Self-publishing Success Stories

I’ve generally been quite sceptical of self-publishing success stories in the past, largely to do with the prevalence of traditionally published authors turned self-publishers among their ranks. However, as was pointed out on JA Konrath’s website the other day, there are a number of self-published authors finding success using new digital publishing techniques who cannot be claimed by traditional publishing in any way shape or form.

One of those success stories is Amanda Hocking. According to the figures linked to above, Hocking sold – hold on to your hats people – over 100,000 copies of her books (both digital and print-on-demand) in December of 2010 alone.

Hocking sells her frontlist digital books for $2.99 and backlist for only $0.99, and sells the paper copies (through Createspace and Lulu.com via Amazon) for only $8.99. Considering Amazon’s cut for digital royalties is 70%, this means that Hocking made a minimum of $US70,000 in December alone – and it’s far more likely to be significantly higher than that.

This incredible success story looks to have only started in the last year – according to Amazon, the first book came out in March 2010, and she has put out more than a book a month since then (I presume some of them, at least, were written before she started putting them up on Amazon for sale – perhaps after she failed to attract a traditional publisher – but perhaps not). They’re not short either – the first book in her vampire series (pictured above) is just a mite over 80,000 words – respectable for a YA author.

Now, I haven’t read any of these books yet (although I’ve bought one, and am looking forward to having a read), so I can’t attest to their quality. But I don’t think that this issue is especially important. Selling a hundred thousand books in one month – even if they’re cheaper than a magazine – is something almost any traditional publisher would be willing to put aside their delicate sensibilities for. But it’s hard to imagine why Hocking, or those like her, would ever be tempted into the world of traditional publishing when they’re making a 70% royalty rate by self-publishing and selling in such volume.

And it’s not just the royalty rate. Without a traditional publisher behind her, Hocking is free to sell her books to any international market (Australian Kindle readers will be happy to know her books are available here for the same price as the US), she can experiment with pricing, release schedules, giveaways and social media in ways traditional publishers can’t hope to compete with purely because of the hulking bureaucracy such large companies drag along behind them means they’re just too slow.

Obviously it’s not all roses. I don’t know the full story here. It might be that these sales figures aren’t quite accurate, or there’s another missing piece. And it’s also the case that stores like Amazon are packed to the rafters with millions of self-published authors who have never (and will never) achieve this kind of success. However, this is the first time I have seen how and why a self-published author might get this level of success and not be lured into a contract with a traditional publisher.

At any rate, I look forward to reading Amanda Hocking’s books and having a chat with the seemingly delightful young author at some point in the future.

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Joel Naoum

Joel Naoum is a Sydney-based book editor, publisher, blogger and writer. He is passionate about the possibilities of social media and digital publishing opens up for authors, publishers, booksellers and the whole book industry.

10 thoughts on “Self-publishing Success Stories”

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention The Smell of Books » Self-publishing Success Stories -- Topsy.com
  2. Self-publishing success – foced on today’s writers!

    I applaud Amanda Hocking and other writers who have been forced to self-publish. I took a similar road becaue I had to.

    It is extremely hard to have publishing houses look at new works – they seem to be so inundated with work they have no time for new emerging writers. In other words, there seems to be a shutdown.

    Try to get an agent to get you a foot in the door of the publishing houses – better still, try and get an agent at all. They too seem to have so much work on their hands they too are not available for new emerging authors.

    All this leaves writers with the prospect of publishing print on demand books and use organisations like Amazon to act as publishers.

    I self-published two books with an Australian publisher and virtually all media has had to be done by myself. I followed up with the third book in my trilogy with an American publisher and suddenly I find my book is being sold in the UK, India, Ireland and of course across the US and Australia.

    My success like Amanda’s is through self-publishing and using an international publishing house with links to some of the biggest book stores globally.

    My books? Only The Brave Dare, CANYON and A Rite Of Passage.

    Christopher J. Holcroft

    1. I’m not sure what you mean by self-publishing two books through an Australian publisher? Was it a small press that basically printed your books and you did the rest? Or a publisher that didn’t put much time into publicising your books?

      Either way, it’s an interesting anecdote. New digital publishing pathways are giving more opportunities for authors to get their work out there – traditional publishers are overwhelmed by the sheer amount of content being created. But I suspect this is not out of neglect; it’s representative of the diminishing amount of time readers have for books.

  3. I love the idea of good self published fiction, that an author of moderate success can make a living out of their artistic talent.

    And by good I mean well edited, well paced, with a consistent style. It doesn’t have to be original.

    I listened to Mathew Reilly talk about verisimilitude in relation to his self published book. About giving the reader the best book not only in terms of content but in its packaging. His production was so good it fooled the publisher that picked him up.

    I have read self published works by Konrath and some of those he mentions, but I have also read works that would have been rejected by editors for good reason i.e. they were self indulgent poorly researched tripe preaching to the reader or they were poorly edited, presented and stylistically schizophrenic.

    I like that the author has more power, the good ones hopefully realise they have taken on a greater degree of responsibility with that as well.

    I keep hearing about Amanda Hocking, will have to check her out.

  4. Yes, there are obviously some committed, knowledgeable, and imaginative writers out there who are well-suited to producing good self-published books. But for the most part, unpublished writers don’t know enough about publishing to do it well, and it will turn readers off their work completely or they’ll go completely unnoticed.

    But I think Amanda Hocking’s story proves that there’s now a viable path to publication out there for those who are prepared to do the work.

  5. Thanks Joel – such an interesting look at where publishing is heading.

    Especially as a publicist, this shows that it’s one thing to have your books available but another to let people know they are out there.

    After reading the Huffington Post article – Amanda is also a great example of how authors need to use facebook, blogs and other social media to interact with readers and spread the word on their product.

  6. Do these calculations include the printing cost? Lulu and Createspace take the POD cost from the sale, so it is sale price minus cost per unit.

    1. My calculations are based on the minimum amount of royalties Hocking would have made (based on the $0.99 backlist titles), which is 70c per book sold. This would have been higher in the case of the $8.99 POD titles, regardless of cost per unit. Besides this, according to the HuffPo article linked to in the comments, she has only sold about 2000 paper copies of her books – the majority of the 185,000 books have been digital.

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