Jun 10 2013 10:00am

The Four “P”s of Self-Published Books’ Popularity

Bared to You by Sylvia DayThe publishing world is reeling with how well some self-published e-books are doing. Previously unknown—much less published—names are skyrocketing to the top of the book sales charts, and hundreds of people are posting reviews to Amazon and Goodreads and writing the books up on their blogs.

But—why? Why are so many self-published e-books doing this well?

Well, as it happens, there are a few intriguing elements to consider:

—Price: Most of these e-books are priced below $3, some as low as .99 cents, so there is very little to risk by taking a chance on a new-to-you author.

—Pretty: Most of the e-book covers are striking in some way, and the cover image gives an indication of the content; a shirtless muscular man clutching a female on the cover means the book is a New Adult book. An image of an object means the content is erotic these days. Sometimes there are three people on the cover, which indicates a love triangle (if they're not touching) or a menage (if they are).

—Prolific: These new authors, once they publish one book, seem to have many more to release in quick succession. So if you've gone ahead and loved that .99 cent book you just bought, chances are good you can scoop up more books by the same author for a total investment of less than ten dollars. And because self-publishing is quicker to do than traditional publishing, an overnight success can put another book out much sooner than if the overnight success were traditionally published.

—Popular: These authors are writing in a low barrier-to-entry genre. They're writing in an easily recognizable contemporary setting, not asking the reader to get engaged in world-building, whether it's paranormal or historical. Any English reader with a pop culture background can recognize the setting of the books.

And then there's the thought that many of these readers were not readers previously—they got into reading contemporary romance through Fifty Shades, and they are continuing to explore the e-book arena, but they do not self-identify as romance readers. They like to read these books, but it's only a recent obsession. So just imagine if all the people who watch reality TV, say, suddenly decided to drop .99 on a self-published title—that would make the author a billionaire overnight.

What are your thoughts? Have you been reading more self-published titles, and if so, what is it that draws you in?


Megan Frampton is the Community Manager for the HeroesandHeartbreakers site. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her husband and son.

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Sabrina Jeffries
1. Sabrina Jeffries
It's the prolific part that gets me. I just can't write that fast!

I've read a few self-pub titles, but I can barely make a dent in my already mountainous TBR pile, so I don't buy that many.

I do agree that the low-barrier thing is key. I mean, historical romances are selling, but probably at the same rate they always were, although readers do seem to expect them to be cheaper now.
Megan Frampton
2. MFrampton
@Sabrina, This is true right now, but in six months, when people have read a ton of books (where perhaps they didn't before), they're going to start sussing out what works for them, and so they will wait for an author who might not be so prolific. This is just the first wave (or probably the fourth or more, but the first one that is having SUCH an impact).
Jennifer Proffitt
3. JenniferProffitt
I am reading more self published and I still look for that draw me in for traditionally published material. Subgenre, certain tropes, level of heat, etc., but I'm more willing to take a risk on self-pubbed because it's only .99 cents to maybe $2 so price has a lot to do with it. As I've mentioned before I always find it funny that yes, self-pubbed books are pretty, but a lot of them tend to recycle the same covers over and over. Can't complain toooo much ;)
Sabrina Jeffries
4. icy
Sure the prices are great, until they get picked up by a big 6 publisher and it suddenly triples and the publishing dates get pushed back. So the success of self-published titles is often bittersweet for us readers. Double-edged sword.
5. EvangelineHolland
I know I've been reading way more contemporary romances than ever because of the low price points of self-pub, epub, and various Harlequin imprints.
Sabrina Jeffries
6. CrankyAmy
I'll pick up some self-pub, but a lot of time the editing is horrendous or non-existent, which puts me right off of it. I'm VERY wary of it, even if it is only .99.
Sabrina Jeffries
7. pamelia
Some of my favorite authors self-publish. Kristen Ashley and R. Lee Smith come immediately to mind. They have a few editing issues, but the pure intensity of their books is what really draws me in.
I know KA has now been picked up by a publisher and I wasn't thrilled with how her first pro-pubbed book "Own the Wind" had so much of her usual elements whittled away, but the follow up "Fire Inside" was much more in line with her usual awesome stuff IMO.
As for R.Lee Smith, she writes such edgy, dark stuff I don't know if a publisher would have the guts to take her on. I don't know if she sells well enough to attract a deal either, but for anyone looking for a dark, compelling, original read try her out (I'd say "Heat" or her newest book "Cottonwood" are her best -- both sci-fi, noir-erotica reads.)
I've also been burned by other self-pubbed books though where the quality of the writing and the lack of editing make them PAINFUL to read. Usually if I only paid $2.99 or $0.99 I'm not feeling too put out by it, but I just read one a few weeks ago that was free and I wish there was some way to sue the author for my time -- it was terrible.
Carmen Pinzon
8. bungluna
I'm a contemporary romance reader so the boom in self-pub books has been good for me. I got my e-reader because several authors I liked started self-publishing. Now I go in search of new-to-me authors. There's a lot of dross out there, sure, but for the price it's worth it to risk buying if one can come up with a gold nugget from time to time.
maria babani
9. Chica8
Not the price, not pretty, not prolific. Just love them. I'm in my 40s and have been a romance reader for close to 30 years. Started with historical romances, jumped into contemporary(Harlequins) and swam through paranormal. Maybe this is just a natural progression. Modern times call for modern reading. My ereader led me to these books. Give me an alpha male and I'll probably read it. Who is at the head of publishing companies? Have they been catering to their readers or ignoring them? Supply and demand. Who knows where I'll go next...
Rachel Rain
10. RachelRain
I'm a big fan of self-pub Romances. It is a chance to try out new to me Romance authors with out going broke in the process. I am more willing to spend a few dollars $5.00 and under on a new Romance author to see if I like them; then I was before when I bought print books, which cost more and took up a lot of space. To me it does not matter what the subject matter is as long as it is Romance and a good read.
I have to admit I love that I can read them faster, but I myself can't write them that fast. I wish I could.
I have found editing problems in the self-pub titles, but I have found them in titles that come from big publishing houses as well. And I am sure my own has them. I figure we are all human, and I know for myself I don't speak perfectly in everyday life, so why should the people in the Romance books I read do so.
Nicole Leapheart
11. BoxyFrown
I love discovering new authors! Some of my fave recent self pub authors have been noticed by not just me, of course, and gotten picked up by publishers. I'm always happy for the authors for their success, but I would much rather have that book in my Kindle for 3.99 (love RK Lilley)as opposed to 9.99(love Sylvia Day). I'm also a big book-pusher. If I find a book/author I like, I literally tell all my book friends and make lots of recommendations, and it's easier to sell a book for less that $5 that a book for $10 and up in these genres. Either way, I am pretty much addicted. I recently paid $14.99 for the latest JR Ward in ebook, and I am not sure I would do that for any other author when it wasn't a hardcover.
Sometimes the editing can be an issue, and I defintely reflect that in my Goodreads reviews, but sometimes the story is so good, I don't care. And, while I appreciate a fast turnover with books, I would rather wait a little bit to get a full novel as opposed to reading a short serial every week or so (and payin .99cents a pop.)
Christopher Morgan
12. cmorgan
I sincerely wish that you could get good scifi and fantasy self-pubbed. I was talking about this with someone else, and we agreeded. Unless you have a writer on top of their game, you have to have an editor to reign in the crazy. It bites because I have a really hard time getting into contemporary settings.
Sabrina Jeffries
13. JenM
I read upwards of 20 books a month, and there is no way I could feed that addiction at $7.99 or more per book. Self-publishing has been great for readers like me. I also love that even though the price is lower, the author actually makes more on each sale rather than supporting a bloated publishing house. I got my first Kindle back in 2009 and at that time, self-pubbed quality was downright awful. However, it has evolved, and I've figured out how to weed out much of the dross by sampling every book before I buy, and by reading reviews looking for mention of bad editing/grammar.

Also, I love that self-pub gives authors the freedom to write books that don't fit in the rigid genre rules that the publishers have enforced. For example, I loved Painted Faces by LH Cosway and there is no way that book would ever have seen the light of day if it was up to the publishers. In fact, pretty much the entire New Adult subgenre would not exist right now if it was up to them. The large publishers are hidebound, and are terrible at spotting emerging trends. I think there are lots of potential readers out there who have been locked out of this wonderful hobby due to large publisher practices. The self-pub movement will expand the pool of active readers, now that people can actually find books that are appealing to them as opposed to being limited in their choices by a small group of editors in NYC.
trina miller
14. crossifo
In my self-pub book I tried to give the readers everything I so desperately wanted to read and I did exactly that and more. But I am unknown and most likely will remain that way and thats okay because this book gives me the greatest natural high I have ever had in my life. I cannot get enough of it and I am thinking of writing a part 2. Sometimes pleasing yourself can be enough. (The Sweet Ripe Whisper - 1813 York England) Trina Stiner Miller
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