Mainstream vs. Self-Publishing 2014 – The numbers are looking very interesting.

Mainstream Publishing –vs. Self-Publishing

As 2014 comes to an end here is a brief look at the year in publishing and some interesting statistics are emerging about the figures associated with Mainstream Publishing vs. Self-Publishing. We tend to keep track of the progress within the industry as our involvement in Self-publishing began in 2001 with one of the largest Canadian publishers before we established Moyhill in 2004. I was with an agent for two years with my first book back in 1999 and I made the decision to self-publish following that experience.

There is no doubt that for some writers the mainstream option is still the way to go and we advise all authors who approach us to do their research on both alternatives before making their final decision. Here are some of the areas that we encourage authors to consider before deciding which route they will take when publishing their books.


The marketplace for books in 2014.

How many books published per year?
Wednesday 22 October 2014 13.24 BST

According to a new report from the International Publishers Association (IPA), UK publishers released 184,000 new and revised titles in 2013. In absolute terms, the UK is the third leading publisher in the world and the highest in Europe with its 184,000 titles coming in behind China’s 444,000 and the US’s 304,912.

So we are looking at around 490,000 English language titles published each year.

You can see that with this volume of books that it can be difficult to make your book stand out and get attention in the market.

Mainstream Publishing
What are the chances of getting a contract with a mainstream publisher?
Publishing is a competitive and low profit business, and no publisher can afford to pay people to read manuscripts. Many publishers no longer look at unsolicited manuscripts – they simply return them if postage is provided, or shred them if it isn’t. When they do look at manuscripts, it will only be the professionally presented ones – perhaps half the total. Of that number say, 90% will be rejected on the first page and 98% by the end of the first chapter. That leaves 30-50 manuscripts, and they’re the only ones which will get any kind of serious consideration. In a good year, ten of those might be published. In a bad year – less than five.

So, for every 1,000 books presented:
500 would get a first look
Of the remaining 500, 90% will be rejected on the first page = 455
Of the remaining 45, around 78% will be rejected by the end of the first chapter.
This leaves 35 which might get any kind of serious consideration.
In a good year 10 might be published and in a bad year less than 5.

Summarising this:
98% of books presented will be rejected without any serious consideration
99.0%-99.5% will never make it to publication.

This means that of books presented to Publishers less than 1 in 1,000 will be published.

The reality for authors is worse than this. Most books presented to publishers come through agents and the number that the agents actually send through to Publishers is also very small.

Unfortunately, the majority of unsolicited manuscripts that arrive on a publisher’s desk are poorly written, not edited and do not have a wide enough appeal to warrant taking to the next step. It has to be an exceptional concept that will have a global appeal for a publisher to look past the manuscript’s shortcomings.

The reality for writers is that most will work for 5-10 years before getting their first book published.

You will need to have an agent if you want to be published by a mainstream publishing house. Most published books come through agents these days, but no agent can afford to spend a lot of time reading manuscripts from unknowns either. Most agents won’t even look at an unsolicited manuscript and again, most manuscripts an agent does consider will be rejected on the first page.

However, an agent will be able to negotiate a much better deal than you could ever expect to get on your own. They will want around 15% of your eventual Advance/Royalties but will not want any money up-front.

For a list of agents in the UK check the following:

The problem many new writers experience is that it is very, very difficult to get an agent. That’s partly because once the publishers stopped accepting unsolicited submissions, they started to pour into the agencies, and the agencies have even fewer staff than publishers.

Read the following from a famous published author

Will I get an advance from a publisher?
If you get a contract from a publisher you can expect a maximum advance of around 10% of the cover price. This is normally more like 5%. So, for a book that sells for, say, €10 you might expect to net between €0.5 and €1.00 per book. A good book may sell 5,000 copies so the maximum advance would be €2,500 and €5,000. Remember no royalties will be earned until you sell more than 5,000 books – and in the UK that is considered as a good result for a paperback. A book that sells more than 10,000 is considered a best seller.

If you get an advance, be prepared to wait for your money.
An advance is normally paid in two or three stages:

  • one-third ‘on signing’ (can be a couple of months after)
  • one-third on ‘delivery’ of the completed manuscript (which actually means when your editor accepts it this can be months of revisions later)
  • one-third on publication

If you earn royalties you need to be prepared to wait around 9 months for payment and then the publisher will retain a minimum of 20% for a further 9 months in case of returns from distributors/booksellers.

writing skills

Self Publishing
If you are not a celebrity and /or have not published before it is very difficult to get a book published through the Mainstream Publishers. But today you always have the option of publishing it yourself. This isn’t always an easy route – remember that you have to do all the work yourself and if you use 3rd-party company to help you it can be very expensive alternative. A number of best-selling writers began that way, and since the advent of e-books the number of self-publishers has grown dramatically.

The growth in self-publishing has both good and bad sides. As in mainstream publishing many books have not benefited from the use of a spell checker or careful reading through by the writer or others. There will always be the odd error or typo in mainstream books but you should make every effort to present a clear and legible manuscript before reaching the formatting stage.

BUT the great thing is that you can produce and deliver an e-book for a very reasonable price. This allows you to test the market and if successful you can then look at getting an agent and finding a mainstream publisher to get the book widely distributed.

If you are going to do it, you need to do it right, and get the correct advice, otherwise you might as well tear your money up and flush it down the toilet. A poorly written book that has not been edited or properly typeset for both e-books and print books will stand out from the crowd. But for all the wrong reasons.

You should set yourself a budget and be aware that editing particularly can be very costly if you have a long book. But, you can save money by using free applications on your computer to highlight grammar and spelling (make sure that your dictionary is set to the appropriate language. For Example English UK or English US). Whilst it may seem like a chore, you as the writer should read through your own work several times before handing over to at least three people to read again before you publish. It is better if these beta readers are not close family and friends who might be tempted to tell you what you want to hear rather than what you NEED to hear.

There are also programmes that will guide you through the formatting process, but be aware that formats for the various platforms are different and that a book designed for Kindle, particularly those with tables and photographs, will require reformatting for Smashwords. There are some excellent sites for pre-made covers that for around £15 will provide your book with a professional finish.

Your cover is your headline and your ‘come buy me’. As people browse the online bookshops they will usually start with genre and then view the covers, titles and author’s names. Do not underestimate the power of that first look at your book.

Print copies.


If you decide to produce a print version of the book alongside an e-book this will be an extra expense but the overall cost will depend on the number of copies printed.

It is better to print a very small quantity, no more than 50-100 book in the first print run – just enough for publicity purposes and to seek reviews for the book (Reviews are VERY IMPORTANT). Then once the market is tested you can make post-publication changes and corrections based on REAL customer feedback and print a larger quantity. Another option is to print only enough to match pre-sales that have been confirmed. It generally takes only a couple of weeks from order to delivery so you can stock up again quite quickly from the printer. Yes, it costs less per copy to print a larger quantity but if you are restricted on your cash-flow you are better off to print a more conservative quantity.

Don’t print more than 500 unless you have firm orders from bookshops.

The biggest problem of all is distribution. This is one of the most difficult areas for publishers and they have invested millions in this area. It takes a very significant effort for an individual to sell more than 300/400 copies, even if you get some good publicity and a have a few bookshops that stock your books.

Can you make money when you Self-publish?


It is difficult to track independent self-published authors in terms of print sales. However there is great data relating to e-book sales, particularly through Amazon. In the first two quarters of 2014 the percentage of e-book dollars going to indie authors increased each quarter and looking at the top 120,000 books on Amazon we can now see that self-published authors earn more in royalties than “Big 5” authors, combined. The other major finding is that self-published authors now account for 31% of total daily e-book sales regardless of genre. Overall the “indies” are earning nearly 40% of the e-book dollars going to authors.


Can self-published author make as much money as Mainstream authors?

The e-book scene has really changed in the past 18 months. A report on author earnings, compiled in July 2014, had some startling conclusions:

  • Very few authors who debut with major publishers make enough money to earn a living—and modern advances don’t cover the difference.
  • In absolute numbers, more self-published authors are earning a living wage today than Big-5 authors.
  • When comparing debut authors who have equal time on the market, the difference between self-published and Big-5 authors is even greater.
  • Of the 500 or so Big-5 debut authors in 2013, only 245 (fewer than half) are today earning $10,000 or more from their Kindle e-books.
    It appears that even the less-than-1% who are lucky enough to land an agent and a Big-5 publishing contract can’t manage to quit their day jobs.
  • By contrast, we see over 700 Indie-published authors who debuted in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 who are today earning more than $25,000/year from their Kindle e-books alone.
    So for the past four years far more Indie authors than Big-5 authors are earning a living wage from their writing.


If you’re a new author trying to decide which publishing path to pursue, it’s worth keeping in mind that even for traditionally-published authors, 64% of earnings now comes from e-books.

For some real author experiences check out to following site.

©David Cronin – MD. Moyhill Publishing – 2014.

A book that we both recommend all authors buy and have to hand is the Writers Handbook.  Here is the 2015 edition and for me is the writers bible.


72 thoughts on “Mainstream vs. Self-Publishing 2014 – The numbers are looking very interesting.

  1. Pingback: Mainstream vs. Self-Publishing 2014 – The numbers are looking very interesting. | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

      • I know. I’m just now thinking of coming out of the closet–as a writer–on facebook to my family and friends. Before, people judged so harshly because it was like chasing a unicorn. Now, I have 3 coworkers who grossed 20-30k last year in books sales. People can’t judge that.

        Liked by 2 people

      • That is great news – I remember the slings and arrows that I received when my first book came out in 2002 – and people sneeringly would say ‘Vanity press I assume’! Even though I was on a few front pages in Ireland and a couple in the UK because of the subject matter of the book. It is now in its 5th edition as an E-book… Now unless I need the book for training purposes they are all E-versions and I get such a kick when one is bought in Japan or Australia. Places that would never have seen a copy 12 years ago. Enjoy getting out into the limelight…. best wishes Sally

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you, Sally. It’s so inspiring hearing from the pioneers of e-publishing. What a remarkable change. Here’s hoping the cheer outnumber the jeers, but it doesn’t matter. It’s going to be an accomplishment.


  2. Those numbers are quite something. More than 10,000 is a best seller, huh? Guess mine are best sellers then since they’ve sold more than ten times that. But can you call yourself a best selling author if you self publish? I was told once that I could not.
    Anyway–Happy New Year! 🙂


    • Great thanks for commenting Roger – I certainly would never consider any other way of publishing my books – in my mind it is a backward step rather than being part of the future. I am following you now and very happy to reblog new books or retweet if you are on Twitter – I am sgc58. Happy New Year and best wishes Sally


  3. Reblogged this on Rereading Jane Eyre and commented:
    Fantastic overview of the year in publishing with opinions and statistics to back up facts. Also, a thoughtful look at the advantages and disadvantages of Mainstream Publishing vs. Self-Publishing. A real gem of a post. Thank you for writing and sharing!


  4. This was a very reassuring post for me, as I am about to release my second self-published book. I especially liked “In absolute numbers, more self-published authors are earning a living wage today than Big-5 authors.” Very encouraging, although I don’t need to earn a living from my writing. Marketing is the big thing now, and I am on a steep learning curve.
    Thanks for this and all your posts and have a wonderful 2015!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for the statistics.
    I understood that ALL the big 7 (or now 6, now maybe 5) were in Great Britain. I was made to understand that the U.S. no longer had any big publishers. So, does that statistic mean that we are publishing more in Indies and vanity and small press here in the U.S.?
    When I finally got interest from an agent, I had already decided to publish independently. The agent got me to think about querying her agency for about, let’s see, ONE MINUTE. Even if I got an immediate response which isn’t happening. One guy waited 6 mos. for a read from an agent, only to be told it would be another six months before they would read it. And they said they were very interested. Needless to say, he found an Indie publishing house and had the book out in less than 3 months.
    In my case, I am doing it all. I have someone coaching and mentoring me (Thank you, Boyd Lemon!), and I hired an editor, formatter and cover designer from his recommendations and he will help me upload both the e-book and the paperback.
    My question is what to do after that. How do I promote and market myself?
    The book comes out by the end of January so I would be really grateful for a prompt response.


    • Hi Sherrie – congratulations on getting to the point of publishing and you have obviously taken the right route and found experts to help you through the various stages. Assume that you are uploading to Amazon for Kindle (the biggest publisher now in the US for Ebooks).
      As to marketing the book it will depend on whether it is non-fiction, fiction which genre and who your market is. Why don’t you email me with a brief summary of the book and also let me have any social media links that you have for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc. Also your blog is your shop window and that is where many people here on WordPress will pop by to find out more about you.. tomorrow is obviously going to be a busy day but email on and I will come back to you with a few ideas and also some links to great articles and websites with ideas for marketing your book. Happy New Year and best wishes Sally


  6. The is the most detailed information on the independent author scene I have ever read. I belong to a writers group where I live, and more people self publish and earn a supplemental living to their retirement or as a second job.

    Although it is great to earn a living from a craft a person’s loves, I believe too much emphasis is place on earning monies, overshadowing the authors craft and the story the author wrote.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Sally. I thought it was Spain. I have a house near Villa Martin Plaza, (outside Torrevieja – Orihuela Costa) and an apartment, which I have moved into in May,2014,in Cabo Royg. I have had the house since 2000, and I am trying to sell it, too. I love Spain,


    • Hi Kathy, so do we – but I would like to get back to the UK in the next couple of years – my family are all on the south coast and it is also nearer for my husband and I to go back and forth to Ireland. I will miss our friends here and also the sunshine but we plan to do some travelling and spend some of the year back in the sun.. there is so much to rent. Welcome and look forward to sharing 2015 with you. best wishes Sally


  8. Pingback: Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

  9. Pingback: The Ebook Doctor – Part Two – Which Ereaders to format your books for. | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

  10. Wonderful post! Thank you for sharing and giving authors like me a little hope. I keep plugging away no matter what the stats! Thank you for following my blog. Will follow back. Nice to meet you!


    • Thank you and will pass onto David… at least this shows that more authors are making it each year and the readership is changing too. We all love print books but knowing that wherever you go you can carry a library of 100+ books with you is very comforting. Look forward to sharing your posts too in 2015. best wishes Sally


  11. Pingback: The Ebook Doctor — Part Three – Anatomy of an Ebook | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

  12. Pingback: The Ebook Doctor — Part Three – Anatomy of an Ebook, continued | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

  13. Pingback: Making your Own Ebook Part Seven – Finishing the Framework for the book | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

  14. Pingback: Making Your Own Ebook Part Eight – How to clean the formatting in your Word file | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

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  19. Pingback: Formatting your own Ebook – Q & A with David Cronin | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

  20. Right here is the right site for anyone who would like to
    find out about this topic. You understand so much its almost
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    Liked by 1 person

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