This post, by Hugh Howey, originally appeared on Salon.
Books have changed forever, and that’s good. Writers will find readers and make more money going it alone, like me.
Contrary to recent reports, I am not the story of self-publishing.
The story of self-publishing is Jan Strnad, a 62-year-old educator hoping to retire in four years. To do so is going to require supplemental income, which he is currently earning from his self-published novels. In 2012, Jan made $11,406.31 from his work. That’s more than double what he made from the same book in the six months it was available from Kensington, a major publisher. He has since released a second work and now makes around $2,000 a month, even though you’ve never heard of him.
Rachel Schurig has sold 100,000 e-books and made six figures last year. She is the story of self-publishing. Rick Gualtieri cleared over $25,000 in 2012 from his writing. He says it’s like getting a Christmas bonus every month. Amanda Brice is an intellectual property attorney for the federal government. In her spare time, she writes teen mysteries and adult romantic comedies. She averages $750 a month with her work.
Like Schurig, Robert J. Crane is quickly moving from midlist to A-list. When Robert shared his earnings with me late last year, his monthly income had gone from $110.29 in June to $13,000+ in November. He was making more in a month than many debut authors are likely to receive as an advance from a major publisher. And he still owned his rights. His earnings have only gone up since.
Right now you are probably thinking that these anecdotes of self-publishing success are the result of my having cherry-picked the winners. In fact, these stories appear in this exact order in my private message inbox over at Kindle Boards. The only sampling bias is that these writers responded to a thread I started titled: “The Self Published Authors I Want to Hear From.” I wanted to know how many forum members were making $100 to $500 a month. My suspicion was that it was more than any of us realized. Every response I received started with a variation of: “I’m actually making a lot more than that.”
My fascination with this story began back when major media outlets like Entertainment Weekly and Wired magazine called to interview me. Perhaps the transition from near-minimum-wage bookseller to New York Times bestseller was too surreal for me to embrace, but my reaction to these entreaties was that I couldn’t possibly be the real story. For every outlier like myself or Bella Andre or Amanda Hocking, there must be hundreds of people doing well enough with their writing to pay a few bills. The more time I spent online in various writing forums, the more this hunch hardened into a real theory. People I interacted with every day were appearing on bestseller lists or emailing me for advice on handling calls from agents. The hundreds appeared to be thousands. And this could only be a fraction of the actual number.