I've spent the last few weeks working on a book proposal around contemplative computing. It's been a great, absorbing experience, so naturally an article on the growing respectability of self-publishing would catch my eye.
With Bowker reporting an "explosive growth" of 169% last month in "non-traditional" publishing, it's not just vanity projects that are taking the self-publishing route these days. Amazon announced last week that John Locke had sold 1,010,370 Kindle books using Kindle Direct Publishing, making him the first self-published author to join the "Kindle Million Club", alongside the likes of Stieg Larsson and James Patterson. Meanwhile, self-published authors Louise Voss and Mark Edwards currently top Amazon.co.uk's Kindle bestseller list, and say they're selling up to 1,900 copies a day of their jointly-written thriller, Catch Your Death. Faulkner award-winning author John Edgar Wideman last year chose to publish his new collection of short stories through Lulu.com; the site, offering authors an 80/20 revenue split, has published over 1.1 million authors to date, adding 20,000 titles to its catalogue a month. Writers around the world are getting their books to readers – and getting paid for it – without a publisher standing in between. Self-publishing, it seems, is becoming respectable.
Many of the authors who this Guardian article talks about are established authors with fan bases: their name recognition means that they're going to be sought out by readers, and don't have to compete as hard as first-time authors.
So what's changed recently? According to one author who's selling a lot online,
"Two major developments have had a hugely beneficial impact on self-publishing. Firstly, changes in technology, in particular the adoption of ebooks by the mainstream thanks to Amazon's Kindle, the iPad, etc... If you're a self-publishing author today, you have a vast audience waiting, and a decent number of professional channels through which you can easily make your work available. I personally know authors who are doing this to great effect – some are making over $10,000 every month! Secondly, the advent of social networking has had an incredible effect."
Word of mouth matters a lot for both printed and electronic books. And as another author makes clear, for professional writers, this isn't just about disintermediation, or being free of the shackles of the editorial process: to be a success in the self-publishing market, you need to
"Write the best book you can, hire a real editor to make it better. Have it professionally copy-edited to remove typos. Get a real cover artist – if you're not a professional artist, don't do your own cover. Get that book into ebook form. Start promoting, and start on your next book. Repeat, repeat, repeat."
So essentially self-publishing is "create your own virtual publishing house."