Swapping her high-flying career in law to become the author of romantic thrillers was a change of gear that surprised even Louise Ross. Nevertheless, while on maternity leave with her son Ethan, now two, the 30-year-old from Hertfordshire decided to give up her job to put pen to paper. "Being an author is everyone's dream,'' says Louise, ''but having my son gave me the space to consider it seriously."
The result was Holy Island, a crime novel inspired by the desolate landscape of her childhood home in Northumberland, published this January. The book has sold more than 70,000 copies, reached number one in the Kindle bestseller list, and made her pounds 70,000. More surprisingly, she managed it without a book deal or agent, and despite a stack of rejection letters from publishers.
Louise is one of a growing number of authors taking the literary game into their own hands, and self-publishing ebooks (digital books) through companies such as Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), Apple iBookstore and Smashwords. For as sales of print dwindle, self-publishing has become a ferociously rising sector. In 2013, the market for self-published books grew by 79 per cent, with 18 million bought by UK readers, despite print sales falling 10 per cent overall.
Last year it was reported that self-published novels represented 31 per cent of sales on Kindle, five years old in the UK last week, whose self-publishing arm has been growing substantially year-on-year. Tales of those who shift seven-figures' worth of ebooks such as Rachel Abbot, Amanda Hocking and John Locke are becoming more common.
Even my grandmother, 85 this year, is at it: her first book, The Mammals that Moved Mankind, an anthropological sweep through history, will be self-published on AuthorHouse this month.
My grandmother aside, the result of authors choosing to go it alone is a new digital literary landscape where romance, erotica and science fiction reign supreme and readers - rather than publishing houses - decide what sells.
The only downside? You've probably never heard of them. DIY publishing rarely receives mainstream media attention or plaudits and those going into it do so largely for cash over credibility, and the opportunity of an audience, rather than a Pulitzer Prize or a headlining spot at Hay Festival.
Ruth Tross, senior editor at Hodder & Stoughton, says: "It's a trade-off in some respects. Authors have to decide what they are writing for; for a book to be available or for critical acclaim."
But attitudes are changing and Kindle makes it easy; anyone can self-publish via KDP - authors keep control of the rights, set the price, design the cover and can edit their book, or its price, at any time. Authors earn a 35 per cent royalty rate for books priced below pounds 1.99 or 70 per cent between pounds 1.99 and pounds 9.99. Once you've uploaded your treasured manuscript, it can be available worldwide within 24 hours.
Tracy Bloom, 44, from Derby - the second bestselling independent author in Kindle's charts - has published four books, selling more than 300,000 copies of her debut comic novel No One has Sex on Tuesday. After giving up a high-powered job in marketing and development to raise a family, she took up writing, became an ''authorpreneur'', and has never had to ''work'' again.
Her attitude, Tracy admits, was strategic: she plotted her release strategy for months, compiled a survey and press release, and researched price points. "I didn't just want to self publish,'' she explains. ''I wanted to do it successfully.''
Paul Pilkington, a 38-year-old university lecturer from Gloucestershire, has played the game from both sides. After years of rejection letters he self-published a trilogy of suspense mysteries. The first, The One You Love, sold
over 300,000 copies and led to 12 agents trying to sign him within three weeks.
As a result, Paul won a publishing deal with Hodder & Stoughton, finishing writing the trilogy through the night and during annual leave. "I try to write 1,000 words every day in an hour and a half. With this, you can't afford to wait and release a book in two years' time or you'll have missed your readership."