: Will [your self-publishing company] Mythwood be re-publishing all of your old writings?
J: Well, there are a lot of them to do of course! Almost 100. Quite a few are still in print and we’re happy to leave it that way; but the older titles which have lapsed sometime ago, and for which we now have the rights, will eventually I hope be reprinted in this format. The next one that is lined up from our own list is my book on Robin Hood.
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H: Let’s go back to the self- vs. trad- publishing debate. Weigh the pros and cons of the two.
J: The pros of course are that you have control over what goes into print, though this can have a downside, which I’ll come back to in a minute. The other good thing is that you get to keep most of the money that comes in from purchases. If you think that with an average publisher the very highest royalty that you can get is 12%, we can offer our authors 60%. And that is of actual money received, not percentages of percentages, as you get from so many regular publishers.
The cons are that if you intend to do it yourself it is quite labor-intensive and unless you are very computer savvy can take quite a long time to fathom out all the different formatting problems. The other con goes back to the idea of being able to publish whatever you like. This means, unfortunately, that a lot of shall we say less than wonderful books get out there. They may have nice covers, interesting titles, and they may have an interesting topic; but they can be badly written and full of typos. That’s why you need an editor…
But there is still one thing which I personally find annoying, but which is at the moment anyway, inevitable. There is a certain stigma around publishing your own work. There will always be people out there who will say, “Well, it can’t be very good then, or he or she would have published it with a proper publisher!” There’s not much we can do about that, though the proof of the pudding is in the eating. In time I think people will realize that a great deal of really good work is coming out from smaller companies or self published authors.
And there’s no getting away from the fact that you can make a lot of money this way. I’ve heard of people earning as much as $10,000 a month from their self published books. Of course these tend to be very popular subjects, mostly fiction, and the people in question usually have a couple of dozen books out there. Even if you’re only getting 60% of say $5.95 it soon adds up.
H: Are there any other limitations to self-publishing?
J: I don’t think there are any limitations providing you have the time and energy and the know-how to format your manuscript. That can require a lot of learning if it’s going to be done properly. But you have to start somewhere. We’ve just been very patient, and taken our time, and made every effort to ensure that every book that Mythwood Books produces will be the best it can be, will look great, and will read on just about every platform out there. That means not only all the Kindle devices, but Nook and a few others I can’t remember at this moment. Each one requires different formatting, to make it read properly, so you can imagine the time that takes.