The past decade or so has been a really turbulent era for publishing and writers in general. The upsurge in self-publication due to easy-to-use software, online platforms designed for that market and the rise of the ebook revolution resulted in publishers taking far fewer risks. Over the first half of this period literary agents in particular reported a situation where it became twice as difficult to get even the most promising new authors placed, and whilst tightening budgets guaranteed the survival of the bigger publishing houses the people suffering most were aspiring debut novelists.

Some of that uncertainty and confusion might have dissipated recently as sales of ebooks declined for the first time in 2015 and it seems that the majority of readers really do prefer a physical book in their hands after all. How best to make those books come into being, however, is still hotly contested by a variety of authors who each believe passionately in their own favoured approach.

Ros Barber thinks self-publishing is a terrible idea for serious novelists (The Guardian, 21st March 2016) and believes, with some considerable evidence to back up her claim, that if you take this path you can forget writing for a living but will be spending 90% of your time self-marketing.

This situation may be true for the vast majority of self-publishers, who must be if anything more keen on self-promotion than they are on writing (which most are probably not), however there are a number of exceptions: Amanda Hocking, whose Trylle trilogy launched her career when she made her books available online in the hope of earning enough to go and see The Muppets live in Chicago back in 2010, is now worth a reported $10 million; Mark Dawson, whose Beatrix Rose series (https://markjdawson.com/) is currently in development for a television series and now has an income in the “high six figures”; Andy Weir, author of The Martian, the film of which made $630 million worldwide, and Adam Croft, whose success comes in the wake of a new report from Enders Analysis, which states that self-publishing is “only going to grow more attractive” as an option for writers, and went on to warn that it is “the largest threat to incumbent publisher businesses in the medium term ... and publishers cannot be complacent”. Croft’s 2016 novel Her Last Tomorrow was at one point earning him around £2,000 a day in royalties and he is able to boast that “Little old me, doing it myself from my back bedroom, has outsold people like Stephen King and Lee Child”.

To put all this into perspective, the New York Times reported in 2016 that “finally we know how many self-published authors [have made] it big: 40”. By this they mean those authors have sold more than a million books in the last five years, and some, like Meredith Wild, have even established their own publishing houses.

Shown against a backdrop which reveals that a third of the 100 best-selling Kindle books were self-published in 2016, one has to stop and wonder what is going on; but when it is considered that mainstream publishers tend to price their novels just marginally below the physical product whilst self-publishers consider between $3 and $5 to be the right price, it leaves one thinking perhaps the big houses are either afraid of digital or actively seek to discourage it.

So the unpublished author is in a quandary: spend only 10% of your time actually writing, or cross your fingers and pray every time you send off your manuscripts to agents and publishers whose interest in unpublished authors, no matter what they might say in public, appears to be eroding all the time. Many authors now seem to believe they are better off with what little they can make on their own than the endless round of submission and rejection, and considering most write because they want to rather than simply with a profit in mind, it is easy to see how this is the more attractive option.

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