So we begin 2014. I have been self publishing my own novels for 4 years now. When I started out the whole world of e-book self publishing and Indie Publishing of paperbacks had not long begun to enter the phase we find ourselves in. Kindle came to the UK at the end of 2010. Smashwords had been around a year or two longer whilst Google e-books have only really taken off in the last 2 years. At the same time sales of Kindle and other e-book readers became significant and sales of e-books competed with paperbacks.
It was this growth of uptake of e-books that really opened the door for self published writers to gain readers nationally and internationally. No longer were they restricted to trying to get shelf space in bookshops where they stood little chance of competing with big name authors and large publishers. If their books were good they could get noticed and read by a large audience. It was this revolution that has created a number of e-book millionaires. For the rest of us (non millionaires) what it means is we could continue to gain readers and sell books without being reliant on the small numbers of sales that a typical book fair brings. So much for history – what will 2014 bring for self publishers?
The Year ahead
The growth in the number of self published authors and titles has been extraordinary. The graph above just applies to the growth of Smashwords (the US based e-book distributor). I got in on Smashwords early in 2010. At that point there were 2500 or so authors distributing e-books this way. There are now approaching 60,000. That is in addition to those who don’t use Smashwords and only use Kindle or Google Ebooks. So some hundreds of thousands of self published authors are pouring out their work.
Now the problem here is two fold. Firstly the quality of the writing of all these authors varies. Some books are great and some very poor. There is no control on self publishing – anyone can do it. (I have spoke elsewhere about the need for authors to have editors and to learn about book lay out and book design and use a cover artist). So there is a lot of rubbish out there. Good stuff too of course but a lot that needs work.
The second draw back is that of market forces. There are only a certain number of books going to be bought world wide. Yes e-book sales are growing but there will be a point when the sales cannot sustain the authors expectations.
What then occurs? Well it depends on what authors aim to get out of their writing. If they just enjoy the writing, have some readers, make some sales but don’t care about the numbers and don’t rely on the money then these authors may carry on.
Others may have launched into the endeavor full of dreams of making their first million in a year. Whilst the likes of Amanda Hocking, Joe Konrath and others show that it is possible to make it big time the reality is that most self published titles sell something like 50 to 200 copies ever (mostly to friends and family).
So there is a now a glut of authors pushing out work. There is a lot of good work there and indeed recently I saw an article that said that 25% of the top 100 Kindle e-books were self published. The trick is getting your own work noticed. If they are not noticed and an author does not make sales a disillusionment will set in – no doubt leading to many giving up.
There is much talk of the slow burn in regard to book sales. I can personally see this happening. Sales of the first book in a series lead to the 2nd and 3rd. Sales grow steadily but not (unless you are lucky) suddenly. When I see that happen, or when I get an email or social media contact asking about sequels) it encourages me to get the next book out. More than this, if readers enjoy a series and I know they do, then I enjoy writing more and that then produces better books – I hope.
Each year brings new developments. More markets open up as e-books go on sale in new countries. This last month I sold my first books in India as well as Germany, France and Brazil.
So 2014 will be a year of challenge for self published authors. Can they build and maintain readership or will they find the competition, the struggle to get attention and readership simply too hard.
How about me? Well check back with me in a year and I will let you know.
Here are my Top 10 Tips for Self Publishing
Here are my tips on getting started self publishing.
1. Keep writing and re writing. It takes years to develop as a writer. I am still early in this process myself and I have been writing for 15 years.
2. Consider joining writers groups or organisations likeNew Writers UK
3. Research your options extensively. It is worth attending events like the Self Publishing Conference in March, London Book Fair in April , NAWG writers festivalin August, The Historical Novel Society Conference in September and already mentioned NWUK Anual Fair in October. These all have talks on the process of self publishing and/ or are good points to make contacts.
4.Decide whether you have the technical skills to layout books yourself. Can you convert to e-books? Can you learn.?If you can then you can save a lot of money but if you can’t then use companies but be cautious and ask around a lot. Those contacts from 2 and 3 can help here.
5. Employ an editor. No really you need one. You cant edit your own work and don’t rely on your aunt. Yes relatives and friends can be helpful as first readers to give early feedback but you need to pay someone who will tell you what does not work and what does.
6. You probably need a cover artist as well. Some authors can do this themselves but most cant.
7. Release the book.. Get reviews (don’t pay for them – give the book away but don’t pay for a review). Blog about it, tweet and flash it about the social media but in moderation. No one likes “Buy my book” messages in their face. Find other ways to promote the content. Like doing talks about Life in AD 600 as I do.
8. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Publish a paperback as well as an e-book. Schools still like physical books as do libraries. Having a physical book to show at book fair beats a flyer. But also get into e-books. You cannot hope to compete if in paperback only. Get it on Kindle but also Smashwords and Google e-books. Some books sell better in one location than others. Broaden your reach.
9. Write the next book and the next. Readers like to know that if they commit to a new author there is a future here. We all do this – I read every Pratchett and Cornwell book as a matter of course.
10, Be helpful to others Review other peoples books. Tweet and comment about other authors. Share their blogs. Answer author’s questions. Build relationships.