First published on www.time.com.
The RT booklovers convention is an annual festival of lust, sisterhood and marketing, attended by thousands of writers and readers of romance fiction. This year’s edition, held in Chicago, featured nighttime revels with bare-chested male models and seminars with titles like Beyond the Bodice. But to see its real, throbbing center of passion, you had to jam into a packed room where dozens of authors were talking mathematics: the profit calculations behind the digital-driven phenomenon of self-publishing.
Since 2006, annual production of self-published titles has more than tripled, according to the research firm Bowker, and it now tallies more than 200,000; within that category, e-book self-publishing is growing at a rate nearly four times that of print. To a growing movement of indie authors–many of them working in pulpy genres like mystery, fantasy and romance–self-publishing is no longer a mark of shame but a route to freedom, affirmation and a potentially vast pool of readers: buyers who are willing to risk a few dollars on an unknown author who doesn’t happen to meet the (often opaque and arbitrary) standards of traditional publishing houses.