by John W Prince
Whew! 2021 has been a year for the books. Between Covid (in all of its variants), the ups and downs of the science and politics of Covid, and the exponential growth of the indie/self-publishing industry, we have been twirled and twisted beyond belief.
First: The POD/Ebook revolution continues
According to Wikipedia “In 1966, Frederik Pohl discussed in Galaxy Science Fiction “a proposal for high-speed facsimile machines which would produce a book to your order, anywhere in the world.” As the magazine’s editor said at the time, “it, or something like it, is surely the shape of the publishing business some time in the future.” He didn’t specify the time frame.
I’ve been involved in the printing industry for decades in various roles. Moveable type was still important when the mechanized offset process took over in the late 50’s. That involved creating artwork with paper and glue, shooting a negative, making a plate, and using printing presses ranging from tabletop to gigantic.
It was the heyday of the “vanity press.” Complete your manuscript and a “vanity” would, for a hefty fee, print your book and send you 500 or more copies to decorate your garage or spare room.
Print on Demand stopped all of that. And gave rise to the Amazon empire.
Audiobooks and Ebooks took things a giant step further, eliminating paper and ink completely.
According to Statista.com, audiobook sales in the U.S. alone totaled $1.3 billion in 2020—capping a nine-year double-digit growth spurt. Ebook sales totaled 191 million units. Sales of printed books reached almost $26 billion in 2020—that’s about 650 million books.
My prediction is that overall book sales are going to continue to grow into the foreseeable future. Printed books will continue to lead the pack, audiobooks will come up a close number three, and the sale Ebooks will surge.
So, if there are all of these many books being sold, how come my book(s) aren’t selling in the thousands?
Several reasons: quality, lack of promotion, absolute sheer luck.
- Maybe your book is not so great. Despite what your spouse, neighbor, and best friend will tell you.
- With a few million books coming on the market every year, it’s almost impossible (read: very expensive) to make your voice heard. If you have a few hundred thousand to spend, I can pretty well guarantee a hot seller.
- Many authors (read: Amy Tan, Steve Berry, etc.) will recount how many dozen rejections they got before some publisher, for some reason, decided to give them a chance. You need a saleable story, but the rest can be just luck.
Traditional publishers absolutely will not take a chance on an unknown author unless they absolutely know that they will make money on it. Traditional publishers launch a set number of books a year. If they get their quota in January; forget the other 11 months. There are only five big traditional publishers in the U.S.: Penguin/Random House, Hachette Book Group, Harper Collins, Simon and Schuster, Macmillan. That could be reduced to four by this time next year if the mergers continue.
That widens the doorway for self-publishing. But it’s still an uphill struggle.
There are between 600,000 and 1,000,000 titles published annually in the U.S. According to Bowker, Amazon’s market share of self-published shot from 6% in 2007 to 92% in 2018. More stats: Mashable reports that self-published authors with several books and a huge list of fans make about $1,000 a year.
But authors don’t always write and publish books just to become rich and famous. Many, especially the mature authors, often write and publish because (1) they want to, (2) they have something to say and, (3) they can. They have the resources and the indie publishers are ready to help.
Another prediction: Self-published book titles will continue to grow rapidly because there is an overwhelming trend in that direction. At some point the trend will crash (say the experts), but I don’t see that happening soon.
Yet another prediction: The visual and content quality will continue to grow until most self-published books will be indistinguishable from books by the big five. With many books, we’re already there.
Naturally, opportunities begat the scams and scam artists. We hear many stories about indie publishers who take the author’s money and (1) provide an inferior service or product, (2) nickel and dime the author into spending much more than the original plan called for (Oh, you wanted a cover on your book!), and (3) offering incentives that never happen (This looks like a potential Oscar-winning film. We’ll ask our Hollywood script department to take a close look.)
Want to know more? Here’s a great site that might save you a lot of money and grief: https://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/. You might even have a case study they can add to their files.
My prediction: The scams are going to grow and become even more elaborate because there is a growing, willing audience of writers who desperately want to make the big time, and have the money to spend. Good luck.
It mostly comes down to this: Marketing is the key. So far, in our experience, very few book marketers can actually deliver sales. Many operate on the “I don’t charge much so you can’t lose much” basis. For a few hundred dollars they will set up a campaign for you on social media. You throw down your credit card and a few weeks, after nothing much happens, you figure, “Well, it didn’t cost me that much.” Meanwhile the scammers take in dozens of authors a month and they are the only ones making any money.
Now for the good news. There are small indie publishers who do a good job for their self-publishing authors. They are realistic, honest, knowledgeable, provide personal service, and excellent value.
Here’s how to know them:
- They provide a written, itemized estimate and can expertly discuss their services. They actually enjoy explaining the process to prospective clients. Want to know more? This video will help explain the publishing process. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bUbHs8D2qu4
- They come highly recommended by their current authors. Most good indie publishers don’t advertise. They don’t have to—their authors continually refer and recommend them to other authors.
- There’s no pressure. Do you really want an email every day chasing you? “Are you ready to publish yet? When will you be ready? Can we start now?” Authors want a partner, not a telemarketer.
- They are active in the industry and enthusiastic members of national organizations like the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), and state author and publisher associations such as Florida Authors and Publishers Association (FAPA), and Florida Writers Association (FWA).
- They help the author successfully navigate the shoals and rapids of Amazon and other platforms (and there are plenty of glitches now!), and help the author publish a book that they are proud of. They want authors to smile when they look at their book cover.
What else will happen during the coming year? IDK (that’s social media-speak for “I don’t know.”), but it promises to be a fun trip.