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New data from ALLi shows the true value and benefits of publishing independently.
Facts and figures surrounding self-publishing are notoriously difficult to source. This is often because people are trying to draw comparisons between all of self-publishing and the top 1% of traditionally published authors, and coming to very misleading conclusions. Part of the difficulty in identifying self-publishing data also lies in the growing and very interesting trend of authors selling direct, using Patreon, crowdfunders and other business models. These new routes to market are filled with potential for the future, but they make it more difficult to track sales accurately. The scarcity of relevant data, mixed with skewed interpretations and flawed methodologies, is impacting both indie authors’ understanding of their opportunities and the perception of self-publishing as a whole.
The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), a non-profit premier membership association for self-publishing authors, has made it their mission to find and collect this vital data so that authors have a true sense of their publishing options. Here are our favourite insights that prove independent publishing is just as rewarding as traditional publishing, if not more so…
1. Indie authors rank equally to traditionally published authors for quality of reviews.
After analysing tens of thousands of books, K-Lytics provided data showing that indie authors take home 39% of Kindle royalties in 30 top-100 bestseller lists, whereas Big 5 publishers take 32%, Amazon imprints 15% and other traditional publishers take 8% (and then traditionally published authors are then receiving a 5-10% of those royalties while indie authors receive 60-70%). This new data also displayed that indie authors rank equally to traditionally published authors for the quality of their reviews, implying that the route authors take to publish their book isn’t a concern for readers – it’s the content that matters most of all.
2. Self-publishers are gaining traction as the creator economy expands.
Business Wire estimates that the global book market grew from $87.92bn in 2020 to $92.68bn in 2021, and Grand View Research predicts this will reach $124.2bn by 2025. As an ecosystem of global digital opportunities and multiple business models continues to evolve, indie authors find themselves well placed to meet this demand, with more readers willing to buy books directly from author websites, subscribe to author memberships and offer patronage in return for direct engagement and exclusives. Indie authors are increasingly finding that they have more in common with creative entrepreneurs like artists and musicians – innovators and makers – than with authors fixed on the traditional route of handing over creative freedom and control to a third-party publisher.
3. Indie authors are able to exceed six-figure turnovers and have just as many opportunities for success as traditional authors.
It is commonly considered impossible for independently published authors to make a career or decent living from writing, but this is a misconception. Hugh Howey (Wool), Joseph Alexander (music book series), Elana Johnson (Possession), DC Kalbach (The Sprawl), Helen Scheuerer (The Oremere Chronicles) and Octavia Randolph (The Circle of Ceridwen Saga) are just a few authors who have succeeded in earning over six figures. Author LJ Ross (Holy Island) is an international bestseller who has sold 10 million books and rising. Mark Dawson (John Milton Series) has a seven-figure turnover from his books and has sold film and TV rights. In 2019, Amazon’s review of Kindle sales said that ‘thousands’ of indie authors had earned more than $50,000 and that ‘more than a thousand’ had already passed $100,000 in royalties. But that’s not all: many indie authors have made bestseller lists, won literary awards, achieved MAs and PhDs in creative writing and landed paid positions as writers in residence at prestigious organisations such as the British Library. Some independently published books have even gone on to become films; Andy Weir’s sci-fi thriller The Martian was turned into a blockbuster movie starring Matt Damon and directed by Ridley Scott, and grossed over $630 million.
4. Self-publishing is more accessible.
The rise of self-publishing has allowed many people who might not otherwise have been published, for whatever reason, to publish their work independently, opening up a far greater range of diverse and unique voices for readers to connect with. A study by FicShelf found that women wrote just 39% of traditionally published titles but 67% of self-published titles. That’s a pretty considerable difference. Working around the gatekeepers of traditional publishing, independent authors have seized the opportunity to make available their unique perspectives and have their voices heard. Multiple indie authors from under-represented groups and genres have said that self-publishing has been a positive commercially fruitful path for them, from Latinx author E Cantu Alegre to Indian-Canadian author Rupi Kaur, who sold over 8 million copies of her first two poetry books.
5. Indie authors make more commission from sales than traditionally published authors.
For authors prepared to merge their artistic and business skills, there’s far greater scope for making a real income from writing than ever before. Indie authors make up to 70% commission from sales, minus the cost of publication, whereas traditionally published authors make only 5–15% royalties, minus the 15% that goes to their agent. During lockdown there was a definite spike in book sales, often followed by a light but inevitable drop as people tried to return to their normal lives, but the overall impression from a number of ALLi indie authors and authorpreneurs who already had strong businesses was that they actually did much better than the reported 5% spike in the publishing industry report. Written Word Media also asked authors in their May newsletter whether, compared to 2021, they thought they would earn more or less from their books in 2022. 57% of respondents said they thought they would earn more, around 22% said less and 21% said about the same. Given that there was a spike in sales during lockdowns, the fact that almost 80% of authors think they will earn the same or more in 2022 is encouraging.
6. Books by indie authors account for a third of all ebook sales.
It was reported in Publishers Weekly that books by indie authors account for 30–34% of all ebook sales in the largest English-language markets. In 2020, 8% of ALLi members had sold more than 50,000 books in the past two years. According to Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords (now Draft2Digital), indie ebook sales in the first pandemic months were up 20% on average from the same months the previous year across most major ebook retailers, and more books were being written and self-published than ever before.
7. Indie authors can self-publish in almost 200 countries in multiple formats.
Many people assume that publishing independently means you are restricted in what you can do in terms of format and selling your book. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Indie authors are able to publish their work in almost 200 countries around the globe, in formats ranging from hardback and paperback to ebooks and audiobooks. Print-on-demand (POD) technology allows physical books to be printed and distributed as and when they’re ordered, meaning books can be kept permanently ‘in print’ with little storage space required. Authors also retain their rights while self-publishing widely, so they are in full control when it comes to selectively licensing their translation, film, TV and other subsidiary rights to a variety of rights buyers.