Yesterday I got a question that really annoyed me when I opened the e-mail, and not just because it falls outside the scope of my guidelines:-) The question was:
Can you really make money in self-publishing or is it all hype?
The reason it annoyed me is because there's an implication in there that I'm hyping self publishing myself. I'm not going to paste in my whole answer, but the gist of it was:
It isn't easy, the main job is marketing. It doesn't matter if you write a great book and have a great cover, if you can't get enough people to buy it, there's no word of mouth, no demand. Just keep in mind I'm talking about self publishing as a business, setting up your own publishing company. Most writers who contact me don't really want to take that chance, so they just sign up with a subsidy publisher, spend a couple hundred dollars to get their book published, and forget about it. I'd estimate that only 1% of subsidy published authors make enough money to be worth mentioning in the "living" context, but in the end, that's not why they're doing it. If you aren't writing commercial books, there's not much point setting up a publishing business, and if you are writing commercial books, you can get a trade deal if you work at it hard enough - self publishing is just an option.
While my blog readers will recognize there's nothing new in my answer, it did get me thinking about how all the websites and blogs about self publishing must look to a new self publisher. I'd be skeptical myself, especially because most of them are hype. But think about it, publishers and authors who want to succeed have to market themselves, and the chasm between information in the form of an encyclopedia entry and information you can actually use is pretty wide. A definition of self publishing may be useful to a kid writing a high school paper, but my approach is to go heavy on my personal experiences in self publishing, and sanitized versions of events I know to be true but where I don't want to stray over legal boundaries.
If you're new to self publishing, or just thinking about it as an option, don't stop with reading the articles on my site. There must be thousands of pages worth of information written by real self publishers kicking around the web, so take the time to track some down and read them. Don't start shooting off questions to the first self publisher with an e-mail address you encounter, keep reading, and recognize that all of us have different backgrounds and experiences.
Anybody who tells you it's "fun and easy" is full of something, it's hard work and nothing is sure. Only a very small percentage of the new self publishers I've corresponded with were essentially instant successes, and I'd attribute a good chunk of their good fortune to luck. So, it was an honest question, but not one I'm particularly thrilled about finding in my in-box:-)