When H.P. Mallory landed a New York book agent to represent her paranormal romance book, “Fire Burn and Cauldron Bubble,” she thought she had made it. But with the economy in shambles and the publishing industry hit especially hard, no publishers would take her books as written. Mallory found she was left with two options: either rewrite them with less humor or give up.
Mallory did neither. Instead, she did what hundreds of thousands of authors around the world are doing and self-published her book on Amazon’s online publishing platform. She figured she had nothing to lose; it was free and fast. She priced her book at $2.99 which allowed her to make $2.00 per book. When she released the book in July, her goal was to sell 500 copies. Now she’s sold over 7,000.
“I figured out that if my sales continue as they have been since July, I should make over $100,000 next year,” said Mallory, who balances a nineteen-month-old in addition to her day job as an online marketer.
Like Mallory, thousands of writers can now call themselves published authors due to technological advances in eBooks and eReaders. With the emergence of easy-to-use online publishing Web sites such as Smashwords, Lulu, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble’s new PubIt, authors are rapidly publishing books that may never have reached an audience before.
According to Bowker, a company that studies the publishing industry, 764,448 titles were self-published or “micro-niche” published in 2009, which is up by a staggering 181 percent from 2008. In addition, 5 percent of Americans now own an eReader, according to a Pew Center study.
Additionally, sales of eBooks are up as well. According to the Association of American Publishers, from January through August of this year, eBook sales totaled $263 million, a 193 percent increase compared to the same period in 2009.
Like Mallory, Sevastian Winters has made a living by surfing the new trend. After working in the business field for 20 years, he had the opportunity to take time off to write his novel “The Troublemaker.” After initially being turned down by agents, Winters revised his book and found an agent. But, ultimately, Winters ended up seeking alternative means of publishing his book.
“It was a bad business decision to go with traditional publishing because of how fast the world is changing,” Winters said. “[Traditional publishers] have become to literacy what pay phones were in the 1990s.”
Winters said almost all elusive benefits of a traditional publisher can now be accessed by everyday people. Winters hires his own content and line editors, and gladly takes the profits he makes on his books over the dwindling advances offered by traditional publishers.
And a marketing team? Social networking.
“The reality is it has always been the author’s own job to do marketing, even if someone else was paying the bill,” Winters said.
Winters’ next step is to share his success in the self-publishing industry with others. He is planning a tour of 69 cities to run his day-long workshops that take participants through the entire process of self-publishing, from line editing to creating covers. One participant per session is even published during the workshop.
Although it varies, authors like Winters and Mallory can make up to 70 percent of royalties on their books when they publish them on sites like Amazon or Lulu. Authors can also name their own price or, on some sites, give them away for free.
Smashwords is an online platform that allows users to upload and sell their work for no cost. It also allows them to convert their work to the many different file types needed for different eReaders. Founder Mark Coker created the website after he and his wife had difficulty publishing their book, “Boob Tube,” which they wrote about the Soap Opera industry.
“I realized through the whole process that there was a bigger problem here,” Coker said. “There are millions of authors around the world who are denied the opportunity to publish their work through traditional means because it’s being looked at for commercial value.”
Coker’s goal was to take the publisher out of the system and let readers decide the merit of a book.
So far, many authors and readers have done just that. Coker said that at the end of 2008, the year Smashwords was launched, it had 140 books available. A year later it had 6,000. Today the website has 24,000 different titles from 10,000 authors around the world. Publishing on Smashwords is free, and 85 percent of the profits go to the author.
“A book’s value to humanity is not based on how many copies it can sell,” Coker said.
While Mallory and Winters have been able to make careers out of online publishing, bigger numbers mean the competition is steeper than ever. Like the traditional book market, making a living by writing books is incredibly rare and difficult. However, online self-publishing still provides something traditional publishing can’t: the chance for authors to get their work read.
Sixty-one-year-old Sharon Barrett lives on a small farm in Canada and has written two books, “Storm” and “Amethyst,” that “get to the meat and potatoes about werewolves.” She said she cried from happiness when she received her first positive feedback on Smashwords.
Columbia College graduate Tim Weaver’s book, “Don’t Go Round Tonight,” is among Smashword’s top sellers, but for him too, the feedback and readership is most rewarding.
“It’s oxygen,” Weaver said. “It’s absolutely the greatest feeling I can imagine. I just lose my motivation if I don’t have an audience to engage.”