Yes, self-published books can sell very well. But in order to manage your expectations, we need to consider a few things and add some context.
- The type of book will determine the consumer demand.
- The author’s platform and reach.
- Marketing ability of the author, and their support system.
All these things will give us a better understanding of how well we can expect a book to sell.
Type of book
There are three main types of self-published book:
- Self-published fiction
- Self-published non-fiction
- Self-published Low-content
Fiction is exactly that. They are fictional stories which could be a stand-alone novel or episodes in a book series.
Works of fiction can take years to write and perfect, especially if they are part of a series.
I appreciate that this example is of a traditionally published author, but let’s take a look at George R.R Martin and A Song of Ice and Fire.
He began writing Game of Thrones in 1991 but released it in 1996.
Originally planned as a trilogy, the series has evolved into an unmanageable monster. And thanks to George’s writing habits, his audience have been left waiting for a suitable ending to the saga for twenty-six years.
That being said, there are some authors who can churn out a good book every three to four months.
Just look at Mark Dawson for an excellent example of a successful self-published author. He sells more self-published books than a lot of traditionally published authors.
Mark has created several book series as well as a few stand-alone novellas; often working on multiple books at any given time.
However, despite being what I would call ‘stretched thin’, he produces excellent books that see me pre-ordering whenever I get a whiff of a release date.
It took me eight months to complete the first draft of August-Lost. But by the time all the editing was done, the real timeline was around thirteen months from first word to published book.
Non-fiction books include guides, information or ‘how to’ books, biographies, etc. If the topic is of interest to a large demographic, it will sell very well. This can also be said for books written on emerging trends.
Again, these books require a fair amount of time to be researched, written, edited, and produced.
Research takes time, especially if it’s a complex topic or a biography. After all, the author could get into trouble if they get it wrong.
However, the big difference compared to fiction is that a non-fiction author isn’t trying to invent a compelling story. They are simply stating facts (or at least, they should be).
Don’t get me wrong, it can still be a difficult job.
The layout and delivery of the material must be considered to best convey the message, and this would include working with a range of proof readers to ensure accuracy.
Self-published Low content
Low-content are books that have very little between the pages.
They include colouring books, academic exercises (maths or writing practice), crosswords, sudoku, or diaries.
It’s normally up to the “reader” to complete fill in the blanks either by colouring it in, or writing in it.
This type of work is championed by the “get rich quick” people on the internet. A quick search on YouTube will show many of them explaining how much money they make. And some of them are quite open about the fact that they are cheating the system.
They will make a simple template, and upload to Amazon. Then, they will tweak the content and upload the book as a different product. Eventually, they have a range of books on Amazon.
Often, these ‘authors’ will also target under-used niche categories to earn the orange “Best Seller” tag. Doing this forces the Amazon algorithm to recommend their book to more people.
For example: A book will clearly be a crossword book for bored office workers, and the main category is “Crossword puzzles.” However, the seller will also include book categories like “visually impaired children’s self-help,” or “self-motivation and diets,” or in several cases I’ve seen lately, “YA Fantasy.”
These sellers know the main category is a competitive area, so they cheat. In doing so, they become a “Best Seller,” in the secondary categories and push real books out of the rankings.
And sadly, this nets them more sales at the expense of good quality books.
Author’s platform and reach
An author’s platform and reach are what some might call half of the battle, and this is where we can add more context to the article’s question.
A prominent platform will help you sell more books, without doubt.
If your platform is small, say 500 Twitter followers, then your reach will only be a percentage of that 500. Why only a percentage? Because your Tweets or Posts about your book will fall away as new content is posted.
Therefore, not many people will know to look for your book.
As a new self-published author, you are unlikely to have a large fanbase awaiting the release of your debut novel. So, you are probably going to have to start at the same place as the rest of us.
A place where the tumbleweed tumbles, and the birds sing no more. It’s pretty quiet and frustrating, but it should be expected.
However, if an author has a few thousand Twitter followers, a healthy GoodReads profile (with reviews), and several books to their name, they will likely have fans placing pre-orders for their upcoming books.
Cultivating this kind of platform takes time to build for obvious reasons. But it directly impacts sales figures, and is where self-publishing really works well for the author.
An author’s platform is key to helping you sell more books.
Marketing skills of the author
Who is going to sell your self-published book for you?
It’s your book and your story, and the person who will benefit is you. Therefore, it is up to you to market it. This goes hand-in-hand with building your platform.
If you’re a quiet character who doesn’t like to blow your own trumpet, you might struggle with marketing your work. And this will make it difficult to get sales. After all, selling a book is not a passive activity.
If no one knows it’s there, they will never come to buy it.
You have to champion your book in the right places. Get on social media and become part of the #writingcommunity and engage with potential readers.
You could also reach out to book reviewers and book bloggers. And another great way to get your book out there is to do podcast interviews within the reading community.
But if you struggle with this kind of interaction, you will see it reflected in your sales figures.
An author who has marketing nailed down will always sell their books. This is because they make noise. And it isn’t always about the book.
They will take part in blog spots, reply to readers, or answer questions on social media. They also write articles for websites, and some even offer writing or self-publishing courses for those who want to get into this game.
And when you add all these things together, you get a well-known, popular, and trusted writer with impressive sales figures and extensive fanbase.
It should go without saying, marketing a book is the key to improving your book sales.
Author support system
Traditionally published authors are supported by an agent. That agent will work with a representative of a publishing house. And that representative is in contact with editors, proof readers, formatters, book designers, and marketing experts, etc.
This is a perfect recipe that allows the author to turn their attention to the next book, or begin a marketing campaign – increasing their ability to sell more.
That is great for the Trad author. But what about the self-published author?
Well, instead of a team of other people working towards your goal, it all sits with you.
You are your own support system, and will be for a long time.
When you write your first novel, you’ll research and engage personally with your editors. You’ll do the formatting and hire book designers. And you will market the book by yourself.
This means that publishing and marketing a novel will take up an extraordinary amount of your time. Time that you could be spending on your next book.
But alas, your support system is still a solo operation.
However, after you publish your first novel, you are in a much better position to write a second book.
You won’t be spending time on researching editors or proof readers and the like. You’ll already have those people identified and ready to go. And this can save you weeks.
Also, you won’t be learning the basics of formatting the MS or publishing an ebook because you’ll already know how to do these things from your first book.
All this extra time can now be spent on writing or marketing. And the more books you publish, the more efficient you become.
Eventually, you’ll earn enough to pay someone to manage certain elements for you which will free up some time for you to focus on writing or marketing. Just like the Trad authors.
To answer the title question: Yes, self-published books do sell. But it all comes down to the type of book, the author’s platform and marketing ability, and an author’s support system.
But it should be noted that a self-published book from an unknown author will struggle to get any traction in the beginning.
However, working on your next book whilst marketing your debut will give you a better platform and increase your reach.
This will eventually increase sales and give you the freedom to hire people to do the time-consuming tasks – freeing you up to write more.
Self-publishing is not a get rich quick scheme.
It takes years to build a reputation and a solid fanbase. And the only way to do that is by delivering good quality books, and getting your work in front of an audience.
Do this properly, and you will see how well self-published books sell.