The Self-Publishing Train Wreck Is Upon Us – It’s Been Coming

The self-publishing train wreck

Self-publishing is evolving and suffering from growing pains. The self-publishing train wreck was always an accident waiting to happen.

Although there has been no crashing noise and screaming sirens as yet, all the signs point to the fact that the self-publishing train wreck is very close to happening.

In recent and not so recent times, several signals have turned bright and dangerously red.

But many self-publishers appear to be color blind to these signals and still think all the signals are go, go go, green.

The danger signals

But the red danger signs of the self-publishing train wreck have been appearing for some time.

Perhaps it started with the end of the Sony Reader Store in 2014.

Recall that Sony was, in fact, the pioneer of the ebook.

Then we had the end of the ebook retailer, Diesel Ebooks, which kept promising to return from the dead for a long time.

It finally did, but in a new form, to offer ebook stores to authors.

Soon after, Smashwords announced the loss of Flipkart and that Oyster was closing down.

On top of that, there was also the announcement that Scribd was cutting romance ebooks from its subscription service.

A little later on, Barnes & Noble dumped its UK Nook business by selling its UK Nook ebook business to a supermarket chain. The ramifications of that sale for UK Nook customers was a disaster.

If these were not signs of impending self-publishing problems, I don’t know what was.

Other than closures, interest in self-publishing also began waning, which was a sign that all is not well.


Interest in self-publishing

I only had my gut feeling about this. But by chance, I was doing some research on self-publishing trends and came across this graph from Google Insights.

It seems to indicate that interest in self-publishing appears to be gradually falling away.

Self publishing trends

Interestingly, from the same results page of Google Insights came this graphic of regional interest for the search term of self-publishing.

It proves that self-publishing has not been a global success at all. Four countries do not add up to a global phenomenon.

self publishing geographic trends

However, with all the closures and failed ebook businesses, on top of diminishing interest and lack of global sales potential, the self-publishing train thunders along in the belief that all the lights are green.

But in fact, every signal is flashing alarmingly red. But why?


The Magical Amazon Effect

Amazon has done a splendid job of convincing self-publishers that Kindle has been such a worldwide super success and that if you hop on its magical Amazon KDP train, fame and fortune awaits.

Stories abound of superstar self-published authors who have struck it rich with Kindle ebook sales. I am sure you know all their names, too, because, in reality, there have been very, very few. Make a list of them and see if you can get past five or six names.

But the dreamers have been convinced by the success stories of a few outliers. They have, in countless thousands, jumped headlong into KDP self-publishing with no idea at all about book marketing but with a firm belief that if they have written a book, they will make a fortune.

Since 2009, this trend has continued unabated, with hundreds of thousands of new Kindle ebooks being published each and every year by new hopeful authors.

But the end was always in sight, and now after years of publishing far more ebooks than the market can possibly buy, borrow, get for free, or read, self-publishing needs to recalibrate.


The BIG red light! Kindle Unlimited.

The last red warning light was Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited (KU).

Sure, everyone knew that ebook subscription services were coming. Although a few had tried and failed, Amazon is not one to fail.

When KU hit, it caused a huge storm of protest from self-published authors, who believed their income would take a hit.

For most, it probably did to a degree.

But that was all to change when Amazon had a change of heart after only a few months and modified the rules for KU.

It quickly dropped the promise of an author being paid per ebook borrow. It changed to Kindle Edition Normalized Pages (KENP) Read, or in layman’s terms, authors getting paid per page read.


Lower, lower, lower

So from around $1.40 per borrow, which was way below most authors’ selling prices, KENP gives a return of less than $0.005 per page. Yes, under half a cent!

For a self-published author with a title priced at $3.99, it is not difficult at all to say that a return of half a cent per page is indeed a self-publishing train wreck.

In my case, I have a 290-page novel with a selling price of $4.99. But under KU, I get $1.45.

And do you think Kindle readers are silly? Of course, they happily pay $9.99 per month to get my $4.99 ebook for (next to) nothing.

So I got $1.40 under KU 1.0, and I get $1.45 under KU 2.0, so what’s the problem? Easy.

At least I got something for a borrow under the original KU, but how many readers read a whole book?

Can you imagine going to McDonald’s and saying, “Hey, I only had one mouthful of my burger and only ate half of my fries, so I’ll only pay for what I ate.

Or, if you rent a car, and you don’t drive it every day that you rent it, do you get a refund?

I have read my copy of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy more than twenty times.

Should I pay every time I read it? I have a hardcover copy of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses but have never got past page 100. Should I get some money back now?

This is the problem with Kindle Unlimited and why it will be a big problem for self-publishing authors.

It defies all free market, sales logic, and fairness. But it does obey the perverted value system of the Internet, which is that everything should be free, or very close to it anyway.


So, where does self-publishing go now?

Self-publishing, as it has been since 2009, is dead. It was all so simple back then.

You wrote a book, published it, and readers bought it or not. There were no conditions attached.

Even subscription borrowing had some merit. You borrow it; I get paid.

But now, it’s a convoluted disaster. I do not want to get paid for someone reading five pages of one of my books and then thinking, “oh damn, no vampires. I’ll try another book then.”

For me, it was back to square one, and prepared to wait out the self-publishing pain ahead, the headlines, the inquiry, the aftermath, and all the squealing and yelling.

I exited KDP Select at my earliest opportunity as I enrolled under KU 1.0 when things were fair. They are not fair now.

Secondly, I reverted to open distribution of my ebooks via Smashwords originally, but I recently changed over to Draft2Digital.

This is not to say that I am thrilled with aggregation or that Apple, B&N, or Kobo offer anything startling, but at least they all honor a genuine ebook sale. If I get fewer sales, well, so be it.

Lastly, I refreshed my paperback backlist and made sure that all of my promotional links were directed not only to my ebooks but also to my paperbacks. You know, real books.



When I started self-publishing, these things called books made money for me.

As I noted above with the graphic about regional interest, there is a whole world out there that still loves books.

Ebooks are basically a US and UK thing. Why should I concentrate all my efforts on two countries, which are the home of Amazon and Kindle Unlimited? Together they are the cause of the loss in earnings for self-publishing authors.

No. I don’t want Amazon’s perverted half-eaten hamburger and fries ebook model, thank you very much.

I’ll wait out the disaster ahead but with one saving grace in mind.

Self-publishing has one outstanding and unique benefit, and it is that a self-publishing author retains total rights over their ebooks and books, so they can do whatever they please.

So my pleasure is to say no thank you to your exclusivity and slashing of ebook earnings, Amazon. I’ll take my books and ebooks elsewhere.


Related Reading: Amazon Self-Publishing Problems And Solutions For Authors

50 thoughts on “The Self-Publishing Train Wreck Is Upon Us – It’s Been Coming”

  1. Like it or not Amazon has the market. As a first time author, I knew that having my book on
    Amazon was the best way to gain reputability. I didn’t put my book on Amazon to make money, I put my book on Amazon to say that my book is on Amazon.
    I use the fact that my book is on Amazon as a springboard to build my brand and start promoting other platforms (including my own website). Admittedly, I am new to Self-publishing, and I am making my way without the paid help of the “expert” gurus.
    If my goal is for my books to be enduring, loved, and well read, I know that there is no way to achieve this goal overnight. Also, I do not believe that I can achieve my goals without the the global recognition that comes with having my book listed on Amazon.

  2. I’ve been looking into taking my books off Amazon, reasons to de-self-publish, as it were. And believe it or not, for those of you who are “kicking ass” and “taking names,” by all means, continue to do so. I wish you the best of luck.
    I don’t know why you write, any of you.
    I write because I am good at it, because I am breathing, because it’s what I do best.
    I am, after all, only what I do, not what I dream.
    I’ve been getting a sense of trouble in the waters lately with Amazon, and not because of anything I’ve read online about it, but just my own experiences going through the self-publishing hoops. Nothing big or shocking, no red lights. More like, I’m a swimmer lost at night out in the Pacific ocean. I can’t see them, I just get a sense of movement as sharks swim by me under dark waters, knowable only as a current stirring against my legs.
    Sharks rarely eat people, but that’s no reason to tempt them if they’ve been having a slow day.
    With that in mind, be careful where you swim.
    Amazon is a very big shark.

  3. So, countries in which English is not the primary language don’t tend to Google the phrase “self=publishing”? Shocked, I tell you! Shocked!

  4. “I have a hardcover copy of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses but have never got past page 100.” And here I thought I was the only one. (-:

  5. As a new author who hasn’t even finished his book these kind of things very much concern me. I see the market as over saturated and getting more so with marketers who proclaim that they can help everyone get a book completed quickly. If everyone who can write a book does then you have a whole lot of people writing similar content who may not even be skilled at it. Its like the music industry where there is whole lot of people who want to be stars but very few openings. This does not even cover the diminished returns from an economy where people keep expecting more for less money, even for quality content.

  6. Sounds like the only thing you’re lamenting is how KU now pays you. Please note that KU is NOT the whole self-publishing world. It’s a slice, true a big Amazon slice, and yes, people are trying to make their most money any way they can. Well, KU isn’t it. However, I never drank that Koolaide because exclusivity has always been a bad idea unless you are with a traditional publisher. They have huge distribution networks and you might make some money there.

    Also, businesses come and go as they always have. They can’t run unless they have a great business model and they make a profit. Many of those places shutting down that you talked about weren’t great businesses and obviously weren’t making money. Others will spring up and therefore take the spot of those lost.

    The only way to make great money in self-publishing is to take advantage of the options, all the options. Meaning you need to be everywhere: Smashwords, Amazon, Draft2Digital, SeatoSkyBooks, to name a few and in print. Once you have diversified your books, as you continue to write and publish, you can then start making a living.

    And as long as you have a decent, well-put together book, you shouldn’t have any problem…

    1. Avatar for Jennifer Lancaster, self publishing
      Jennifer Lancaster, self publishing

      Your books being listed everywhere is not a sales and marketing strategy. There are millions of books; nobody will find yours. You need a marketing plan, a blurb that gets curiosity and a team to help you.

  7. Lauren Blakely hit no. 1 on the NYT this week with a self-published book. I hit no. 2 in December with a self-published book. Vi Keeland hit no. 1 last summer. You keep whining about how the death of self-publishing is upon us while we keep kicking ass and taking names.

  8. Another new hazard to consider when enrolling in KDP Select– this recently happened to my friend Adam. Some greedy hackers have now figured out how to slam KDP Select authors with bots to make it look like they’re gaming the system. Because when there is KDP Select money at stake, some people don’t think they need to play fair anymore, evidently.

    Although Adam questioned his strange reports (with huge fluctuations), he was told everything was fine, then without warning his entire account was SHUT DOWN. Reviews, bio, pages, products, everything.

    Please read his blog posts and/or watch the videos and educate yourself. If you are not careful, your entire writing career could be up in smoke within moments. He got an apology from them, but they refuse to admit their mistake publicly. Better to diversify to multiple avenues rather than put all your eggs in one basket.

  9. Err…Of COURSE the term “self publishing” only really gets you results in the United States, the UK, Australia and Canada…you’re looking for the word IN ENGLISH. Those are searches for the words “self publishing” IN ENGLISH. Try searching for in French, German, Kenyan, Hindi, Mandarin, Korean, Thai…etc…and then collating those numbers to get a real worldwide view of the market.

    Actually, the self publishing markets in China and South Korea are fricken HUGE (especially China), but guess what…they don’t Google that term in English, and they prefer to use big portal sites which either use a credit based or ad-revenue share system.

  10. One other point in this discussion that I didn’t see mentioned. Using your McDonald’s analogy, what if you took a bite out of the burger, ate half the fries and then wanted a full refund. “I didn’t like it,” you say to the clerk. In the case of Amazon, they give you your money back even if you’ve eaten the whole burger and licked the salt off the fries box.

    This is simply not fair to the authors. Of course, it’s said that Amazon does not care. I beg to differ. Amazon has bent over backwards to help me and other indie authors get our print and Kindle books published. Over the years, they’ve made it easier, and less of a hassle. They answer the phone seven days a week and at all hours (yes, I called a 3AM on a Sunday). But, they’re still cheating us out of the paltry royalties we’re due. When you have the ability to read significant parts of the book before you buy, customers should not be able to return it because they didn’t like how it ended, or if they disagree on how I describe starting a 1930 Model A Ford.

    1. I agree, William. Amazon has done a lot of great things. But KU has not been a terrific idea for authors. In the end though, Amazon looks after their customers first, and sellers (authors) second. Life’s like that.

    2. Nonsense. If I ordered a burger and fries, took a bite of the burger and found out that it was raw or rotten inside, the lettuce and tomato was spoiled, the bun was stale, the fries were undercooked or otherwise inedible, I would absolutely expect ALL of my money back. I would also be less likely to buy a meal at that restaurant again. This is what has happened a great deal of the time that I’ve bought self-published books. A fraction are of professional quality, whereas many are simply terrible. I should NOT have to pay for an author’s incompetence. Far too many self-published authors are blind to their books’ issues, and/or feel like just because they put their “blood, sweat, and tears” into writing a book, it must be worthwhile. I’m already a little nervous whenever I buy a self-published book, as I’ve been burned so many times by books that seem polished and competently executed in the sample. If I knew I couldn’t get my money back on an amateurish effort, I would be much, MUCH less likely to buy self-published books ever again.

  11. I’m a self-published author who has struggled. You don’t know my name. I’m not famous, but I’m on my way to making six-figures this year. The majority of my income comes from platforms other than Amazon. I refuse to give KU (or anyone else) total control of my books. I think there is a levelling off in the works today. The crappy “get rich quick” authors are learning that it takes more than a half-hearted effort to make money. I have a business plan, a professional editor and cover artist. I spend 16 hours a day on writing and promotion. The possibilities are there if you look for them. Don’t be disheartened. I think the falling off of some self-pubbed was a natural attrition bound to happen as the market changes and grows.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Jeana. I’ve very happy to read that you are basing your ‘business’ on markets other than Amazon, and succeeding. Amazon has done many great things, but like you, I believe the future of self-publishing lies well away from Amazon’s monopoly markets.

      1. I wanted to add that what works for one author may not work for another. Some of my friends have had great success with KU.

        1. From 2014 – 2016, I published “wide” five books and received not a single penny in royalties from any platform other than Amazon. I unpublished those books from those platforms and opted for exclusivity with Amazon. I wouldn’t claim “great success” and haven’t even come close to hitting the bestseller list; however, most of my royalties come through the KU program, not from book sales. Amazon might not be my best friend, but it’s my best bet.

  12. It surprises me that authors still only know about or consider either Smashwords or whichever Kindle program they choose when there’s another option, Ganxy.

    Ganxy has terms and benefits that exceed every other ebook platform to date. What are some of the benefits of Ganxy? Well firstly, they pay you 90% of the retail price of your book. They allow you apply discount codes to put your book on sale for anyone you give the code to while leaving the retail price intact.

    If you want to offer free days for your book, they don’t apply any restrictions of time. No more my book can be free for five days a quarter. What’s the catch on free days? None, other than if you are running a free campaign, that they will charge twenty-five cents per download because they have to cover their overhead and there’s no restrictions for exclusivity at any time unlike KDP Select.

    Unlike any other vendor, they provide you the contact email addresses of everyone who buys your book. Amazon sees your customers as theirs and they aren’t going to share them. They are your customers, why shouldn’t be able to know and contact the people who bought your book? Isn’t that part of book marketing to collect email addresses of your customers so you can let them know about other books write or specials you have going.

    Yes, they originally started using epub versions and don’t convert your ebook for you, but if have multiple format versions such as epub, mobi, pdf, you can upload them all to your showcase so your customer can choose the format they prefer. If you have already have your book listed at various other sites, you add the page links to your book for those sites and they will add a radio button to your ebook page to the bottom of your showcase so your customers can buy from the platform they are most comfortable. Of course, you make the most money if they buy direct and you’ll collect their email, but you want your customer to be comfortable.

    Because you are provided a showcase with all the information about your book with all retailers’ right there, your marketing becomes much easier. All you need to do is post your showcase link to all the places you do your marketing online including your own website. There is a catch if you use a WordPress site that the link doesn’t always render, but Ganxy will provide you with a free plugin to install on your WordPress site that fixes that.

    I’m sure there are things I’ve left out because they offer so much, but here’s the re-cap. You are paid 90% of the price of your book, free days any time you want them, all without restrictions of exclusivity. You determine how long your free days last or you can set a limit for how many downloads you want to offer since you pay .25 for the free downloads. They handle payment and tech support for your customers. You can upload multiple versions of your book so customers can download the version they want and you can add links to Amazon, iTunes, Smashwords and other major ebook retailers to your showcase for one stop shopping for your customer and for your marketing with a single link.

    Ganxy has been around since 2010, but seems to be mostly used by publishers but was designed as an option for the self-published author yet those authors choose to play in the exclusive Amazon playground even though Amazon has made it clear they are out for themselves, not the author.

    True, I know about Ganxy because I’m a publisher and I am always looking for new options to get books out there, but Ganxy has not been a secret. Amazon for many is the easy path, because authors aren’t willing try new things or learn new techniques. Self-publishing means the author is the publisher, yet many are willing to just hand over their books instead of acting as a publisher. Sure, we publish to Amazon and everyone else, but KDP Select or any program restricting where we can market or sell our books isn’t an option. We need to make the most commission as possible so our authors can make money being we pay out higher royalties than other publishers. For those who are happy in the fantasy land of Amazon, great! For everyone, there are other options.

    1. Jewel – great information! I have only been self-publishing since last year, but now that I am trying to step it up a notch, I want to branch out to other platforms. I don’t have a large following at the moment, so my email list is not very big. Reviews are another matter. It’s frustrating, to say the least. My thought is, that if you treat your writing as a business instead of a hobby (unless it is), then you will do whatever it takes to be successful. Amazon or not. Amazon is certainly not going away, but the landscape could shift under our feet.

  13. The article is great, but this is a case where the discussion in the comments us worthwhile reading in their own right.

  14. The whole ebook market is basically driven by mommy porn and Amazon Unlimited is a rip off. I got a check for $.32 for 4 downloads I should have made $10 from. I contacted Amazon about getting my books out of Kindle Unlimited and I was told I would have to unpublish them because evidently once you’re in the Unlimited program you can’t remove a book without un-publishing it.. I believe what Amazon is doing is criminal

    1. You can remove your ebooks, Rick. Just un-enrol from KDPS and at the end of your 90 days, you’re out. I go in and out all the time. It’s part of the new game of trying to find what works best.

  15. I agree wholeheartedly with Allen. I will go further to say that the current state of self-publishing is part of a long process in its finding its place in the world. I still believe – and Byron misses this point – that self-publishing was inevitable, because traditional publishers made it so. They ceased long ago to justify their existence as any sort of “gatekeeper” – as a well-trained professional editor, I assure you that the real gatekeepers are the editors, whether working freelance or in a publishing house, not the publishers. Traditional publishes had become so money-driven and market-driven that there was no possibility of creativity or innovation in writing. Really unusual novels, covering really unique subjects, weren’t being touched by trad. houses. This is a huge problem, because it changes the literary world of a generation, blanding it down and dumbing it down. The most innovative books are in the self-publishing world right now. Now, the big issue is – as many here have pointed out and Allen spoke of so well – is that quality is nearly non-existent. I am astounded that there are still so many self-published authors who so obviously don’t get the value of a good editing (ego? stupidity? naivete?)! Nothing kills sales faster. BUT I see maybe 5% of self-pub’d books that are gems. They are out there. They are often very innovative – books that would not have found a publisher in the traditional houses, not because of lack of quality, but simply because they are unusual concepts, and challenging to a generation of readers pampered on formulaic trash. At this point, I am convinced that not only is self-publishing the wave of the future, but a necessary part of the publishing industry. It has inarguably changed the reality for the better by spitting in the face of traditional publishing’s stranglehold on the market. We are in transition – a larger transition than any of us foresaw or can predict. Things are evolving, and will continue to evolve. Badly-written, badly-presented books don’t sell; authors are learning that. When all the dust settles, we will see a market less saturated by garbage, and forever altered for the better by the advent of self-publishing and the level of creativity it allowed to be reborn.

  16. I have 32 books published, the majority with small (some practically nano) publishers and 4.5 self published. I hit right before the pages read thing began with books 1-3 and sold a lot and got a lot of great reviews (this is not smoke. You can read them for yourself). Then the pages read thing hit and my royalties went from decent 4 figures to.literally, 2. As in “figures”. I’m not whining and I don’t believe you are either. I think it’s the overwhelming amount of utter dreck that “self publishing” has allowed to clog up the works making it impossible to be heard unless you have quad/triple your royalties or more to spend on flat out in your face MAINSTREAM advertising. Me? I’m writing new novels and giving them away starting in Novemeber and have gone back to the write-polish -get edited-rewrite-revise -get reedited- submit to agents and mid to large sized publishers route with my big projects. I like to think this mess will clear out. That there will be a market correction like there was in my other super easy business where I work my ass off and DO make a living (real estate). But I am exhausted trying to predict when or how it could now. I enjoy writing novels and I let the last years worth of frustration with the business almost steal my joy at it. Now I know the realities and I’m good giving stuff away (not through a retailer either but just on my own) and I know I will work hard to find a worthy agent or bigger publisher to boost me up, I am oh so much better. Thank you for this honest opinion of the state of affairs today. Liz.

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience, Liz. I am in the midst of removing my ebooks from KDP Select, due to ‘page reads’. I just don’t like it. Sure, I’m getting paid, but it is only for my ebooks that are priced at $4.99 or above. So I get about $1.35 per full read. Not exactly a great return. But I am still getting sales, so why should I accept $1.35? As for giving ebooks away? Well, I keep changing my mind about this. But at the moment, I’m negative.

      Like you said, it’s a mess. And one I would prefer to be out of right now. I write books to sell, so I will put them up for sale, on all retailers, and accept what the market makes of it.

  17. I think you’re misreading both the data and the trends and drawing the wrong conclusions. The indie publishing market is not going away. It’s maturing, both in terms of the authors involved and the retailers involved. That’s something very different from a train wreck.

    In the past, and still today, droves of people are putting out books – regardless of the quality – thinking they’re going to get rich. When they realize that’s not the case, they’ll drop out of the market, leaving behind only the serious authors who treat their writing careers as real businesses, making the investments necessary for success. The loss of some e-book retailers is a normal market adjustment; the good business plans survive, the bad ones don’t.

  18. Avatar for Jennifer Lancaster
    Jennifer Lancaster

    eBooks are a US thing? Really… I had an Australian author who sold just as many through iBooks as Amazon US, more through Amazon AU, more again through Print on Demand via IngramSpark and her own website. A lot of quality work doesn’t get published because of the return on investment predicted by the big houses, so if you have a quality book, why not have a go? That is what free enterprise on the Internet is all about.
    I had a go in 2006, and when I got small sales for many years of my small book How to Kick Bad Spending Habits, it encouraged me to keep trying to get my message across. Self-publishing is also viable for people wanting to see their family memoir, or have a worthwhile item to offer at their speaking event. It’s not just about ebooks on Amazon.

  19. Great article. I agree with every word. I, too, joined KU when the pay-outs were fair. In fact, they were more than fair with people getting an above average pay-out for 99 cent titles. Under the old system, you could publish a ten page short story, price it below a dollar, and get over a dollar when someone read it (or just borrowed it). So I’m not surprised that Amazon changed the rules. I think a lot of people were taking great advantage of this loophole. But now, a half cent a page is laughable.

    I just did a blog post about this where I break down exactly how many pages you’d need to publish and at what price in order for KENP to pay out as well or better than traditional royalties. Ironically, my findings are that shorter works priced at 99 cents are still what makes most sense (as far as joining Select goes). This, I think, is what Kindle was trying to get away from in the first place. But it just doesn’t make sense anymore to keep my longer works in the program. In fact, I’ve been thinking a lot about channel-specific publishing. That is, saving certain works for certain platforms, depending on my pricing and marketing strategy.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Monica. I am also looking at what alternatives are the best for my own books. While I am certainly not a KENP lover at all, there are a couple of my books that do better under KU than unit sales. I suppose it depends on the genre and perhaps length and price, as you say. But I will certainly be moving a good number of my books back to open publishing and out of KDPS after my six month experiment with KDPS. Like you, I was happy with the original payment model, and that was why I originally moved over. But things change, don’t they?

  20. I found what you wrote in the beginning of the article to be the big ‘Hell yes!’ I was looking for and found the rest of it went off track. The issue with self-publishing is that it is just about as simple as ever, mainly because there’s no oversight. Thus, this is why “after six years of publishing far more ebooks than the market could possible buy, borrow, get for free or read, the self publishing train wreck is within sight.”

    Self-publishing is diluting the waters of the written word. The issue isn’t what a self-published author is paid (although, as you pointed out, it isn’t viable, especially the whole e-book experiment). The issue is that quality and standards of books are non-existent. Even some of the worst traditionally published books I’ve picked up tend to have more quality than a self-published book. There’s a simple reason for this: no one telling the author to make it better. Sure, there’s friends, maybe the author has even hired an editor. But, where’s the role of the publisher? Gone. Missing. Why is this bad? Well, the publisher is a gatekeeper.

    Sure, many self-published authors I know hurl a lot of hatred, contempt, or distrust of the traditional publishing world (although some are fine with it or, the more successful ones are fine with and in both worlds). But, without this role, there is no entity to say whether or not this work deserves to be on the market.

    Yes, indignation flares with this assessment. But where’s the pride in the prize with a self-published work? I can’t see it and any self-respecting self-published author shouldn’t have pride until they start to make sales (if they can, which numerous evidence shows isn’t likely). Now, why the pride with a traditional publisher? Let’s say the traditional publisher is an independent one who receives around 3,000 manuscripts a year and only publishes about a dozen titles. That’s where the pride is. Your work was better than the rest. There’s a standard, a quality to your work and you’ve passed through the fiery flames. With self-publishing you click a button (ok, there’s a touch more to it than that, but still no gatekeeper beyond the requirements of the medium, such as the file size of the cover art you probably paid for).

    My advice: have some respect for your writing and quit self-publishing unless you’ve got a really good reason to do so. Even if your work is of the quality of those top 12, self-published people are going to have a much harder time getting noticed and getting the respect of the literary world.

    *note, I am an author of fiction and cannot speak for trends in all genres. Be familiar with your industry before taking anyone’s advice.

    1. I disagree (obviously) on several points.

      True, the market is saturated by crap, but that just a logical consequence of a truly open market. I started out self-publishing 5 titles, then switched to traditional publishing for the next 7 titles.

      I prefer the traditional route these days because I get an advance and take no financial risk plus I get to focus on writing instead of all that other stuff you need as a selfpublisher.

      Still, I see the merits of selfpublishing as the more whacky or unique ideas can get out there, even if a traditional publisher doesn’t think it will pay off.

      I’m a Dane and can only speak for the Danish market, but pay-by-page seems fair, depending on the terms. A huge issue is click-bait titles which tricks you into buying crap because the premise sounds interesting. With pay-by-page you weed out the trash and reward those who deliver.

      Easy for me to say, when I don’t have a stake in the whole amazon selfpublishing scene.

      Books are like any other market. The worth of the product is decided by the consumers, not by the creators.


  21. I was able to replicate the chart above on Google Trends, the one you describe as being from Google Insights.

    I am cautious about your conclusion. As Google states “Numbers represent search interest relative to the highest point on the chart. If at most 10% of searches for the given region and time frame were for “pizza,” we’d consider this 100. This doesn’t convey absolute search volume.”

    So while the number of searches for “self publishing” is dropping, the number may indeed still be very large. Further, I’d argue, that the topic of self publishing has, for the last decade, been so much in the news, the blogs, the conversation, etc., that there would have to now be a small minority of people with “a manuscript under the bad” who have not already begun their journey along the self publishing trail.

    There are lots of other comments on the rest of your blog entry so I’ll leave it at that.

  22. I don’t believe there is any train wreck at all. Rather, a few years ago — when selfpubhsing became almost free if you were happy to publish junk (poor cover art, no editing, etc.) — many people rushed to do it. Whether they though it a way to satisfy their ego or a quick way to get rich, I don’t know. But there was a mad rush and literally millions of titles of crap have been published.

    Though no two industries are identical, I believe what we are now seeing is, first, the growing realization that publishing a book people will buy is hard — it takes great writing, sound editing, compelling cover art, thoughtful blurbs, an understanding of distribution channels, careful keyword selection, and clever marketing and advertising, to name just some of the things that must be done if a book is going to succeed in the market. My views is that this realization is mitigating against the number of people who are now willing to undertake selfpublishing (good!). Chuck Wendig described it well in a blog about a year ago, titled, “WHY THE SELF-PUBLISHING SHIT VOLCANO IS A PROBLEM” (BTW, I’ve long highlighted his article on my own blog because I thought his message so important)..

    What we are seeing now, I think, is a decline in the number of people adding their crap to the shit volcano, and a consolidation and refinement of the industry (the suppliers such as Amazon) as they deal with a decline in people wanting to selfpublish..

    What this means as a writer is the same as it has meant forever: A quality product, well prepared and well advertised, will rise to the top. What it means for book buyers: an overall increase in the quality of the products they can pick from.

    Though I’m a single case in point, after crafting the best story I could, and after the best editor I could find marked it up for me, and doing all the other things I taught myself how to do in the field of book marketing, my first book has made it on to a few of Amazon’s (more obscure) bestseller lists, has been very highly rated by some of Amazon’s top reviewers, and continues to sell a few copies a day. I’m certainly not going to make the NYT bestseller list, nor am I going to get rich when I only get $.35 a copy. But I think this proves my point: With the selfpublishing tools as they are today, a nobody such as me can come out of nowhere and do well. That is not the markings of a train wreck. And at this point I can’t possibly imagine why I’d ever again consider traditional publishing.

    Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe in nirvana. There is still going to be crap published, and there are going to be mistakes made by publishers such as Amazon and Smashwords. But in the end, this is all good and predictable. The shit volcano is slowing down, and the trains will keep rolling.

    1. I agree, Allen, that there has been a considerable slowdown in junk self-publishing. This is a positive result for everyone. And yes, no matter what business you are in, quality usually wins out in the end. The only dilemma is, of course, is if you can get a fair price in return. In this respect, I am really not sure that KU is a fair return. It is noticeable that only self-publishers are offering their ebooks for KU, as no traditional publisher has agreed to enter Amazon’s subscription model.

      1. Fair point. But I’m not sure any one person or organization can determine a “fair price” for anything. I’d like to think that given enough time and a big enough market, consumers will — collectively — define “fair price”. I acknowledge, though, that distortions, predatory practices, limited information, etc., can impact market prices.

        Though I’m not convinced Amazon does not pay a fair wage, if I believed that I’d say that one of the things driving down the revenue selfpublishers can earn, ironically, is the sheer pain and suffering of a newbie going the traditional publishing route. By the traditional route, it can take a year or more to find an agent, another year or more to find a publisher, a year or more of additional editing before you even get to publication day, and IF you get to publication day (in my case they shut down their fiction line shortly before my novel was to be published, thus I’m done with traditional publishers). But should you make it to publication day, they will at best put in a half-hearted effort to promote your book. If you want to do it all again, they might put a bit more effort into your second book. In all events, if it and/or the sequel is “successful”, the author will only get a small cut of the overall revenue. I’m sure Amazon and Smashwords (and others) understand how painful and slow this model is, and use this info to inform their decisions about how little they can pay indies.

        If there has been any one thing that has driven the explosion of selfpublishing — reckless and sloppy though it has been — it is traditional publishers. Traditional publishers have no one to blame but themselves for their train wreck.

      2. This was true at first, but I have noticed that McMillan has begun making some older books available through KU. I think traditional publishers will discover KU can be a way to renew a revenue stream on older published books that no longer sell.

    2. This is my feeling as well. A shakeout if those who thought it would be easy, the loss of many “service providers” that promoted that idea, and another Amazon reiunvention or two. You know. Change! Thanks for expressing it so well.

  23. My most recently published books are exclusive to Amazon. However I have not enrolled them into KDP Select as I wish to retain the ability to offer them elsewhere should I choose to do so. I used to believe that KDP Select was the only way to generate reviews (offer a book free and some of those who download it wil leave a review. Well hopefully)! My recent experience however is that reviews can be obtained while having my books outside KDP Select, by contacting reviewers and requesting an honest review in return for a free copy of a book. I agree with you as regards your Mcdonalds analogy. Kevin

    1. There are always other ways, Kevin. While KDPS and KU is one option, which many authors seem happy with, there are many others who believe in publishing wide. It’s up to each individual author to make that decision. At least there are still competitive options available, but the concern is that they are becoming fewer with the news of recent closures.

  24. Actually, I think pages read is a rather fair way of paying in a subscription model. It rewards books that keep a reader’s attention. I’ve done quite well in the past couple of months in KDP and I know quite a few others who have also. It no longer rewards short reads inordinately and that is inherently reasonable. And as for all the signs showing that Indie publishing is heading for a train wreck I don’t see anything in your presentation that supports that. That google graph, without lots of additional data, is pretty meaningless. As are subscription services going out of business. That just proves they were flawed business models. Nothing to do with Indie Publishing. And as for only five or six writers having struck it rich going Indie, I don’t know what you mean by striking it rich. Does that mean making over a million dollars a year? There are only a handful of traditional published authors who achieve that. But if you count Indie writers making solid five figure and six figure incomes there are hundreds. And even more who are earning an okay living.

    1. If Indie publishing equals KDP Select, Robert, that is not a great situation. Sure there are some who are making good money, but my experience in business is that having all your eggs in one basket is not a good long term business strategy. KU may be fair in your eyes at present, but Amazon are not shy in changing the rules, as we saw quite quickly after the introduction of KU. That is the danger for authors who are bound by Amazon exclusivity, as their income is at the whim of one provider.

      1. I agree with you there. Every writer’s situation is different as is income need. I think it’s better to go wide for most authors, but for those trying to establish a foothold KDP offers advantages. Perhaps a mixed model might be best for writers with enough books to go around. I do think a great opportunity for authors going forward may lie overseas in developing markets like China and India, etc and looking to these is important for the long term. There are millions of English readers in most of these countries. I’ve focused a bit recently on England and Germany and have had some good success, particularly the former with page reads.

        1. I began self-publishing my Hitchhiker’s Guide to VBSQL in the early ’90s. I took a 3.5″ floppy to a demand printer and walked away with bound books. I sold these out of the house (to my wife’s dismay as she had to lug the boxes to the post office) for cash in advance. No, I didn’t accept returns, but I did give bulk customers a 50% discount. After three years, I was selling it by the case all over the world. My daughter even hand-delivered one by hand to a customer in China. Based on the feedback, it proved to be very popular over there–all sourced from that one copy which was pirated countless times. No, I’m not a fan of expanding into India or China where piracy rates hover around 90%. Sadly, Australia’s not much better. After three years, Microsoft Press finally picked it up and the rest is history. Since then, I wrote over a dozen books and contributed to several more—all best-sellers.

          Yes, I’ve been in this for a long time—nearly twenty-five years, and the business has been in constant flux. What’s remained the same is that the readers decide what they’re willing to pay for—or steal in the case of some markets.

  25. I have to say I agree with your thoughts. I had three books in KU back in October of last year. I pulled them after the first cycle. I have much more luck with Google books, and I have print books and audio as well, to extend my reach. I think we should all remember not to limit our reach and tie in to exclusivity. You never know what you might be missing.

    1. I tried Google Books/Play 2 years ago, Markie, but wasn’t impressed. Maybe they have upped their game since then though. I’m willing to have another look if they have improved things a bit.

  26. Drinking the cool-aid? You sound like an ad for Smashwords. And also the NY Times which is crowing about how ebooks are flattened and print is back. Except ebooks are increasing, just not from trad publishers.

    Please remove your books from Amazon. Along with all the Authors Guild people who whine about Amazon. Actually, you’re the one squealing if you re-read what you wrote.

    Sounds like your revenue is down. So is pretty much every other self-pubbed author because there is an overwhelming amount of content out there. In 2009 there weren’t many of us. It was the gold rush time. Made tons of money. Certainly, it’s changed. That’s called business.

    But some of us are still doing quite well. Why? Because we work at it. Instead of whine.

    Please post a blog a year from now letting everyone know how pulling your books from Amazon works. And how your print sales have made up for it. Looking forward to it.

    All the best.

    1. Sounds like we have both been in this for a long while, Bob. And probably like me, you’ve made changes to the way your ebooks are distributed. If you look through my blog though, I have been reasonably balanced with regard to the choices self publishers face. But for me, this is not about my earnings right now. I rejoined KDPS 6 months ago because I thought KU was a good move, in its original form. But now, I really don’t agree with KU V2. It’s bad for authors. I have no problem with subscription ebooks, and pay per borrow, but I don’t agree with pay per page read, or paid for a half eaten ebook. I don’t think that is whining.

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