Can independent book authors still be successful?

So, lately, I’ve been seriously considering writing a novel, but one thing that keeps blocking me from starting is whether can it realistically still be successful in this day and age. From what I can see, less and less people are reading books for entertainment/storytelling, and I am not sure whether my effort would actually be worth it. I did write a self-published children’s story book back when I was 12, but we didn’t make much money off of it, mostly selling it just to friends and relatives. That’s why I haven’t really wrote anything since, even though I clearly do have somewhat of a talent for writing and storytelling.

So, if anyone here happens to know, can an independent books still be successful today? If so, how do you market them in order to be successful? Is there still enough of an audience for this kinds of stuff?

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I’m gonna be honest, I don’t know a whole lot about publishing books. However, I myself am writing a novel, even though I doubt I’ll ever publish it or attempt to make money off of it. Also, I did at one point do some research on publishing and self-publishing, and I remember that a lot of self publishers publish them digitally, which has the potential to be turned into an audiobook. As far as books go, audiobooks tend to be more popular (from what I’ve heard anyway. Most people don’t have time to sit and ready a book, but a lot of people can listen to an audiobook while they’re up and about). Idk if this helps at all, but I’m my opinion, it’s worth it to write a story, even if it doesn’t get published.

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Books are still entirely profitable, the idea that they’re not is just a myth. However, independent publishing isn’t viable for new authors; you need to sign on with a publisher. The advice my professors gave me is, read a bunch of books that are similar to what you want to write to figure out what publishers will take your material.

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I’m not sure if independent authors were ever “successful,” though I suppose that depends on your definition of independent and successful. Personally, I’d more recommend going through official channels, finding an agent, etc. This blog I thought gave solid steps you can follow, though I’ll fully admit I’ve not undertaken any of it myself, as I’ve not written anything worth publishing yet. My professors also gave me similar advice that Kek’s did, that being to read as much as you can (the newer the better) so you can get the gist of where the literary field (particularly in your genre) is at.

That said, if you don’t want to go through the struggle of finding an agent and all that, then I do recall that you can self-publish via Amazon/Kindle, though I’ve never looked into that process myself, so I don’t know what it’s like to do that.

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Regarding finding a publisher, I really have to ask, how much creative control do they give you? Assuming they have to do all the work of marketing and publishing it, I assume they expect to have a say in the contents of the book itself. So how much freedom do you usually get if you work with a publisher?

I think it depends on the individual publisher and your editor’s trust in you. If your text is competently-written and you make a good impression, and if you work with your editor more and more, you’ll earn more trust to do what you want; but I think, especially in the novel industry, letting authors write their own book is absolutely crucial. Publishers can interfere in a big way sometimes–the author of Mortal Engines got so much pressure from his publisher because his high-concept idea sounded too much like a YA novel for their tastes even though he wanted it to be for adults–but I don’t think this is usually as intrusive as what Hollywood does, for instance.

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Well, I can tell there are other people here vastly more qualified than I to give you advice on what you should do.

But I can tell you what you shouldn’t do, at least as long as you’re looking to make money from writing.

I wrote and illustrated my own graphic novel. Not the same as an actual written novel, I know, but I did go through the rigmarole of self-publishing. There’s plenty of options, but if you go that route, funding is a big issue. The service I used to produce my book (which anyone can still buy since it’s print-on-demand, which is nice) charged me about 40 USD per copy. I was able to buy about 15 of them for myself at a small discount, but I wasn’t keen on charging people $45+ for a book, so I literally don’t make any profit from them.

Now, there’s some caveats to that since a graphic novel has a lot more expensive requirements than a written one, but that’s how that worked for me. Amazon does print-on-demand self-publishing as well, but they have different requirements and from what I’ve heard it can also get pretty expensive.

So not to say it can’t be done, because I know plenty of people have self-published their books and made some money from it, but the initial investment and push to sell your book all has to come from you. And on the worst-case scenario side of things, you buy hundreds of copies of your book to sell that no one buys and you have dead stock.

So if you’re dead serious about writing and want to make money off of it, and keep doing it, then I concur with everyone else in trying to find a publisher.


On a more general side of things, though, I’d personally be more concerned with the actual writing part first than publishers and money making. A children’s book under your belt is pretty awesome, but a novel is a whole other beast.

If at this point you’re just “considering” it, you need to change that status to “I am doing it, currently.” Getting serious about it is the only way it actually gets done and pans out.

As for having higher chances of actually finding a publisher, it also helps to have plenty other experience. You’re jumping the shark from children’s book to novel. If you can, it always helps to try and get published in smaller formats: short stories, articles, essays, the like. Not only does it help you improve in the craft, it also builds your credibility and portfolio. If publishers see you’re a prolific writer and that you’ve published a number of stuff before, they’re more likely to take you on.

@T4k4nuv4 also made great points about digital publishing. A very large portion of the book market makes sales through Kindle and other eReaders. I know quite a few people asked me if my graphic novel had a digital version. It’s easy and convenient for people, and you don’t have to worry as much about distribution and covers and print sizes and all that jazz.


As a final point, I want to offer some alternative measures of success.

My graphic novel didn’t sell. Sure, like a handful of people bought it that weren’t friends and family, but it was at-cost and I saw none of that money. I actually lost money buying copies to give to other people who helped me make it.

Despite that, I count it as one of my greatest successes. It was something I had always dreamed of doing, but never really felt I could ever do. It kicked my butt while making it, I learned a ton while doing it about writing, art, storytelling, printing, publishing.

It also completely destroyed my sleep schedule from then on and I haven’t gone to bed at a good time since.

I made no money, I have no publishing deals, and no sequels are in the works. None of the things you’d conventionally ascribe to success. But for me, as cliché as it sounds, the creative journey was worth every second of it. And maybe one day it will lead me to something I can pay the bills with.

So ask yourself what you really want out of this project. I’ve seen plenty of aspiring authors pedaling their books at fairs as hard as they can and not seeing interest coming their way. I feel for them every single time, but every time I do hope that what they made was worth it for them.

I do wish you luck in this, and I wish for every measure of success to come its way!

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