Until she hit her early 30's, Zoe Winters' resume was a list of odd jobs: candle maker, Avon lady, waitress, hotel night auditor.
But when she finally turned her attention to writing, the self-published author of paranormal romance novels stumbled upon success – all on her own. Just two years into her 10-year plan, Winters said, her ebook sales have put her on target to make her first six-figure salary, without a literary agent or big-name publisher.
"Everyone said you couldn't make a living writing and, ironically, the only thing I can make a living doing is writing," she said.
Much like Amanda Hocking, the 26-year-old author who recently scored a rumored seven-figure book deal with St. Martin's Press after hitting it big with her self-published titles, Winters is among a growing number of writers using new technology to bypass traditional publishers and reach audiences directly.
Though the potential for self-styled success may be seductive, those in the industry caution that the road from self-published author to best-selling bliss isn't always so smooth.
Self-Publishing Is Not 'Last Resort' Anymore, Expert Says
According to the Association for American Publishers, while book sales across all platforms grew just 3.8 percent between 2009 and 2010, ebook sales grew a whopping 164.4 percent year-over-year.
That shift to digital books may be threatening to traditional publishing models, but self-publishing experts say it means new opportunities for writers. As more consumers adopt tablet computers and e-readers, like Apple's iPad and Amazon's Kindle, authors are finding that they can leverage digital publishing platforms and social media to distribute and market titles on their own.
They may have to put up some of their own cash upfront and build buzz without dedicated marketing teams but, in return, insiders say they get more creative control, broader deal-making opportunities and, most likely, a higher piece of the profits.
"A lot of authors aren't looking at self-publishing as a last resort any more, but as the most sensible decision for them," said Sue Collier, co-author of "The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing."
While tracking the niche industry's statistics is difficult, she said, as technology levels the playing field, the trend is definitely toward more self-published authors.
Some authors choose to work through so-called subsidy presses, like Lulu, AuthorHouse or Outskirts, which help produce the book and provide editing and design services, but for a price. Other authors, like Winters, skip the middle men altogether, register their own ISBN (or International Standard Book Number, the unique identifier attached to each commercial book) and go straight to an on-demand printer. They have to hire their own cover designer and editor but, Collier (who recommends the latter) said the second option maximizes control, flexibility and profits.
While a stigma has plagued self-publishing in the past, she said, as authors become more educated about what they need to do to bring their work to professional standards, the reputation of the field is improving.
"There is still a bit of a stigma in some circles, but it's diminishing because a lot of authors are realizing that just because they can upload their files to Amazon doesn't mean that they should right away," she said.
Putting on the publisher's hat isn't a decision that should be taken lightly, she adds.