Yes, we know that it's never been easier to publish your own work. And, yes, we know there's a wealth of information telling people each and every step in the process. Pulling up Google and typing in "How to self-publish an ebook", we found 45,700,000 results. Within seconds, we found some excellent resources. If you, right this very moment, are about to do a little experimental publishing on your own, know there are people eager to help you on your way.
Know, too, that there are sharks out there, already circling your wallet and smelling money. It's easy, this self-publishing thing, but it isn't DEAD easy. You'll be tempted when someone else offers to do the heavy lifting and it will cost you if you weaken. Cash up front and, sometimes, royalties forever after.
This last week, we e-mailed some fresh faces on the Amazon/Kindle block to ask 'em how their novels were doing. These faces are mostly new to you, not to us. Writers can be a friendly and supportive bunch and we'd drifted across this three-set on different forums, all about to publish their stuff for the first time. We shared some of our stories, they shared some of their own, and we got an idea. We asked each of them to keep track on how long it took them to get their work ready for publication and to give us sales figures after the first three months (subtracting, if possible, the purchases made by family and friends).
Mostly, we wanted to know if we were doing something wrong with our novels while everyone else was getting rich. Y'see, we're absolutely ready to make some adjustments if a big bag of money awaits us just around the corner.
At the end of the day, none of our new friends managed to pop their work on-line and go about their day. Each of them put multiple hours into getting the work ready for the marketplace. (One of them estimated she'd spent over six hours just trying to find the right cover artist for her mystery.) Once they went to market, none of them were interested in offering their work for free -- we know people can "sell" a bunch of free novels but the royalties suck -- and none of them wanted to offer a Dollar Store Special, either. Two of them priced their novels at $2.99 a pop, the third wanted $4.99 per purchase. All of them did decent to way-more-than-decent work.
In three months, total sales for all three authors were underwhelming. The sole male writer sold a single copy in that period (and feels it might fall into the 'friends and family' exclusion clause but isn't positive). Even the best-selling author in this bunch took home under forty bucks -- and her "per hour" rate for the time she'd spent wouldn't dazzle anyone. But what if the authors lived in Azerbaijan?, we hear you ask. Good try but no. Even in Azerbaijan, it's crap wages. We didn't ask about expenses to date (such as cover costs, editor charges, etc) but we assume our friends are all currently in the red.
At the end of the day, we learned two things. One, it's tough to build an audience in only three months; and, two, e-publishing just might be the perfect get-poor-quick scheme.