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Explosion in titles published in the USA

8 March 2010

The staggering number of 285,000 new titles and editions were self-published and published by community presses in the US last year, balanced against a slightly lower figure of 275,000 coming from traditional publishing houses.

The Nielsen figures for the UK are 133,224, quite modest by comparison, but this presumably does not include self-published titles unless the authors have subscribed to Nielsen, which is a book data collecting organisation which supplies data to the book trade.

So, what do these huge figures mean for authors? At a time when it's increasingly hard to get published, why are there so many titles coming out? The main answer of course is self-publishing and print on demand in general. The combination of these two trends is changing the world for writers, enabling them to take things into their own hands and decide for themselves whether or not their book will get into print. No author should forget the degree of commitment they need to get their book into print, but it's how successful you are at promoting it afterwards which is the real test and which will mean the difference between success and failure.

The other figure which is quite stunning is that there are now 822 creative writing programmes available in the States (a 2009 figure), so the other factor is that enormous numbers of aspiring writers are coming from these courses. Inevitably only a small proportion of these will be taken on by a publisher and fewer still will manage to support themselves totally through their writing, but it's still an extraordinary figure.

So, just why are so many people turning to writing? The readers of this column know the answer to this, so do email us to tell us in under a hundred words and we'll put the answers on the site. Do you actually enjoy the writing, or is it an unavoidable compulsion? Are you influenced by fantastic success stories such as J K Rowling's? Or do you just think that the ability to write well will be useful in any career?

Creative writing is largely taught by writers, especially poets, so in some sense it's a self-perpetuating thing, but there's been such a huge and rapid growth in this area that that is an outcome rather than the cause.

Even in the UK there are now a really large number of creative writing courses of all kinds, including nearly a hundred in universities. Ironically the writer has more options in terms of courses, degrees and groups than ever before, but less chance of getting into print through the traditional publishing route.

Self-help is beginning to look like an increasingly attractive option.

Is a creative writing degree really worth it? by Josh Spears