Self-publishing in Today’s World: Is it Worth it?

Self-publishing in today's world

Writing a story is one of the most empowering ways of self-discovery and expression, one that possesses the ability to impact other lives. However, for the longest time, a handful of coveted publishing houses decided the fate of these stories and whether they would ever see the light of the day, ultimately making publishing the prerogative of a chosen few. Then came the glorious self-publishing movement, shining a spotlight on the individual writer. But self-publishing didn’t just appear out of thin air in the early 2000s. From the time Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1456, people have been self-publishing books, and it’s only by the mid-1500s that traditional publishing companies started cropping up. Some authors continued to self-publish successfully, and some of the biggest selling books of that era, like Thomas Paine’s book Common Sense and Jane Austen’s Sense & Sensibility, were self-published. 

But over time, the traditional publishing model became the norm, with authors working through agents to get their books produced by publishing companies. Self-publishing, while still happening, wasn’t mainstream. The logistics of producing and distributing a book were complicated, and over time became more so, and big publishing houses had the required infrastructure to support this evolution. But this also meant that many authors wrote books that weren’t getting published. Either it was too small a niche for the publishers to see any commercial value in it, or it didn’t even make it to the press because the author gave up before he or she could find a publisher who would take it on. 

This persisted for a few decades until the late 90s, when the advent of technology caused a complete paradigm shift. In a matter of just 35 years, the publishing landscape has witnessed numerous trends right from Desktop Publishing (DTP) to Print-On-Demand technology – still being used – to the large scale adoption of e-books and the massive expansion of digital publishing channels and online retailers. Collectively, these changes democratised the system altogether, made information more accessible to people worldwide, and led to the formation of many smaller publishing channels and platforms created for all writers, not just the top brass. This digital revolution saw the publishing power swing back towards the individual writer and storyteller, who no longer needed to rely on mainstream publishers to get published. All of these had one clear indication: self-publishing was back and was here to stay this time! 

So, what does self-publishing mean today and is it an option that serious authors should consider?

The answer to the latter, of course, is a big yes! And we’ll address both those questions by walking you through some self-publishing success stories, what self-publishing looks like today, why it works and how to make it work for you. Keep reading!

I. Five examples of authors making it big by self-publishing

Like we mentioned earlier, what we’ve seen in the last few years is merely another wave of self-publishing, but not the first one. Right from Benjamin Franklin and Virginia Woolf, several writers have become best-selling authors after self-publishing their books. Here are some success stories from more recent times that prove that self-publishing can work wonders if done right!

  1. E L James, author of Fifty Shades of Grey: She had started writing the series as fan fiction in response to the Twilight saga, after which she self-published the book in 2011. The series has sold over 100 million copies worldwide, and it holds the record for fastest-selling paperback today.
  2. Rupi Kaur, the poet who wrote Milk and Honey:  After being told by numerous traditional publishers that there was no audience for poetry, this Canadian-Indian poet went on to self-publish and sell 10 million copies of her collection. 
  3. Christopher Paolini, author of Eragon:  He initially self-published his first book Eragon as a mere teenager under his parent’s small publishing company. He then spent one year touring to promote the book before he was discovered by Carl Hiaasen, who had the book republished by Alfred A. Knopf. The book sold over one million copies in the first five months, and the series has now sold over 33.5 million copies worldwide.
  4. Andy Weir, author of The Martian: After conducting research and becoming fully aware of the market, Andy Weir gave up on his dream of publishing his book traditionally. Rather than attempt to shop the book around to traditional publishers, he instead decided to post chapters of the novel on a blog page. Much to his surprise, the chapters gained a fanbase, and people started asking him to publish it as an ebook. He did just that, and the book almost immediately became a #1 bestseller. Weir then caught the attention of traditional publishers and went on to sign dual multi-million dollar book and movie deals with Crown Publishing and Twentieth Century Fox!
  5. Amish Tripathi, author of The Immortals of Meluha: After being rejected by book publishers more than twenty times, Amish Tripathi decided to self-publish his first book, The Immortals of Meluha, as a work of mythological fiction. He actively took part in the publishing processes, including the marketing aspects and succeeded. Today, Amish’s Shiva trilogy is considered one of India’s most successful series.

Many people worry about readers or other authors not taking them or their work seriously upon hearing “self-published” mentioned. On the contrary, success stories like these prove that self-authorship reflects credibility and recognition for your work and is a testament to your grit and ownership ability!

II. Key benefits of self-publishing

Having read so many instances of writers attempting an unconventional path and seeing immense success through it might make you wonder what made them believe in self-publishing and drew them to it in the first place. 

Self-publishing has always been an independent and creatively liberating way of putting the written word out there. It comes with complete control over the creative aspects of the process, essentially the elements of the story and the book itself. Self-publishing authors don’t need to worry about the gatekeepers and publishers who will invariably have all kinds of opinions on the content, book cover, and even the title of your book.

For those looking for an autonomous way of doing what they love and making money off of it, here are some top benefits of going the self-publishing way:

  1. Higher royalty rate: Self-publishing works on the simple logic that you should enjoy the spoils of your efforts! You could earn up to 70% of the royalty on the net receipts of your book sales once it has been published and have a passive income with future book sales as well.
  2. More creative and financial control: The highlight of self-publishing, and a huge benefit, second only to the unprecedented royalties! All the creative and monetary decisions come from the author, and you get the final say in what you wish to spend on or what you wish to include in your story.
  3. Assured publishing, done in less time: Self-publishing guarantees publishing and enables you to do it fast. You don’t need to worry about facing countless rejections or waiting for years before your book gets published. 
  4. Wide distribution: You can make physical and digital copies of your book available across platforms and tap into well-known as well as nascent markets. 
  5. Copyright ownership: You don’t need to transfer the rights of your book to a publishing house. You will have complete ownership of the copyright.
  6. The learning curve: The most significant advantage with self-publishing is the chance to learn, grow and become better at writing and selling your books. Since you would do most of the work or be involved every step of the way, you continually hone your writing, marketing, audience engagement, or people skills. 

Now let’s look at the form that self-publishing has taken in the present day and how it’s only going to keep getting bigger and better!

III. Self-publishing in 2021

While self-publishing has been on the rise for the past few years, there was a sharp surge in the number of new writers, bloggers and entrepreneurs surfacing when the COVID-19 pandemic crippled the world in 2020 and forced millions of people to stay indoors. On the one hand, the world had a new problem to deal with, and on the other, it had new talent being found and new businesses being formed. For many, months of remaining outside their usual work setting came as a moment of realisation that led them to pursue their passion as full-time ventures. Content creators started churning out all kinds of material, especially short and long videos, centred around keeping one another educated, entertained and most importantly, connected. As reported by The Hindu, YouTube India saw a 600% rise in the daily views of videos with #withme in the title (cook with me, study with me) compared to their average views earlier. Even live streaming content became a norm, and channels like Instagram helped creators by turning live sessions into IGTV videos that could be promoted and monetised later.

In the world of literature, new writers finally found the time, courage and the right avenues to self-publish their work. Existing authors found an outlet in their art and were further encouraged to create more and varied forms of content. And where there was a supply of stories from different corners of the world, there was more than enough demand too! Avid readers started consuming more content in digitised formats such as e-books and audiobooks, and casual readers or non-readers became regular ones. The global reading and writing community was spurred into action, thanks to new virtual alternatives to their everyday activities, made possible by technology. 

But there is a difference between independent creators producing other forms of digital content and writers self-publishing books. Platforms that support visual content or videos already provide plenty of opportunities for content makers to monetise their skills. YouTube pays creators per 1000 views of their uploaded content and helps individuals and collectives earn through ads, product placements and channel subscriber counts. Many channels like TVF(The Viral Fever) saw their popularity grow tremendously because of YouTube and could even move their content to OTT platforms as a result. Similarly, Patreon helps podcasters, musicians and artists (including ones who create webcomics) generate revenue by allowing them to set up monthly, subscription-style payment tiers and earn through patron-only paid content. A more recent channel called Clubhouse, an audio-based social media network still in its beta phase, pays creators for brand partnerships and sponsored chat rooms and has been developing a monetisation model that would offer grants to its creators. Even bloggers and short-form content writers can earn an income through platforms like Medium. The trouble begins when it comes to publishing full-fledged novels and books. There is almost no platform or channel that helps authors monetise their work. 

That’s where Pencil comes in, with a singular goal to empower the one-person writing army and help them make the most of their talent, financially and otherwise. 

Read further to know how we help writers emerge victorious in their self-authorship journey.

IV. How Pencil can make self-publishing work for you

Pencil prides itself on being the world’s first incubated & accelerated publishing module. This essentially means that it enhances the growth of existing authors while supporting new ones and lending a hand for them to grow into accomplished writers. 

Pencil’s service is built around helping writers become independent in both the creative and financial sense. The platform facilitates this by allowing authors to write, publish and distribute different long and short-form content entirely free of charge, unlike others that permit posting short-format material like blogs and short stories for free but charge writers for publishing complete novels. In some cases, even if you are able to publish your book for free, it comes with challenges like low royalty, limited distribution, or hidden clauses. 

Pencil is the first free publishing platform that aids Omni-Distribution, i.e. your paperback book is available on all major retailers like Amazon, Flipkart, Barnes & Noble, and several more. Also, your eBook is made available on Amazon Kindle, Google Play Books, Apple Books, and Kobo, to name a few. With the help of our expanded distribution network, e-book and paperback formats of your books are made available to 400+retailers across 16 regions, including slightly more challenging ones like China and North America.

In terms of payments and royalty, Pencil offers incredibly rewarding rates and possibly the highest in the industry too! For every copy that a reader buys on the Pencil reader app, you will receive 70% of the net receipts  as royalty. For every other platform, your royalty would be 50% of the net receipts. Authors can also estimate their royalty using the nifty price calculator feature included on the platform itself. 

While Pencil provides great monetary returns, it further enables authors to understand how to commercialise their work better by hosting a series of webinars. This includes a complimentary marketing webinar under the Pencil Masterclass series on How to Sell and Market your Book Worldwide, available for free to all writers published with Pencil. This series is updated with new webinars regularly to help writers write more, and write better. Additionally, Pencil includes several blogs on topics related to writing and publishing and frequently conducts contests on social media. 

To boost the quality and professional appeal of the self-published books, Pencil allows writers to avail optional paid assistance from expert editors and designers to make sure their books meet market expectations and make an excellent first impression on potential readers. Whether you’re publishing by yourself, with the support of a platform like Pencil, or via traditional publishers, the ultimate goal is to create a high-quality book that your audience would find worthwhile. 

For a detailed understanding of all the benefits of publishing with Pencil, you can have a look at this.

With that, we’ve looked at the evolution of self-publishing, where it stands today, examples of self-publishing authors who made it big and how you can do it too! We want to leave you with a verdict on the question that this blog meant to address. Self-publishing is undoubtedly worth pursuing in today’s world. With the Internet increasingly becoming the creator’s playground, there hasn’t been a better time to tell your story and make sure the world knows about it!

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