Indie Authors Write Their Futures

Did you know that the number of self-published books has increased 264% in the last five years?

That’s according to WordsRated, a non-commercial research organization that compiles sales data related to self-published books and authors. In a February 2, 2022, WordsRated blog, Nicholas Rizzo offered these statistics:

  • 300 million self-published books worth $1.25 billion are sold each year.
  • The average self-published book sells 250 copies.
  • 90% of self-published books sell less than 100 copies.
  • The average self-published author makes $1,000 per year from book sales.
  • 20% of self-published authors report making no income from their books.

WordsRated also estimates that while the global publishing market is expected to grow at a 1% compound annual growth rate (CAGR), the self-publishing market is expected to grow at a 17% CAGR.

So, what does this mean for indie authors? Are they writing their own futures? Or erasing them? Is independent publishing worth the effort?

In his BookBaby Blog post, “How Hard Is It to Get Published?”, Scott McCormick summarizes the arduous process of getting a deal with a major publisher. First, you have to land an agent. Since a typical agent receives 4,000–5,000 manuscripts a year, and generally accepts between three and ten new authors, that step isn’t easy.

If you do manage to land an agent, he says, there’s no guarantee you’ll get a publishing deal. Sometimes agents and authors aren’t a good fit for each other. Or the publisher is looking for something else. Or the publisher changes its mind. The process can be what McCormick calls “glacially slow.”

He suggests self-publishing as a viable alternative to traditional publishing.

Dimitrije Curcic (“The Big Five Publishers Statistics”) concurs, noting that while the Big Five (Penguin Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, and Simon & Schuster) generate about 64% of the U.S. publishing industry’s revenue and $12 billion in book sales, they don’t dominate the market in terms of the number of titles released. On the contrary, they typically release only 10% to 20% of new titles in a year.

Self-publishing, then, emerges as an attractive alternative. But it’s not necessarily a simple or lucrative one.

“The worst way to publish a book is to not publish your book.”

Steven Spatz, BookBaby President Emeritus

Yet indie authors are catching up to their traditionally published colleagues in earnings. WordRated blogger Rizzo notes that among authors who published their first book in the last 10 years, 1,200 traditionally published authors earned $25,000+ a year, a number that is surpassed by the 1,600 self-published authors who earned $25,000+ a year.

BookBaby, a leader in self-publishing, offers ala carte services that range from design and editing to production and distribution. In “Simple Self-Publishing Tips,” its president emeritus Steven Spatz advises authors to approach independent publishing as a business.

“If you are planning to sell books,” he explains in a September 2022 article, “It’s going to take some time, and it’s probably going to take some money.”

An indie author must not only write a book, he says, but also find and collaborate with editors, book and cover designers, and marketers.

“You cannot rush a book to its conclusion,” Spatz emphasizes, noting that while there are many options for getting a book published, “The worst way to publish a book is to not publish your book.”

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