Is Self-Publishing a Good Choice for Authors in 2024?

Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris:

Talk about self-publishing has diminished in the last few years.  Most of the “Kindle Millionaires” that surged onto the scene a decade or so ago have evaporated from indie writing communities.

Some of them are, of course, busy writing their next bestseller. But a lot either got traditional publishing contracts, like Hugh Howey and Amanda Hocking (remember them?), or they moved on to more lucrative careers.

Writing about self-publishing isn’t wildly fashionable these days. Formerly prolific indie advocate Joe Konrath has only updated his blog, The Newbie’s Guide to Publishing, once since 2019. D. D. Scott, of the Writers Guide to E-Publishing dropped the blog long ago

But the hottest phenom in publishing last year, Colleen Hoover, started as an indie author — and she still self-publishes some of her books. You can’t argue with her amazing success.

Why Self-Publishing is No Longer Big News
Here’s the thing: The Self-Publishing “Revolution” of the previous decade was tied directly to the “Ebook Revolution.” Indie publishing was sparked by the advent of the Kindle.

When Amazon launched the Kindle in the late ‘oughties, customers needed ebooks to read on it. And Amazon opened up a marketplace for self-publishing to flourish. Indie authors who sold their ebooks for under $5 became bestsellers when they competed against trad-pubbed ebooks priced at $10 and up.

And wise indie authors still price their books below the Big 5 prices. They can afford to, because there are no agents and publishers to skim off the bulk of the profits.

The fact self-publishing isn’t big news now is exactly because it’s so successful. It’s zooming along with no roadblocks, so there’s no news. Authors who take their indie careers seriously are making a lot of money self-publishing. They’re doing their own marketing and turning out books quickly for their growing fan bases.

They also write in genres that sell to voracious readers who generally buy ebooks, like Romance, mystery, thrillers, and sci-fi/fantasy.

These genres do well in subscription services like Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited, Kobo Plus, Scribd, etc. Subscription services are growing fast, according to The New Publishing Standard. Kindle Unlimited paid out $575 million to self-publishers last year.

However, children’s, literary, upmarket fiction and “book-club” women’s fiction still tends to sell better in hard copy.

. . . .

I see that a lot of new writers who are planning to self-publish will immediately start talking about book signings and getting books into physical bookshops.

But that’s not where an indie should be putting their energy. Book signings can be fun, and a physical book launch party can be an important celebration for the author. Swag like bookmarks, mugs and T-shirts can be a blast to design and prepare.

But these things are about fun, not making big sales.

That’s because in-person events are not the way most indies sell their books. (With the exception of nonfiction self-help books. If you’re a motivational speaker, you can sell a lot of hard copy books at your speaking engagements.)

. . . .

Self-publishing does mean giving up some fantasies. Self-published authors rarely, if ever, are interviewed on NPR or reviewed in The New Yorker. Chances of being invited to participate in a TV talk show are minimal.  You probably won’t see your book in the window of your local Barnes and Noble, and you won’t be chosen for Reese’s or Oprah’s book clubs.

If these things are essential to your image of being a published author, either let them go, or keep slogging on that query-go-round and get yourself an agent and traditional publishing deal. Not a lot of traditionally published authors get national radio interviews or reviews in prestigious magazines either, but you’ll have a fighting chance.

. . . .

If you’re self-publishing, you’re going to be selling mostly ebooks, you are going to need to do most of your marketing online. Online marketing means establishing a major social media presence, as well as having an enticing website (and preferably, a blog. ) You’ll also want a strong email list of subscribers.

If you’re not interested in online marketing, self-publishing probably isn’t for you. The slow death of X-Twitter has made online marketing more difficult. If your demographic is over 40, Facebook can still help, but for most genres, you need to be on Instagram, and if you write Romance or YA, you definitely need Tiktok.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris

The OP was generally right about the facts, but PG wonders if serious indie authors have the sort of “fantasies” the OP describes.

PG has known a great many indie authors, including more than a few who hired him to break out of their traditional publishing contracts with large New York publishers.

(Reminder: PG is retired, so he doesn’t this sort of thing any more. Please don’t ask.)

Typically, the authors who wanted to escape from traditional publishing contracts and the necessary New York literary agency 15% taken off the top wanted to self-publish so they could make more money and run their own shows.

They wanted to make more money because most traditionally published authors don’t make much money from their writing either. “Don’t give up your day job,” is advice a large number of traditionally-published authors hear from their agents.

As with any endeavor, some of PG’s now former clients did very well financially, adding a zero, sometimes two zeroes, to their previous annual writing incomes. Others didn’t have the knack of running their own business and didn’t do so well.

Everybody who escaped from their publishers and agents did share one benefit that was important to them.

They were the boss now.

They ran their own business the way they thought best. They could write what they wanted to write their books in the way they wanted to write them without explaining or justifying their choices to anybody else.

One more simple fact is that traditionally published authors whose last name isn’t Obama or another with similar public awareness also have to do social media marketing. And lots of other chores and homework assigned to most traditionally published authors by somebody at their publisher or their agent.

1 thought on “Is Self-Publishing a Good Choice for Authors in 2024?”

  1. The key question, though — and it’s utterly unanswerable due to a culture of secrecy of financials in publishing, both commercial and self-/independent, that would be the envy of any modern counterespionage program — is this:

    Is the business-success rate of commercially-published authors replicably, and verifiably, statistically distinct from that of comparable format self-/independent-published authors?

    Absent an answer to that question, it’s all about preferences and culture (the latter most common in the cultured-pearl necklaces being constantly clutched by Guardians of Culture… both in the commercial and the self-/independent models). I submit that due to the lack of verifiability and replicability of even the past data, it cannot be answered.

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