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.