By Emma Regan and Jordan Maxwell Ridgway
Over the past few months, the Alternative Publishing Team have covered the astronomical success of Brandon Sanderson’s Kickstarter campaign to self-publish his secret novels. We’ve also been exploring the recurring trend of fanfiction writers transitioning their works into original intellectual property so they can make deals with traditional publishing houses. In many ways, fanfiction can be viewed as a form of self-publishing. Colleen Hoover, whose novel It Ends with Us has been topping bestseller lists this year, originally worked as a social worker before self-publishing her first novel, Slammed, in 2012. The book garnered enough success to encourage her to quit her job and become a full-time writer. It should also be noted that Hoover has had several of her books featured on The New York Times bestseller lists, her success having gradually been built over the past decade. Even Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey was self-published on CreateSpace in 2014.
These examples span an entire decade, so it should be stated that self-publishing is no more of a shortcut than trying to get published by one of the Big 5. Self-publishing is still very much a grind of putting in the work to garner a fan base and build a platform from the ground up. But it’s hard, especially after Sanderson’s multi-million campaign, to not feel that there is a certain zeitgeist stardust around the idea of self-publishing right now. All these stories paint a picture of the potential success writers can have through self-publishing, and these stories may leave some people wondering if it’s a more viable route than traditional publishing. Some may even go as far as to say that the success of self-publishing will have an impact on the need for traditional publishing.
So, is this true?
Some will be quick to suggest that the above examples of wild successes are just that: wildly unpredictable outliers during an age where we are more desperate for content than ever. So yes, while some make their millions and get read by millions, there are self-published writers out there who, for whatever reason, things haven’t quite worked out for. In other words, it’s still up to chance.
Another obstacle that self-publishing might throw up is that there are currently no centralised means of quality control in self-publishing. This is where traditional publishing comes into play, as a home to top editors who will help writers hone their craft, top designers for book covers and teams of marketers. There’s a reason why the Big 5 are such powerhouses.
However, there are advantages to the self-publishing route, despite the stigma of having no control during the publishing process. For many, it is about diversifying the book industry. Those who identify as BIPOC or queer, for example, are underrepresented in traditional publishing deals, leading many to turn to self-publishing as a way to get their book out into the world. This is also true for authors that want to write books that push boundaries in mainstream genres.
Freelance editors are much more mainstream now, so authors can sidestep the issue regarding their work lacking the editorial process. There are also websites such as Fiverr, which offer book and ebook marketing services from professional freelancers. Self-publishing has become more accessible than ever, which explains why there has been a rise in self-publishing in the past two years. Ever since the pandemic, the publishing industry has boomed unexpectedly in many ways that were not predicted, especially with the rise of self-publishing.
With everybody locked in their homes for months, many turned to the art of reading. People who never had time to read were picking up more and more books, including those that were self-published. Studies have found that self-publishing has had a steady increase, along with the trend of ebooks over the years. In 2016, it was reported that $1.25 billion of the $6 billion book industry in the United States was solely from self-published books. And thanks to the pandemic, those statistics have grown exponentially.
FriesenPress, Canada's largest ebook publishing service, soared 60% in terms of the number of new authors who joined from March 2020 to July 2021. The number was so high, the company had to hire fifteen additional members of staff.
Self-publishing and ebooks have come hand-in-hand for over ten years now, with the launch of Amazon's Kindle in 2007 causing authors to swarm to their site to publish books, thanks to the low cost of marketing and the visibility it provides. Kindle Direct Publishing offers a very easy service in which authors upload a manuscript and the company offers different book covers to choose from. Kobo Inc. offers a similar service with their ebook reader, with one in four published books coming from the company's publishing platform.
So, is self-publishing the new way to publish a book? Could this be the beginning of the end for traditional publishers dominating the market? Only time will tell.