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Valerie Biel Says, Guess What, Authors?

Valerie Biel is the author of the Circle of Nine series. You can find out more about her on her website at www.valeriebiel.com, or by clicking here, read her last post here, and buy her books here.

Guess What? Readers don’t care HOW you publish your book, as long as it is a GOOD book!

Back before the Kindle era began in late 2007, publishing was a pretty linear endeavor. You could seek out traditional publishing, which meant everything from small and medium presses to large traditional publishing houses OR you could pay a vanity press for the privilege of ending up with cases of your books stashed in your garage, often for exorbitant fees.

Throughout the 80s & 90s there were a variety of systems that came (and mostly went) to aid authors in bypassing the gatekeepers at traditional publishers (aka legacy publishers – if I’m being snarky), but the real change that made independent publishing (aka self-publishing) accessible and reasonably priced was Amazon’s arrival on the scene with the print-on-demand Create Space eStore (founded in 2000/acquired by Amazon in 2005) and the Kindle publishing system for ebooks. These modules were accessible and easy to use and bypassed the usurious fees of the vanity press, allowing authors to pretty much go straight to readers with their offerings albeit mostly via the Amazon store. Not only did Amazon revolutionize reading-on-the-go, but it also put authors solidly in the driver’s seat.

And readers benefited by having access to even more books that would not otherwise have made it through the seemingly impossible challenge of the traditional publishing curation gauntlet – er – process.

And guess what?

Readers (mostly) do not care how you publish your book. They just care if it is a GOOD book.

And there’s the crux of the issue.  .  . A GOOD BOOK!!

(And it must be said that some of these indie books probably shouldn’t have been published without a whole heck of lot more of editing or better covers and so on. But that criticism aside, I would say authors and readers have benefited overall.)

Since the industry opened up, an increasing number of books have been published independently every year. January 2023 stats from https://wordsrated.com/self-published-book-sales-statistics/ are really interesting*:

  • 30-34% of all ebooks sold are self-published.
  • 300 million self-published books are sold each year.
  • The number of self-published books has increased by 264% in the last five years.
  • $1.25 billion worth of self-published books is sold each year.
  • Amazon pays $520 million in royalties to self-published authors each year.
  • 67% of top-rated, self-published books are written by women, compared to just 39% of traditionally published books. (Now isn’t that an interesting statistic.)
  • Of authors who have published their first book in the last 10 years:
    • 1,200 traditionally published authors have earned $25,000+ a year.
    • 1,600 self-published authors have earned $25,000+ a year.

Wow! Those earnings stat comparisons are powerful.

I think it’s interesting to look back on how far we’ve come since the industry was bemoaning its pending downfall when the Kindle was introduced and indie publishing took off. “Digital books will kill the publishing industry” was the mantra of the day. And even though traditional publishers were slow to embrace the digital revolution, embrace it they did in order to stay competitive.

Today, as a reader I enjoy most books on an ereader (tradition and indie alike) . I have the Kindle, Nook, and iBook apps on my tablet and use them interchangeably, depending on where I’ve purchased the book. I have a Kindle Unlimited subscription that allows me to read books enrolled in that program for a flat fee each month, too. (As I read late at night, it is better for marital contentment to use an ereader than a physical book requiring a bedside light!)

As authors we are lucky to have so many publishing paths open to us, and as readers we are also lucky to have such a vast selection of books to choose from. Independent publishing has allowed for an author-centric market shift on the production side and reader-centric on the consumer side.  And so far, the traditional publishing industry has adapted and survived.

So, I’m curious . . .

Do you notice if a book is independently or traditional published and does it impact your decision to buy the book?

What is your preferred book retailer?

Do you use an ereader regularly? What’s your favorite platform? (Nook / Kindle / Kobo / iBooks etc.)

*Note: I did not independently verify these statistics.

Valerie Biel

Valerie Biel is the author of the award-winning Circle of Nine series (stories inspired by Celtic mythology and the stone circles of Ireland). Learn more about her on her website valeriebiel.com, or follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

This Post Has 32 Comments

  1. GP Gottlieb
    GP Gottlieb

    This is such valuable information for writers, and I’m glad about all the opportunities, but as a reader who longs for beautiful writing, substantive plots, and well-defined characters, I sometimes long for those old gatekeepers!

    1. Valerie Biel
      Valerie Biel

      You’re definitely not alone . . . we’ve all slogged through books that should have had professional help! When I teach indie publishing how-to courses, I always, always start with — write the best book you can! And hire professionals to help you do what you can’t do or what you don’t do well!

  2. Avatar
    Avanti Centrae

    Thanks for sharing these stats. As a reader, it is essential to me that a book be well-crafted and professionally edited. I agree that indy-published works can meet those criteria and I’m glad for the increased variety in the marketplace.

    1. Valerie Biel
      Valerie Biel

      Right!! There shouldn’t be any shortcuts on the quality of the work no matter which way you decide to publish! Sometimes I get frustrated when I see poorly done indie pub books, because it taints the readers experience and can impact their willingness to take a risk on another indie book.

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    saralynrichard

    Interesting look at how industry changes have affected authors and readers. Personally, I don’t care how a book is published. I just enjoy good books. And I still prefer holding a physical book in my hands, except when I’m on vacation. I like to support bookstores when I can, but I’ll buy a book online from whatever retailer is most convenient at the time of purchase. I like to give books as gifts and atttend author events/signings, because I want to help the book industry thrive.

    1. Valerie Biel
      Valerie Biel

      I was really interested in these stats (obviously LOL) — the last 15 years have seen so many changes. I love reading a ‘real’ physical book, but I realize I’ve been on my ereader too much when I start tapping the side of the paper page and wondering why it won’t turn for me. 🙂

  4. Laurie Buchanan
    Laurie Buchanan

    Valerie —The stats you provided floored me. Primarily that 67% of top-rated, self-published books are written by women. Back in the day, women used male pen names because it was difficult for women to get published. We’ve come a long way, Baby!

    I always have three books going at once: a physical book (that I tuck into the closest Little Free Library when I finish), an audiobook, and an ebook. I love each platform—but audiobooks the most because I can “read” them while walking, cleaning, grocery shopping, etc.

    1. Valerie Biel
      Valerie Biel

      I often have more than one book going at a time, too. I realized that my audiobook listening skills are better suited to nonfiction — because I often listen when I drive and fiction gets me too engrossed and I miss my exits. 🙂

  5. Avatar
    Margaret Mizushima

    As a reader, I always want a well edited book with an action filled plot that has very few errors in it. If I can get that, I don’t care if it’s self or traditionally published. I admire writers who have the skillset to indy publish and I also admire hybrid authors. It takes a lot of work to keep releasing books both ways each year. I just completed a self pubbed book that had a dynamic plot but many proofreading errors and definitely a lot of amateur writing mistakes that a good editor would have caught. (This book was NOT written by a Blackbird Writer by the way.) It left me with mixed feelings, because the book had a lot of potential. If only the author had sought help from a professional editor and an eagle eyed friend who could help proofread! GREAT article, Val! Thank you!

    1. Joy Ann Ribar
      Joy Ann Ribar

      This is chock full of excellent information. I appreciate the article since we’re working our way to complete autonomy with my books. Only because I’m an author do I check out the publisher of everything I read, but it doesn’t cloud my judgment unless it is poorly crafted. I say, never accept limitations (within reason).

      1. Valerie Biel
        Valerie Biel

        Within reason, indeed!! But, yes, I think we’re really lucky to be living in an era when we can chart our own course with publishing.

  6. Sheila Lowe
    Sheila Lowe

    I use the Kindle app on my iPad mini for most of my ebook reading. I do look at the publisher when buying a book, but just out of curiosity. I look at the first page and know within a few seconds whether the author is someone I want to spend time with. There are many trad books that should not have been published, and many worthy indy ones.

    1. Valerie Biel
      Valerie Biel

      So true — I’m sometimes appalled at what has made it through the traditional publishing gatekeepers, possibly/probably nudging out other far more worthy books.

  7. Valerie Biel
    Valerie Biel

    Isn’t that disappointing, when we read a book that would otherwise be good, but the dang typos mess up our enjoyment of it!!?? I think of all that hard work to get the book in the hands of a reader and then to miss that crucial step is disheartening.

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    Ann Dallman

    Thank you! I love keeping up with the industry and this type of column really helps with that. Valerie, you’re the best!

    1. Valerie Biel
      Valerie Biel

      You’re welcome, Ann. There’s always a lot to keep up with!

  9. Sherrill Joseph
    Sherrill Joseph

    Valerie, if your name hadn’t been on this post, I would have known you wrote it. You’re so interested in and proficient with stats! Thanks for sharing those eye-opening figures. Some of the most poorly written and sloppily edited books I’ve read were traditionally published. In fact, one reason I write and self publish now was because ten years ago, my students challenged me to write a better book than the traditionally published one we were reading in a book club! And as I used to tell my students during Writers’ Workshop, “If you put your name on your work and send it out into the world (aka turn it in to me!), make sure it’s the best it can be. It represents you!”

  10. Valerie Biel
    Valerie Biel

    The best advice!! I love working with kids on writing, and they are very astute at knowing what’s not great storytelling. It’s fun to get their take on the books they love and why they love them as much as the ones they dislike (and why).

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    Ellen Mansoor Collier

    I’m a former magazine writer and editor, and I sell my Jazz Age mystery series in various retail outlets–they’ve been sold in a museum, casino, hotels and restaurants–and no one cares that they are indie novels. The best part is these retailers pay in advance. I’ve found bookstores are the most difficult to convince (and the slowest to pay) though my sales there are also good.Now I seek out those unique outlets which showcase and display my books, so I don’t have to compete with the thousands of authors lining bookstore shelves. Whatever works!

    1. Valerie Biel
      Valerie Biel

      That’s awesome placement!! I have heard museum gift shops being great places if you have the kind of book that fits. What fun that casinos, hotels and restaurants have worked well, too. I do surprisingly well with my series at Irish themed events/festivals and shops. (Well, I’m not surprised anymore — but I was the first time — and it was lucky I’d packed extra books in the car.) It pays to think out of the box when it comes to retailers! I’ve even had good luck at farmers’ markets that allow non-food vendors.

      1. Avatar
        Ellen Mansoor Collier

        How fun! Takes a lot of legwork and they don’t always reorder unless you stay in contact. The casino was a real breakthrough since most don’t want you to read–they want you to gamble!

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    Jacqueline Vick

    That is encouraging news. I never notice if a book is an indie or trad publisher. I buy them because they sound like good reads! My usual is Amazon because it’s easy, but I’ve bought from B&N and author’s websites as well.

    1. Valerie Biel
      Valerie Biel

      I’m not fussy about where I buy books either. I like to buy from bookstores, but I live in the middle of nowhere, so Amazon’s convenience is hard to beat!

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    clpauwels

    Sadly, I’ve been burned too many times with poorly written/edited self-pubs, so yes, I *always* check. The only time I’ll buy a self-pub is if I know the author, or it comes highly recommended by someone I *do* know – *not* based on the totally unhelpful online review/ranking systems.

    1. Valerie Biel
      Valerie Biel

      I think there’s a tipping point for reviews/ratings being reliable when there are more of them. Not sure what that point is . . . whenever you’re beyond the ‘friendly’ reviewers you often get at the beginning of your publishing journey probably. But I think personal recommendations are where most of us find our next reads for sure!!

  14. Avatar

    That’s an amazing statistic about self-pubbed vs. traditionally published. Would love to see the breakdown of fiction vs non-fiction and by genre. Maybe those stats are out there somewhere? Thanks for a great article!

    1. Valerie Biel
      Valerie Biel

      Hi Peggy — Here’s what I found on non-fiction vs fiction:
      From 788 million copies of print books sold in 2022, over 404 million were fiction books, and 360 million were nonfiction books.
      Over 52.9% of all print book sales in the US in 2022 were in the fiction category.
      Fiction books generated over $10 billion in trade revenue in 2021, accounting for 53.4% of all trade book revenue in the US.
      Nonfiction books generated $7.34 billion in 2021.
      This article also gives the breakdown by genre: https://wordsrated.com/book-sales-statistics/
      Very interesting stats!

  15. tracey64p
    tracey64p

    Thanks for this fab info, Val! I love to hear that the industry is changing and that people don’t care if it’s Traditional or indie. I read both physical books (I love the feel of turning pages) and on my kindle-aka phone. Since my cell phone is always with me, I can read anywhere. I tend to alternate between paper and digital, but I don’t have the attention span to read multiple books at one time unless it’s non a fiction book that I’m really taking my time on. Thanks so much for sharing!

    1. Valerie Biel
      Valerie Biel

      I can’t read overly similar books at the same time. I haven’t read much nonfiction lately but I have so many nonfiction audiobooks waiting in my library. Time for a road trip! (Or for me — also blueberry picking season — as I play audiobooks while picking berries — it might be a two book crop this year!)

  16. Sharon Lynn Bolman
    Sharon Lynn Bolman

    Annoying stat about traditionally publish women. Jeez!
    To answer your questions, I don’t notice indie vs traditional until I see a lot of typos and then I check. I use Kindle, but my favorite format is audio. The Circle of Nine books, for example, has an AMAZING reader!

    1. Valerie Biel
      Valerie Biel

      Thank you — I agree that my narrator was/is fabulous . . . she worked so hard to get all of those accents right. Unfortunately, I don’t think she can do my third book and I’m so very sad about that. I’m not sure if I can ever find someone that talented with Irish accents again. 🙁

  17. Avatar
    Peg Brantley

    As an indie author, I hire pros for everything a traditional publisher would provide. Until I became interested in writing professionally I never paid attention to who the publisher was. I suppose I’d heard of Harlequin (because who hadn’t?) but that would be the beginning and end of my knowledge. Now I look more out of curiousity than anything. Kindle/Paper/Audio are where I usually have something going daily. Great post, Valerie!n (And really?!? 67% vs 39%? Makes me kinda proud.)

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