|Snowbound on the Island by Kate Allan|
It seems to be me that self-publishing's challenge to traditional publishing models are more complicated than a direct challenge. Traditionally published authors are not flocking wholeheartedly to self-publishing, while many writers who start by self-publishing still aspire to traditional publishing deals.
My own experience puts me very much in the camp of the former. I'm a traditionally published author whose first novel was out in 2005. I write in the romance genre, one of the genres doing especially well out of the ebook revolution. A few of my early books I was fortunate enough to have the ebook rights which I gave to a specialist genre ebook publisher in the US in 2007 and so I've had a while to watch their continuing steady sales with interest. I've been published now with four different traditional publishers, all independents so the money's not been great, and critically my main publisher I'm writing for now still does not do ebooks so I'm free to sell those rights elsewhere.
Last autumn I got a spark of an idea for a novella. I knew it wouldn't be a long story and indeed it was perfect at only 10,000 words. The length meant it wasn't suitable for any of my existing publishers so I thought I would have a go at self-publishing it on Kindle, figuring the experience would be educational and I had little to lose.
My expectations of the sales being modest I didn't want to spend money on the cover and so I did that myself. I was also fortunate in being an experienced author and editor myself and the story being so short that it didn't need an external edit. So I only had it professionally proof-read before publishing.
I did all the same things to promote it as I have for my other books, using social networking. Having a short blog tour and making sure it was reviewed by some popular sites. Conscious of no publisher behind me I probably did more than I would for one of my traditionally published books. And I was pleased with the sales in the first month – over 100 units. But once I'd stopped actively promoting it the sales have fallen back to the steady trickle. Some of this I do think because the story premise has a seasonal appeal – it's called Snowbound on the Island and so it's the sort of romance readers want to read on the sofa in front of the fire the winter, not on the beach. But I haven't got the time to be flogging Twitter 24/7/365, besides which I wouldn't want to bore my Twitter followers to death going on and on about my latest book as I see some self-published authors do. Most importantly I need my author time for writing my next book – for a traditional publisher.
Another recent survey, this time by Australian publisher and authors services business Taleist, of over 1,000 self-published authors found that less than 10% made enough to live exclusively off their earnings and that 75% of self-publishing revenue was earned by a small group of “top earners”.
Unless you're lucky enough (or skilful enough?) to break into that top tier, then being traditionally published may still be the better option for professional authors looking to try and at least make a modest living from their writing.
I'll be pleased when I get my cheque from Amazon for Snowbound on the Island but the effort involved in self-publishing and the relatively modest sales I've seen can't match what I can get from my traditional publisher who print my book, get it into Tescos, let me keep the ebook rights and also sell on other rights, for example to large print and audio. I'm delighted I can self-publish if I want to – especially being daft enough to write a story unsuitable for my existing publishers - but I can't replace the income I receive from traditional publishers with that from self-publishing, and that income is what allows me to continue to write.
I have a couple of backlist titles I may self-publish, when I can find the time, but my frontlist is staying with traditional publishers for the foreseeable future.
Kate Allan tweets at @kate_allan