Self-Publishing: Who Is Making The Money?


This story in The Guardian caught my attention: 391,000 books were self-published in the United States last year.

Holy, suffering, jumping, dying Moses!

That’s a staggering number of titles – I won’t go into the quality of the books. Most people in the industry agree that most self-published titles lack the kind of editing, style and quality of writing that you see with traditionally published books. But I have to ask: if, say, 300,000 books wind up being self-published each year, and a good portion via Kindle Direct Publishing, for example, who is making the money?

While self-published books receive a higher royalty, the vast, vast majority might make a couple of hundred bucks. A book’s success is wholly dependent on the author’s brand and the ability to market those books. Just as in traditional publishing, social media is the primary source of book marketing because it’s basically cost-free. A book’s success will likely depend on an author’s social media currency, and good on those authors who capitalize on it for profit. (Though my Twitter feed is spammed continually be self-pubbed authors trying to flog their stuff. Twitter seems to be the marketing tool of choice next to blog tours & giveaways.) But here’s the thing: is it not in Amazon’s best interest to flood the market with self pubbed titles? I mean, they own the market – Amazon makes money whether one Kindle Direct Publishing title sells or whether a hundred thousand sell.

Very simply, the math is in Amazon’s favor – or really any self publishing venue online. If they own the marketplace, then it makes sense to get as many titles listed in your online bookstore as humanly possible regardless of their quality or content and then skim pennies, nickles, dimes and quarters off each one that sells. KA-CHING! ¬†(And don’t even get me started on the Kindle Direct Published titles that are *free* Those free titles skew the Amazon rankings, don’t you know.)

Look … the fact is that most traditionally published authors don’t earn out their advance on royalties. ¬†There’s no advance on royalties with self-publishing, but I think writers need to be aware of just how many copies they’re going to likely sell before they decide to self-publishing with Amazon or anyone else.

This is a bad model for authors but you can’t disagree, it’s a hell of a business approach and one that is reflective of the mind-numbing level of change in the publishing industry. I also think it’s unsustainable and might possibly face a self-published author backlash in a few year’s time because the truth hasn’t yet sunken in for those with dreams of becoming the next self-publishing phenomenon. I think what you’re writing is important too, if you want to make a few bucks out of the self-publishing gig. Romance and literature make up the lion’s share of self-published books according to the article – sadly, what’s missing are the sales figures.

If we had those numbers, I think authors might go into self-publishing with realistic expectations.


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