"The universe is made of stories, not of atoms."
—Muriel Rukeyser

Self-Publishing: Expectations vs Reality For New Authors

Self-publishing is a great opportunity – if you have a head for business

Are you dreaming of becoming the next bestselling author?

For anyone who writes, it is natural to want your hard work to reap the rewards you believe it deserves.

Self-publishing today gives all authors the chance to publish for (almost) free and to have a book on sale on Amazon and many other online book retailers.

If you use Amazon’s publishing service, Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), you can publish an ebook, and it will be on sale in around 24 hours.

For a paperback version of a book using print on demand, it takes only a few days.

In the days before self-publishing, the publishing process for a traditional publisher very often took a year or more. It has not changed a great deal for large publishers today.

It is a long road to take to get a book published the traditional way. You need first to find a literary agent to represent you, which is no easy task.

Then if you are lucky enough to find one, it can take months for your agent to secure a publishing contract for you. If you are one of the fortunate authors who manage to get this far, it is then a wait of another year before your book is released.

After that, you cross your fingers and hope your book sells well. Otherwise, the chances of another contract are slim.

However, if you self-publish, you skip all the waiting and jump immediately to crossing your fingers.

So much has changed, but the publishing industry stays the same. It is about hoping that readers will buy your book.

The expectations of publishing a book

I started publishing in 2005 with Createspace. The following four years were marvellous for me for with my print books selling well enough to get a nice check every month.

Then came the ebook.

When I self-published my first ebook in 2011, there were fewer than 800,000 Kindle ebooks on Amazon. Fast forward to today, and it is over 7 million.

Did you know that a new Kindle ebook is now published on average every 3 minutes?

You do not need to be a statistician to calculate that while the number of ebook titles has risen dramatically, the number of book buyers has not increased proportionally.

In simple terms, for a digital book, it is a highly competitive market.

On top of that, Kindle Unlimited has turned all the publishing rules on its head. No longer do you sell a book. You sell page reads. For authors and publishing companies alike, it is a considerable challenge.

Many new authors leap into publishing an ebook on Amazon with the expectation that because their book is for sale, it will sell.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The hard facts are that very few titles sell well, and most struggle to sell more than a handful of copies per year. Mostly to friends and family.

The biggest problem is that many newly published authors do zero market research before a book launch.

If you want to sell anything, you have to know what your market is and how you are going to attract people to buy your product.

Smart indie authors know this and have a clear idea of their genre and what market potential there is for their writing.

For example, there is a massive market for contemporary romance, but only a tiny market for gardening or rose care books. However, a small market segment is less competitive.

Balancing competitivity and volume is how you understand your potential market share. Do you want a tiny proportion of the highly competitive romance market, or to dominate the less competitive rose care genre?

For new independent authors, do not let your expectation cloud the reality. Selling books in today’s market is very hard unless you are an expert in book marketing and know who your potential book buyers are and how you can connect with them.

Putting your book up for sale is one thing. Selling a lot of copies is another reality altogether.

The realities of making it with self-published books

The first reality is to understand that vanity presses will never help you succeed.

I hear from so many authors who had wild dreams, were told mistruths and paid an awful lot of money to publish their book. And all for nothing.

Vanity publishing is definitely not self-publishing. Paying a vanity publishing company to sell books to you is not a recipe for success. Do not fall for the trap.

You can only succeed if you can sell books to readers. And you can.

Here is a short extract from the 2018 Author Earnings Report.

“Despite the prevalent indie doom-and-gloom rumours, today’s top sellers are handily making as much or more than the top-selling indies from prior years were.

But here’s the kicker. A lot of today’s top-selling indies are relatively new names. We didn’t recognize a lot of them. And a lot of yesteryear’s pioneering indie superstars no longer even make the Top 50.”

A look at ebook sales for 2017 tells an optimistic story for indie-publishing authors.

Combined Indie author ebook sales of imprint, not listed and collective amount to over 37% of the market. A full 12% higher than the Big Five publishers.

There is no doubt that readers do buy self-published titles and far more than traditionally published titles.

But do not expect to be part of this success if you think that everyone in the world is going to want to buy your book about rose care, or even romance.

You have to know your specific genre, the demographics and interests of your potential readers, and most importantly, how to get them to find your book.

You might have a fantastic book title, a brilliant professionally designed book cover and had the interior of your book formatted by a book designer.

But unless the story or subject of your book is what readers really want to read, your book can still fail.

Book buyers are fickle, so you need to give them a compelling reason to buy your book.

Learning about how people find books they want to buy

Understanding how and why people buy books is your first step towards being a successful indie publisher.

Yes, you need a great story, a brilliant book description and a killer cover design.

You need to be a little tech savvy and know how to exploit social media and attract attention via your blog with good use of SEO.

Most of all though, you need to know how to leverage categories and keywords for your books.

Getting your book into the right place for readers of your genre to find is more powerful than any other form of book marketing.

The new breed of successful Indie authors are quietly and studiously using data to help readers find their books on Amazon and other retailers. It is an electronic form of getting your book on a shelf at the front of a bookstore.

The expectation vs reality equation is now that you can only expect to gain regular book sales if you understand the reality of the necessity to use data.

Learning how to access and leverage Amazon book sales data especially is now key to succeeding in the online book market.

To use the example I mention before of the difference in the market for contemporary romance and rose care, here is some hard data.

Amazon sales data for books related to rose gardening. Data source KDP Rocket

In line six, the book, The Rose Garden, is fiction, so it needs to be ignored. But you can see that the monthly sales for books related to rose care and rose gardening is very small. The best selling book is making $73.00 per month.

Now let’s looks at contemporary romance.

Amazon sales data for books related to contemporary romance. Data source KDP Rocket

What a difference! Yes, your eyes aren’t deceiving you. In 21 days, Every Breath has made sales of over half a million dollars.

When you can access data as I have illustrated above, you can drill down to find your niche market and find keywords and categories to make your book as competitive as possible.

This is the future of independent publishing. Using data to position your book where readers can find it, and buy it.

In SEO, there is an expression that if your page ranks on page one of Google Search, you get traffic. If it is listed on page two, it is in the cemetery.

The same applies to books on Amazon. If you book appears on the first page when a book buyer searches for a new book, you will make book sales. If it appears on page two, you won’t.

The future success stories of indie publishing

Book buyers are over discriminating between traditional published and self-published books and ebooks. They just buy books they want to read.

In the past, the best advice to new authors was to have a fantastic book cover, a great book description to hook readers and to have a book properly edited.

But today, that is now not going to be enough to succeed.

The path to success today and in the future will be to learn how to market a book to an electronic online market.

Using data research to find your market niche and to better position your title so buyers see it will be more important than your book cover and description.

That is why the Author Earnings Report I mentioned earlier stated that today’s top-selling indies are relatively new names.

They are the new authors who know the power of data, and how to use it.

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