So much of the blogosphere focuses on one or two (highly exceptional) stories to hype self-publishing model, or equally unhelpfully tell us that the average self-published title (i.e., by illiterate, unedited newbies) sells fewer than 20 copies, that it is very difficult to get a handle on actual potential for writers.
On the other hand, I have to say I'm a little shocked. If Arthur Slade can only bring in five grand a year from e-books, where the hell does that leave the writers who haven't won a GG and don't already have 15 titles in print? Yikes.
Of course, we all hope that our particular title will go viral, or can figure out that $5,000 a year might work out okay if that figure grows or remains steady for several more years to come. The typical advance for a new SF author from a major publisher is between $3500 to $6000, so $5000 from self-publishing still compares -- except that the big print publishers throw in editing and cover art and book design and perhaps some marketing for free, so at least half of that theoretical $5000 payout is likely going to cover self-publisher's costs. But bottom line is, are you in the same league as Arthur Slade?*
Mind you, at least one of the authors I've edited for has told me s/he is making more than a $1200 per month off ebooks. So it can be a good revenue stream.
My take on it is that self-publishing works best for (a) established writers continuing to bring out new print books with the majors, but who have reissued their out of print backlist as ebooks (which would otherwise not be earning anything, and which have already gone through extensive editing etc.); and (b) new or experienced authors writing for a niche market too small to attract the major publishers, but sufficiently large and untapped to provide steady modest income to those servicing that market through small specialty presses or self-publishing. In both cases, when a satisfied customer finishes with one title, they may go on to buy an ebook by the same author.
[Update 18/02/2012: *Arthur Slade commented:
- Robert, I honestly attribute very little of my sales to my own fanbase. Most of my sales are in the US and UK and they don't know me very well there. It's more whether you have the right book for the bigger audiences. My YA books (other than DUST) don't cross over that much into the adult market, which are the majority of kindle owners. I wish I had a serial killer mystery in my back pocket, or a romance. Or a brilliant fantasy. I think my numbers would be much higher if I did.
Of course, Slade has a point! Most Kindle users are adults, so children's books won't have the same market base. But that may be changing rapidly. I know I download books to read my 8-yr old on my Kobo, and my older daughter (13) has her own Kobo. As all her peers seem to be upgrading to smartphones and/or tablet computers, those that read will more likely read on Kindles et al. Already my students are asking for their texts in e-format...rather than lugging heavy texts around with them all the time. And the provincial government is talking about switching from texts to e-materials in next couple of years. So...give it a minute....]