Yes, author, you can self-publish your own book as an e-book or Print on Demand paper book and make money. Most self-publishing advice is geared toward e-books. The global e-book market is projected to reach more than $15 billion by 2016, according to Pricewaterhouse Coopers.
Approximately 315,000 e-books were published in 2013 in the United States alone, the majority "self-published" via platforms provided by Amazon (Amazon KDP), Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, and others.
Removing reported revenue from the legacy "Big Five" publishers, approximately $2.7 billion of the reported revenue in e-book sales in 2013 was earned by an estimated 285,000 "self-published" e-books. This is an average revenue of $94.73 per book. That figure is unsurprising and realistic. For every 50 Shades of Gray (which initially sold approximately 40,000 small-press/self-published copies), there are 1,000 to 2,000 similar books which sell only a small number of copies – typically to the author's friends and families.
And it is upon this mighty back of creative effort and the desire of hundreds of thousands of people which Amazon's structure is built. Amazon has built a system robust enough to handle at least twice the number of self-published titles as it currently offers. In addition to investing tens of millions in the development and launch of the Kindle e-book reader and functional tablet computer, and tens of additional millions in the Audible audio book platform and delivery system via mobile devices, computers and the Kindle/other tablets, the company has built warehouses and fulfillment centers in 14 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces – in North America alone. Amazon is the WalMart of books and other related creative products.
The company also produces Print on Demand paper physical books through its CreateSpace subsidiary, in which it has invested additional tens of millions. In this one area alone, it has a significant market competitor in the form of Lightning Source, a subsidiary of Ingram, the primary legacy book distributor and catalog in the English-speaking world (Canada, U.S., UK and Australia). Lightning Source offers the strength of its established traditional print distribution structure – distribution into physical bookstores is the strongest aspect of the traditional legacy publishing system.
All the millions of words written about self-publishing, all of the encouragements and stories of successful self-published authors such as 50 Shades of Gray author E.L. James and Wool author Hugh Howey, and more long-standing pioneers such as thriller and mystery author J.A. Konrath, and the fact that Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling is e-publishing directly through Amazon, including an omnibus Potter e-book retailing for $60.00, do not mean that the majority of even highly-talented and capable authors, can achieve this level of success through current self-publishing venues.
Of these mentioned, perhaps only J.A. Konrath has conducted actual market research, and has developed and refined a system for delivering books to his market audience via means understood by actual manufacturers and retailers. E.L. James and Hugh Howey both benefited from natural/organic marketing in the sense that their products were developed to meet the needs of established, defined, and significant existing communities of readers. In the case of E.L. James, the 50 Shades of Gray books were written as "fan fiction" telling an erotic/romantic story about Edward & Bella, the main characters in the popular Twilight series of books and films written by Stephenie Meyer. An estimated 500,000 readers worldwide have participated in a Twilight fan community at some level, and the 50 Shades books had tens of thousands of regular readers as "free" offerings via a Twilight fan community before the names were changed and the book was published by a small press.
Wool author Hugh Howey, having noticed some of the disadvantages of the legacy publisher structure and business model, has been vocal about the advantages of self-publishing, failing to note that he writes work that appeals to a segment of vocal early adopters of e-book technology (geeks, nerds, sci fi fans, computer programmers, etc.) and used the well-recognized "freemium" method to distribute and later sell his work to paying readers. Howey gave away the initial short version of the book, then released and sold the book as an e-book through Kindle Direct Publishing, achieving revenue of more than $100,000 a month, as reported to ABC News by Amazon President Jeff Bezos in 2012. Mr. Howey's report, primarily based on reported Amazon e-book sales and their divergence from paper/traditional book sales, is in website form.
A more instructive self-publishing success story is that of Lisa Genova, Harvard-educated neuroscientist and author of Still Alice, a now-conventionally published novel about a 50 year old woman's descent into Alzheimers.
Genova invested a significant amount of her own funds in publicity, marketing, professional editing, and book design and preparation services, and sold an estimated 20,000 books, primarily to the Alzheimer's community (family and friends of those with the disease) prior to going to book auction and signing a significant conventional publishing deal with Simon & Schuster. The book had already sold sufficient copies as a self-published title to reach the New York Times Bestseller list.
About her own work, Genova tells readers on the million-member Goodreads community, "I'm a Harvard-trained Neuroscientist, a Meisner-trained actress, and an entirely untrained writer!" She has now published three books, all related to brain function and diseases, all of which have achieved New York Times Bestseller status and won numerous awards and recognition. She told readers that she sold Still Alice out of the trunk of her car for a year before receiving the traditional publishing contract with Simon & Schuster.
Over the past decade, a huge number of companies and individual professionals has sprung up to "serve" the self-publishing community, from second-generation self-publishers (the heirs to the vanity publishing industry of the mid-20th century) like iUniverse/Authorhouse (with which Still Alice was initially published) to independent editors, book designers, cover artists, formatters, publicists, "marketers" who pay people to do Facebook and Twitter posts, fake book reviews, and others. The current rush toward self-publishing benefits Amazon, as it is the current market leader in e-book publishing, and will reap rewards whether a self-published title sells ten, or ten thousand, or a hundred thousand or more copies. Despite talk about "discoverability" and methods to sell greater number of titles: here are the facts. Amazon doesn't care. With a million products flooding in, it's certain some will sell in significant numbers and generate revenue.
It is authors like Lisa Genova that comprise a portion of the market profile for the author-partner market segment for Chameleon Publishing. Rather than expend significant amounts of their own funds to re-learn and re-invent the entire publishing industry from the ground up in the hope of achieving a wider audience, and signing unfavorable contracts with legacy publishers, Chameleon will provide the necessary elements of the publishing business that authors should not have to reinvent, re-learn or hire themselves. Yes, Still Alice was in the established market and interest segment of family members of those affected by Alzheimers Disease, and Lisa Genova had a partnership with the Alzheimers Association.
There remains the market segment of "good book." Good writing. Good experience for the reader. This is what we are talking about. And about marketing and development of excellent creative work. Yes, authors, you may do it all yourself, and for some -- this is right. For others, working as part of a team will be right. And as an individual author, all you may do is offer your book for sale via the online methods. E-books comprised 12% of the total trade book market in 4th Quarter 2013 and are not anticipated to exceed 30% of the total market for the next decade. Surprisingly, mass-market paperbacks made a recovery in 4th quarter 2013 as well - likely due to the efforts of Harlequin to regain market share and sales channels prior to their sale to HarperCollins, concluded just this past week.
There is also the cultural and work quality aspect to consider, and marketing, which does not exist in either the legacy/traditional publishing or self-publishing spaces. If, in addition to writing your work, you must also pay to have a cover designed, pay for book design, pay for developmental and copy editing services, and also pay to create your own "branding" platform -- these costs must be taken into consideration. And please consider this: every single self-publishing success so far has been in an established, known market niche, with the best-case scenario being that of an author like Lisa Genova, whose professional background and human knowledge created a book with tremendous meaning and value for those impacted by Alzheimers Disease.
Here are some books not in an established, known market niche prior to their publication (other than "great"): Gone With the Wind, Lord of the Rings, Dune, Tom Sawyer, On the Road.