There's hope for indie authors
Three years ago, Jenn Sterling, 35, of Petaluma got fired from her job. At the time, it felt like the worst thing that could have happened to her. But in fact, it ended up being the best.
"The first thing I did after getting the boot was go out and buy a laptop and start writing," Sterling said. "I had this one particular story in my head for over 10 years and it wouldn't stop nagging at me. Getting fired was the perfect time to start writing it."
Three years later, Sterling's third novel, "The Perfect Game," has sold over 100,000 copies, has hit multiple bestsellers lists, and has created a buzz among her fans with the announcement of the upcoming sequel, "The Game Changer," publishing in June.
What makes Sterling's story remarkable, however, is she did all of this by starting out self-publishing.
Like most self-published, or "indie," authors, Sterling attempted to get her book published by a traditional publisher.
"I got too many rejections to count," she said. "And I remember thinking that when the next rejection comes, I'll cave and just self-publish. Thank God for that next rejection."
The ability to self-publish isn't a new phenomenon. But it has been making waves in the way books are published, thanks to a few notable self-published authors who have found their way to larger success and recognition.
Amanda Hocking, 28, a Minnesota writer of paranormal fiction, decided to self-publish a few books just to earn a few hundred dollars. Almost three years later, she is a multi-millionaire with five book series under her belt.
Hugh Howey, 37, a writer in Florida, began sharing his "Wool" series on Amazon in 2011, originally self-published as a novelette. His short stories soon hit high demand, and all of his books can be found among the bestsellers lists on Amazon.
And, of course, there is E L James, the London author who took a story written as fan fiction and turned it into the huge, self-published success story we know as the "Fifty Shades" trilogy. All three books have dominated the bestsellers lists and are being transformed to film.
But despite the inspiring stories of indie authors making it big almost instantly, the grim reality is that it takes a lot of work to make a career out of self-publishing, and success isn't necessarily instant - or guaranteed.
"I think the only people who bought my first book were all of my friends and family," Sterling admitted. "My first book barely made any money. And by barely, I mean nothing."
Helen Sedwick, the 37-year-old Santa Rosa author of "Coyote Winds," credits books like "Fifty Shades of Grey" with turning the tide for self-published authors.
"Will people take you seriously if you self-publish?" she mused. "The thought process is changing. Thanks to 'Fifty Shades of Grey,' people are more familiar with self-publishing."
Sedwick's paperback book sales and eBook sales are close to even right now, due in part to a recent book signing she held. But she acknowledges the advantage eBooks have over physical book copies.
"There's a lower risk involved with eBooks, and they're less expensive," Sedwick noted. "Readers can download a sample before they buy. And authors make more money on an eBook," she said, noting the lack of printing costs and middlemen.