View Full Version : Self-publishing vs small press publishing

02-23-2015, 05:00 AM
On his "Guerrilla Warfare For Writers" site, Chris states that self-published writers will average less than 250 sales of their books over time, while small press published volumes will see about 75 sales in a lifetime. I had trouble leaving a post at his site (so did someone else, if you go to the blog), so I wasn't able to ask where he got his numbers.

I can't help but question these figures, though, and wonder if anyone here can provide a link or confirmation. I've contacted several authors, both s-p and small electronic press folks, and most aren't reporting numbers this high. Not that these are glorious sales figures but it's best to approach publication with some knowledge of what is likely to happen.

In any case, wouldn't it seem that small press publishers would easily outsell the typical self-publisher? Or am I missing something?

02-23-2015, 05:25 AM
He may be borrowing estimates from the multi-level marketing world. In sociology (I've lost the proper terms) the upper limit for family/tribe interactions is between 90 and 250* individuals. That is, the number of related or vaguely related people who kinda have to support one's mad ideas. Like buy a case of pricey fruit juice, cleaning supplies, or POD books.

Multi-level marketing, vanity publishers, and many self-published authors rely on family members, church and club members, work relationships, and local outlets to move product. Once those outlets are exhausted, the author/seller cannot often reach larger markets.

I've seen different ranges, but all top out in the low three digits.

02-23-2015, 05:33 AM
It depends on the small press. There have been presses discussed on AW where sales barely got into double digits (or sometimes not that). I wouldn't sign over my rights to a small press for those sales. But other presses are more successful and authors will sell more on average than if they self-published.

The big issue is that anyone can start a small press. There's no requirement for experience or anything like that. So there are a lot of small presses that don't have the skills they need to be successful.

02-23-2015, 05:50 AM
I think that question is too general to really answer. A small press can be pretty large, with well established distribution channels, or it can be a self-publisher who decides to take on a few other books. And, it can keep books around for years, or not. The author can be completely unknown or have other books that bring a steady stream of readers in, or otherwise have a large platform of their own that brings readers in. So which is better depends on many variables.

02-23-2015, 08:54 AM
Hence the need to research which small press you choose. Results vary widely.

Old Hack
02-23-2015, 10:27 AM
Years ago (2004?) AuthorHouse released some sales figures which suggested that their average author sold just 38 copies of their books.

AuthorHouse is a vanity publisher.

Since then we've had the whole self-publishing revolution, vanity publishing isn't self publishing, and e-books have come along too, so that figure isn't a reliable indicator of anything much now. But I've seen it quoted often, mostly because people are still linking to the original article I wrote on my now-defunct blog, in which I extrapolated those results from AH's sales figures.

As others have suggested, the real numbers depend so much on so many variables that it's impossible to know what's true. Especially without a link to the source article, and when the source article doesn't cite its own sources.

02-23-2015, 06:20 PM
What Old Hack said. I have published five books total (four more are coming out next year), and one of those was self-published. I think it's safe to say my sales on that book were dismal, while the rest, all published by small presses, outsold it many times over. But those are just my numbers. I know many authors whose self-publishing sales are on-par with their other "traditionally" published works. But then again, they all have a nice following of fans built up over the years. I think your fan base plays a big role in sales, especially when it comes to self-publishing. That, and the quality of the cover art, the story, the writing, etc.

02-23-2015, 06:42 PM
I think there are so many other factors to take into account than self-pubbed vs. small press.

1- if the guy's calculations are based on averages. I'm new. I self-pubbed some stories. Am a hermit with not so many contacts. I don't promote. Result: a handful of paid sales. Then, on the other side, I have other friends who are very active, who self-publish, and sell way more than I do (some write full-time so their sales must be enough to contribute to some, if not all, their expenses). If you compare lots of me with one of them, or one of me with lots of them, the averages will end up with quite a bit of discrepancy.

2- The small presses. The same. It depends on how established they are, if they are actively promoting, if they have "fans" or not. Once again, there are small presses that are only starting, and some of them are one-person presses and start with pretty much the fan base of that person (if an author). There are other presses that have been around longer and are thriving.

I don't think there's a straight answer for this, to be honest, and it'd be very difficult to have figures that are actually representative, taking everything into account.

02-23-2015, 06:48 PM
More importantly, averages of what sample? I would want to know that before even thinking about what they might mean. And as averages I would what to know what measure of central tendency was used, and be provided with a measure of variance.

That is the minimum requirement for a statistic to be anything other than a guess/speculation/lie expressed in numbers.

Cathy C
02-23-2015, 07:36 PM
I think first you have to make the distinction between small press, micropress and subsidy press. This Wiki page (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Small_press) does a fairly good job of the distinction:

A small press is a publisher with annual sales below a certain level. Commonly, in the United States, this is set at $50 million, after returns and discounts.

Another good definition is on SFWA's site. (http://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/small/) The Wiki page goes on to set a release schedule of 10 titles a year. I've seen 25, though, in different sources, as the guideline for a small press.

A bunch of the current epubs are really Micro presses because they don't sell more than 50 books a year per title, and don't earn enough to pay salaries.

A subsidy press (vanity press) publishes only so many as are ordered, rather than taking the risk to release books on the hope they will be purchased. That takes them out of the running as a "publisher" in my book. They're a press, or a printer, but not much more.

Now, there are "small presses" that do substantially more than 75 copies and produce far more than 25 titles a year. Sourcebooks (http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/ask-the-pro-editorial-manager-deborah-werksman), for example, is a small press, even though they produce 300-375 titles per year. But they're not one of the Big 5 and are owner-operated, so they retain the "small" title. But they can't be compared to many of the epresses, except perhaps Ellora's Cave at their peak of sales, even though they're both "small." Sourcebooks has multiple NYT bestsellers and has traditional distribution.

Apples to apples by terminology, but apples and cats as far as application. :Shrug:

But are there small presses out there that do far more than 75 copies? Absolutely. Plenty of them.

02-23-2015, 10:52 PM
FWIW, I know self-publishers whose sales range from a handful of copies (relatively typical) to tens of thousands (and in one case, over 100,000 for his top-selling book).


02-23-2015, 11:09 PM
I think it all depends upon genre and audience.

As someone pointed, self-publishers like JA Konrath sell thousands upon thousands of books. He writes mystery, thriller, and horror - cranking them out one after another. That gives him great name recognition which helps boost his sales.

There are others but I can't think of their names offhand.

I've been with a small publisher for some time now with my series of three historical novels. A DISASTER! No reviews. No publicity. And leaving it all up to me and the other authors signed with them. They do put the books up on Amazon and Kobe and a couple of others. As far as I can determine, the only thing they do is provide a couple of editors - most of whom I disagreed with.

Established houses has a major advantage in that they pay for interviews, publicize, and have distribution networks. It's also why you get a far smaller royalty percentage.

So, look at this.

Small press gives you 40% but if you only sell 4 books
Amazon gives 35% to 75% so selling 4 books is about the same - or a whole lot better.

02-24-2015, 01:12 AM
People always bring up J.A. Konrath as an example of a successful self-published writer, but like I said before, he already has legions of fans from being "traditionally" published.

I prefer traditional publishing for many reasons - editing, cover design, layout, marketing - plus, I like knowing that someone besides me has enough confidence in my writing to invest their own time and money. Every successful self-published writer I know has either A: been published traditionally and already has an audience or B: is very, very good at self-marketing and has the money and/or talent to put out professional-quality product. Unfortunately, I suck at marketing :(

02-24-2015, 01:15 AM
Small press gives you 40% but if you only sell 4 books
Amazon gives 35% to 75% so selling 4 books is about the same - or a whole lot better.

Except that right out of the gate many self-publishers set a much lower cover price than most small presses, at least in my genre. And the small press has paid all up front costs.

So maybe not.

02-24-2015, 01:29 AM
I'm with several small genre presses - my sales with them top 100,000 books in total, over 20,000 of one particular title.

I've also tried self publishing, and my best performing book sold 450. Make of that what you will.

02-25-2015, 02:06 AM
That's because you're a rock star, Willie!

03-02-2015, 01:44 PM
My first book with a small digital press sold 16000 in the first half-year. That is pretty much average for the publisher, which is only two years old. Some of their books do better, some worse. So: it depends.

Old Hack
03-02-2015, 05:12 PM
That's a really good level of sales, aruna. I'm so pleased for you!