Can self-publishing your e-book make you a best-selling author?

Like Darcie Chan, if you could spend 50,000 rupees to promote digital versions of your book and end up selling 400,000 copies, then the answer would be a resounding ‘Yes’. Wall Street Journal published Darcie’s amazing success story that is sure to encourage a whole lot of aspiring authors in India and across the globe to try out what she did. Even a fraction of what she’s achieved would be a big deal for many first time authors. So what exactly did Darcie do to hit it big? Read on to see if this is something you’d be willing to try out.

Darcie, a 37-year-old lawyer, wrote a story (took her 2.5 years to complete it) about a rich widow who starts giving away her wealth to folks around her who don’t know her (and many who fear her). Like all first-time authors, Darcie tried approaching publishers and agents and ended up with over a hundred rejections. All of them felt it was a project with very little commercial potential. There was one agent who took up the challenge and failed. So the book idea got, er, shelved.

Five years later, Darcie read about digital publishing options on platforms like Amazon’s Kindle self-publishing program and Barnes and Noble. She tried her luck again at the publishing game, this time with completely re-written rules. She didn’t have to get the nod from publishers or agents. The only approval she needed was from her potential readers. So she reached out to them directly.

She got her booked reviewed (on respected sites like Indiereader.com, Kirkus Reviews). She advertised on sites (like goodreads.com) that attracted e-book readers and Kindle fans. All in all, she spent about $1000 on book promotion. Pricing the book played a key role too. Darcie initially priced the book at $2.99 and the sales started. When she dropped the book price to 99 cents, the sales exploded.

From a royalty angle, having a higher price tag on the e-book can be beneficial. For books that are under $2.99, Amazon pays a royalty of 35%. For higher priced e-books the royalty rate jumps to a whopping 70%. Either ways, these numbers are significantly higher that the royalty figures you can expect from your traditional book publisher.

So far she’s made about $130,000. That’s a cool 65 lakh rupees in additional income. Not too bad even if you are a lawyer.

But before you start getting over-optimistic, it’s also important to know the factors that may sway the odds against you.

– Darcie’s story is unusual. There are only a few like her who’ve been able to sell hundreds of thousands (very few in the million copies league) of digital copies through Kindle.

– Traditional publishers may not touch your book even if you have been able to achieve a cult-status, for the following reasons.

– – Many might feel that your book has run its course in the digital world and there’d be little scope to achieve the same level of success in the printed format.

– – When the price differential between the digital and the print versions is a factor of 15 to 20 times, it’s a big psychological hurdle to cross for many readers.

So the message for us here is – keep trying, but don’t leave that day job yet.

4 Comments

  1. Saibal Sen says:

    Most inspiring! Very informative with references to useful sites.

    It would be interesting to hear more on how self publishing authors are marketing their work.

    Thank you!

  2. Rajesh says:

    Dear Sameer,

    My twenty-year-old nephew, Varun Gupta, who lives in Fremont, California, recently wrote a book. His parents self-published the book and are currently trying hard to promote it. [promotional details edited out]. Varun’s mother wants me to market this book. Tell me, what is the best way to market this book? Can you help me in marketing this book? Please don’t disregard this message.

  3. Udhaya says:

    I have recently been hearing about many self publishing companies like NotionPress (www.notionpress.com) – Any feedback on them?

  4. Subir Sengupta says:

    Informative indeed. Let me ask about my poetry book published both in createspace (Print form) and kindle (Digital form) recently. The book name is Words of Conviction. I want to promote this book. What are the effective ways to do it?

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