In the debate between book publishers and Amazon, with successful self-publishers solidly behind the ecommerce behemoth, minimal attention is paid to authors who throw a book up for Kindle and earn almost nothing. Occasionally the fact that most self-published books sell atrociously gets mentioned, usually as an offhand caveat in a profile of, say, Mark Dawson. I’m not surprised — the stories aren’t inspiring, and no one knows who the fuck we are anyway. Which was likely part of the reason why we didn’t make money and no one read our books!
There are two main reasons why a self-published book fails:
- The book is bad in a way that appeals to no one (as opposed to “bad but people love it anyway” — I don’t need to cite examples for you to know what I’m talking about). This is a value-proposition problem.
- The book is good, or at least decent, but the author doesn’t have a preexisting following and doesn’t promote the title effectively. This is a distribution problem.
I like to think that my self-publishing failures can be attributed to the second shortcoming, but you’re free to judge that for yourself.
By my own count, I’ve self-published five book-like things that I actually wanted to sell (I’m not including zines that I distributed for free, much more successfully). In the past month I’ve sold seven copies across all of my Amazon ebooks and earned $14.20. In the past year I’ve earned $34.71 from print-on-demand titles and $83.79 from the print copy of my latest effort, User-Friendly Urbanism. Which has only been out for a month, so I’m not too discouraged yet — but I’m prepared to lose money on the endeavor.
Why do I keep self-publishing when it’s not worth the effort, either financially or in terms of attention? It’s educational — I’ve learned a lot about the technical requirements. The influence on my public image is also nice. Other people don’t know that each of my books only achieved a miniscule audience, so I seem more impressive than I am.
And, like most writers, I compulsively record my thoughts and desperately want to profit from sharing them. It’s a thing that I can’t stop doing, not a well-planned business venture. I try to be semi-pragmatic in terms of my expectations, but I also firmly believe that eventually I’ll get it right and be interviewed on Longform. Will that happen? It’s hugely statistically unlikely, and I know that. A very large part of me doesn’t care.
image by oatsy40