If you think you’ve written a bestseller, self-publishing on eBook platforms is a straightforward and cost-effective venture
You have 30 days to complete the first draft of your long-awaited literary debut. The plot, the characters, the unexpected twists and turns: it’s time to finally get the book out of your head and on to your laptop.
National Write a Novel in a Month – otherwise known as NaNoWriMo –starts on 1 November. Anyone who writes a minimum of 50,000 words in 30 days – that is a daily average of 1,666 – is a winner. The website, which began in 1999 with 21 participants and six winners, has become an annual challenge for both would-be writers and established authors. Last year 256,618 people worldwide signed up and wrote a combined word count of 3,074,068,446. There were 36,843 winners.
Many would-be authors are hoping their hastily written first draft will end up leading to a lucrative publishing deal. But why wait? The massive surge in self-publishing has led to writers earning money long before any agent or publisher has even heard of them.
While some writers organise print runs of their own books and others publish each chapter as they go, on personal websites and blogs, the most popular way to self-publish is on eBook platforms such as Amazon’s Kindle Direct.
Kindle Direct is fairly straightforward: you upload your novel and pick the percentage for royalties: 35%, for books with a minimum price of 77p and 70% for books at over £1.49. For a book costing £1.49, with a file size of 1MB, the royalty per sale is 97p.
Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing is perhaps the best known but there’s also Createspace.com, Outskirtspress.com, Smashwords.com and Lulu.com. Whether you make big bucks depends, of course, on how many books you sell. Self-publishing successes include E L James, Amanda Hocking, and John Locke – the first self-published author to join the Kindle Millions Club.
Authors publicise their work through social media channels, online reading forums, book clubs, and literary festivals. This is partly why self-publishing has worked particularly well for genre novels like erotica, fantasy, sci-fiction and thrillers.
Karolina Sutton, a literary agent at Curtis Brown, says: “There’s usually an online readership and writers in these genres can access that community. Where self-publishing doesn’t work as well is with literary novels.”
A tiny minority of self-published authors do rake in millions but the average is £6,000, according to a study of 1,007 self-published authors. Half of writers earn less than £300 a year.
Some authors see self-publishing as a route to a traditional publishing deal. Candida Lacey, managing director of Myriad Editions, says: “Agents and publishers love a ready-made audience. So it can work in your favour if you’ve built up a following by publishing samples of your work.” Traditional publishing deals can be anything from £10,000 to £250,000. But for the first-time novelist, a deal of £10,000-£30,000 is more usual, says Sutton.
Elizabeth Haynes is a police intelligence officer. But she’s also author of Into the Darkest Corner, which won Amazon Best Book of the Year 2011, and others. “It [Nanowrimo.orgwas] the website I’d been waiting for all my life,” says Haynes: “I did it in 2006 and 2007 and then again in 2008, when I wrote 56,000 words of the first draft of Into the Darkest Corner.”
Another example is Erin Morgenstern, author of the widely acclaimed The Night Circus. During her first NaNoWriMo in 2003, Morgenstern managed 15,000 words. The next year she reached 50,000, and she carried on completing the challenge for the following five years. She says: “I think the most I’ve written is 80,000 words in 27 days or something like that.”
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