Lucy Ellis, The Kindle: Self publishing

This blog is part of an ongoing series focused on the Kindle, drawing on the experiences and perspectives of final-year English Literature student, Lucy Ellis. These blog posts are being written as part of Lucy’s first project on the Project Management and Research undergraduate module at Cardiff University.

Part 4

The publishing world is changing.

We’ve all heard of JK Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series with an estimated fortune worth £560 million. What few people know is before Rowling’s first novel was picked by Bloomsbury in 1996, she received a dozen rejections from other publishers. Considering Rowling is arguably the most successful and wealthiest children’s author in the world, it goes to show just how difficult it is for authors to get their books on the shelves. This is not an isolated story. James Joyce’s The Dubliners (1914) was rejected 22 times, Gone with the Wind (1936) by Margaret Mitchell 38 times, Beatrix Potter was rejected so many times she decided to publish 250 copies of The Tale of Peter Rabbit (1901) herself.

No wonder more and more debut authors are looking to self publish, but this time though the medium of Amazon Kindle. Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) describes itself as a ‘fast, easy self-publishing tool that lets you publish your digital text content for the Amazon Kindle wireless reading device’. I decided to take a little wander into the process by signing up myself.

All seems fairly simple to start with. It’s 100% free to sign up, and after filling in relevant personal details, the process takes would-be authors straight into details about royalty payments. There’s a choice of two tiers, 35% royalties and 70%. My first thought would be to go for the 70% rate, more money right? Apparently it’s a little more complicated than that, and depends on factors like how big your book is, how many images, and whether you want your book sold for under or over of 99p. I happily went through the process until it came to the point where I actually had to upload my book, which unfortunately doesn’t exist. So my KDP journey has reached the end for now, but there are plenty of people online who have recorded their experiences.

Bar complicated details such as uploading your book in the correct format, understanding the legal contract and creating a front and jacket cover, the process seems far less time consuming and pricey than going down the traditional route. Self-publishing has been a massive success for some people. The glory story of KDP is Amanda Hocking, a 26-year-old paranormal romance writer who sold a total of 90,000 copies of nine different novels, earning an estimated $2 million in just a year and a half. Pretty incredible for someone who had no publisher to guide her through- well not one she paid for anyway.

However, it seems that becoming a self-publishing millionaire is somewhat of an exception. The majority of Kindle-only authors wouldn’t make enough to sustain being a writer as a main career. Despite receiving up to 70% royalties, you’d have a sell a lot of 99p books to make a million. In fact, if my maths proves to be correct this time, 1,443,001.

Helen Cadbury, who I interviewed in my blog last week, also points out the disadvantages of self-publishing on Kindle. Having gone through a traditional publishing route and now a writer in both print and ebook formats, Helen claims that she benefitted greatly from the support of her team. Something as simple as having a group of professionals to give feedback and helping to market the book can make a big difference compared to going it alone. Helen says, “I think self-publishing is a great idea for established writers who have the rights to their own backlist, because they can control the distribution, but I think for a new writer, you’d miss that essential element of quality control”.

She has a fair point. If you were an experienced writer who knows how the publishing process works, KDP would be an ideal money saver and allow more freedom and control. However, there is more to selling a book than writing it. Simple details such as having an impressive front cover and a good marketing strategy are essential in achieving high sales. Social media can work wonders, but having someone who knows what they’re doing must certainly take the stress off that whole side of things.

Despite this debate over traditional vs self-publishing, ebooks still currently only hold 10% of the market. However, although sales in print books are still high, some high street bookshops have suffered. The bookshop Borders when into administration in November 2009 after struggling with the shift towards digital sales in the publishing industry. At the same time Waterstones, one of the UK’s most successful bookshops, is currently surviving this change.  It has recently announced a tie in with Amazon enabling shoppers to choose in store between buying the print version of a book or downloading it then and there onto e-reader. They have potentially avoided being left behind by joining together with their digital competitor, providing the best of both world to customers. This of course is a whole new area to be explored, but brings to light the change e-readers are having on businesses around the world.

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