Less than a decade ago, self-publishing, or indie publishing, had a stigma. Indie authors in general were seen as authors who couldn’t get past the gatekeepers, and they weren’t good enough to be traditionally published, so they weren’t real authors.
Now, the stigma is for the most part gone. However, it’s still hard to be an indie author, especially if you dream of being a full time writer. The Bookseller and Bustle both wrote about how in 2015, 22% of ebook sales in the UK were self-published titles (compared to 16% in 2014). That’s huge, but Bustle adds that “Although total self-published ebook sales did go up, it’s possible that’s less because self-published books are gaining popularity, or whether they’re just becoming more numerous. Self-published titles still tend to sell, on average, far fewer copies than your average traditionally published book — as is evident from the fact that more than half of all self-published authors earn less than $500 from book sales per year.”
On the other hand, the data about earning less than $500 from book sales comes from a 2012 article by The Guardian, so things may have changed in the past 4 years.
Still, it’s not easy to become a successful author. One “Anonymous” author only recently became a bestseller with his book Oxygen Thief, which he self-published in 2006, according to AP. (And now the demand for his book has gotten so high that he is going the traditional route with Simon & Schuster.)
Another author, Rachel Abbott, wrote in The Guardian that she worked 14 hour days, 7 days a week for one of her books. She has recently sold her 2 millionth book.
So what can authors do to help themselves succeed? Jane Friedman shares 4 lessons for authors, which includes having a strong online presence, not believing all the media hype about publishing trends, finding your readers, and experimenting with pricing. (Speaking of, Publisher’s Weekly recently wrote that a recent study by the Center for Information-Development Management found we’ll be seeing more efficient tools and more evolution in digital publishing.)
Jordan Rosenfeld also recommends “failing up,” meaning admit what you don’t know publicly and then learn from it.
If you’re a writer choosing between the self-publishing and traditional publishing route, then please keep in mind that there is no right answer, and it all just depends on what you want to do.
As Rachel Abbott said, “In the end, it doesn’t matter how a writer is published as long as readers enjoy their work.”