Self-Publishing Reaches the Summit

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

shutterstock_229149667I recently took part in New Generation Publishing’s annual Self-Publishing Summit in London, now in its third year. It is always a good opportunity to stop and consider how the self-publishing sector has evolved. The is no doubt that self-publishing, often derided in its former forms, has made a huge mark in the last three years and has not only developed rapidly in that time but is here to stay. Here, in no particular order, are some of my reflections on this year’s event.

Related: Digital Book World Seeks Input from Authors on Publishing Experiences

The traditional versus self-publishing argument is finished

At the first Summit in 2011 there was a lot of anger in the room, and not just from the panelists having to work on a Saturday. There was a sense of writers scorned with traditional publishing being painted as elitist, out-of-touch, arrogant, dismissive, and either redundant or on its way out of business. That sentiment was probably best summed up as, ‘I didn’t want to be traditionally published anyway.’

The traditional publishing industry had brought a lot of this on itself and for its complacency alone deserved this kicking. But aside from being cathartic for some writers, I always found this approach distracting and unproductive. Reader don’t benefit from industry mudslinging, and they are ultimately the only ones that really matter.

I noticed it last year but there was virtually no discussion of the opposition between traditional and self-publishing this year. The focus was on options–what is available through all possible routes and how to be as successful as possible through the route chosen. It would appear the post-breakup score-settling is over and the sector has moved on, which can only be a good thing.

Self-publishing is starting to self-regulate

Another aspect notable by its near absence was the prevalence of horror stories–the ‘I sold my car, house and kidney to self-publish with a company based in the Bahamas only to find out all 100,000 copies I paid for were sunk in boat transit due to a surprise dolphin attack’ sort of thing. With so much content out there now (perhaps unsurprisingly considering the nature of writers), there is a lot written on the subject and a clearer sense now of what sounds like a good self-publishing option and what sounds like one to run away from.

In an aspirational business there is still a long way to go, and there are no doubt plenty of horror offerings still out there. However, I think there is now an acknowledgement that paying a fee that would buy a small house for a film company to read your book and say they are interested and will be in touch, sometime, maybe, is not a good purchase. Again, this is good thing.

Less than great expectations

There was some cynicism from potential self-publishing authors, a fear that in actual fact it may only be their mothers that think they have a book in them. I don’t normally have any time for cynicism but in this sector it’s not a bad thing. The headlines are taken by a small pool of well-known writers who have self-published and sold millions of copies, but there is also an vast lake of writers that have self-published to sell less than a box full of titles stored in a garage.

I wouldn’t want writers to be deterred by this, though, and the success stories show what is now possible. But going into it with eyes wide open and acknowledging the huge potential challenges ahead will prepare authors well before beginning their journey. If you have an idea of the hard work and marketing and sales pushes required, for instance, you are less likely to be staring at your Amazon sales ranking believing 1,000,000 is its rank and not the number of copies sold.

Quality, quality, quality

This is something I always press home to self-publishing writers I speak with, and it was a point raised (and also rammed through) by several panelists at the event, from editors to successful traditional and self-published authors. It’s one thing to be focused on being a great seller and marketer, but the hardest and most important part is to focus on being a great writer. It is ultimately that and nothing else that will provide self-published writers with long and successful careers.

Readers aren’t interested in how the author published the book. They are interested in quality, looking only for the best book to buy. I also hate the thought of writers with great potential rushing out a self-published book, then seeing it and giving up writing when with a lot of hard work they could have become successful later on.

I hope this point was taken to heart, and I believe it is a work in progress. I for one am going to keep going on about it–and possibly will still be going on about it at Summit No. 60, should mortality allow.

Jumping out of the haystack

I also sensed a little nervous energy around marketing: what authors should be doing to get their work and platforms out there. There is now an increased understanding of the numbers involved–there are literally millions of books in the marketplace and standing out among them is a huge, huge challenge.

Again, I see this as a positive thing, in that it is best to understand the size of the challenge before starting. I think sometimes self-published writers can get too hung-up on social media (Twitter in particular), when my first focus would be getting out there (physically rather than online) and getting local bookshops and libraries to support and sell my work. It actually reminds of when I set up my first publishing company–one of the first things I did was print out a map and walk to every bookshop I could think of, clinging onto my box of books.

In summary

I believe fewer people may now self-publish, or at least the curve will start to level off, but less may well turn out to be more in terms of success and impact. On a hugely positive day, while it was clear writers better recognize the challenges and pitfalls, there was also a recognition of the range of options available and, as a result, those options were being properly considered.

It seems like self-publishing is becoming a better regulated and more professional sector of the industry. Noise can be soothing to some and good for quick headlines, but professionalism and thorough planning will be key to longevity, and that those features are coming to the fore is great news. What is clear, at any rate, is that self-publishing is undoubtedly here to stay.

Related: Join DBW15 for a Close Look at the Self-Publishing Market and Latest Data on Authors

9 thoughts on “Self-Publishing Reaches the Summit

  1. Alex Newton

    This is an excellent summary of the state of industry. Supply and demand reigns every (free) market. And this is why, for example, self-publishing ebooks en mass will level off. This month the total number of ebooks published on Kindle exceeded 3,000,000 titles for the first time. Every month another 75,000+ new titles are added – and many titles are low quality junk titles. This is an annual growh in Kindle ebook supply of 30%; the law of supply and demand will take care of this sooner or later. A self-published author who sells his book on KDP for $2.99 (as many authors do) at 70% royalty and who achieves a sales rank on Amazon of around 20,000 the whole year through (which is actually very good and equates ca. 5 copies a day) makes about $3,900 in author gross income a year. Not quite enough to feed the family and pay the rent. And guess what the chances are to see ones title consistently in the top 20,000 over a 365 day period? Unless you have a QUALITY book that hits the hot buttons of the READERS in a carefully selected MARKET NICHE , accompanies with HEAVEY MARKETING to get the book in front of the reader, the odds of making a fortune (or making a living for that matter) are … well, you do the maths.
    Alex Newton
    ebook market intelligence for success

    1. Tom ChalmersTom Chalmers Post author

      Thanks Alex, glad you liked the blog and I like that you’ve put it into a financial summary – results can very greatly but the more accurate the expectations going into self-publishing the better.

  2. Brian

    I think you are partly right “Reader don’t benefit from industry mudslinging, and they are ultimately the only ones that really matter.”

    Actually, readers and WRITERS are really the only parts that matter. Everything in between, (Amazon, traditional publishers, self-published) are all moving parts that can and well be replaced based on how well they satisfy the needs of readers and writers.

    No mention of print-on-demand? Seems like a pretty big topic, and pretty essential to self-publishing to miss!

    1. Tom ChalmersTom Chalmers Post author

      Thanks Brian. I think it could be said any part of any process could be removed if it no longer provides a use – the reader is the one that provides the revenue for there to be a process and I think the better focus is on each part providing as much value to the reader as possible. I think print-on-demand is now standard in many scenarios throughout the industry so that didn’t occur to me as a recent change.

    1. Tom ChalmersTom Chalmers Post author

      One of the great things about self-publishing now is how many options there are available – if the two options were Amazon or ‘vanity publishing’, it would not only be in a very sorry state but would have traveled back in time several years!

  3. Ernie Zelinski

    You say,

    “I think sometimes self-published writers can get too hung-up on social media (Twitter in particular) . . . ”

    I totally agree. I discovered that the best way to use social media (Twitter or Facebook) to market my books is to avoid it as much as possible. When something becomes really trendy and most authors are doing it, it becomes rather ineffective.

    Fact is, there are many creative ways to market books that are much more effective than social media. I have at least 50 to 100 of my original creative techniques that I have used over the years to sell over 850,000 copies of my books (mainly self-published). I have used similar unique marketing techniques to get 111 books deals with various foreign publishers around the world. My books are now published in 22 languages in 29 different countries.

    Regarding creative marketing, I like this quip by an author whose nickname is “The Name Tag Guy”:

    “I once saw my book for sale on Ebay. For two dollars. (sniff) So, do you know what I did? I bid $250 on it. Then bought it. That’s marketing baby!”
    — Scott Ginsberg (The Name Tag Guy)

    In short, I suggest that authors who want to be much more effective than 99 percent of authors in promoting their books go against conventional wisdom. Stay away from social media. Also stay away from other things the majority is doing such as the trendy free ebook
    promotions on Amazon or pricing books at 99 cents or $2.99. You will find, as I have found, that you will attain greater success than 99 percent of authors attain. As Scott Ginsberg says, “That’s marketing baby.”

    One more note: The only way to know anything definitely about success and
    prosperity in the book business is to attain them for yourself by yourself — anything
    less is hypothesis, idle talk, and folklore.

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    The Prosperity Guy
    “Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free”
    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 225,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working”
    (Over 275,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

    1. Tom ChalmersTom Chalmers Post author

      Thanks Ernie and to use a well-known business saying, see what the masses are doing and then do the opposite! Good to hear of some innovate and creative marketing ideas.

  4. Nick Stamoulis

    Social media is a very important tool for self-published authors but yes, it’s not the “be all, end all” solution. It’s still necessary to get out there and actually meet people as you promote your book.



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