Can you make money by self-publishing?

Can you make money by self-publishing?.

Your chances of getting a book published are pretty small. So why not go down the self-publishing route?

Finishing your novel is just the first hurdle. Finding an agent or publisher willing to read your work and shortlist it and have it published is an even bigger challenge.

But do you even need a publisher? In my recent article Could you make a fortune writing Mills & Boon?, there were quite a few comments about self-publishing.

Partly because the chances of getting a book published are so small, even within the prolific romance market, self-publishing is becoming an increasingly popular option.

So who’s making money?

Self-publishing success stories
Probably the most successful of the self-publishers to date is Amanda Hocking.

She wrote 17 novels around her day job but they were all rejected by publishers. So, in spring 2010 she began to self-publish them as ebooks. Less than a year later she’d sold well over a million copies and earned around $2 million.

EL James, author of smutfest Fifty Shades of Grey, took a slightly different self-publishing route. She paid for hardcopies of her work to be printed through a small Australian press. Yet now her trilogy has sold more than ten million copies worldwide.

These two self-publishers have turned their rejected novels into life-changing sums of money. But since their success, both have chosen to write through established publishing houses.

That suggests that the big money is still made by having the support of an editor, publicist and major book retailers, all of which are only really achievable with a publishing house.

Let’s talk money
Of course, it’s all too easy to cherry pick the biggest successes and suggest that everyone could do the same.

That’s like my mother earnestly advising me that “all you need to do is write the next Harry Potter”. Why I didn’t think of that before…

But leaving these self-publishing giants aside, how much do the rest really earn?

The writers’ hub recently released a report into the self-publishing phenomenon. The title alone will bring most aspiring authors down to earth – it was called Not a Gold Rush.

It surveyed over 1,000 self-publishing authors and found that the average earnings are around $10,000 (about £6,370) a year.

While that may not sound like much, there’s even worse news to come – that figure is heavily skewed by the top earners.

In fact, the top 10% of writers are earning around three-quarters of the total revenue, while 50% earn less than $500, or just under £320.

That’s not exactly a great earner. But perhaps some things are worth more than cash, especially if you’re a creative type.

How many people join bands in the full knowledge that they are unlikely to become rock stars but might earn some beer money? It’s still creatively satisfying and there’s always a chance you’ll make it big.

How much does self-publishing cost?
Replying to my previous article, AndyP said: “To be honest, if the average return for a published author is £4,000 a year as suggested in the article – nowhere near enough to live on – I’d personally rather go the free route, and skip dealing with publishers at all.”

But is it free to self-publish? Well, it depends on how you go about it. If you choose to self-publish through a proper press, then you’ll need to pay for the hard copies of your book to be printed.

If you want support editing and designing your book, you’ll need to invest at least a few hundred pounds.

When promoting your novel, you’ll probably want a website. If you don’t have the skills to build one yourself then you may have to pay a designer.

However, if you can take care of that back-office stuff yourself then you can publish and promote your novel without investing a penny. It will just cost you hours and hours of your life.

Where do you start?
Okay, so you’ve written a book and you’re ready to publish. What do you do next?

Commenting on my Mills & Boon article, Mike10613 suggested the website Lulu was a good place to start. Lulu offers a free e-publishing service for authors and will even help you design your cover.

E-publishing is free, although you can then pay for additional help and services. For example, the Laureate package includes cover design, phone support, an editing service, 25 hard-cover copies and 100 paperbacks, and costs £3,519.

But there are cheaper options; you can have help designing a cover, an editorial quality review and some additional help for just £465.

Another option is through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, which is also free to sign up to.

If you price your book right then you can earn as much as 70% royalties, and your work will also be available through Kindles, iPads, iPhones, Blackberrys, Android-based handsets and computers.

Of course, simply making your book available is only the first step. You’ll be competing with hundreds of thousands of other authors, so how you promote your work is key. So how do you market your masterpiece?

The most successful self-publishing authors use blogs, Twitter, Facebook and other social platforms to advertise their book. There have been lengthy books written explaining the art of promoting your novel, so I won’t try to cover the strategies in any depth here.

You can also find plenty of tips on self-publishing sites and in forums, but social media is the best platform, as you can create a buzz around your book.

Strategies worth trying include encouraging word-of-mouth praise by giving away a certain number of copies, perhaps in exchange for reviews. It’s also worth publishing a blog and making guest appearances on other blogs.

You can get involved in online discussions around themes included in your book, perhaps through forums and web chats.

It takes a lot of work and self-publishers are likely to conclude that writing the book was the easy bit…