Successful Self-Published Sci-Fi and Fantasy Authors

More mainstream media analysis of the self-publishing phenomenon from io9 here.

While the headline is the big sellers’ numbers, though vaguely interesting they’re not really relevant. They aren’t what any new author could practically aim for – except maybe “B.V. Larson, who writes both sci-fi and fantasy, has sold some 250,000 copies of his 25 titles“. The key element there being twenty-five titles – if you stick at it, and write that many novels which are that good, you’ll sell a lot of books.

I also take issue with a couple of things in the article. 

The first is: “Proponents of self-publishing like to point to these numbers as an encouraging sign that the market is strong, readers will gladly ignore copy-editing errors, and that big publishing is bad for authors.”

To which I reply: ‘yes it is’, ‘no, not all readers will ignore them’, and ‘maybe at the moment, yes, but no-one’s suggesting big publishing should die, just evolve’.

The second is: “readers face an increasingly difficult time trying to figure out what to read. Self-publishing has very few sign posts for readers; if you pick up a traditionally published book you know an editor not only liked a book, but managed to convince several layers of editors, publishers and marketing people to like it too.

Bluff. How realistic is this scenario?

  • Reader skims through the Amazon popularity list looking for their next sci-fi read
  • Spots a cover that grabs their attention
  • Reads the blurb and finds it snappy and intriguing

But then!

  • Looks at the Publisher line in the ‘Product Details’ section and says ‘oh, I don’t recognise that publisher, so I’m not going to buy it’?

Given that on a randomly-chosen day at the end of February this year, 61% of the top 99 sci-fi bestsellers were self-published, it doesn’t seem that realistic!

4 thoughts on “Successful Self-Published Sci-Fi and Fantasy Authors

  1. I saw this article the other day, and I found that picture of the slush pile by Cory Doctorow utterly despairing. and was tickled to see John Locke’s name on there since I first heard of him last week when a friend of mine who closely knows him was talking about his books. Said friend thought, however, that for most self-published authors on Kindle, for example, there are a lot of pitfalls to not having a support network that can do things like copy-edit or help you make your work clearer and more engaging to the target audience. As a writing teacher, though, I do agree with your assessment that readers will not gladly ignore copy-editing errors. Most people in this country at least have had grammar beaten into them to the extent that whether or not it actually took they still see errors as a sign of more than just a mistake, it’s a sign of a character flaw (there’s research that backs this up too, not that people with spulling errors have flaws but that many readers think so). I wonder if there is a market for copy-editors who exclusively work for self-published authors like this? Hmmm. I would quibble with you a bit over your last comment about the sign posts that traditional publishers provide. If someone seems interested in a books subject or approach they are very likely to read it despite it’s publisher, true, but having a successful print publisher behind your work signals that other people who are plugged in to the reader and publishing communities thought this would be a good work to publish. While it’s not a guaranteed seal of quality, we’re still enough in the age of physical print that that means something. I’m not saying it’s the only thing that matters or that it can’t be wrong, but the business model of books is still evolving, so having a traditional print publisher still matters to many readers.

    1. Hi there, thanks for reading and responding. Love me some short-essay length comments 🙂

      As you say, that most readers notice a poorly edited book is evidenced by the amount of comments you see on Amazon for self-pub titles where the effort hasn’t gone in: “interesting story, but I was put off by all of the errors/typos etc”. They’re everywhere.

      There absolutely is a market for editors for self-pub writers, yeah. I frequent the KindleBoard Writers’ Cafe (it’s in my blogroll), and they have a ‘yellow pages’ sticky thread on services for indie authors. Companies like the Writers’ Workshop in the UK, RedAdept in the US, provide not just copy-editing/proofreading but content edits as well, which are massively useful to a newbie author. (I’ve got my edit from RedAdept scheduled for October – can’t wait!)

      My guess as to whether books being self-pub deters readers is founded purely on the bestseller lists as I mentioned, and how I myself buy books. I think we’re probably both right to an extent.

      And finally, I have to mention it: ‘spulling errors’? Oh, the irony monster strikes again 😀

  2. Kevin O. McLaughlin

    Hi, and thanks for the linkback. 🙂

    Thought you’d be interested to hear that an April followup showed a very small decline in indie top 100 ebooks, down to 59%. However, 99 cent ebooks on the top 100 were way down, half the level from the earlier survey. So overall, indie income from top 100 ebooks was sharply up.

    I don’t think readers as a whole excuse bad story. They rarely excuse bad editing. Indie publishers face the same challenge as any publisher: produce well written books which are adequately edited and well packaged. Barring lottery ticket level luck, those are essential components to success.

    I also agree that most writers don’t want to see publishers die. They just want to see even handed contracts, appropriate renumeration for their work, marketing effort from publishers for the duration a publisher desires to hold rights to a book, and a few other tidbits. Mostly, I think it is time for writers to demand respect from publishers.

    Because for the first time in a very long time, publishers need writers more than writers need publishers.

    1. Hear hear! (Patriotic music swells in background.) 😀

      I totally agree. The balance of power has shifted, and it’s about time.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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