The Decline of Self-Publishing

I’ve been taking in what authors have been discussing in author groups and speaking privately with a couple of author friends. My gut feeling has been telling me that I better make plans on what I should do when self-publishing is no longer the best venue for publishing. I wish I could dig up a comment someone had made back in 2010 about trends in publishing because what he said seems to be playing out in front of me. But one thing he said was that self-publishing would take off for a while, and then there would be a point where it went into decline. From the decline would come the resurgence of traditional publishers.

I have to admit, I thought that guy had a gloomy outlook on things at the time. Nevertheless, his words had stuck with me over the years, and the more I look around at what’s going on, the more I’m convinced he’s right. He based his assumptions off of the history of publishing. His argument was that things are cyclical. What has been is what will be.

Thinking over his words, I can see why publishers would become more attractive than self-publishing. I don’t have time to break down all the different scams going on, especially within Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited (KU) program, but people who are gaming the system at KU have weakened the integrity of self-publishing. In the author community, these people are called scammers. Now, I’m not going to say the scammers are the only reason I think self-publishing is in a state of decline. It’s just one part of several factors. But scammers have definitely hurt the quality of self-published books to a degree I’m not sure KU can ever recover from. This will probably mean the end of KU in the long run, and a lot of self-published authors’ careers have been built on KU. Since it’s a lot harder to get noticed on other retailers (Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple, Google Play), I don’t expect those KU authors to hold out for things to take off on those retailers. Amazon has made visibility easier, which is why so many authors have embraced exclusivity with them. Now it’s even harder to get visibility on the other retailers than it was a few years ago. This only makes an author new to a retailer harder to get noticed. It’s not impossible, but it’s harder, and a lot of KU authors will give up.

Another factor contributing to the decline in self-publishing is the “pay to play” trend. If authors don’t have money to spend on ads, they’ll see sales decline because ads give them visibility. In the end, those with the money can stay relevant. Those without the money won’t. There’s no way I can spend significant money on ads every month. Most authors budget $50 or so a month. But there are some who spend $1000 or more. That’s every single month. Those authors who have the most money will get the most exposure, and exposure means sales. So the more you pay, the more you sell, which leads to the more you can play. Hence the term “pay to play”. Already, I’m hearing rumblings from authors who said their ads are no longer effective, and it’s because they can’t afford to spend more than they already are. Thus, those who can’t afford the ads will end up being weeded out of the self-publishing business.

And another factor in the decline of self-publishing is the saturation of books in the market. There’s no way anyone can read all of the books out there. Even if someone reads 2-3 books a day, they’ll never read all of the stuff that’s currently available. This glut of books in the market means that it’s going to get harder and harder for authors to get noticed or even stay afloat. For example, I’ll search for particular things within romance that I want to read, and most of the results are sponsored ads (that often don’t even match what I’m searching for). I might find one or two promising books within a few pages of scrolling through my search terms, but even those aren’t fitting exactly what I want to read. I have to rely on the Freebooksy emails, Bookbub recommendations, or running into an author on social media by accident in order to even KNOW the author/book exists. Of all of that, I probably go on to buy about 5% of anything I come across. That’s a very low number of books. But it’s hard to find what I’m looking for. This makes it hard for authors to get noticed, especially new ones who haven’t had time to build a platform.

So, I think these are the major forces that will eventually drive out a lot of self-published authors.

I don’t think self-publishing will completely go away. With the internet being the way it is, it’s hard to imagine that people won’t be able to keep publishing their own books. The question, however, becomes whether or not the people can afford to publish their own books. I’ve mentioned this a couple of times in the past on this blog, but most authors are not financially independent. They need to earn money in order to make publishing books worth it. Authors have bills to pay, just like everyone else. If authors can’t make enough money from the sale of their books to pay their bills, they will have to find another job. It’s just the way it is. It’s not that they want to stop writing. It’s that they have to.

I see no reason why any author should be asked to write for free. On average, a book costs about $500-$1000 to produce (that factors in editing, covers, formatting). So they need to get back the cost on making the book, and after that, they can pay their bills. If they aren’t selling books, the math doesn’t work out. I guess one could argue the author can work a job outside the home and use that money to pay for producing a book, but it’s more likely that the author will need to spend that money on bills or save it. So I think the financial angle will weed out a lot of self-published authors, too. And, since publishers take on the cost of book production (getting the edits, covers, and formatting done), it will make traditional publishing more attractive to the average author.

Now, these are just my own thoughts on the topic. I don’t have a magic ball. But I believe we’re looking at the decline in self-publishing, and I believe this will lead to a rise in the traditional publishers.

About Ruth Ann Nordin

Ruth Ann Nordin mainly writes historical western romances and Regencies. From time to time, she branches out to other genres, but her first love is historical romance. She lives in Omaha, Nebraska with her husband and a couple of children. To find out more about her books, go to
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43 Responses to The Decline of Self-Publishing

  1. Sounds like I’ve become part of the new trend. My publisher’s new, after all (relatively speaking).

  2. I’m not sure if I agree or disagree with this. The ideal situation would be that the authors who aren’t serious about publishing will stop self-publishing, and that would give more visibility to those who are serious about it. That would cut down on the glut of books out there. But it’s not a perfect world, so the ideal situation doesn’t always happen. But sometimes it does.

    I almost never buy traditionally published books to read. (I usually save those for audio from my favorite authors.) And I do read a lot. Traditional publishers won’t even consider most of the books they are presented with, so I just don’t see self-publishing going away. Now if KU is no longer available, that could make a major difference. At the same time, if there was no KU, maybe the other retailers would have more people buying from them. There are so many factors involved here, it would be really hard to make a prediction. All I know to do is wait and see and try to be as optimistic as possible.

    • The problem is that people who don’t love to write are flooding the market with books because they want to make “easy” money. Scammers are making serious bank in KU right now. The bonuses alone are very profitable, and a good deal of legitimate authors who used to get those bonuses are pushed to the side. So when those people posing as authors aren’t making money anymore, they will leave the market.

      But there’s also another factor to take into consideration which I didn’t address in this post. KU has trained readers to expect free books. Readers who are worried about their pocketbooks are wisely choosing a bargain (unlimited books for the price of a few self-published titles a month). I get emails on a regular basis from readers who ask me when I’ll price another book at free because $0.99-$3.99 is “killing” their wallet. I do expect KU to fold in on itself within the next couple of years. What happens next is anyone’s guess.

      I can’t see authors making the kind of money they did during the “gold rush” period. Will they be able to make enough to live on? I have no way of knowing. Authors who have a huge following stand a much better chance of this than authors who are not big sellers. My income is continually dropping on Amazon, but it’s staying stable on the other retailers. My income on other retailers would not allow me a living as a writer. It was only Amazon’s income that did that. Now, if I was in KU or running ads all the time, I might be doing better, but my main goal is to set up a six-month emergency fund now that I’m finally out of debt. Getting myself on a good financial plan does make me optimistic about the future no matter what ends up happening with self-publishing. Relying on self-publishing to keep making me a living, however, does not. I can’t control what the market does. I can only control what I do. So I think any author who plans to stay in this business is wise to build up the foundation for financial security that does not rely on self-publishing income.

  3. Andrew says:

    Why being so pessimistic? The self-publishing market clearly gets oversaturated, but it doesn’t mean that it is declining. Using mainstream approaches is not so effective anymore. The same is actually true in digital marketing. Small companies have no chance of competing with giants when we talk about online adds.

    Authors just need to look for new distribution channels like Radish, Sweek, and Litnet before they get oversaturated too.

    • I’m not pessimistic. I’m a realist. I got into this back in 2009, and I saw the upswing in the market. In my gut, I could feel that self-publishing was going to take off. In my gut, I feel it’s in a state of decline. I don’t think the authors who were making a living at this (like I was–and still am) will be able to rely on self-publishing income to continue. This was true in the days of dime novels at the end of the 1800s. Those people making a living with dime novel income saw the day when it was no longer lucrative. Really, if you think about it, the idea that most authors can expect to make a living with their work has been more of a myth than a reality. Over the course of the 20th century, most authors had to have another form of income to support their writing. This idea that the average author was writing in a cabin while the money just poured in is not accurate.

      I expect self-publishing to continue. Even when traditional publishers were flourishing in the 20th century, there were authors who self-published. When I speak of decline, I speak of income dropping overall for the majority of self-published authors. Most self-published authors who were making a living with their writing income won’t be able to do so in the future. This will turn many authors from self-publishing. It can’t be helped. Already, self-published authors are talking about going back to day jobs and losing income.

      In order for a retailer to be a benefit to authors, readers need to be there, and in my experience, small channels don’t have many readers there. So what these retailers need to do is attract readers to their sites. Retailers shouldn’t rely on authors to do that for them, but it seems that a lot of them do. KU authors have often criticized retailers for not being much help in giving them visibility, and as much as I hate to admit it, they have a point. I’m not a KU fan. I’ve never been in it, but I can see why so many authors have signed up to be in it.

      As for traditional publishing, I don’t expect that to ever benefit the majority of authors. They haven’t in the past. The reason they’ll become attractive is because they take on the cost of producing a book. Overall, I expect authors to make less and less, regardless of the way they publish. So the real question then becomes, “How much is an author willing to give up financially in order to keep writing books?” Those who don’t want to give up income will stop writing. Those who will take an income hit will continue to write.

  4. “..Those authors who have the most money will get the most exposure, and exposure means sales. So the more you pay, the more you sell, which leads to the more you can play. ..” Yes, yes, and double yes. I think we’ll be back to self published authors being the “hobbyists” who aren’t investing a lot of money, and are very slow in getting books out, and those who are paying a lot to play. One good note of traditional publishing coming back up is that readers will have to get used to books being slow to come out again – most traditionally published authors don’t throw out one or two novels a month because there are too many people between them and the books that have to have their say so first. Once the speed of creation slows down, people will be able to pick up more of those back catalog books. Discover-ability will be the issue, of course, but it always is, LOL!

    • I’m overwhelmed by how fast self-published authors are expected to get books out these days. I don’t see how the current atmosphere of pumping out a book once a month or more can exist long term. I can see it if an author is going short stories, but we’re talking about novellas or novels. Such fast-paced production is unsustainable. Sooner or later, something has to give. I agree that a good side effect of publishers coming to the forefront again is that they would train readers to wait longer between books. That would actually be a relief.

      Self-publishing, as a whole, will go back to being a hobby. (I’m sure there will be a few who will keep making a living, but those will be the exception rather than the rule.) I don’t see how else this can play out. Some people believe that the average self-published author will keep making a living off their writing income, but I don’t see it. The trends are not heading in that direction.

  5. Tricia Drammeh says:

    Reblogged this on A Creative State of Mind and commented:
    Several good points are made in this article.

  6. Reblogged this on K. DeMers Dowdall and commented:
    Ruth Ann Nordin, writer and author, has written a very important post about publishing and self-publishing in today’s crazy book market. I believe she has made some very salient points of interest that may or may not effect authors and self-publishing. All-in-all, I do believe there will be a decline in self-publishing, because many one-time novelists just want to see if they can make lots of money and when they find out that it doesn’t happen overnight, if ever, they will stop writing because of cost of self-publishing, lost of interest, and low-self-esteem. This may be a good thing for serious writers or a bad thing. Thank you Ruth Ann for a comprehensive look at publishing, self-publishing, in today’s book market. and also about KU (Amazon Kindle Unlimited). I think for every Kindle there should be at least a paperback and at least 75,000 words to be considered a book. A novella can be much shorter, but 50 pages does not make a novella either. when readers of scammed by this, it turns them off of reading new authors, as well. Thank you, Ruth Ann for a great post about a subject the effects all authors whether self-published or traditionally published.

    • Thanks for sharing this post! I agree about the one-time novelists. I don’t think they were ever in it for the love of writing. It just feels like so many books, especially those in KU, are hollow. There’s a shadow of a story there, but it never really materializes. I think it’s because so many KU authors are rushing to get new books out. I don’t know how anyone can write and publish a book that is ready every two weeks. That seems to be the latest big thing in romance. I know these stories are short. I agree that a 50-page book isn’t really a “book”. I have read some good short stories, but most of the ones being put up in KU lack real substance. You can tell the author is just trying to keep the money rolling in. This speed of production has watered down a lot of stories that could have been way better. It’s unfortunate. My hope is that books with solid stories will manage to keep attracting readers.

      • Hi, Ruth Ann, Yes, those one book authors are soon to drop out. Yet, more of them will try, and then drop out. I do really like many of the short stories and a few would be great books. I think that good books will keep attracting readers, many readers do read the reviews, I do. There is one problem I have just began to notice. I was reading a book, actually a novella, (200 pages. I always look for the number of pages – 75,000 words makes a 300 page real-book designation). What I noticed, since I have read lots of mystery books, is this particular novella, appeared to be more of a paraphrased copy of a book I read a couple of years go. The paraphrasing was so obvious to me or perhaps I am wrong. It seems to me that mystery books would be easy to paraphrase and the quote “author” can call it an original work. It was shocking, but I won’t name it, because I could wrong. Another factor is that this author published 5 mystery novellas all at the same time, and that is very strange too. Have you encountered a paraphrased book or an author who publishes 3 to 5 books all at one time? Just a thought. Thank you for your great comment. Karen 🙂

        • Hi Karen, I haven’t personally come across that particular scenario, but I do see a huge red flag with it. I’ve heard about romance books being plagiarized, and I heard about book stuffing. I’m not surprised if what you’re talking about is also part of a scam. It certainly sounds like it is. I heard scammers were hitting multiple genres. This is making things harder for the innocent indie author. Like you, I think good books will keep attracting readers. 🙂

  7. cagedunn says:

    Reblogged this on Cage Dunn: Writer, Author, Teller-of-tall-tales and commented:
    What do you think? I tend to agree to the cyclic changes, but I’m looking at block-chain technology to ensure ‘ownership’ – in publishing … we have a long way to go, it seems

    • I need to study up on block-chain technology. I’ve heard the term before, but I’m not familiar with it.

      • cagedunn says:

        It has potential to ‘lock’ the product to the producer, and enable reselling of the product (with a % return to the producer for each sale along the line). Perhaps.

  8. annerallen says:

    I haven’t been brave enough to write a post like this, but I agree with every word. I’ve seen a big decline in indie publishing across the board. At least half the bestselling indies I once networked with have disappeared. The ones who remain are mostly marketing services to other indies, but their books no longer sell enough to make a living. Amazon’s “winner take all” KU bonuses create a 1% class that is more and more dominated by crooks. The future is probably breaking into foreign markets, but that’s hard work. Thanks for saying what a lot of us have been observing.

    I think another problem is that so many indies have been relying on email marketing and readers are fed up with the &*#@ newsletters. Everybody’s inbox is crammed with spam. Nobody cares about what a bunch of indie authors did on their summer vacation and they’re not going to buy your book.

    • I hesitated to write this post because I knew it wasn’t something a lot of authors wanted to hear. I’m fortunate enough to still make a living, but that income is getting smaller and smaller each year. I didn’t even have to pay any taxes for this year because my income dropped so much. I’ve heard of authors who quit their day jobs having to go back to work because the income is no longer there. I agree that KU’s bonuses have hurt the average author. At first, it didn’t seem that way, but once the scammers came in, it was over. It’s heartbreaking to watch innocent authors being punished for following the rules.

      I agree about the foreign markets. I’ve been keeping my eye on them. I’m hoping with Apple, Google Play, and Kobo’s foothold in foreign markets that things will help authors. From what I hear, they have a better international presence than Amazon. This is one reason why I’ve stayed wide this entire time. But yes, I do think it will take a lot of work.

      I stopped doing my email list because I couldn’t see the benefit of it. Readers are fed up with their inboxes getting full. Quite a few told me they changed email addresses just to stop getting those emails. I think the email list lost its usefulness a long time ago.

  9. Thank you for a very interesting post. Thankfully, I opted out of KU early on, but I had no idea about scamming back then. The feedback I get from other authors who have been self publishing books for more than 5 years is that is getting harder and harder to sell. I so hope that changes.

    • From what I heard, the scammers have been out in full force for the past couple of years. I don’t know when they started going into KU. They’ve probably been around for longer than I imagine. I’ve found it getting harder and harder to sell books, too. It’s not at all like it used to be. I don’t know if you were able to make decent money with up to 6 months between releases, but I did. Now I have to get a book out every month if I want to keep sales up. I can’t do that kind of production with 50,000 to 85,000 word books. The fastest I can do is every other month. And sadly, that doesn’t cut it. I’d like for that to change. It’s just too hard to run that hamster wheel of production.

  10. Reblogged this on grmhwapa and commented:
    For those who self-publish or plan to, Ruth Ann Nordin has brought to attention the changes in the market that may well deserve careful forethought.

  11. Reblogged on… a Horror writer’s APA group site…

  12. Danny says:

    A few days ago, I read a review of a book published by Simon & Schuster. It sounded interesting, so I tapped the link and was taken to the book’s Amazon page where my jaw proceeded to drop when I saw that the ebook was MORE than the print book ($11.99 vs. $11 US). How can I justify spending $12 for an ebook? I mean, I believe author should get paid, but how do traditional publishers justify a pricing model where the trade paperback costs less? Traditional publishing is quite hostile to readers like myself when it comes to pricing. Indie publishers are not.

    Speaking of authors getting paid, from my understanding, traditionally published authors make no money, either. I hear contracts are getting worse every year. So, I’m not clear as to why traditional publishing offers a better alternative to indie publishing. I’ve heard numbers traditionally published authors grouse about how their publisher expects them to do the marketing AND pay for it. So why is traditionally publishing a book better for an author? If it’s not, then I don’t see that indie publishing will go anywhere.

    I agree that discovery is an issue. As a reader I am vexed with the fact that there has never been more to read, yet I’ve never had a harder time finding something to read. That is an issue with innovation. There is a real market need for a process that will help me discover my next favorite book. I think that is a technological problem, and it has nothing to do with the author’s choice of publishing platform.

    Is indie publishing in decline? I read this post and think the opposite. Tons of competition? The attention of scammers? Visibility issues? To me it sounds like indie publishing has arrived and come into its own. It is here to stay.

    • Danny, one of the reasons it’s hard to find books on Amazon is that Amazon pretty much chooses what you see. I’ve searched my own books by the exact title, and a bunch of books with similar titles came up first. And most of those are in Kindle Unlimited, and it’s obvious Amazon gives them more exposure. There’s no reason a book shouldn’t come up when you search by exact title. That’s Amazon’s fault.

    • What kind of book was this? Fiction or nonfiction? Usually, nonfiction goes for more. Simon & Schuster is a large publisher. They are probably charging based on overhead. They have a staff and building to pay for. Indie authors don’t have that overhead.That’s why they can price lower and still make a nice profit. Smaller traditional publishers do offer competitive pricing with indies. Most small publishers I see ask $2.99-$3.99 for fiction. I’m not sure what the price is for nonfiction.

      At the moment, indies are still better off. I’m projecting out into the future. KU and now Kobo Plus (which has even worse terms than KU from what I heard) is in the process of destroying the profitability of indie publishing. Readers are being trained to expect free. I know they pay a subscription, but books feel free when they have unlimited books offered to them. What happens if other retailers fall in line and offer subscription services? What happens when the norm is subscription? What if readers think paying even $0.99 is too much? Indie books have trained readers to expect lower prices on books. Subscription services will train them to expect indie books for free. This, and the huge availability of books in the market, will contribute to the average indie making less and less money. This will make traditional publishing more attractive to authors who can no longer afford to pay for a cover artist, editor, or some other service that is required to produce a book that they don’t know how to do themselves.

      As for discoverability, I would love it if retailers made searching for books a lot easier. That would be great for authors and readers.

      I appreciate the discussion. Thanks for chiming in!

    • rrhersh says:

      “How can I justify spending $12 for an ebook?”
      Surely it depends on the ebook, and really, books in general regardless of format. There are books that are a steal at $12, and other books that I regret having paid 99 cents for.

      • I think the point Danny was making was that it doesn’t make sense for an ebook to cost more than the paperback. There’s no paper involved, no printing medium, etc. The physical costs associated with an ebook are less than a paperback.

        And I, personally, won’t spend $12.00 for an ebook. It would have to be amazing for me to do that, and I wouldn’t know if it was until I read it. If I’m going to spend that much, I’m going for an audiobook.

        • Some people find it easier to read off their ereaders than to read a paperback book. I’m thinking, specifically of people who find the print too small in paperbacks. You can adjust the font size on an ereader. In that case, I think they would buy the ebook, even if it was more than the paperback.

          I’m thinking that $12.99 ebooks would be nonfiction. I can’t imagine any fiction title being that much unless the author was wildly popular. I could be wrong. They might do that with a mid-list or new author. It’s been a long time since I compared prices between ebooks and paperbacks that trad publishers have produced. As a rule of thumb, I know that nonfiction can go for a higher price than fiction, and I don’t think readers would be that put off by spending $12.99 on a nonfiction that delivers what they’re looking for.

          Also, a large publisher might price an ebook higher in order to persuade people to buy the paperback. This might be because they ordered so many copies of print books. They wouldn’t want to sit on a ton of paperbacks that never sold. That would lose them money. An ebook, however, that requires none of the printing cost wouldn’t be a loss.

          I’m enjoying the comments! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  13. David Estes says:

    I will offer a contradictory opinion, although it might be a matter of genre–I’m not sure if your opinions/thoughts are specifically for the genre(s) in which you write. I primarily write Fantasy at this point, though my backlist is largely filled with SciFi. I started writing in 2010 and published my first book in 2011 after hearing the huge successes Amanda Hocking was having self-publishing. My books were not an instant success, but I worked hard at improving my craft and publishing savvy. For several years, I was making a modest living from writing and quit my day job. I saw a rapid decline in the sale of my backlist in 2016/2017, when I was transitioning to writing epic fantasy. I wrote without publishing for over a year and then rapid-released a very long 5-book epic fantasy series into KU. I priced book one at $3.99 and sequels at $5.99, because I’d heard that a number of successful Indie epic fantasy authors had done the opposite of what you’re describing, and conditioned their readers to pay more for higher quality fantasy novels of great length (800-1,000 pages). It worked like a charm. Sales built over the course of 18 months until I was making triple what I had in any previous year, all from this one series (Fatemarked, if you’re interested in looking it up). That’s where things went bananas. When the book was placed into Amazon’s Prime Reading program it had been ranked in the top 2k for over a year. Prime allowed it to soar to the top 250 and then into the top 100, eventually hitting #62. In 2018 I earned 10 times more than my best previous year. Not bragging, just showing what is still possible, at least in certain genres. KU readers in epic fantasy are voracious and willing to pay for high-quality novels, especially if they are long it seems (more for your money).

    In regards to advertising, I do agree that “pay to play” is an important factor, but I’ll point out that Fatemarked’s early success was primarily due to visibility gained through newsletter swaps. I did, however, take those early earnings and roll them into ads (AMS, FB and BB), establishing a monthly advertising budget of $500 to start, and increasing my budget as sales increased (it now stands at between $4,000 and $5,000 per month). I do believe this is crucial to longevity of sales, although I know of other examples of highly successful Indies who do little or no advertising as well.

    This is getting long, but I’ll offer one final thought. I’m in a group of approximately 30 fantasy authors. Of the 30, I’d estimate at least half are making six figures and 8-10 are making substantially more. All self-publishing. I’ll take those numbers any day of the week.

    • I appreciate the response.

      I’m in romance, and that genre is notorious for pricing low. Romance readers aren’t likely to pay the kind of money fantasy and sci-fi readers are. That’s been true for a long time. Self-publishing hasn’t changed that at all. Traditionally, fantasy and sci-fi are longer per book, and they are series where what happens in one book leads into the next. Even with romance series, each book is to be a standalone (or else it’s called a serial, which is not at all popular with romance readers). I have been making a six-figure income since 2014. I did that wide. I admit that is probably changing to a five-figure income this year based on how income has been dropping. (Taxes and expenses take off about half my income, so when you consider the net gain, the “six-figure income” I made wasn’t nearly as impressive as it originally sounds.) I, however, am not a top selling romance author. Most people won’t see me on any prominent lists. 🙂 But I can’t move a book at the price points you can. Anyway, I’m very much aware that it’s possible to reach a living wage with self-published writing. I think there will be a few authors who can continue to do so.

      Considering all the things you are doing right (and you are doing MANY things right), I’m not surprised by your success. I think it’s awesome. You’ve done the hard work to get to where you are, and you deserve your success.

      I did want to hit on the Prime Reading thing. Doesn’t Amazon pay Prime Reading authors differently than they do KU authors? I’m not really clear on the difference between Prime Reading and KU. I’ve just been told the Prime Reading authors get paid a set amount for having their books in that program. They are more guaranteed payment. Let me know if I’m wrong that. I’m 99% sure that not every KU author can get into Prime Reading. Doesn’t Amazon weed those authors out? The fact that you’re in the program says a lot about your skill as a writer, which also runs in line with why you’re so successful.

      You will probably be the indie author who makes it. I do believe some will continue very well in the future. They have built their brand, they have a strong following, they write excellent books, and they know how to effectively market. But the average indie author doesn’t have all of these things lined up for them. That’s why I’m saying that most authors will end up falling away from self-publishing. I, for one, can’t afford that kind of money into ads. My eyes nearly popped out of my head when I saw you mention $4000-$5000 a month. 🙂 That’s definitely out of my budget. I expect to be one of the authors who ends up having to fall away from self-publishing. That’s why I’m working on getting my financial house in order while I’m still making something.

      Sorry if this sounds disjointed. I had a kid buzzing around me while making this comment.

      • David says:

        Hi Ruth, thanks for your response to my comment and your kind words. That makes sense. So much these days is genre-driven. I consider myself fortunate that the fantasy genre allows me to price my books at what feels more fair for the work I put in. That said, selling books at any price point is hard!

        I agree with your comment about a “six figure income” not really being six figures once you take out expenses. All the information I provided that reference six figures is based on profits rather than gross royalties.

        Prime Reading is an invitation only program for specific authors/books selected by a team within Amazon. They make an offer to pay you X dollars for each book that they would like you to enroll in the program. Each book is in the program for approximately 90 days, in which Amazon Prime members can download them for free. The lump sum payment is generally quite small and insignificant ($500 to $1,000), so that is not the reason authors, like me, agree to the offer. The main benefits are visibility and sell-through to the sequels. The visibility comes from a potentially major boost in sales ranking due to all the “free” downloads from Amazon’s Prime members. That was a large driver of how Fatemarked hit #62 in the store and #1 in nine different categories. The visibility from that was huge and resulted in lots of additional paid sales or KU downloads that resulted in hundreds of thousands of page reads on a daily basis. The sell-through to the sequels was also substantial, as well as the boost to audiobook sales. All in all, it allowed me to gain KDP All Star bonuses for several months in a row. KU, on the other hand, you can choose to enroll in by being in KDP Select (exclusivity to Amazon), where KU subscribers can download your book for “free” because they pay $9.99 per month, and you get paid based on the number of “pages read” each month. With longer books like mine, these payouts are substantial. I get paid between $4 and $5 per full read of my fantasy books via KU. About two-thirds of my income is currently from KU. I hope that helps clarify things!

        In regards to advertising dollars, my approach was to take a portion of each month’s increase in profits and add to my ad budget. Like I said, I started with $500 a month. But when monthly profits increased from $5,000 to $10,000, I increased my budget by double, to $1,000. This increased budget led to increased profits. So it’s like walking up a staircase. Each step up gets you closer to the top. Generally, the more I spend the more I make so it makes sense to keep stepping up my budget over time. In any case, there are a number of different strategies that work, and many roads to the top. I know authors who spend very little in ad dollars and still do extremely well because of the strength of their organic following.

        Best, David Estes

        • Thanks for explaining the details of Prime Reading. I forgot about the All Star bonuses. That definitely adds a nice chunk of change to the profits. Your strategy makes sense. You started small and worked your way up, and better yet, you were using money you had. I worry when I hear of authors going into debt to pay for ads. Ads can be effective, but not all authors know how to make the most of them.

          My gut feeling is that the overall impact of ads will shrink just because of how many are out there. Now, you have other strategies you’re using, so you’ll probably weather what’s to come. There are some authors who are solely relying on ads as their marketing strategy. It’s never been wise to rely on only one method in book promotion, of course, because different strategies seem to fluctuate. I’ve been in this since 2009, and the stuff that worked back then isn’t working now. In self-publishing, things change so fast. That’s why having several strategies is best.

          My hope is keep being able to make enough to pay for the necessities. That’s why I’ve been focusing on getting out of debt which includes a paid off house (and I finally did that earlier this year) and building an emergency fund. I’d like to keep self-publishing years from now because I love full control of my work. I went into self-publishing because I didn’t want a publisher telling me what to do with my stories. So money I could have spent on ads went to that other stuff. My next strategy is to live on as little as possible. 🙂

          • David Estes says:

            No problem 🙂 Yeah, I am definitely a big believer of waiting until you have profits to spend rather than going into debt and hoping for a payoff at some point. You can spend A LOT very quick without seeing much benefit if you are not careful and do not do proper ad testing before ramping spend up. And I agree, it already seems like ads are becoming less effective over time, so it helps if you have a series in order to maximum the return on a single ad (versus a single book). In any case, nice chatting and best of luck with your plans/strategies! Happy writing!


  14. librepaley says:

    I didn’t know it was in decline, but agree on the hidden costs. I too cannot afford many ads, and only see real sales if I do advertise, have something free or new.

    • I can’t afford that many ads, either. I don’t know how long you’ve been doing this, but it wasn’t that long ago where indie authors didn’t have to run ads to get noticed. Now it’s getting harder to and harder to compete, and yes, ads are the best way to see serious movement. My Google Play income, for instance, is pathetic unless I have an ad running. That’s even with free series starters. It used to be that free was all it took to see sales. I’m not sure what will happen once ads are exhausted for most indies.

      The biggest debate that’s been weighing on my mind is whether I’ll be willing to still self-publish if I stop making enough to pay the bills. I currently get out 6-7 books a year. That takes significant time to do, and on top of that, I have to pay the cover artist and the editor. If I get into a situation where I am paying more into self-publishing than I’m making from it, it’s going to be difficult for me to rationalize still self-publishing. Yes, I love to write, but I also have bills to pay.

      What are your thoughts? Would you keep on self-publishing?

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