It's not that I have anything against self-publishing. If fact, I once had great success with a self-publishing venture. But most statistics I've seen suggest that 95+% of self-published books lose money. That doesn't surprise me. They're harder to distribute, you lose a bigger chunk of the revenue when you try to distribute them, you don't have the marketing and network support of a publisher...there are many, many reasons that it's harder to make money with a self-published book.
Another reason is simply that most writers don't know the first thing about marketing their work. Self-publishing a book, setting up a website, listing it at Amazon and expecting people to discover it and buy it in numbers that will make it generate a profit is just an unlikely sequence of events without a lot more push.
That's one of the reasons that self-publishing seems to be an especially bad idea for fiction. If you self-publish a book about money management, you can set up a website and blog with financial tips and links and calculators and budgeting software, and the visitors to your site will learn to trust you on the subject and will be exactly the kind of people who might want to purchase your book. You can go out and do personal finance seminars in bookstores and community centers and park districts and make your book available. You might be able to get interviewed on local television stations or covered in the local newspaper, and all of these things will open up new markets full of people who might buy your book.
Fiction doesn't lend itself quite so well to that kind of thing. Even if you can generate some press you don't have the kind of "hook" you do when you're offering advice in conjunction with your book and the book promises to offer more.
And then there's pricing. The typical paperback novel costs about $8--at some stores they're routinely discounted by 10-20%. But a self-published novel will probably cost you about $7.50 per book to produce. If you sell it through Amazon, they'll keep 55% of the purchase price, which means that you have to price it at $13.64 just to break even...and I'm assuming that you'd like SOME profit.
There have been a couple of notable cases of self-published novels selling so well that they resulted in contracts with major publishing houses, but those authors had both great products and a full-time commitment to selling their books.
Now, having set forth every reason that I firmly believe self-publishing fiction doesn't work, let me get to the point: I'm thinking about self-publishing the romance novel I wrote last year. Thus, I'm very interested in hearing the thoughts of anyone with mainstream and/or self-publishing experience. I'm also interested in hearing from readers about whether or not you purchase self-published novels in places like Amazon, LuLu and others. If not, why not? Does the pricing issue play a bigger role, or simply the fact that a self-published book is more of an unknown quantity?
Here's why I'm thinking about doing something I'm pretty sure doesn't ever work:
- I have three other novels in progress that I feel more strongly about, and I'd like to focus on those in terms of writing and seeking an agent or publisher;
- I don't have a lot invested in this book--I wrote it entirely during my commute over a period of one month--and I won't be heartbroken if it goes nowhere;
- I DO have a background in successful internet marketing, and I'm interested to see how much difference that makes and whether or not I can make it work;
- I'm asked a lot of questions about self-publishing options, and the one book I self-published was very niche and not representative: I think it might be worthwhile to experiment with the process;
- Given my tendency to move on to another project once something is written and lose interest in it, the chances that I'm going to persist in looking for an agent / publisher are pretty slim.