The Current State of Self Publishing

Written by Chantelle Atkins | June 15, 2017

When self-publishing first exploded around 2010/11, many authors viewed it as an exciting opportunity to sell books without the need for an agent or publisher. There was, however, a degree of snobbery directed at those who chose to self-publish. An assumption that their work was lacking because it had not been accepted by traditional publishers.

Several years on from the initial gold rush, are things harder or easier now for the self-published author? And have attitudes towards self-publishing changed for the better?

The writing and publishing industry has experienced significant change in the last few years alone. There are many who believe we are only at the beginning of the publishing revolution, and that far more exciting and dynamic times are yet to come. But what is the reality for the majority of self-published authors?

Many are reporting a decrease in both sales and visibility. When I was researching this article, I spoke to a number of self-published authors who had been among the first to try self-publishing. These authors felt they were initially onto a good thing. Some genres fared better than others, of course, and there was a steep learning curve ahead. Just writing and publishing books was never going to be enough. They needed to make sure their books could compete with traditional books in terms of editing, formatting, synopsis and front cover. They then learned how to market them and find their audience. I think of these early self-published authors as brave pioneers, blazing the trail for the rest who were to follow. I self-published for the first time in 2013 and I’m embarrassed to admit how clueless I was. I would have fared even worse if it had not been for the advice and guidance of some more experienced authors.

Despite their early successes in gaining a readership and producing good content, these authors now report a fall in sales. This must be in part to the sheer volume of self-published authors who have arrived on the scene. As the number of authors and books increases, it gets more difficult to sell books and reach readers. The authors I spoke to felt that the gold rush days were well and truly over.

They reported other issues too, for instance the dominance of book promotion sites such as Bookbub. What was once an option that always determined sales, has now become increasingly expensive and difficult to be accepted into.

Amazon itself can be an issue. Do you sign up to KDP in the hope of favorable treatment, or do you hedge your bets and place your work on multiple outlets?

Finances are a constant issue for the self-published author. There are so many author services available now. They all promise to help you sell books and they all want money for it. Who do you trust, and what are the options if you just cannot afford to pay out? Editing, formatting and having a book cover designed all cost money too. Where does it end? Many authors never make the money back and are forced to make difficult decisions along the way.

It’s not at all easy to be a self-published author, and many never see the success or amount of sales they dreamed of. Often, they feel second best to those who have secured a traditional deal, and despite their best efforts at marketing and promotion, they find it increasingly hard to gain readers. Since 2013 I have released four novels and a short story collection, blogged weekly, built up my social media profile and my author brand, and I must admit, I am still struggling to find those readers. I know many authors who are experiencing the same frustrations, but who are equally as determined to keep trying.

In some ways, however, the position of the self-published author has improved in the last few years. The most positive change has seen self-publishing moving into the mainstream and become an acceptable way to publish books. The stigma that was once attached is quickly disappearing. There are several reasons for this. Amazon has tightened up its review rules, which has helped ensure better quality ebooks for readers. There are even traditionally published authors jumping ship and turning to self-publishing, where they can earn more royalties for their books.

It’s believed authors who have some self-published books as well as books published with traditional or small presses, are becoming the most successful of all. There never seemed to be a stigma for the readers, and this is increasingly so. If a book looks great, has a winning blurb, and is edited and formatted to a professional standard, the reader does not care who has published it. In fact, discovering great books are written by self-published authors has had a lot of benefits for the reader. They can sign up to newsletters, and follow and interact with the authors on social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

We have also seen the rise of the ‘authorpreneur’; a writer who fully embraces the ‘business’ of marketing a book. These writers treat their book like a small business. They have a professional looking blog or website, an email newsletter, social media profiles, they host giveaways, hand out business cards and organize their own book signings and events. In short, they take control of everything in a bid to build that all-important author platform. They take risks and are not afraid to try new things, such as uploading videos to YouTube or releasing Podcasts. They know their brand and are selling it well.

Agents and publishers are also becoming more open to signing people who have previously self-published books. The snobbery of the past is becoming replaced with a mutual respect and understanding of authors doing what is right for their book at that time.

And what of the future?

Well, the options for authors are becoming more diverse as we speak. There is a growing trend in serialization, with sites such as Wattpad leading the way, and readers becoming ever hooked on reading a book in steadily released parts. Crowdfunded books are also on the rise. Authors can use this option individually, and there are also independent publishers taking this route, such as UK based Dead Ink. The small indie press is another growing trend. These are small presses you can submit to without an agent. They tend to be more open minded in what they will consider for publication. Some of these indie publishers are having a huge amount of success with the unknown authors they have taken on. And of course, there are independent publishing platforms, such as Pronoun and BookBaby, which mean self-published authors do not have to go totally alone.

There have been many changes, both difficult and positive, for the self-published author in recent years. I think one of the most important changes is the increase in information and advice. There was a lot less about when I first started.

Self-publishing can be exciting and rewarding in so many ways, but it is not for everyone and is certainly not a fast route to success. It is worth remembering that for many of the self-published authors who have been able to make a living out of their books, the success was hard won and did not come overnight. Be prepared for a long journey, be open minded about how you will market your books and utilize the tools available and above all else be realistic and persistent. It is even more important to hold onto what makes you write in the first place as you are going to need that passion to carry you through the ups and downs to come.


Bio: Chantelle Atkins was born and raised in Dorset, England and still resides there now with her husband, four children and multiple pets. She is addicted to both reading and music, and is on a mission to become as self-sufficient as possible. She writes for both the young adult and adult genres. Her fiction is described as gritty, edgy and compelling. Her books include The Mess Of Me, The Boy With The Thorn In His Side, This Is Nowhere and This Is The Day. She has recently released Bird People and Other Stories, a short story collection related to her novels, and her next release will be a YA dystopian, The Tree Of Rebels. You can learn more on her Facebook page.