Wrote this for a discussion elsewhere, and then I decided it made a great year-end retrospective on how far we've come this year. Some AMAZING stuff has happened this year!
Just think back for a moment about how much indie/self publishing has grown, over the last year. Digital publishing has created something of a renaissance for writers. Self publishing, or "indie" as just about everyone is saying today, is rapidly growing to a dominant position in the market. It's not outliers, anymore.
In December 2010, the first indie book hit the Amazon ebook top 100. By March 2011, there were 37, and the number of self published titles has dipped below that only a couple of weeks since (Sunshine Deals). As of July, over 1/3 of the top 1000 Amazon ebooks were self published. In October, my own survey showed that *at least* 50% of the top 200 ebooks in romance, thriller, fantasy, mystery, science fiction, and horror genres were indie books (any book where I was unable to ascertain if it was indie or small press was marked "not indie", which means there is probably error, but in favor of more self published market share, not less).
Based on the current data, there are *minimally* hundreds of writers making a full time living from their self published ebooks. Hard to say just how many, because sales vary and pricing varies as well (selling 200 copies a month of a $5 book earns about the same as 2000 copies per month of a 99 cent book).
Ebooks are already closing on 50% of the fiction market. They are expected to surpass that percentage, if they haven't already, in the first few months of 2012 (after some ten million+ new ereaders are opened as Christmas presents). Nonfiction is lagging behind, but "text type" nonfiction is also shifting rapidly.
In short, traditional publishers have lost a double-digit percentage of the overall US trade book market to indie publishers, and will probably lose substantially more over the next year as more professionals move into publishing their own ebooks. That would have been unthinkable three years ago.
Now it's reality.
It's still an incredibly competitive environment. But then, so is traditional publishing. And editors are now routinely saying at writer's conferences that they're having greater success scoping out new talent on ebook bestseller lists than they are getting new writers from agents. What does that mean? Indie publishing might be turning into the new slushpile. Even if your goal is a big contract from a big publisher, your BEST course to achieve that might be to self publish a few books, prove your mettle - prove you have a market and fanbase! - and then approach some publishers. Publishers are finding that a proven writer with an existing fanbase is a surer bet than an unknown.
EVERYTHING has changed. Everything we "knew" to be absolutely true in 2008 should be questioned today. It's up to us to each stay tuned in on the new industry, because most of the old chestnuts are no longer valid today. But it's also an amazingly exciting time to be writing!