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Self-Publishing Breaking News — Macmillan Shuts Down Pronoun

Self-publishing is dead, long live self-publishing!

Major self-publishing platform Pronoun shuts down

Macmillan’s self-publishing platform Pronoun was arguably the best of its kind that was ever created. It was an impressive tool that couldn’t have been built without a major investment. Yet, the publishing giant announced today that it’s going to shut it down at the beginning of next year, giving its authors time to move their books elsewhere.

No doubt, this news came as a shock to all those who have already self-published or planned to do so on Pronoun. But even though I was among them and it broke my heart, it also confirmed my suspicion that self-publishing is not a business and is not getting any closer to becoming one.

Self-publishing is nothing more than a hobby for a vast majority of writers. With the exception of the few ‘lottery’ winners we all know, there is no real money to be made in self-publishing.

If there is a good business related to self-publishing, it is made by those who make a nice living off of wanna be self-published writers, but not by writers’ themselves.

Business is all about the numbers

The real-life numbers didn’t translate into business success for the self-publishing platform Pronoun, even though it was absolutely fantastic, beautifully designed, and created by a major publisher with a wealth of resources and decades of valuable experience in publishing.

Unfortunately, Macmillan didn’t explain the reasons for the decision in any detail. It’s also notoriously hard to get reliable numbers that would help one make sense of what’s going in the self-publishing market. I nevertheless tried to dig out what I could on how likely it is to make it as a self-published author.

What I found is far from encouraging. In short — it’s highly unlikely you are ever going to make a living by self-publishing your books. And even if you succeed, expect to work real hard for many years before seeing any profits, while you’ll have to invest too.

Does it make sense to self-publish? Is it worth the risk?

If you are going to invest hundreds or even thousands of dollars into self-publishing your first book and expect not to end up with a loss, you are being delusional. Unless you are already famous or have by some chance found a profitable niche, this is just not going to happen.

The market is flooded with courses, tools, and platforms that are targeting naive writers, though. These businesses are making a living selling self-publishing packages, but fail to warn the writers who buy into the false promise of easy success with ‘the right’ tools that they will, in all probability, never see a return on investment. At least not with their first book(s).

What most of these first-time self-published writers will get instead is financial loss and disappointment. Derek Murphy is one of the rare authors who sell this kind of services but also makes it very clear how things stand and how small are the chances of success.

Derek Murphy telling it like it is

What does ‘self-publishing success’ mean in terms of income?

It’s really hard to find these numbers. No self-publishing platform, including Amazon, has made the statistics behind the book sales and how much money the authors make easily accessible, let alone promote them. This alone raises a red flag.

It’s hard to get the exact numbers unless the writers disclose them themselves. One of the writers who did so is Nicole Dieker. She self-published her first book on Pronoun and shared a detail info on her sales and promotional activities on Medium. By all accounts, her novel has been a success, especially since she is a first-time self-published author.

She, however, also needed to invest in promotion. But even though she — by doing so — managed to get her novel into the top 3% of all the books sold on Amazon in category Sagas, this enviable success translated into a sad, almost laughable income of but a few tens of dollars.

That means that Pronoun, giving 70% royalties to the authors, earned even less —and Nicole, by the way, is one of the most successful writers on Pronoun. The reality thus is that in self-publishing even above average achievements don’t easily translate into a good or as much as decent income.

How many self-published writers succeed?

By ‘succeed’ I mean financial success that makes it possible for these writers to make a decent living by self-publishing their books. Again, it’s very hard to get these numbers, let alone from a reliable source.

Previously mentioned Derek Murphy took the pains of calculating this from the available information on Amazon, and that’s the most reliable estimate I could find so far (if you have them, feel free to provide the links to other sources and stats in the comments). According to his calculations, only %.000625 of over 4,5MIO books on Amazon are making any money.

He also makes it a point that it takes years of hard work and financial investments before you stand a chance of reaching this point. It’s not enough to just write a good book. In order to become successful in self-publishing, you need a solid base in business science combined with the ability to cope with the unpredictable, in addition to a big chunk of luck.

Epilogue

Given these facts and numbers, is it in the least strange that Pronoun has been shut down? Yes, it’s sad, but it’s neither unexpected nor inexplicable. It only further proves the point — self-publishing is not a good business for most, and when you are doing it with the thought of what would be best for writers (which is what Pronoun was all about) it’s even less so.

The only businesses that are making money off of self-publishing are those that are selling services and tools to the writers who want to self-publish because they dream big — the services and tools that will, for a vast majority of these writers, never justify the price in terms of ROI, and will only lead to disappointment.

If you want to learn more about the real numbers and lives of self-published authors, check out this article that was published in Guardian in 2012. According to the article, “ the average amount earned by DIY authors last year [2011] was just $10,000 (£6,375) — and half made less than $500.” Given the Pronoun’s shutdown, I doubt things have changed much in the recent years.

Does this mean you shouldn’t self-publish? No, of course not. If you have a dream, follow it. I self-published my book and I do not regret it even though I haven’t earned anything worth mentioning so far. But if you decide to do so, you better be aware of how things stand and how small are your chances of making it big.


Mateja started to write short stories at the age of ten and later became a freelance writer, radio personality, and explorer of the inner worlds. Her life resembles a roller coaster ride full of ups and downs and some pretty wild turns. Among other things, her car was destroyed by tanks, and she survived several brushes with death. She graduated in psychology from Arizona State University and is deep into the weird. Connect with Mateja on LinkedIn.

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