25 Things Most People Don’t Know About Self-Publishing

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The stigma of self-publishing is gone, but not all the myths have been forgotten. New authors learn about self-publishing in many different ways, but unfortunately, not all of those channels are accurate or legitimate. Additionally, many trad pub authors and members of the population at large are just as unaware of the realities of indie authorship. Check out these 25 self-publishing facts that 99 percent of people don’t know:

  1. You don’t need a copyright, trademark, or ISBN to publish. While it’s good practice to include a copyright page in your book, you don’t need to pay extra for any kind of documentation. According to the latest Author Earnings report, 30 percent of the top books sold on Amazon don’t have an ISBN. These days, it’s simply an unnecessary cost.

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  1. Many authors spend hundreds of dollars to make their books more professional. The most common argument against the validity of indie publishing is that all self-publishing books are unprofessional. Authors who believe in their craft will pay hundreds of dollars for an editor, several hundred more for a cover designer, and, depending on their patience, even more on formatting. They spend this money before making a single dime off that book. It’s a risk indie authors are willing to take.
  1. Self-publishers usually hire independent contractors for this work; not author services companies. There are many high-priced scammy companies out there that will charge thousands of dollars to produce a professional self-published product. There are many reported rip-offs from these organizations, so most authors steer clear of these all-in-one companies.
  1. Most indie authors don’t have agents, but some do for very specific reasons. Self-published authors with great success like Hugh Howey retain agents to handle things like selling foreign rights and negotiating movie deals. Unless your books are big hits, you probably don’t need to bother with an agent.
  1. Self-published authors produce books on their own schedules, and many finish several books in a single year. Production schedules for publishing houses rarely push more than one book by a single author in one calendar year. Some indies put out a novel every single month. This speed is more the norm for authors than you’d think.

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  1. Indie authors who write faster maintain strong quality regardless of the speed. With intelligent scheduling and top-notch editors, self-published authors usually don’t sacrifice quality despite seemingly epic quantity.
  1. Successful authors in the self-publishing world must consider creativity and business in equal measure. The term “authorpreneur” was born out of the need to define authors who run their career like an independent publishing house. These authors project earnings and use profit-loss statements as they develop characters and build worlds.
  1. The top selling self-published authors earn most of their money from ebooks sold on Amazon. Through Amazon’s KDP platform, indie authors push their books out to the most active reader marketplace in the world. This platform provides most authors with their biggest paychecks.
  1. A desire for diverse income streams and recent changes by Amazon has authors publishing their books to several other platforms. Hundreds of authors reported significant earning drops of thousands of dollars a month toward the end of 2014. This was blamed on everything from a saturated marketplace to Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited borrowing program. Regardless of the reason, authors have sought serious income refuge on other platforms like Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Apple, and Google Play.
  1. Self-published authors can earn a livable wage from book sales alone. The Author Earnings report has gone a long way to dispel the myth that only a handful of authors earn a decent income from self-publishing. While it’s still a minority, more writers than you think have quit clock-punching to take up full-time authorship.

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  1. Even successful authors supplement their income by teaching classes, writing copy, and taking on other work to make ends meet. This is something that indies and trad pubs have in common. Even though self-publishing is a strong choice for new authors, it’s no gold rush, and the hardest workers tend to be the most successful.
  1. The hardest working, most prolific authors are often the most financially successful. To hear the hours kept by many indie authors, you’d think you were talking to a partner in a top law firm. While there are part-time success stories, there are more triumphant tales from authors who work 60-80 hours per week.
  1. Successful self-published authors tend to promote themselves more effectively than the average trad pub author. Publishers are good at what they do, but marketing isn’t part of the package. Trad pubs sell books to book stores; not to readers. As a result, many voracious readers have latched onto the personal attention that indies are willing to provide.
  1. Not all indies like marketing, but they understand it’s a necessary part of doing business. As the recent drops in author income have shown, authors can’t count on Amazon or any of the other retailers to send readers to every book every time. Self-published authors are learning the need for tools like a mailing list in which there’s no middleman between them and their readers.
  1. In the indie world, the gatekeepers are the readers. To become a traditionally-published author, you usually need at least an agent and an interested editor. Ninety-nine percent of authors who go this route are rejected by the gatekeepers. Self-published authors have gatekeepers as well. If readers don’t like a book, then they’ll let the authors hear it by leaving negative reviews and never buying one of the authors’ books again.

    Image from http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2011/04/making-the-author-editor-connection-the-importance-of-being-edited/
  1. Negative reviews can quickly affect a self-published authors’ bottom line. A one-star review on Amazon will hurt any author’s feelings, but for indies, it can also lead to reduced book sales. Low reviews bring down the overall average for a book. When a book falls below the four-star average, it may make the book less appealing to readers and the all-important book advertisers. In other words, trolls can directly hurt authors with their negative reviews. On the other hand, a positive review can lift a book’s review average and encourage sales.
  1. For better or worse, many indies depend on their acceptance by selective book advertisers like BookBub. BookBub is a promotional service for authors with over two million email subscribers curated by their favorite genres. Authors will apply to BookBub every month for 99-cent or free book promotions, even though the company only accepts 10 to 15 percent of applicants. Indies and trad pubs alike will shell out hundreds to thousands of dollars to pull in 2,000-3,000 sales or 20,000-30,000 free downloads in a single day.
  1. Most self-published authors don’t feel that giving away free books devalues their work. In fact, many indies have used free books as a competitive advantage, funneling readers to their email lists. Some authors are willing to give away a full novel to get more readers invested in the start of a series.
  1. Many indies write series books instead of standalones for a variety of reasons. Beyond having the chance to delve deeper into a world or a character, self-published authors find that series books just plan sell better. These books are easier to promote, and when you hook a reader, you may be able to coax out the sales of every book in the series.
  1. Indies come in all ages, genres, and backgrounds. There are success stories for self-published authors in their teens as well as people born in the teens. While many top earners are in the romance genre, self-published authors have had success with thrillers, sci-fi, fantasy, young adult books, and more. Some of the biggest indie authors first got their start in trad pub, while others never sent out a single query letter before hitting it big.

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  1. Indies love helping other indies. There are countless self-publishing blogs and podcasts bent on helping indies improve their craft, their marketing, and their sales.
  1. Self-published authors are expanding into conferences throughout the world, with some indie-centric events hitting the big time like Author Marketing Live, PubSense Summit, and IndieRecon.
  1. Indie authors like H.M. Ward have made headlines for turning down six-figure self-publishing deals. Ward said she was particularly displeased with the trad pubs’ marketing plan.
  1. There’s been a big debate among indies lately about whether or not to go exclusive with Amazon. Amazon’s exclusive KDP Select program gives authors the option to run free promotions or discounted Kindle Countdown Deals. The program also places books in the controversial Kindle Unlimited catalogue. Exclusivity runs for 90 days at a time and does not permit authors to put books on other platforms. Indies in KDP Select also can’t sell the books on their own websites.

    Image from http://bookstorebrowser.com/2014/07/27/amazons-kindle-unlimited-sparks-widespread-concern/
  1. Drops in revenue from Kindle Unlimited and overall sales decreases have made some pundits say the golden age of self-publishing has come to a close. Others say the claims are short-sighted and that there are plenty of good times still to come for authors who are willing to work. Whichever side you find yourself on, self-publishing continues to be a valid path to publication for thousands of authors. As the industry continues to change, the indie author movement may find even more writers within its ranks.