It’s probably inevitable that the debate between proponents of self-publishing and those defending the traditional model tends to polarize participants. Two interesting examples this week:
1. Hugh Howey’s Author Earnings Report, in which he claims that indie authors now account for 31% of all ebooks sold on Amazon, is robustly countered by Phillip Jones of The Bookseller (among others) who points out that the lack of transparency in Amazon’s figures make it impossible to draw meaningful conclusions: ‘Nobody has a good view of this market, because Amazon holds all the data and doesn’t share it.’
2. On the ALLi self-publishing advice blog, there’s an assertion by self-published author Ian Sutherland that the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook, the venerable guide to all aspects of the publishing industry that used to be essential reading for any aspiring writer, is just not relevant any more. The editor, Alysoun Owen, responds with a measured tone, pointing out that the Yearbook now includes a significant amount of material for self-publishing authors, who arguable need MORE information on suppliers rather than less.
I know and like three of the four combatants here (I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Ian Sutherland), and it’s clear that each of them brings an interesting perspective to a complex debate, in which personal reputations, organizational profit margins, ideologies and careers are at stake, and it’s certainly true that Amazon’s lack of transparency does nothing to help us unravel the issues.
With choice comes complexity: aspiring authors now face more options than ever before, and they are receiving wildly different messages. On the one hand there’s the sobering finding that even modestly successful authors are unlikely to make a living wage – Allison Flood in The Guardian comments on the findings of the recent ALCS survey that ‘the median income of the professional [UK] author in 2013 was just £11,000, a drop of 29% since 2005′ – while on the other charismatic figures such as Howey hold out hope of self-published royalty revenues beyond anything that was possible under traditional deals.
What should we make of it all? Only this: that publishing is, as it always was, a game with more losers than winners financially speaking. But there are many more ways to win than there have ever been before: if we measure success only on revenues and royalty receipts we miss what seem to me the more interesting potential gains, such as reputational capital and brand or platform building.
Only you know what it is you want to achieve by publishing your book, so only you are in a position to decide which route is best for you and how your success will be measured. Don’t be intimidated by the complexity – celebrate it. Whatever you want to write and however you want to publish, navigate your own path, assess your own risks and rewards, take what’s useful from the vast range of experience out there, in whatever form and from whatever tradition. It’s a big world, with room for all of us, and it’s only getting bigger.