Self-Publishers: New numbers you need NOW

I did that interview with Simon Whistler… (link opens in new tab)

…that went live last Tuesday, and from doing that interview I bumped into Hugh Howey, and from doing that, I encountered an entire series of links to writers who have done the HARD math on self-publishing.

I’m only giving you two. There are many, but these two are CRITICAL if you’re a writer.

I have not done THIS math. I have never seen THIS math done before. I didn’t even know which questions to ask to get me to this math.

(Aside from deadline math, I suck at math.)

Fortunately, both Hugh Howey (the author of WOOL that I keep raving about) and Courtney Milan (whose work I have not yet read) are Good At Math.

And really, really good at explaining what the numbers mean, and why they matter to you, the writer.

Howey and Milan have done math on self publishing vs. commercial publishing. It is mind-blowing.

Go here to read Hugh Howey’s thing first:

Hugh has discovered the actual numbers of print books vs. ebooks in a limited but relevant sample, the numbers of these that are commercially pubbed, the number that are self-pubbed, has gotten a good idea of the size of the market, and is going to knock your
socks off. (link opens in new tab)

You’ll need what he’s discovered before you read Courtney Milan’s math, because with his dissection of the book publishing market and where self-publishing stands in it, you can the understand the absolutely mind-boggling importance of what Courtney Milan has discovered.

So now read Courtney Milan:

Courtney is going to show you what commercial publishing contracts are worth versus self-pubbing your own work over time. She, too, is going to knock your socks off. (Assuming you put them back on after reading Hugh.)

She’s also going to give you a downloadable spreadsheet so you can test things yourself.  (link opens in new tab)

What’s MY take-away on this?

I have printed these off. I have read them and re-read them, but I have not yet taken them apart piece by piece to work into my own publishing plan, or used Courtney’s spreadsheet so get the important view on what my personal sales numbers mean.


I was already done with commercial publishing. Now? Even that one book I was considering as my last connection to traditional publishing is off the table for anyone but me.

This is not THE happiest day of my life. But it’s up there.

What’s YOUR take-away on this?

If you read these two articles and go through them (with a math-savvy friend if necessary), at bare minimum you will understand the potential, revised-and-edited value of those unpublished books in your inventory—or the rights you’re considering selling to publishers.

Potentially, this is much more than that. Potentially, depending on what you decide to do with the knowledge you gain, this is the information you need to create the life you want to live for yourself.

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16 responses to “Self-Publishers: New numbers you need NOW”

  1. Ruthanne Reid Avatar

    Hi, Holly! I apologize for the public nature of this comment, but I couldn’t find another way to reach you.

    My memory on this might be completely faulty! I thought I’d recalled reading in one of your posts, some years ago, that you’d been briefly without an editor because your then-editor changed publishing houses, and the replacement wanted to build his/her own list, disregarding the former editor’s clients. Was this true of you, or was that someone else? If that isn’t you, feel free to disregard this comment! I’m looking for the link that referenced that uncomfortable moment.

    Thanks for your time, and as always, you are amazing!

    1. Holly Avatar

      Hi, Ruthanne,

      My story was WAY worse than that. The SECRET TEXTS novels were slated to go hardcover with the next book, which would have been my first hardcover book.

      But Betsy Mitchell, my then-editor, left to go to another house, and informed my agent that she wouldn’t be taking any midlisters with her. (This is the same editor, incidently, who laughingly told another editor as they were leaving a panel at a con I attended that she had to go tell some writers they were dead.)

      The new editor coming in was uninterested in picking up the previous editor’s list.

      So I went from looking at an upcoming multi-book contract in hardcover to being without an editor, without a publishing house, and still with all the same bills.

      1. Ruthanne Reid Avatar

        Oh, my gosh. Thank you so much for clarifying! Is it all right if I quote you? I’m doing an updated post on traditional vs. self-publishing, and your story has always stuck with me. Just the battle you’re still fighting to get all your own book rights back is chilling.

        1. Holly Avatar

          Of course you can quote. Thanks for asking.

          1. Ruthanne Reid Avatar

            Just double-checking! If anything in here misrepresents you or your experience, I’ll gladly remove the reference.

  2. Kirsty Avatar

    Can someone please clarify for me what is the difference between Indie publishing and self-publishing? All those graphs etc. show good results with Indie publishing… but I am not entirely clear on what indie publishing actually is. Please help! Thanks 🙂

    1. Holly Avatar

      Indie publishing is a better name for self-publishing. It emphasizes that the writer is going it alone without either the buffering shield or the ball and chain of a commercial publisher. (And commercial publishers are both—though the ball-and-chain aspect is becoming much larger and the buffering shield is falling apart badly right now.)

  3. dragon Avatar

    The biggest thing for me was a better understanding of author’s letting go all publication rights vs. some publication rights. I am thinking a lot about this sort of thing. Thanks.

  4. Alan H. Jordan Avatar

    I thought you might be interested in seeing this comment where I acknowledge the value I’ve received from this post.

    1. Holly Lisle Avatar
      Holly Lisle

      I was interested. 😀 Thank you for the link.

  5. Amy Keeley Avatar

    I think the biggest thing to come out of the Hugh Howey/Anonymous Data Guy numbers is that self-publishing is becoming a viable option for those who want to support themselves with genre writing. That was really encouraging for me.

  6. Megan Avatar

    I found these articles fascinating. I’ve been undecided on which way I’d like to go, but these were pretty compelling toward Indie. I loved that Simon Whistler used the top 7500 of three high-selling genres, because it excludes the long tail of books that are poorly edited or have nothing to do with my work… But it begs the question of how to ensure that our works raise above the long tail? It seems to me that promotion and a solid backlist are key to success.

  7. Selene Avatar

    Courtney Milan has also written a post criticizing the Howey report:

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