So, what is the self publishing experience been like for those that have gone that route?

DAgent

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I'm kinda curious what kind of results people have gotten from self publishing, whether it's been in print or online via the likes of Amazon. And how it tends to work including everything from the layout of the book to choosing it's cover art and blurb, to getting it advertised and how well they've sold. And if it's done well has any offers for a more traditional print contract came in from agents or traditional publishers?

I'm really curious how this aspect works, so the more detail the better please. Without going into figures when it comes to money, that is not anyone else's business but your own.
 
I've self published two books now and regained rights for 3 others which are now self published. My self published sell more, but I have the costs of creating them - editorial, cover - so they take longer to generate any money. I haven't sold enough to gain an offer from an agent, although one of my self published books was agented but didn't sell to a publisher, but I do well enough that I have a good reputation, and that continues to build.

Be aware, sales of ebooks seem to be falling back a little (just read an article in the Bookseller this morning about it) partly due to the pandemic having inflating online sales but also, possibly, the booktok effect, where readers want a nice physical copy to photo themselves with, not an ebook. As the single biggest driver of sales at the moment (worth thinking about for fantasy writers here, less so sci fi I think) it's a market to be aware of, but they do have a specific demograph and type of book (for fantasy, think Sarah J Maas, Leigh Bardugo, Olivie Blake, VE Schwab and the like)

I don't regret self publishing, and intend to do so in the future, but I do know it closed doors for me. But since I'm on academic lists, well regarded by peers, well supported by my arts council, invited to conventions etc to speak about my work, I'm pretty cool with where I am.
 
The process on KDP is fine. Print version is ok but you would be better to have your own cover art prepared (the selection of standard cover art offered is quite limited). I published a throw-away novel just to see how the process works. Interestingly, I originally got quite a few purchases on the downloadable version and via the page-by-page payment system, KENP (all now removed by me). Also some paperback sales. That was odd because I did zero advertising or publicity of any kind. It is my assumption that Amazon does some marketing for you initially (I mean promotes your work via search) for a short period (in bursts, over about three months). This is, I think, intended to get you excited and persuade you to spend money on some kind of promotion package. It didn't work with me. Anyway, I earned enough for a few bottles of good wine before making that particular tome available for free in other places (where it has now somehow notched up over 200,000 chapter views).

If you write something very good (subjective, I know), don't let it anywhere near KDP! Try conventional routes first.
 
Self-publishing = vanity publishing.

So you have to think of it the same way as if you paid to have a load of paperbacks printed for yourself and put them in your shed or garage. Either you're going to just give them out to friends and family, or you're going to have to get up off your ass and make a direct effort to sell them.

Some people just want their name in print, their ideas in the wild, and something to give to family and friends. Some people want to sell but don't know how to or can't be bothered and so don't. These are the majority of the self-published out there.

The ones who want to sell their books have an uphill struggle because it's a flooded market and extremely difficult to get yourself noticed. To sell you're also going to have to invest a lot of money in professional editing services and good covers. Most importantly, you're going to have to publish regularly to slowly but surely build up a following - and sales with it.

Self-publishing for success requires a lot of commitment and dedication, and little expectation of reward.
 
Agree with @Brian G Turner but it is worth mentioning KDP does not require any payment whatsoever. Different to 'vanity publishers' that will take significant money from you for 'author copies' and a promise of 'marketing'. These are often borderline scams.

Also worth mentioning that KDP could make a lot of sense for some people. Remember that a conventionally published book at, say, $25 only makes a dollar or two per copy for its author. Via KDP, you would be receiving the bulk of the sales price, even for a print copy. If you are already famous (or notorious), have a huge existing following, or have some method of marketing your own work, KDP can be a worthwhile means of making an income.
 
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Self-publishing for success requires a lot of commitment and dedication, and little expectation of reward.

Much like trying to get published the traditional route. It's always been tough, but the industry seems to be in a dismal state at the moment.

I've some experience and little success with self-publishing. The fact is, at least half of self-publishing is self-promotion. You could write very mediocre books and sell loads with the right publicity. Amazon reviews and word-of-mouth seem to mean next to nothing. Once my third fantasy novel is self-published, I will be looking at doing this more professionally. I suspect that will be a small business in itself, which is a problem if (like me) you've got a day job.
 
True! Overall, unless you're writing something really niche or downright not wanted by publishers, I think I'd try the traditional route before self-publishing.

Anyway, I earned enough for a few bottles of good wine before making that particular tome available for free in other places (where it has now somehow notched up over 200,000 chapter views).

Well done! I'm still on the cheap wine. Maybe after all those views the next step is to write a sequel (and sell it)! Giving stuff away for free to get in new readers does seem to be a big thing in self-publishing.
 
Agree with @Brian G Turner but it is worth mentioning KDP does not require any payment whatsoever. Different to 'vanity publishers' that will take significant money from you for 'author copies' and a promise of 'marketing'. These are often borderline scams.

Also worth mentioning that KDP could make a lot of sense for some people. Remember that a conventionally published book at, say, $25 only makes a dollar or two per copy for its author. Via KDP, you would be receiving the bulk of the sales price, even for a print copy. If you are already famous (or notorious), have a huge existing following, or have some method of marketing your own work, KDP can be a worthwhile means of making an income.
People tried to make the distinction between vanity press and self-publishing at the start, but the bottom line is that in practical terms there's little difference for serious writers - if you want to self-publish you still have upfront costs such as editing and covers, so the idea that KDP is free is illusory for anyone serious about this. Great if you just want to put something up for family and friends, though.

Though KDP does offer a bigger financial piece of the sales pie, the bottom line is that unless you are pushing your books and making good sales, then you are getting a big percentage of almost nothing.

Anyone with a huge existing following is already an attractive proposition for traditional publishing, so they can get their earnings in and focus on just being a writer, instead of having to effectively set up a business. Oh, yes, that's another unspoken point about self-publishing - to do so you are running a business, which means having to keep proper book keeping records, deal with tax, and potentially accountants as required. A lot more work than just clicking a link to sign up for KDP then uploading your text. I'm not complaining, as I already run a business and publish through that, but most people might not realize what's involved.

Even though traditional publishing has become notorious for squeezing authors and greedy business practices, the truth is that it's still a worthwhile first goal to aim for if you're serious about writing. Doesn't mean to say I regret taking the self-pub path - I'm playing a very long-term game here and think I can eventually succeed with it - but don't fall for any of the hype about how self-enabling and successful self-publishing can be, any more than traditional publishing. 99.9% of people who try for trad publishing fail, and probably the same figure applies to self-publishing - certainly in terms of generating sales and income. If you're serious about writing, aim to be the 0.1% who gets a trad contract, OR the 0.1% who can succeed with SP - there are no half-measures or middle ground.
 
I'm going to put a caveat or two in here, though mostly agree with @Brian G Turner . Trad publishing is really conservative at the moment. If you want a trad deal write accordingly, following known paths of good sales. They don't want the first XYZ, they want the next Dan Brown or Pratchett, or anyone known to sell. Look towards the fantasy that sells on Tiktok, not the epic fantasy of this world. Because what everyone overlooks is that a trad deal is based on what's marketable, not what's good writing.

Also, don't forget about the indie publishers. You'll never sell many but you won't have upfront costs either, and there's a lot of kudos about being picked up by the likes of NewCon Press.

Self publishing does give a niche that trad doesn't have at the moment. If you are writing something specialist, intend to for a while, and think you can build your own niche self publishing can do very well. I write extrememly niche sci fi that no one else does, and I have a reasonable following for that. I don't expect a sci fi imprint to ever take my stuff - but an irish publisher might if I can tone down the weird elements (I'm working on it!)

Also for a recent SP to trad success story (they're quite rare these days) look at Travis Baldree's Legends and Lattes. And for an example of a Tiktok success look at Colleen Hoover (but she is not sci fi or fantasy!)
 
It seems to me that if - emphasis on "if" - current trends continue, there will end up being three main sorts of traditionally-published fiction:

- blockbusters and novels trying to imitate them (Game of Thrones, Girl on the Train, Harry Potter etc, and books very similar to them)
- "zeitgeit" novels (a murder story set in the White House, say, or an SF story that clearly reflects whatever political issues the target demographic is worked up about)
- books by celebrities (many of them ghostwritten).

There might be another category of "self-published books that were successful enough to get a trad deal" but I am uncertain about this. The tendency certainly seems to be not to build up a mid-list of solidly-selling authors, but to try to find the next big thing, which will sell vast amounts of copies and get made into a TV show. Unfortunately, nobody seems to know what this is.

What this might mean - and again, this is moderately-informed guesswork - is that there would be a market for decent, non-cutting-edge self-published fiction. The sort of thing that doesn't have an unusual concept (rugged soldier fights terrorists, space soldiers fight alien Communazis etc) but is competently done. The problem is that you've got to get people to notice it, and that's where advertising comes in and, above a certain basic point, quality becomes rather irrelevant.
 
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I've self-pubbed. Waste of time, in my opinion. Unless you're good at self-promo. Had a grand total of two people from this forum buy my book. Two. The actual putting it together, layout, cover and all that is easy, it's the selling it that's hard. Unless you just want a copy for yourself, I wouldn't bother any more.
 
A friend of mine is very successful at self publishing. In five years he has wrote and put out over 25 books (military fantasy). The thing is, his wife is his full time editor and publicist, so it is really a two person team effort. Together they make a comfortable living at it.

Another friend has just started out, she is just putting out her second, a sequel (Victorian paranormal) and I think she is struggling at it.

I've considered it. The publicist part throws me off though.
 
A friend of mine is very successful at self publishing. In five years he has wrote and put out over 25 books (military fantasy). The thing is, his wife is his full time editor and publicist, so it is really a two person team effort. Together they make a comfortable living at it.

This sounds like the ideal setup, assuming that your friend is writing full-time. I'm surprised that there isn't a cottage industry of publicists out there that a self-published writer could hire to help sell their book on Facebook and Amazon, probably paid on commission.

Two major problems are that (1) publicising takes up writing time, and (2) few people are skilled in both writing and self-publicity. There are some writers who are good at both, but I doubt it's common.
 
Btw, just to clarify, in case my tone comes across as negative it's because there was an awful lot of baseless hype about self-publishing a few years back (namely around 2012-2015 I think). There was the promotion of misleading self-publishing statistics, and a whole load of untrue "facts" bandied around - one being the lifetime worth of a self-published novel was around $500,000. I read of people turning down Big 5 trad publishing contracts because of this. SP authors who had exceptional sales were promoted as the norm - after all, if they could do it, so could anyone else.

In a way, there was a zeitgeist and some early adopters did very well, partly through limited competition (people were often still wary of SP), and others discovered really big niches trad pub wasn't touching - military SF is a good example.

But once you looked more closely at the overall statistics, while it was true that SP books were selling huge volumes, most of this was millions of people SP'ing and selling a few books to friends and family. For example, if trad publishers put out 500 new fiction books in a year, and sell an average of 20k copies each, that's 10 million in sales - but if 1 million SP authors sell 10 books to friends and family, that's also 10 million in sales, with the caveat that many of these SP "sales" are free downloads anyway. That's how you have to look at SP stats.

Also, I think even a few years ago it was suggested that most SP books average 12 sales over their lifetime. With the market being even more flooded now I suspect that figure is much lower.

We have seen people at chrons be very successful with SP, though: Ralph Kern built on strong early success with Endeavour, and Nathan Hystad became a general best selling author. But they are the exceptions, not the norm.
 
Rather than going to Kindle from the start - despite it being free - I'd look at someone like Ingram Spark's Lightening Source as that will, for a charge, give you your own ISBN rather than Amazon's own one. This does mean you can sell to folks other than through Amazon and if you advance to paperback, bookshops can stock your product as your distributor can send them copies. Bookshops usually can't get hold of Amazon printed paperbacks via distributors. The down side is Amazon pay you less if you don't use them.

ETA one of the other big niche markets are books with combo of several or all of the following
murder mystery
cozy tone
scenic settings - coast of Maine, Cornish coast, Cotswold village
coffee shop or tea shop - with cup cakes
sudden change in someone's life - say inherits a tea shop
romance - which may or may not including brooding
magical powers.

So cute witch with sassy cat familiar returns to scenic home town to help sick Aunt run coffee shop that is central to the community, trips over high school sweetheart who is now smouldering hot and scowls a lot and suspects him of being behind the nasty spate of vandalism that is so unlike their town. Then she discovers, with her secret witch skills, it's a poltergeist, but has complications thanks to smouldering ex sweetheart thinking the vandalism is her fault.

I don't know what the sales are like per author, but there are a lot of them out there with covers that shout what they are. They are often relatively short - maybe 80k - and some authors put out three per year at least - so they must be making some money to keep doing that.

Vampire is another prolific area, ditto werewolves.
 
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I know I'm about a month too late but I wanted to weigh in on this. The idea of self-publishing being vanity publishing is not the experience I have had. Consider that most traditionally published books don't sell more than 5,000 copies on average and we learned from the recent Penguin Randomhouse court case that whether a book sells or not is just luck - no one knows. In those circumstances, traditionally published books are no more likely to be successful than a well written and presented self-published book. So I think by self-publishing you are giving yourself an opportunity that is not much different from that of a traditionally published debut author.

I spent a relatively modest amount of money to publish my first book on KDP (relative to what you can spend) and have outsold the average traditionally published book several times over. Maybe I have been lucky but you couldn't call it vanity.
 
I know I'm about a month too late but I wanted to weigh in on this. The idea of self-publishing being vanity publishing is not the experience I have had. Consider that most traditionally published books don't sell more than 5,000 copies on average and we learned from the recent Penguin Randomhouse court case that whether a book sells or not is just luck - no one knows. In those circumstances, traditionally published books are no more likely to be successful than a well written and presented self-published book. So I think by self-publishing you are giving yourself an opportunity that is not much different from that of a traditionally published debut author.

I spent a relatively modest amount of money to publish my first book on KDP (relative to what you can spend) and have outsold the average traditionally published book several times over. Maybe I have been lucky but you couldn't call it vanity.
Vanity publishing is different from self publishing - it is paying a publishing company to produce your book for you
 
I know but there are a number of messages in the thread that suggest there is little difference.
I think historically that was how self-publishing was regarded - a cheaper version of vanity publishing (as in you had to co-ordinate the book production and costs and there was no mark-up). With the rise of Kindle self-publishing, of companies like Lightning Source, of trad published authors also self-publishing items their publisher's didn't fancy and folks like Michael J Sullivan making a success out of a pre-kindle real paper book publishing venture (or rather it was mostly the work of his wife) self-publishing has become a separate game from vanity publishing. However the boundaries can be blurred and information take a while to spread and be believed. Or in other words it can take years to live down a bad reputation.
 

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