Got questions about eBook self-publishers? Cindy Orr provides resources for keeping up in her monthly blog post.

In the old days (say before 2010 or so) self-publishing was a desperate last ditch attempt for authors to get their books into print after they’d tried everything to get a contract from a trade publisher—and failed. Most of those self-published books never sold more copies than the author could pawn off on friends and relatives. This was because the vanity presses that printed the books had no distribution agreements, and that meant the books weren’t in bookstores, they weren’t reviewed, and they weren’t in libraries.

But with the advent of eBooks, everything’s changed. Self-published authors are making literally millions of dollars by selling their books themselves through Amazon, Smashwords, and other online venues. Some say that these new self-published eBook millionaires are outliers—that just as very few published authors reach the bestseller lists, very few eBook self-publishers can expect to make millions. While that may be true, beginning about November of last year, an increasing number of self-published authors have been making a good living selling their books themselves.  They’ve been reporting their earnings on the Kindle message boards—especially Writers’ Café. Tales of new authors making $5,000 to $20,000 a month are proliferating.

So, are we seeing the creation of a new midlist? And, if so, how can we keep up with these books? Those of us lucky enough to attend Digipalooza 2011 were treated to an entertaining presentation by Joe Konrath, one of the most successful self-published authors out there. Joe, who writes as J. A. Konrath, has a great story to tell about his years of struggle to get published, and how even after he was published, his Jack Daniels series was dropped by Hyperion after six books–even though the series was making a profit. When his agent was not able to sell his next book to another publisher, Joe decided to try self-publishing, and his book sales took off. He is now making a LOT of money by writing–far more than he ever made with Hyperion. Konrath believes that many people haven’t figured out yet that the entire landscape of publishing has changed. And how could they? It’s only been a few months. Joe lists the “same old tired arguments” against self-publishing in his blog, and then refutes them. His early success and outspoken opinions have turned him into the main champion for self-publishing.

The members of the Kindle Million Club—authors who have sold over a million copies of their books in the Kindle eBook format—are Stieg Larsson, James Patterson, Nora Roberts, Charlaine Harris, Lee Child, Suzanne Collins, Michael Connelly, and . . . John Locke? Locke is the eighth, and the first self-published, author to become a member of the club. Locke says he is not interested in a traditional publishing deal because he wants to be in control of his content, his covers, his marketing—everything.

Amanda Hocking, on the other hand, tried for years to sell her books to traditional publishers and agents with no luck. But once she began making hundreds of thousands of dollars selling her eBooks online, she certainly got their attention. She signed with an agent, is folding her self-publishing business, and has a huge traditional publishing deal with St. Martin’s Press. She decided to go the traditional publishing route as soon as she had the opportunity, because she doesn’t want to have to deal with the business end of publishing, and, with a movie in the works, she needs to get her books into bricks and mortar stores. You can read her tale of how it all happened here.

Sure, these are fairy tale stories, but a growing number of people are simply making a decent living in self-publishing. But how can libraries know which self-published authors are worth purchasing? That’s a tough question, since these books are usually not reviewed.

First of all, OverDrive has added books by J. A. Konrath and other well known self-publishers to their catalog, and USA Today (especially), and the New York Times (sometimes), have begun tracking self-published books on their bestseller lists. The other obvious place to check is the Amazon Kindle Top 100 (the paid list, not the free list). And Barnes & Noble has their Top 100 Nook Bestsellers as well. Library Journal has begun reviewing eBook originals, starting with the romance genre, but it is still very difficult to herd all these independent cats into some kind of a regular library process that makes sense.

Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up. This is a very messy, constantly changing, arena only a few months old, but we will have to figure out how to incorporate it into our routine if we are to keep up with this phenomenon. That doesn’t leave much time for dilly dallying!

2 Responses to “Self-Published eBooks: a Guide to the Territory”

  1. Al Carlson

    Excellent! For public libraries eBooks are as important a change as library automation and the World Wide Web have been. We need to be alert for the new opportunities this change offers us.

  2. Deb Czarnik

    The timing of this article is almost perfect, Cindy. Amanda Hocking just popped up on our radar, and I sent a request to the OverDrive Collection Development team requesting her titles…. shortly before reading this blog post!

    Spot on as always!