It’s been called a “cure for rejection-letter fatigue.” Amazon on Thursday released new details about the success of its program for authors who want to self-publish on its Kindle e-reader devices. The company, which unveiled a suite of new e-readers and tablets at a press conference in Southern California on Thursday, says 27 of the top 100 Kindle books were created using a system called Kindle Direct Publishing.
That system allows authors to bypass traditional publishers and instead deal directly with Amazon, which claims to be able to publish their books digitally “in hours.”
The authors receive 70% of the royalties from the sale of these books. And some of them are doing quite well.
“Most of my months are six-figure months,” said Hugh Howey, a 37-year-old Florida author whose “Wool” series of digital books was highlighted by Amazon. “It’s more than I ever hoped to make in a year.”
The company says some authors, including Theresa Ragen, who appeared in a promotional video during the Amazon event, have sold hundreds of thousands of books.
During the event Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos displayed a quote from Kathryn Stockett, author of best-selling novel “The Help,” in which she lamented being rejected dozens of times before a publisher accepted her.
“What if I had given up at 15? Or 40? Or even 60?” she was quoted as saying.
“The thing that occurs to me,” Bezons said, according to a live blog, “is how many authors did stop after 40 rejections? How many great manuscripts are sitting in a drawer somewhere?”
The fact that so many self-published books have been successful in Amazon’s ecosystem highlights what other writers say is a trend toward success in digital self-publishing, which is offered also by companies like Apple and Barnes & Noble, in addition to Amazon.
This comes despite evidence that many self-published e-book authors make very little money. A 1,007-person survey earlier this year found “DIY authors” make $10,000 a year on average, and half of them make less than $500 a year, according to a report in The Guardian.
Still, the system does work for some.
“Fact is that authors no longer need a publisher,” Bernard Starr wrote at The Huffington Post. “And more and more writers are awakening to the realization that if you are not a high-profile author who can command large sales, a traditional publisher will do little for you beyond editing and printing your book.”
For Howey, author of the “Wool” series, the direct-publishing platform has opened up a life he never imagined was possible — one where he is paid to write full-time.
Without the Amazon platform, the books might not have been published at all. Howey never promoted the first edition of “Wool,” a dystopian series about a group of underground people who get all of their information about the outside world through a single, digital screen. He didn’t think it would sell.
Then in October 2011, he said, his sales jumped from from dozens to thousands.
“I was taking screenshots and posting them on Facebook,” he said of the moment when the books started appearing on Amazon’s top-100 lists. (The compilation “Wool Omnibus Edition” is currently ranked No. 193 in the Kindle store, although it was listed in Amazon’s press conference as being in the top 100, where it has appeared before). “I was kind of bewildered by the whole thing.”
Howey used to work as a bookseller and yacht captain. Now his story has been optioned by the director Ridley Scott, according to news reports. New York publishers have approached him about book deals, he said, but he wants to continue to self-publish so he maintains rights to his work.
“The stigma is gone,” he said of self-publishing in digital formats. “Publishers will pick up a self-published work if it does well. Readers are really just interested in good stories.”