eBook Publishing & Promotion – The Reality

I appreciate that this is an opinionated post on ebook publishing. It will be a hard read for some that may make you angry. But I feel it has to be said.

We need to look at the reality of self-publishing as well as the dream.

Let us say you have slaved for months over your novel and finally it is ready to go. You stick it up on Amazon and stand back in anticipation.


So let us look at what typically happens next.

You get friends, family and the next door neighbour’s cat to buy a copy. You splatter it over twitter/facebook (anywhere). Maybe you pay for some advertising on Amazon and/or Google

You hope for an avalanche of sales.

Maybe a few trickle in. Maybe not.

Maybe it rises up into the 100 best seller list – for a while. Then it falls back.

You enroll it in KDP and give it away for a few days. You shift some more (for free this time) and it rises again – for a while.

Maybe as the days go on you get a few blips in sales.

Blips that look like the trace on a heart monitor of a patient undergoing a failing resuscitation.

Maybe though it simply flat-lines.

Maybe it flat-lined from day one and even the above is over-optimistic.

The hard truth is that the average self-published ebook sells 8 copies in its first year. Usually in the first couple of months.

Then the self doubt sets in.

Was it that bad? Am I a dreadful writer?

The answer to both of those questions is “probably not”. But then again as so few people ever read your work the emphasis has to be on the “probably” part of the “probably not”. But as very few writers put out grossly substandard work, it is unlikely you are one of the few.

So what went wrong?

And the answer to that is sadly nothing went wrong. That is the way it is. The ebook publishing market is Darwinian. There are relatively very few successful ebooks. Most fall by the wayside. Maybe you could have been better at marketing it. Or maybe the money you spent on the type of marketing you did do was a waste of cash.

The bitter truth is that the book market (especially for ebook fiction) is utterly saturated. A new self-published ebook goes live every 2 minutes. That’s over 400,000 new titles a year. The graph below only goes up to 2017. It is worse now.

ebook publishing - self-published books
From: https://thenewpublishingstandard.com

The ever increasing number of titles available is not matched by any increase in readership. In fact the number of people reading novels (both paperback and ebook) is declining. From HERE.

ebook publishing - decline in noel and short story reading
From: https://thenewpublishingstandard.com

In the USA, on average each adult reads 12 books a year. I expect the UK is much the same. Bear in mind that the median USA figure (most common rather than average) is 4 – it gets inflated to 12 by relatively few voracious readers. I would also bet that a large chunk of these voracious readers read a lot of free KDP promos or second-hand books.

Even then, more than half of the books read are non-fiction.

Can it get worse? Well, yes it can.

eBook Reader Numbers Have Peaked.

Audio books are making big inroads into the e-book market and the number of people buying e-readers is stagnant if not falling. (from HERE)

ebook publishing - popularity of formats

So the ebook publishing market (especially on Amazon) gets ever tighter and the result is no-name newbies get pushed to the margins. The quality of their book is almost irrelevant.

It is true that occasionally a new author hits the big time. Just as occasionally a street singer gets a leading part on Broadway. Or somebody wins big time on the Lottery. It does happen. But the odds are small.

So are you as a new author on a hiding to nothing? Are you wasting your time?

The answer to that is totally dependent on what you want to achieve.

If you want to make a living out of this or become rich and famous then you are probably doomed to failure. I do know two people who DO make a living out of this – but Boy Oh Boy do they work hard! Mainly at promotion rather than writing too.

If though you are doing this because you love writing and are excited by the possibility of exploring new and novel ways of getting your work out there, then carry on. Look for new avenues. Don’t just stick with Amazon.

Be inventive. Some street singers DO get to Broadway but rarely by traditional auditions. Lots of people have fun playing in pub bands without ever making the big time.

But most importantly, if your book bombs, don’t throw it away and give up. That is being unfair to yourself.

As a new author the dice are loaded heavily against you.

But if you don’t play – you can’t win.

Just try an set the rules in your favour when you can, and have fun rolling the dice.

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