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E-books have changed the publication game, making it easier than ever for authors to write and publish books themselves. Many writers find it empowering—and lucrative—to go the self-publishing route and get their work out there without having to work with a traditional publisher. But self-publishing is challenging: building a career as an independent author demands entrepreneurial acumen and social media smarts.

But more and more authors are finding that the benefits of self-publishing outweigh the drawbacks. Going the traditional publishing route can be a time-consuming process. You need to secure an agent and get the attention of a publisher. You need to pit yourself against all of the other writers who are trying to find their way out of the slush pile. And then, once you’ve got a publishing deal, will you have the freedom that you want over your creative work?

Given the difficulty of getting a traditional publishing deal, the flexibility and freedom of self-publishing are a draw to more and more writers.

E-books: A format with rapidly growing popularity

It’s hard to find reliable statistics on how much income self-published writers earn from e-book sales. That’s because—as Author Earnings has found—many self-published books don’t have an International Standard Book Number, or ISBN. ISBNs are unique identification numbers that allow you to find books, and track book sales and circulation statistics. In some countries, government agencies issues ISBNs to authors and publishers for free, but in the United States, they’re issued for a fee by a private company. Many independent e-book authors don’t obtain ISBNs for their books—and that means that their books aren’t counted by some organizations that compile statistics on book sales.

But despite the difficulty of compiling these statistics Author Earnings has found that e-book sales by independent authors constitute a substantial—and growing—part of the book-selling market. They’ve found that today authors who self-publish e-books or use Amazon’s publishing platforms are selling as many or more books than all of the traditional publishers put together. This is a surprising statistic to many publishing industry observers because for a long time, nobody was keeping track of how many ISBN-free e-books were being sold.

So how many books are self-published authors selling?

Author Earnings crunched the numbers for October 2015, and this is what they found:

  • 33% of books sold in the US were from the five biggest commercial publishers.
  • 19% were from small- or medium-sized commercial publishers
  • The other 48%? They were published by indie-published authors, by authors self-publishing using Amazon’s imprints, or published through other means.

What does this tell us? Almost half of all books sold in the United States are not published through traditional publishers. And with a Kindle, iPad, or tablet in nearly every household, more and more people are turning to e-books for their book purchases.

E-books are selling—but are authors making money?

It seems that nearly every day there is a story in the news about an author who has turned e-book sales into a veritable goldmine. NPR interviewed Michael Bunker, whose Pennsylvania Omnibus is an Amazon best-seller. After the book became an Amazon hit, an agent approached Bunker and offered him a $5,000 advance and a publishing deal—but Bunker had made $5,000 on his own in a single day. Another author, London-based mystery writer Mark Dawson, brings in $450,000 dollars a year selling his books on Amazon.

These tales of enormous success and financial gain are outliers; most self-publishing writers aren’t bringing in nearly half a million dollars. However, many writers are making a good living through self-publishing. Paul Jarvis, author of Everything I Know, sells about 700 digital downloads of his books per month on Amazon, bringing in about $2,870.

Being a self-published author means being an entrepreneur

Making a living as a self-published author isn’t as easy as just uploading your book to Amazon and hoping for the best. You’ve got to be ready to hustle. If you hope to bring in enough money to make a living as a writer, you need to devote as much energy to promoting your book as you do to writing your book. You’ve got to be an entrepreneur.

That’s how Mark Dawson brings in those outstanding sales.

For Dawson, it started with a gamble. He had a self-published book that hadn’t seen many sales. So he decided to try something risky: giving away his book for free, as a promotional tool. One weekend later, 50,000 readers had downloaded his book. And that gave him the push he needed to start thinking of book writing as a business. He sees his readers as his market, and he’s always writing so that he has a new product in the pipeline for them. His fanbase is loyal, which means they write great reviews that bring him more readers. Dawson also invests in his books: he spends $370 a day on Facebook advertising, and he says that he sees double that amount as a return on his investment.

3 audience-building tips for writer-entrepreneurs

If the idea of promoting your book seems daunting and you don’t know where to start, never fear: many of the tools that you can use to promote your book are easily accessible and easy-to-use, even for e-commerce novices.

1. Take advantage of Amazon’s Author Central

Amazon enables authors to set up a page with a biography, photo, reviews, and a direct feed from your blog. Since Amazon accounts for the majority of book sales, having a presence there is absolutely key. Writer Pamela Hutchins urges authors to make sure their Amazon author pages are just right. “The value of your book must be clear; your author creds must be solid and interesting,” she says. “And don’t forget: emotion begets action. Create a book page that plays on emotion.”

Your author page is where you introduce readers not only to your books, but to your brand. Show them that you’re worth their attention.

2. Use Goodreads to build your fanbase

You should absolutely sign up for the Goodreads Author Program. Goodreads offers you a platform for engaging directly with the people who you want buying and reading your book. It’s another way for you to promote your personal brand, and to build a loyal community of fans.

Those fans are key: they’re the people who will leave reviews of your books on Amazon, and those reviews will bring you new readers. And as Hutchins points out, reviews are everything when it comes to building an audience and selling your book. So having a presence on sites like Goodreads isn’t optional: it’s crucial if you want to foster a loyal community that will grow.

3. Use pricing to your advantage

Knowing how to price your book is more complicated than it seems. You just pick a price that you think is fair and that’s it, right?

Not so fast.

As Hutchens points out, it’s important to be flexible—and observant—when you set your prices. Many writers will adjust their prices in response to sales, or will lower their prices for short promotional campaigns. Some successful e-book authors give away their books for free for a limited period of time so that they can start growing their audience.

Whether you go the self-publishing route or pursue a traditional publishing deal, we can help you achieve your book-writing goals. Contact us today to find out more about our comprehensive ghostwriting and editing services.