Playing The Self-Publishing Lottery Game

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Playing The Self-Publishing Lottery

Publishing, like self-publishing, has always been a gamble, so nothing is new.

Self-publishing has changed many aspects of the book publishing industry. But one element that hasn’t changed is the luck that is needed to create a bestseller.

For all the thousands upon thousands of books that are published every year, whether fiction or non-fiction, traditionally published or self-published, only a very small handful really succeed. Then there a few handfuls of books that do okay.

For traditional publishers, the financial outlay involved in getting a new book onto the market makes every title a real gamble, as there is no guarantee whatsoever that a book will even return its productions costs.

This is why it is so difficult to firstly, get an agent, and secondly, find a publisher willing to take a risk on a new author.


Self-publishing lowers the price of the risk

For self-publishing authors, the costs involved in getting a book to market, especially if it is in ebook form only, are much lower.

Of course, this depends on many variables, as more and more self-published authors are paying for services such as professional editing, unique cover design, copywriters for promotional texts as well as paid advertising.

Oh, and yes, the dreaded paid book reviews. I know how many people feel about this, but complain all you want, they are a fact of life now.

Sure, it is also absolutely possible to self-publish a book for next to nothing, by doing everything for free.

While there are undoubtedly quality issues that will affect the sales potential of an ‘everything done for free buy my book’, this is not to say that it is impossible to succeed.

Think 50 Shades here, but don’t bet your house on doing the same. Ok, outliers pop up from time to time and make the headlines, but they are in all honesty, as rare as rocking horse droppings.

The reality of publishing is that a few titles each year will make a lot of money, and then some more will make good money.

After these, which occupy the peak of the sales pyramid, there will be the titles that sell, but not in enough volume or consistency to be viable.

For traditionally published authors, falling into this last category may well mean that any thoughts of getting a new publishing contract are going to be doubtful, which may then mean that to continue as an author, self-publishing becomes the next best option.

For authors new to self-publishing, or even those considering taking the traditional route, it pays to understand from the outset that book publishing, and especially fiction, is always a very big gamble and that the chances of financial success are very slim indeed.


There are very few rich authors

To make the point, more than one-third of ALL published authors make less than $500 per year, as this article in The Guardian concerning author earnings explains.

For a self-published author making approximately $2.00 per ebook sale on Amazon, the arithmetic is not difficult to calculate the number of copies sold.

Even when success happens and a book sells 5,000 copies in a year, which sounds very impressive, the derived income is only around $10,000.

Perhaps a little more depending on the selling price, royalty rate and whether there is a good mix of paperback and ebook sales.

But even then, increasing the income to say $15,000, still doesn’t make it a number that will make an author rich. In fact, it’s hardly a minimum wage.

To get a clear picture of what authors make, I suggest reading the reports on Author Earnings, which is an excellent source of hard data and trends.

So put away the author dreams, forget the lottery and keep your feet on the ground – and your day job. Self-publishing is not a road to riches, but in the same breath, it can be very rewarding for so many other reasons.

However, despite all that I have noted in this post, I truly believe that self-publishing is still a viable means of making a side income, and from time to time, you can even get very pleasant surprises.

Yes, it’s a lottery, but as with all lotteries, there are always some winners.


Related reading: How To Write A Book And Enjoy Writing It


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Derek Haines

Derek Haines is an Australian author, living in Switzerland.

One thought on “Playing The Self-Publishing Lottery Game

  • June 20, 2018 at 8:15 pm

    Self-publishing isn’t necessarily done to make dollars. I self-publish for self-satisfaction. is my preferred publisher. My material is a record of deep interest to a special demographic. Readers find their way to my stuff without promotion and the only thing it will cost you is the value of buying the finished book. I enjoy monthly trickle-sales, and have great satisfaction to know that I have left a record of events in the deep public interest. which are finding their way into libraries and universities across the world. I would never bother with submitting to big publishers as they are inundated with submissions and tend towards populism rather than the stuff that I self-publish. Self-publishing is a wonderful, satisfying hobby, but be aware of con-artists who praise your material, take your bucks and disappear into the twilight zone.


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