Are consumers to blame for poor self-published book sales? New book PR research

New research conducted by the book PR specialists, Palamedes PR, has revealed that nearly two-thirds of self-published authors are convinced they have what it takes to become the ‘next’ JK Rowling – but blame a lack of financial success on consumers’ “snobbish” attitude towards the practice.

Their work has the potential of reaching bestseller status but sales are thwarted by the public’s “haughty” views on ‘DIY titles’, authors claimed.

Many believe that consumers still associate self-published books with lacklustre plots, poor production quality and below-par writing standards.

And others fear the stigma of the subsidy or ‘vanity’ press – firms who charge authors to ‘publish’ their work, often for tens of thousands of pounds, whilst retaining royalty rights  – continues to tarnish the integrity of writers who choose to go it alone and manage production themselves.

The knock-on effect, they say, is that thousands of worthy self-published paperbacks and ebooks are left “unnoticed, unread and unloved” each year, our research found.

We questioned 500 self-published authors from across the UK as part of its on-going research into sales expectations.

The results are not necessarily indicative of consumer behaviour.

“Whilst it is probably true that some people may consider self-published titles to be of a lower quality than those published by mainstream publishing houses, the feedback must be viewed in context,” Anthony Harvison, our Campaign Director, said.

“It is, for example, highly likely that a significant proportion of the authors we spoke to were unable to publicise their work on a major scale as a result of limited marketing budgets.

“This one factor alone would, it is fair to assume, have had a bigger impact on sales than the perceived snobbishness of some consumers towards their work.”

Until relatively recently the practice of self-publishing – the practice of paying a printer to run-off copies of a book in either paperback or hard cover format – was the preserve of the wealthy.

But new technology is allowing more authors than ever before to bypass the traditional route to market – the frustrating process of finding a mainstream publisher – and sell their work directly to the public relatively cheaply online.

Indeed, figures released last year by industry bible The Bookseller showed that a quarter of all fiction e-books sold in the UK were self-published.

Yet despite the success of a minority of self-published authors, the overwhelming majority of those who choose to go it alone reap little financial reward.

Some 38 per cent of those polled by Palamedes believed their work was “as good as” those penned by the likes of JK Rowling, John Grisham, Lee Child, and EL James.

A whopping 78 per cent said their work had the potential of hitting the Amazon bestseller lists “with the right professional support”.

But the majority (52 per cent) believed the misconception about the quality of self-published titles in both fiction and non-fiction genres – and a general unwillingness among readers to “give them a chance” (61 per cent) – put an end to their dreams of selling tens of thousands of copies.

The impact of the vanity press on the self-publishing community was also thought to be significant (76 per cent).

Most respondents sold fewer books than predicted (81 per cent), and 83 per cent, meanwhile, accepted that more publicity “would have helped”.

Almost all (94 per cent) believe that a significant number of self-published books are left to gather dust as a result of poor sales.

Palamedes, one of the UK’s leading book marketing agencies, straw polled 500 self-published authors in all mainstream genres. None of the respondents had enjoyed ‘bestseller’ status.

Anthony Harvison, of Palamedes PR, said: “The journey of a self-published author is a long and difficult one. For many, it is prompted by the inability to secure a contract with a major publishing house, or the unwillingness to spend up to 12 months trying to do so.

“Bringing a book to market, therefore, takes considerable energy, tenacity, time and sacrifice. If the book fails to sell well – or as many copies as predicted – it is obvious that emotions will run high.”

He added: “If a title of any type – published or self-published – is of a high standard and has widespread potential appeal, but fails to sell well, it can usually always be attributed to a lack of publicity – rather than to a public prejudice.”

Are you a self-published author outside of our existing stable of clients? If so, please get in touch here and let us know your experiences of book sales.