20 Successful Self-Publishers

JA Konrath (this site can’t seem to get enough of him recently) has an interesting and encouraging post listing 20 self-publishers who are as successful on the Kindle as writers from mainstream publishers.  These are:

Primal Wound by Ruth Francisco, ranked #688

Thin Blood by Vicki Tyley, ranked #14

Deed to Death by D.B. Henson, ranked #42

Toe Popper by Jonny Tangerine, ranked #1464

Kill & Cure by Steven Davison, ranked #72

The Shot to Die For by M.H. Sargent, ranked #231

The Elect by James Gilbert, ranked #756

Punctured by Rex Kusler, ranked #988

Final Price by J. Gregory Smith, ranked #3083

A Dirty Business by Joe Humphry, ranked #433

Moon Dance by J.R. Rain, ranked #52

Around Every Corner by Casey Moreton, ranked #3663

Defending Evil by Charles Shea, ranked #1469

The Bum Magnet by K.L. Brady ranked #836

Getting Rich by Steve Bensinger, ranked #838

Declaring Spinsterhood by Jamie Lynn Braziel, ranked #1580

Faking It by Elisa Lorello, ranked #365

Easily Amused by Karen McQuestion, ranked #290

Waiting For Spring by R.J. Keller, ranked #788

Escaping Celia by T.C. Beacham, ranked #909

This phenomenon brings up two points:

  1. Writers can circumvent having a publisher.
  2. There is no difference between self-publishing and traditional publishing.

Why #2?  Because the bulk of the novels on that list (aside from RJ Keller – though I haven’t read the others) appear to be mainstream-style genre fiction, which is already an easier sell on the mainstream level.  One of the highest ranked books is a vampire book:

While this is encouraging and means great things for all writers, it does suggest this is how it is and it always will be – commercial fiction is, well, more commercial. Literary fiction will still have a tough go of it even it’s easier to find readers.  One of the commenters there is downright cruel:

I hate to hit literary fiction when it’s down, but when you buy a genre story you’re buying the story, and you buy literary fiction you’re buying the brand and lifestyle.

That militates against intrusion into that genre by self-publishers.

People who buy literary fiction are less likely to be satisfied with their purchase if it lacks the NY seal of approval, because without that seal they can’t derive any benefit from ostentiously reading the book in front of their friends.

What’s really interesting is that the current demographic of Kindle readers don’t care about mainstream credibility at all.  I haven’t read Moon Dance, but honestly that cover has “self-published” written all over it.  But Kindle readers don’t care.  That may change once more people – and so more types of readers – get dedicated ereaders.  But that’s not how it is today.  Why is that, I wonder?  Theories are welcome in the comments.

My theory – self-publishers have flooded the market, thereby making it more likely to land on a self-published book.  I have a book out on a small literary press that has yet to put out their books on the Kindle.  My own self-published novel went up first thing.  But also, and at the risk of sounding like a snob who writes literary-type fiction (and whose Kindle numbers are paltry in comparison), maybe these books work better on an electronic device because they’re a breezier read.  I’ve got a Sony reader (though it recently broke – another story) but I still prefer hardcopy.  It breathes more.  But why were the first people to buy Kindles also readers who are less prejudiced towards self-released fiction?

  • My two cents:

    I think this speaks more about the way authors market themselves than anything else. A great number of the authors listed are very active members of the Kindle message boards. They’re willing to go directly to the reader and not just sell themselves and their books, but are actually interacting with the readers who go there on other topics as well. They honestly enjoy that interaction and don’t just look at it as “the thing I have to do to sell books.” (People aren’t dumb…it’s easy to tell the difference. It’s like getting spam in your inbox. *click! It’s gone.*)

    At the risk of sounding like a populist, literary fiction writers are (in general) more likely to want to hide at home behind their keyboards and not want to do that kind of interacting (whether it’s because they’re unsure of how to go about doing it, or whether it’s because they think that kind of thing is beneath them, or a combination of both of those things) than their genre-writing brethren, who are not only willing to do that marketing, but find ways to make it enjoyable.

    (For the record, my book falls in between mainstream fiction and literary fiction. Half of me wants to yuk it up with readers and the other half feels like hiding behind my keyboard. It’s a rather tortuous existence.)

    • a-HA!

      You all pretty much know me, and I’m hardly an introvert. But those message boards are the next worst thing to Authonomy, in my opinion, and I just can’t stand the contrived beauty contest there for no other reason than its clubbiness.

      I love the internetz for marketing my work because of the potential to reach the diverse crowd of readers that my work appeals to. The Amazon threads reflect a microcosm of diversity: only those who would sign up on threads to discuss. Let’s face it, threads are a weird hybrid of anonymity and confessionals. (Hey, I might blog about that…) The clubby mentality of many of the forum threads portray human grouping in a twisted, peer-pressure oriented way that I just don’t want to get involved with.

      Now see what you’ve done, RJ and Henry, you’ve made me end two sentences in prepositions. Now I’m all hot and bothered.

      Regardless, congrats, RJ, on being among the top-20 successful DIY publishers!


      • I haven’t been very comfortable in those forums either – even though when posting there, my Kindle rank goes way up almost immediately. It’s because what I write about in the post – it seems mainly centered around mainstream writing. Same goes for the main Kindle review blog, http://redadeptreviews.com/. She rejected my novel because it was “too confusing” and cites Dean Koontz as her favorite writer. All due respect to her support of indie writers, but I don’t feel at home there.

        I wonder how long this can last, though. How long can one forum and one reviewer have such an immediate impact on Kindle sales? Amazing phenomenon, though, that it’s possible now.

        • I was just citing KB as one example of the way authors need to market themselves now, with social networking taking the place of traditional press releases and that sort of thing. Authors can’t, for example, only Tweet about their books, writing, etc anymore. Same with Facebook status updates. We have to use those forums to entertain and engage potential readers on a more personal level.

  • Henry,

    Without high-jacking things here – my two cents.

    The figures for those 20 self-published are impressive. I think you are right when you say the volume of self-published books has helped to place the better titles under the noses of ebook buyers by default.

    Here is something else to consider. If in 12 months Konrath (or anyone) carries out a similar analysis of self-published titles in the Apple iBookstore, I suspect they won’t find figures as strong as the Kindle store. While there maybe other factors for this – I believe the biggest fact is that the Kindle is a dedicated ereader, while the iPad (just hitting the UK market this week) is a portable notepad driven by its online applications.

    Having worked in the retail entertainment business for many years in the UK and Ireland, my colleagues in the UK echoed what many retailers said in the US a couple of months back when the iPad was released – customers buying it go ‘Oh…so you can actually read books on the iPad?’

    I think from our perspectives we can get too close to what is happening in book publishing, and forget to see the developments in the industry from the perspective of the customer and reader.

  • I clicked on a few random title links from the list above and each of them is selling for 99 cents. Yes, I suppose if you write something halfway decent on a popular subject and either give it away or virtually give it away, provided you promote the heck out of it so a fair amount of people know of its existence, a decent amount of copies can be sold. Have any of these authors sold enough copies at a buck a pop to be making a living off it? Not trying to skeptical here, just wondering if the definition of what it means to be a publishing success has been corrupted by super cheap electronic versions of books. The ego boost of descripiton as a Bestseller is one thing, but being able to quit your day job and still pay the rent is another. I’m no expert on the subject though, just a struggling author who perhaps is a bit envious.

    • You’re right about that – Konrath is talking about people making thousands of dollars a year, assuming that everyone’s charging the same he is. But still, selling 500 copies a month at a dollar each is some extra money in your pocket. The word of mouth from that is really important, and then you can raise the price from there.

      • Exactly. I began by giving my book away (it’s actually still available for free). I felt it was the best way to get readers to take a chance on an unknown, self-publishing author. It worked, and started generating a little buzz for the book. I experimented with pricing when I put it up on Kindle, and found that .99 was a good way to boost sales, which lead to word-of-mouth amongst Kindle readers, which led to more sales, until yesterday’s boost put me in the top Kindle #100.

        Now I’m not unproven. I plan to price my next novel at 2.99, which will make it eligible for Amazon’s 70% royalty (that starts in July). That’s $2/ebook. If I can sell at even half the rate I’ve been doing over the past six months – before yesterday’s boost put me in the top 100 – I’ll be making my mortgage payments with it. If I keep going half the rate I’ve done over the past 24 hours, then I’ll be doing pretty well indeed.

    • Ew, let’s not start judging the quality of e-books by the prices that DIY authors choose to sell them for.

      Authors shouldn’t have to struggle anymore. Clearly the curtains have been peeled back and we now see how the publishing industry makes the sausages. Authors should now be aware that making a living as a fiction writer is almost if not entirely impossible. That myth that the publishing industry perpetuated (and that many of us ate up) for years has now been confirmed as exactly that: a myth.

      Don’t struggle anymore. Just write and enjoy it. Any extra money you earn by selling your work is a bonus. But don’t expect that either quality work or even good marketing is necessarily going to earn you enough readers and fans that you can pay your mortgage.

      Super-cheap e-versions of books, as you describe them, form the new landscape of books. Hardcover, $34.95 pricepoints, six-figure advances: *history.*

      Success lies in the author’s ability to get her/his book found amid the millions (yes, millions) of e-releases by writers around the world on the dozens of devices built for reading.

    • I’m one of the author on the list. My book is The Bum Magnet. I can only speak for myself, but I didn’t list my book at 99 cent to get rich. I did it to get my name out there and get the word of mouth going. It’s very important when you’re an indie author and no one knows your name from a can of paint. My novel was the first thing I’d ever written in my life. I had no platform to stand on. The only competitive edge we as indie authors sometimes have is pricing. I don’t hate on anyone who uses their edge to build their audience. I’ve since accepted a book deal, and perhaps that will lead to a chance for me to write full time and make a living at it. I feel I wouldn’t have the opportunity without my 99 cent Kindle version. It’s done wonders and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

  • I find it interesting that there appears to be no rhyme or reason to how the list was posted for the top 20 self-published authors on Kindle as it does not seem to be organized by author name, book title or by (what would seem to be the most appropriate for this type of listing) ranking.

    I also see a name missing from the list and would question the validity of the list and where the information is derived from.

    Linda Welch currently has two books on Kindle whose sales would indicate she belongs on this list of the top 20 based on the rankings above.

    Along Came a Demon (http://www.amazon.com/Along-Came-Demon-Whisperings-ebook/dp/B002HWSVIM/)
    Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,255
    #4 in Books > Literature & Fiction > Genre Fiction > Horror > Ghosts
    #3 in Kindle Store > Kindle Books > Fiction > Horror > Ghosts
    #33 in Kindle Store > Kindle Books > Humor

    And the second in the Whispering series:
    The Demon Hunters (http://www.amazon.com/The-Demon-Hunters-Whisperings-ebook/dp/B002WYJPKI/)
    Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,715
    #11 in Books > Literature & Fiction > Genre Fiction > Horror > Ghosts
    #6 in Kindle Store > Kindle Books > Fiction > Horror > Ghosts

    • He just did a quick search on Amazon – “It took me about three minutes to find these folks, simply by surfing Amazon.” – so no great conspiracy about why some were omitted. You should post these in his thread.

      • I didn’t think there was a big conspiracy, just questioned the validity of the list and how it was derived. So it was more of a top 20 that JA Konrath recognized as being self-pubbed rather than something which was researched & confirmed.

        And thanks for the tip – I do enjoy helping to promote the work of those I’ve read & enjoyed.

  • I was at 740 something paid in Kindle last week, and fluctuating in the 900-1700 ranking area in the days before and since. I’m feeling good (800 copies total in 5 months, price point is 1.99 for an 18k novella), but not yet feelings successful. When I get up to Konrath’s numbers, I’ll accept the “successful” label. 😀

  • I have felt very comfortable in Book Bazaar on the Kindleboards. Many authors and readers hang out in this forum and I find them to be a very helpful bunch of people. Got a question, post a new thread and many jump right in to help. I haven’t participated in many other forums because frankly, who has the time, but I definitely give Book Bazaar two thumbs up.

  • To me, it’s all about creating ground-breaking, innovative prose. The traditional publishers have flooded the market with vampire and zombie abominations, do we really need another series of romantic blood-suckers and teen werewolves? To me, the best part of having my own imprint is FREEDOM, not having to employ the usual tropes and formulas, but instead breaking new paths, forging into little-explored dark countries where the vistas are exciting because of their freshness, originality and vitality. If the readers want to come along for the ride, fine; if not, I’ll go it alone.

    Over the door to my office, I have printed lines from an E.A. Robinson poem: “The shame I win for singing is all mine/The gold I miss for dreaming is all yours”. The artists I admire are not the bestsellers, but folks like Celine and Beckett and Borges…hardly household names but authors who consistently challenged readers rather than kowtowing to the marketplace.

    I’m not really hung up on where I stand on the Kindle and Amazon ratings because the stuff that sells well is often (not always) cheap, accessible and really the same, warmed over stuff that the big boys are spewing out in droves. Recently I added the “Look Inside” feature to my novel SO DARK THE NIGHT because I wanted the quality of the prose to draw readers rather that blood-drenched covers and characters named after popular liquor brands.

    Konrath may be a “popular” writer and might be making decent coin, but from what I’ve read of his prose, he is NOT a writer I have any interest emulating. I think I’ll stick to less-traveled roads, even if that means never becoming rich and famous…

  • I’ve had a novella that I didn’t care much about selling up in Kindle for 99 cents for a while. I recently placed a full length novel on Kindle and I’m skeptical about the boards and the system. Sure some self published writers are selling, but to whom? Is this merely an exchange system in which self-published writers buy each others’ books, and success means simply selling more than you buy? What proof is there of connection with readers who don’t also write books?

    • Real readers are buying Kindle books. Take a look at RJ Keller on this list, who’s selling thousands of books, and she writes non-pulp literary fiction, so it can be done:


      • Thanks Henry!

        Marion, the sales ranking at Amazon is a little wonky. I don’t completely understand how it works myself. But I can account for my sales numbers and can tell you that it’s real readers who are buying my book. I attribute any success I’ve had (and I do use that term loosely) to word of mouth and to my own hard work and patience. Waiting For Spring has been out for nearly three years now and it’s only been recently (within the past six months or so) that sales have really taken off.

  • I agree that patience is the key–word of mouth is what brought J.K. Rowling to the attention of parents looking for good reads for their kids. If your book is terrific, it’s going to create a buzz…eventually. I truly believe that quality wins out in the end and that crowd-pleasers, panderers and hacks quickly disappear down the bunghole of history. I work hard to ensure that all of my efforts are great reads: well-composed, meticulously edited, professionally wrought. I owe that to my readers and as long as I keep my side of the bargain, I think my readership will grow (AND I’ll still be able to look at myself in the mirror in the morning)…

  • I think what we’re seeing here is a revolution in the way people are going to be reading books–especially fiction! It’s going to be very interesting!

    Are there bad books being self-published? yes. But I think that over time this will separate out.

    Brian January