In the days before the Internet and e-readers, most readers and booksellers derided self publishing as the "vanity press," although a few famously successful books were self-published. Since Amazon made it possible for anyone to become a published author, many misguided writers think they'll become a self-published superstar whose books get picked up by one of the five big traditional print publishers, and later get made into movies. Amazon has made a big deal of Kindle Direct Publishing as "the cure for rejection letters."
Maybe you've heard of some success stories, like Theresa Ragen and Hugh Howey, but most self-published authors still don't make much. According to a 2013 survey of 5,000 authors (aspiring, self-published, traditionally published and those who mix the latter two), only 0.6 percent of self-published earned $200,000 or more annually, and 19 percent of self-published authors earned nothing at all. Sorry to break your heart.
Three self-published authors gave DailyFinance their views on the business.
'Write What's in Your Heart'
Rebecca Johnson of Washington state has written five e-books: poetry, cooking and nonfiction, including a book about becoming an Amazon top reviewer (she has reviewed more than 2,000 self-published books). "Self-publishing is the most exhilarating thing you can do on Amazon," she says. "You can build it [your book], and it's out there, and it's immortal. Write what's in your heart, not necessarily the most popular book."
However. She also has read many really awful books. Her advice to authors: Read your own book 10 times before submitting it, since bad formatting, poor editing and spelling and grammar mistakes will earn you bad reviews. And after you've written a good (or so you and your friends think) and well-edited book, a strong title and attractive cover are vital. In fact, key words should be part of that catchy title, she advises. And of course, make use of websites and social media. Johnson features all her own books on her website.
'95% of My Sales Come From Amazon'
Erin Ann McBride, a D.C.-area social media marketing maven, has written four novels and one nonfiction work, with her sixth book due out any day. She equates the odds of self-publishing success to those of winning the lottery, since "there are easily 10 million titles on Amazon." She has been published commercially by a traditional publisher, but she notes the process can take up to two years from the point that you submit a book to see it in print or receive a check. On Amazon, you can get your book up in a day, and see your first royalties in 60 to 90 days. She has published books for Nook and other e-reading platforms, but said "95 percent of my sales come from Amazon."
Although McBride notes you can publish on Amazon for free, she strongly advises paying for an editor and a graphic designer. The good news is you can format and market your book at little expense by studying on the Internet and leveraging a social media presence on Twitter (TWTR), Facebook (FB) and other platforms. She blogs.
'Don't Quit Your Day Job'
Ryan Wilson practices family medicine in Oklahoma and has written four young adult horror books under the nom de plume Dr. I. Seymour Youngblood. He spent little money creating his books except to hire an editor and graphic designer. He notes series books often have greater chances of success, and his series is called the Raven Archives.
His most important words of advice to the aspiring J.K. Rowling or Stephen King? "Don't quit your day job goes without saying, but I'd never tell anybody not to follow their dream. Worst-case scenario even if you fail, you've got this great story."
Catching Lightning in a Bottle
And you thought the hard part was writing the book. According to these three, your work has just begun. If you follow their words of advice you just might beat the outsized odds and catch lightning in a bottle.
But first write that great book. Mark Twain's self-publishing fiascoes bankrupted him, but his best advice for writers was and still is, "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and lightning bug."