The Year of the Selfie

TO SELF OR NOT TO SELF-PUBLISH, that is the question:

Whether ‘tis Nobler in the mind to suffer

The Slings and Arrows of Traditional Publishing,

Or to take Arms against a Sea of Unknowns,

And by Self-Publishing rise above:  to dream to earn;

To Create more.

To self-publish, perchance to dream.

It is fitting that the Oxford English Dictionary chose “Selfie” as the word of the year for 2013.  Just as the number of Selfies posted online has grown exponentially, so too has the number of self-published authors.   Therefore, I’d like to propose another definition of Selfie — one who self-publishes — and pay tribute to this brave soul.

Self-publishing is not for the meek.   The Selfie is held accountable for everything – content, cover design, formatting, typesetting, marketing.   Although there is certainly less stigma to self-publishing than there used to be, Selfies still fight a host of preconceived notions.  One is that they couldn’t break into the world of traditional publishing, and rushed to publish poor quality work.   Another common misperception is that Selfies are the nouveau riche, cutting out the middleman, raking in the royalties, outearning traditionally published authors.  We’ve all heard and been inspired by Selfies who top the Bestseller lists and rake in beaucoup bucks, so do these outstanding Selfies accurately represent the self-published population?  Who are these people who choose to self-publish?  What are their priorities?  How productive are they?  How much do they actually earn?

I found some interesting answers in Dana Beth Weinberg’s three-part series on self-publishing.  Weinberg co-authored the 2014 Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest Author Survey.  As the responses to 2014 Survey pour in, Weinberg revisits the results from Survey 2013.   While the self-reported data do not represent a scientific sample, her findings shed some light on who our Selfie is, and what he, or she hopes to accomplish.

In part one, Weinberg identifies four types of authors (aspiring authors, traditionally published authors, self-published authors, and hybrid authors, who are both traditionally and self-published) and their priorities in getting published.   The top priority reported by all four types across the board was to build their careers as writers.  After that, the priorities quickly diverged.  It seems traditionally published and hybrid authors are more focused than others on earning income.  Different priorities, different paths, different levels of success.

When it comes to productivity, all four types of authors have written unpublished completed manuscripts.  Selfies lag behind the others when it comes to total number of manuscripts published and produced, but they also appear to have a higher rate of publication with fewer unpublished manuscripts.  Hybrid authors appear to be the most productive and most prolific.

Self-published authors in the survey sample earned a median income in the range of $1 to $4,999, while traditionally published authors had a median writing income of $5,000 to $9,999, and hybrid authors earned a median income of $15,000 to $19,999.

So if you can’t quit your day job quite yet, what can you do to increase income?  Interestingly enough, a separate study reports two thirds of top earners in self-publishing are women.  Top earners also spend more time writing than marketing, and often pay for crucial services like editing and cover design.  Top earners also have four times more reviews.

Of course, all this could change in 2014 as we gather more data, and probably will.  Change is inevitable, and it is the year of the Selfie.

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