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With All the Hype, Is Self-Publishing Really for You? Five Questions to Ask Yourself

01/17/2011 01:39 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The dust is settling on 2010 self-publishing industry and the results seem promising. But are they promising for you?

You may have read some of the more compelling industry data published about e-books recently.

• The sale of e-book readers continues to grow. Gartner, a leading information technology analyst firm, predicts that the global sale of electronic e-book readers will have reached up to 6.6 million units by the end of 2010. This will represent a 79.3% rise from 2009 sales figures of 3.6 million units worldwide. Further, if this rate continues, the global e-book reader sales is expected to reach 11 million in 2011.

• The sale of e-books surged after the Christmas sale of e-readers. According to Publisher's Weekly, this holiday season, Simon & Schuster reported a 150% increase in e-book sales over last year, Random House reported a 300% surge, and Kensington saw a 400% jump over 2009. For the first time, USA Today's Best-Selling Books top-50 list had more than two titles in which the e-version outsold print. Of the top 50, 19 had higher e-book than print sales. Is the surge sustainable? According to Kelly Gallagher of the publishing research firm Bowker,

Sales could flatten this year but still could be twice as high as they were in 2010. (E-books sales account for about 9% of the market.)

• Libraries saw a 200 percent increase in e-book checkouts. At the American Library Association Midwinter Conference (January 6, 2011), it was announced that libraries and schools worldwide were at the forefront of the e-book boom in 2010. More than one million new users signed on to access free e-books at 'Virtual Branch' websites, resulting in a 200 percent increase in e-book checkouts.

• Some self-published authors are generating thousands of book sales a month. According to the Kindle forum, there is an increasing membership in the 1000 sales/month club. (The average book sells 200 or less in its lifetime.) It's important to note that analysis of the data shows that 67% of authors in the club have three or more titles available. Four genres-romance, paranormal, thriller, mystery-- occupy 50% of the sales. For detailed information, read Derek Canyon's blog.

In his blog, Joe Konrath said of 1000 sales/month club member L.J. Sellers:

L.J. is a perfect example of all the things I'm constantly harping about:
1. Good books.
2. Good covers.
3. Good book descriptions.
4. Low prices

Of course the critical fifth dimension is L.J.'s marketing efforts as explained in her guest spot on Konrath's blog:

... I rerouted my promotional efforts toward e-book readers. I quit sending marketing material to bookstores and instead joined several Kindle forums, where I participated in discussions. I got more active on Goodreads and did five back-to-back book giveaways just for the exposure. I wrote a dozen guest blogs and sent them all over the Internet.

In a recent blog post at Writers Beware, Victoria Strauss, advised writers to look at the hype in context. Among her comments on high-selling, self-published authors:

Many of these authors have multiple books on offer (i.e., they may be selling 250 copies each of four books, not 1,000 copies of one book), and/or are pricing them well below what larger publishers charge (which makes them extra-attractive to ebook enthusiasts, many of whom are very hostile toward trade publishers' ebook pricing strategies). And even if, as Konrath claims, the list is only a small sampling of high-selling Kindle self-publishers, these success stories have to be considered in the context of the thousands of self-pubbed authors whose ebooks aren't selling in large quantities.

So, with all the hype, is self-publishing really for you?

Let's look at what it takes to write, publish, and sell your book successfully: advanced planning, time, resources, more resources, and tireless patience. Below are five questions to consider.

Are you willing to commit to the:

...advanced planning and research? Realize a book is a commercial product. Are your goals realistic? Who will buy your book? How will you reach your potential readers? Who is your competition? How will your book be better or different? What are your realistic ROI expectations?Do your homework in advance and you will save a great deal of time, effort, and stress.

...time to write a high quality content? That means knowing your audience, supplementing "what you know" with appropriate research, and knowing how to tell a good story (for fiction and nonfiction). It also means carving out the time to do the actual writing or working with a ghostwriter.

...resources to produce a quality book? At a minimum expect to pay professionals to proofread your book, design an attention-grabbing cover, and format the interior pages. You want a timeless book you'll be proud of forever.

...resources to create your platform? Must-haves include a website/blog, Facebook and Twitter presence, Youtube channel, and other social media sites appropriate for your book.

....practice of tirelessly and patiently promoting your book and building your readership? You can pay thousands of dollars to have self-publishing companies market your book, with no guarantees. The bottom-line, you must spend YOUR time and energy communicating with your readers-consistently and creatively. Marketing can seem daunting until you learn the efficient methods for promoting your book. Realize that building a fan base likely will take a year or more.

Before getting carried away by all the hype about self-publishing and e-books--and quitting your day job--take stock and determine if you are you willing to make the five major commitments for writing, publishing, and selling your book successfully.