Is There Survivor Bias in Analyzing Publishing Success in Today’s Print-On-Demand World?

I belong to an Indie Publishing Group on Goodreads. A frequent topic of discussion focuses on the benefits/challenges of having one’s work published using a traditional publisher versus publishing independently .

A traditional publisher, in this sense, is a company who essentially buys your work, usually paying the author an advance and a royalty on each book sold). The publisher then controls and funds the finalization of the book and manages placement of the book (and e-book) for purchase. Below is a comment by a colleague and group contributor on the relative merits of traditional versus independent publishing.

There was a time, not so very long ago, when the number of living published authors totaled hundreds of thousands. Today, anyone with access to a personal computer and the internet can become a published author; so the exclusive club of hundreds of thousands now numbers in the millions. A highly competitive field became ridiculously competitive.

Literary agents and traditional publishers are literally swamped with queries from aspiring authors. Most are discarded immediately. Only a bare fraction are given serious consideration. The market is saturated to the point that there are almost as many published authors as there are avid readers.

The vast majority of self-published authors will never land a contract with a traditional publisher or become commercially successful. That said; some do. The important thing is to accept the facts and face reality.

The complete comment and the thread associated with it can be found at this Link.

The analysis is probably correct in the facts or trends that it presents, but I think it misses an important point. I have lived through the transition from offset printed books to print-on-demand books and wide acceptance of e-books.

In the days “not so long ago” when “the number of living published authors totaled hundreds of thousands” there were many aspiring authors who worked on manuscripts (perhaps for years), sent them in for acceptance to acquisition editors only to find their manuscripts rejected. Since the gatekeepers completely controlled who became an author and who didn’t, these unsuccessful individuals never became official authors and never were able to get their books to the people who matter most, that is their readers.

In summary I contend that the writers who now are termed independent authors, have always been there, but because there was no avenue for them to take control of their publishing, they languished in obscurity, and through no fault of their own were never considered authors because they never published a book. They do not show up in the publishing statistics of their era (this is what I mean by survivor bias–you have to publish a book to be considered a successful (or unsuccessful author). Writing and not being able to publish doesn’t count in the older statistics even though they could be considered as authors who sold zero books).

Quoting once again:

Literary agents and traditional publishers are literally swamped with queries from aspiring authors. Most are discarded immediately. Only a bare fraction are given serious consideration. The market is saturated to the point that there are almost as many published authors as there are avid readers.

These points are very interesting to me. Particularly: “The market is saturated to the point that there are almost as many published authors as there are avid readers.

As an independent author, I am an avid reader. I was an avid reader long before I wrote my first novel. However, several things have changed for me as independent authors have made their presence felt in the book market place. I interact with other independent authors and find that I read many more independently authored books than before because I know the authors. The loss of my reading time is most severe for the big traditional publishers. As independent authors we have our own reading community.

Quoting once again:

The vast majority of self-published authors will never land a contract with a traditional publisher or become commercially successful. That said; some do. The important thing is to accept the facts and face reality.

I think this statement may well be true. Becoming an independent author or Micro-Publishing as I prefer to call it, is really a small business venture and as such must be considered carefully. From my own experience, a simple calculation I have used has helped me: consider clearing $1.50 per book sold. How many books would you have to sell to make the business viable for you in the long term? Authors, with different family situations, living in different parts of the country, and with different lifestyle requirements may have quite different answers to this question. Still, I contend the real comparison ought to be between independent authors and those many predecessors who wrote books, but never had them published. They spen their time and money with zero return.

In summary, I am grateful to my colleague in the Goodreads Independent author group for commenting on this topic. I hope my contributions to the discussion were helpful. I am glad to have the opportunity to be an independent author and get my books into the hands of my readers, a possibility which would not likely have occurred twenty years ago.

Disclaimer

I do not offer publishing, small business, or other financial advice. I offer my own history, observations, and comments up in the hope they will stimulate thinking and discussion.

For the previous post in this Micro-Publishing follow this link.

About Peter Kazmaier

Lover of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Author of the SF series THE HALCYON CYCLE. I frequently re-read my favourite books. http://tinyurl.com/p46woa4

Posted on September 7, 2019, in Authors-Favorite, For Authors, Independent (Indie) Authors, Micro-Publishing, Writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: