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Self-publishing v publishing traditionally

9 December 2013

A very interesting article from Digital Book World explores some fascinating research into writers' different approaches to publishing traditionally and self-publishing. This relates to a study from last year carried out by Digital Book World and Writer's Digest and involving American 5,000 authors. This data has been analysed by the author and social scientist Dana Beth Weinberg, whose conclusions are as follows:

‘Emotions run high when writers and publishers debate the merits of self-publishing. Some people hold that self-published authors couldn't break into the world of traditional publishing, gave up, and rushed their poor quality work to market. Others praise self-publishing as a democratizing force that makes it possible for authors to share their stories, even when traditional publishers, perhaps wrongly, imagine those stories don't have large and lucrative markets. As such, self-publishing gives authors the freedom to share stories with limited appeal or, alternatively, the means to demonstrate marketability and perhaps attract a traditional publisher. In yet another view, self-publishing is a highly entrepreneurial activity. Self-published authors take home a larger share of royalties, and by cutting out the publisher middlemen, they stand to bring home a lot more cash even if they sell fewer books than they would with traditional publishers.'

So the question she poses to herself and us is:

‘Am I selling myself short if I self-publish, or will I make my own writing dreams come true? I'm one of a multitude of writers grappling with these questions. Happily, in my day job I'm a social scientist, who has the privilege of turning these emotional questions into empirical ones.'
Weinberg goes on to describe four different kinds of writers: aspiring authors, who have not been published at all; traditionally published authors, who have only published their books with traditional publishers; self-published authors, who have only self-published; and hybrid authors, who have both traditionally published and self-published their work. The survey was open to anyone and was not a scientific sample, so these findings can only be seem as indicative and not as necessarily reflecting the experience of all writers.

The self-published hybrid authors are the most prolific in the sample and also have higher rates of publication. Most aspiring authors reported no annual income from their writing, as did 19% of the self-published, with most of them at the lower end of the spectrum. There were a handful of authors who reported that they earned of $200,000 from their writing - less than one percent (0.6%) of self-published authors, 4.5% of traditionally published authors, and 6.7% of hybrid authors who reported on their income. Even the latter is quite a small percentage managing to be really successful.

Weinberg concludes: ‘For authors deciding how to publish their work, the key question is this: Is there some set of practices that any author might adopt to improve chances of gaining readers and income from self-publishing, or are there advantages related to being a traditionally published author that might remain out of reach for the vast majority of self-published authors?'

Self-Publishing Debate: A Social Scientist Separates Fact from Fiction | Digital Book World