A well-meaning reader asked me a question, “Do you consider self-published authors, authors?
I said to him that I would write an article to respond to his question.
The first thing I want to establish is what an author is?
The Oxford dictionary defines an author as “a writer of a book, article, or document.”
That is heartening to know. This means if someone has written a document at work, she is an author too. Author of that document. A creator of a piece of work.
According to Wikipedia, “an author is the creator or originator of any written work such as a book or play. More broadly defined, an author is ‘the person who originated or gave existence to anything,’ and whose authorship determines responsibility for what was created.”
In my past life, I was a research scientist. During my (unfinished)doctorate in Biochemistry, I ‘authored’ three papers that were published in scientific journals.
That made me an author, no doubt.
Would I have been an author had the scientific journals not accepted my papers and they kept on sitting in my bottom drawer?
But if I had taken the same papers and published them in my University’s journal, I would still have been an author.
University’s publication may not be as reputed as an international publication. Nonetheless, it is still a publication. And my work is available for reading and citation.
So publishing in a lesser know publication will still make me an author.
I am sure you will agree with me so far.
Now let’s talk about articles.
Once upon a time, the only way to publish an article was in a newspaper or a magazine.
You had to write what that publication was looking for or was interested in publishing at a point in time. If your work land on the right desk at the right time, you might find your name in small font under a big, bold heading. If you are lucky, you might receive a check of $50 or so.
But then the times changed. Blogging started. Lots of online publications started publishing the work of bloggers on their sites.
Can they call themselves authors, or were they mere bloggers?
Fast forward to 2012. Medium started. Bloggers started publishing their articles on the platform in droves. Anyone can open an account and write a story or an opinion.
Are they authors or mere hobby writers?
By Oxford dictionary definition and Wikipedia’s broad definition, they too are authors.
Let’s move on to books.
Since the advent of the printing press in 1450 and the establishment of publishing houses, the publishing industry changed a little between then and the end of the last millennium.
If you were a writer and want to publish a book, you must go through a publishing house. You would send the manuscript to several publishers to find one who would be interested in publishing yours.
The whole process was frustrating. The publishing houses were more interested in protecting their own interest (i.e., their profit) that many writers would give up and bury their books in the bottom drawers forever.
With the advent of digital technology and smartphones as reading devices, a new form of publishing became available.
For digital publishing, no gatekeepers are required.
In November 2007, the Kindle was born. Integrated with the largest online bookstore in the world and the remarkable self-publishing ability for anyone who wanted to publish. It redefined the publishing industry.
By 2011, self-publishing and the rise of e-books were fully established. Many books dismissed by traditional publishers went on to become extremely successful as author-published books.
- Andy Weir self-published his sci-fi thriller The Martian. It was adapted into a movie in 2015 directed by Ridley Scot starring Matt Damon. The film grossed $630m worldwide.
- E.L. James blogged her fan fiction of Twilight and later turned it into the Fifty Shades Of Grey, which at one point out-sold Harry Potter and led to $150 million budget movies that topped $1 billion at the global box office.
- Lisa Genova’s moving story about Alzheimer’s Disease and how it affects relationships, Still Alice, was self-published in 2007, having spent a year on the pitch-and-rejection cycle. The last agent who looked at the manuscript warned the author not to self-publish, telling her that it would kill her career forever. Genova ignored the agent and went ahead, selling the book out of the trunk of her car. She invested in a PR agent, and Still Alice won a lucrative publishing rights deal, including a movie starring Julianne Moore.
Self-published authors are selling their books in 190 countries.
Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) is not the only platform. Apple, Barnes & Noble (Nook), Google, IngramSpark, and Kobo are taking self-publishing to every country in the world.
Indie authors (this is how self-published authors are known in the industry) continue to increase their global sales at a staggering rate.
In his latest publication, The Book Business: What Everyone Needs to Know (2019), the veteran publishing commentator Mike Shatzkin points out that between 2011 and 2013, the non-traditional share expanded rapidly from nearly 0% to almost 30% of the book units sold in the US.
Not only that but the overall size of the e-book market itself is growing rapidly.
Within five years of going mainstream, in 2014, digital self-publishing accounted for more than 30% of all recorded book sales in the US
Not only the publishing industry has changed, but readers have changed too.
The emergence of smart devices, e-books, and online subscription models has transformed the reading behavior of readers.
Readers are buying more ebooks than ever before, a behavior that accelerated during the pandemic and continuing.
They are also buying more and more audiobooks.
And they don’t care whether a book is self-published or traditionally published.
- One in every four books that sell on Kobo comes from their self-publishing platform, Kobo Writing Life.
- Self-published authors produce 85 percent of Kindle Unlimited ebooks.
- Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited paid out over a quarter of a billion dollars to indie authors in 2019, apart from regular sales.
Vanity publishers are losing their market share.
According to Bowker records, Amazon’s market share of self-published print books in the US increased from 6% in 2007 to 92% as of 2018.
Vanity press publishers dropped their share from 73% of all books published in 2007 to just 6% during the same period. Today, it is just 1%.
The better options available to authors are making a difference.
The turning point came between 2011 and 2012 when Amazon “absolutely crushed their competitors.”
Self-published authors are earning more and more reliably
The average traditionally published author earns approximately 5–15% of their book’s cover price. Those with agents lose a further 15% of that.
Self-publishing platforms like Amazon, Apple Books, Ingram Spark, and Kobo pay up to 70% of each book sold to authors. However, those indie authors who sell direct to readers from their own websites take in up to 96% of the book’s value.
Of course, publishing costs have to be deducted from this income, but there’s no question that over the life of a book, self-published authors earn more.
Self-publishing authors are now a growing part of the publishing ecosystem.
In 2016, Enders Analysis found that 40% of the top-selling ebooks on Amazon were self-published. The analysis concluded that the option was “only going to grow more attractive.”
They are proving right.
More and more authors are choosing to self-publish.
So, are self-published authors are authors?
I think self-published authors are more authors than traditionally published authors. For once, they are more versatile. They are not only developing their writing skill but learning publishing and marketing skills as well.
They are promoting their work and are directly in touch with their readers.
They are market savvy. They know what their readers want and fulfill their needs.
Yes, you might say their work is less mature initially. Or it has not gone through the rigor of several edits.
But you can see them as those who practice in public. They are not sitting in a dark room in their homes, learning their craft, and never letting their unpolished work see the light of the day. That was the older model.
With the new model, the wanna-be writers put their work out there and learn in public. It is not to say they are careless and don’t want to do the hard work. Instead, they are not shy to share their best work at the time. They don’t wait for the day when it will be perfect. They hone their craft as they go. As a result, they get better with each book they publish.
Dear Reader, I hope I have answered your question. Your opinion might differ from mine, and I would love to hear it.
Credit: Many facts and figures in this article came from the Alliance of Independent Authors’ Advice Centre article Facts and Figures about Self Publishing: The Impact and Influence of Indie Authors