Self-publishing is very much the flavour of the month, but the whole industry is awash with rumour and speculation, with very few hard facts. This book attempts to fill the gap a little, if not with hard facts, then at least with a few statistics. In February 2012, the authors sent questionnaires to 1,007 self-publishing authors and this rather slim volume is the result: an assessment of what works and what doesn't for authors publishing and marketing their own books.
Of course, a certain amount of caution is in order. The respondents were self-selected, for one thing, although it's hard to know how else to choose - randomly pulling names from Amazon, perhaps. But it's possible that these particular authors were willing to participate because they were more successful, or simply more vocal or more committed to self-publishing.
For new authors looking to this survey for reassurance, it's not easy to find. Successful authors were more likely to be women, more likely to have a degree, had been writing for longer, wrote more per day, had more books for sale. None of these are things an individual can do much about. Romance was the most successful genre, but again, a committed fantasy writer is hardly likely to switch. But looking at the figures more closely shows just how misleading statistics can be. Almost half of romance writers in the survey had previously had a traditional publishing contract; in other words, they were professional writers with an established fan-base who simply switched to self-publishing to make more money (and perhaps to have more control over their writing).
In the detail of the report is quite a lot of meat about what might actually help to sell self-published books. Getting professional help with editing, proof-reading and cover art, for one thing, and also the fairly obvious one - get plenty of reviews (although paid reviews are not effective). Getting the word out, whether by blog or Twitter or via email, is also important. There are some useful ideas here, and although there's nothing wildly original, it's good to see some numbers rather than speculation or anecdote.
This is a very short book but for serious self-publishers it's a must read. There's a mass of useful information, and although some of it is discouraging (half the respondents earned less than $500 in the previous year), there are plenty of helpful tips, and the underlying message is simple: keep writing, be professional, build your fan base and you can earn money from your books. I would have liked more graphs and charts, and more raw data instead of analysis, and perhaps a lower price for such a modest volume. However, for those squinting at the graphs on a Kindle, they are all available in an easier-to-read format on the authors' website. Three stars.