My annual revision of my book on self-publishing highlights major developments in this past year. Immerse yourself in my report on these observations to catch up on the publishing scene.
The book is An Author’s Perspective on Independent Publishing: Why Self-Publishing May Be Your Best Option. It is available in all the viable print book/ebook outlets, which mainly means Amazon, Ingram, Apple, B&N, and Smashwords.
I indicate in this article a development I observed this year for each of the 10 chapters of the book.
-1. How Traditional Publishing Worked (and Sometimes Still Works)
It is impressive to see how many “independently” published books are making it to the New York Times Best Seller List and other such lists. Did you see the movie The Martian? I understand that Author Andy Weir initially self-published it. Some Authors, when they are “successful,” will seek out a traditional publisher. Others will be sufficiently seduced by the prospect of earning “100% of net” rather than the traditional publisher offer of “15% of net.” Of course, a traditional publisher who offers a substantial Advance and much Author Support can affect an individual’s decision.
-2. Why Independent Publishing, Also Known As Self-Publishing, Arose
The evolving role of Amazon in facilitating the self-publishing market can’t be overstated. Amazon is a highly complicated and controversial subject, with many facets. Amazon gives me and my four “self-published” books/ebooks the same access to the market that my 14 “traditionally published” books get, if you look at my Amazon Author Page. Amazon is itself a huge part of the overall market. A post on the American Booksellers Association website suggests that Amazon sells 75% of online physical books, 65% of all ebooks, 40% of all new books, and about 85% of ebook sales of self-published Authors. Amazon’s marketing leverage, such as “free” Prime shipping, gives it a substantial consumer sales advantage. Amazon can also “lose” money on books if it makes money on diapers, a truly unprecedented situation. The fate of First Amendment “intellectual” products is linked to the sale of clothing and outdoor barbecues.
-3. Why Independent Publishing Today and Tomorrow May Be Your Most Viable Option
Disruptive innovation characterizes our times. I am reminded of the moment in 1993 when the CDROM technology broke and I earned $28,000 because I had the travel writing content and travel photos ready to go for a CDROM titled California Travel that was published by a company with the prescient name Ebook. One technology I am watching today is Ron Martinez and his aer.io innovation, purchased by Ingram, which may allow individuals to sell their books/ebooks on websites and in Social Media situations, especially if the physical product is in the Ingram system. In America, the status quo is always vulnerable to subversion by a new and better idea. Innovation can overthrow the giant, just as David cast his small stone at Goliath. Deserved disruption by innovation is perhaps America’s best contribution to world thought, paralleled only by our concept of the National Parks.
-4. Your Print-on-Demand Book
The basics remain the same, but the details keep changing. An Author needs to publish a printed book, probably print-on-demand, with Amazon CreateSpace for Amazon’s huge internal market and with Ingram’s Spark (or its earlier Lightning Source structure) to sell the book to bookstores and libraries. No love is lost between Amazon and the Ingram world of bookstores, especially independent bookstores. Amazon is seen as the devil incarnate, with all his works and pomps and wiles. An Author should print a few books with both Amazon and Ingram and have them at the ready for Author appearances and direct sales. An Author should never go into a bookstore with or offer to a bookstore some Amazon-printed books. A homicide might be the result. One change this past year is that Ingram raised its prices for my print-on-demand books. They are now less profitable than they were. Can and should I raise my price? This may happen in the rough and tumble of commerce.
-5. Your Ebook Distribution
The righteous juices of a democratic idealist can become stirred up when the issue of ebook distribution gets aired. In a perfect world and in a fluid economic system of greatest benefit to the consumer, there should be multiple providers of content and total competition among outlets, correct? This is especially true in a free democracy when the product at hand is ideas, gathered in books, rather than coal, correct? The actual world is more complicated. I recommend distribution of an ebook directly (but not exclusively) with Amazon and then distribution to “everyone else” through Mark Coker’s Smashwords outlet. Amazon will “incentivize” an Author to go “exclusive” because of major benefits. One benefit is participation in the Amazon Unlimited subscription service. Consumers can get many of the books they might want (now about 1.3 million) for $9.99/month. I would like to participate in this system because I have had sales through Oyster and Scribd, the two outfits that helped prove the viability of the subscription concept. But, alas, Oyster is now out of business. Amazon sets aside a monthly payment, which it determines, and is now about $15 million, for its Authors Unlimited participants. But to participate in it, Authors (or Publishers) must commit their book “exclusively” to Amazon. I resist doing this. Do the math (15 divided by 1.3) and the average book provides a monthly subscription income of $11.54. But that also means $0 from Apple and Barnes & Noble and the rest of the ebook universe. Of course, all Authors believe their books will experience “above average” sales.
-6. Your Book Content as a Website/Blog, Funded Partly by Advertising
Traditionally, content development in our culture has mainly been funded by advertising. This is true of magazines, newspapers, television, and radio. Books have been something of an anomaly, a product that you paid cash for due to its perceived content value. That value might be seen in many ways—entertainment, information, inspiration, etc. I think Authors will need to do more in the future to get their “book” content up as websites, with the opportunity for advertising. I have seen a devastating crash in my own sector, travel book journalism. I made about $200k from Lonely Planet 1998-2010 from my photos appearing in more than 300 of their books and in their stock photo sales. At a high point, LP sold itself to BBC for about $130 mil. In 2013 BBC sold it to an American entrepreneur for about $78 mil. The British taxpayers took a huge loss. Book content sales in physical products, even for adroit LP, have been elusive. All Authors should think of ways of displaying their content with ads. Consumers like to look at content for free and will endure ads. Many consumers think all content should be free. This is the Wikipedia devaluation-of-content effect on our modern era.
-7. Your Social Media Outreach
The triumph of the self-pub movement has been the reality that an Author’s Blog and Social Media can create the market for the book. Consumers are buying the Author as much as the book. The nuances of how to manage your Social Media continue to evolve. I recommend especially a focus on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google +. The details keep changing. It’s disappointing that we built our Friends on Facebook, and now Facebook charges us to get a message to our Friends. These setbacks will occur. Who is selling what to whom? I’m impressed with the number of people on LinkedIn who actually see my weekly Update. I keep changing my practices to adapt. For example, I formerly recommended Tweeting an item only once. I didn’t want to create “noise.” Now I Tweet each item once a day for three days. I need to be an occasional repetitive drop in the huge noise stream.
-8. Your Book Marketing Strategy
A “book” is many things. It is a printed book and an ebook. It can be a website book. But it is also licensable content and is an advertisement for an Author’s potential major assignments from entities that want content parallel to your book. Because I have my entire book Northern California Travel: The Best Options online on my website at www.fostertravel.com, I caught the attention of the decision person for Answers.com, the #23 site on the Internet for traffic, located in St. Louis. They wanted to hire 175 “experts,” including ten in travel, to lend gravitas to their site. They hired me on assignment to be their San Francisco/Northern California Expert and do 80 articles for them. Here is a parallel example of licensing. The great Canadian travel agency, Uniqlobe, licensed 100 of my worldwide travel articles, including 10 from this book, for use on their website for three years. They wanted credible travel content, fast, and they found it on my website. Assignments and licensing are potential parts of a book marketing strategy.
-9. Your Need for Quality Design in Independent Publishing
Every Author benefits from quality design, but it needs to be affordable to make sense. Sales revenue from the book needs to exceed the cash costs of editing, cover design, layout, conversion for print book and ebook presentation, and author website development. Ironically, of course, the investment may need to be made in design to be successful in the marketplace. Where can an Author find quality design at an affordable price? Authors are looking further each year. Mark’s List, that’s Mark Coker’s trusted list of providers on Smashwords, is one example of a source. Buying “templates” and learning to use them for multiple books is another approach. I’ve done that. I also bought one of my four indie book covers from Zoran of Croatia on Fiverr. It was a “rush” job, so the price went from $5 to $15. Three of my four self-pub covers have been in the $300 range. The fourth was $15. The Author quest for affordable quality design will continue.
-10. Your Book’s Possible Specialized Adaptations, such as an Audiobook and Chinese Translation
An Author needs to adapt to where the readers exist. I have one fan who never “reads” a book. But she listens to one every day, as she travels between Tracy and Walnut Creek, trapped in her car. The trapped commuter is a market. That why I have my travel/literary book Travels in an American Imagination: The Spiritual Geography of Our Time out as an audiobook. Trapped in her car is a great time to contemplate why I think life in our time is both the most wondrous and the most horrific era ever to be alive. Professional narrator William Dougan reads my book’s 25 chapters. Similarly, it is humbling to consider that my beloved English/American language is actually not the most popular language on Earth. The most popular language is Chinese. So I have my travel guidebook to California, Northern California Travel: The Best Options, translated into Chinese. Each month since April 2015 I have made some sales in China on that book in Chinese. I still get a little thrill whenever I look at my book’s Chinese language presentation page on Amazon China.
About the Author:
Lee Foster has published his annual revision of his recent book about the independent publishing movement, titled An Author’s Perspective on Independent Publishing: Why Self-Publishing May Be Your Best Option. The book can be seen on Amazon and on Lee’s Amazon Author Page. It is also available from Ingram, Apple, B&N, Smashwords and all the viable retail outlets, which is Lee’s recommended distribution strategy. After completing 14 books with traditional publishers, why did Lee switch to producing four books “independently” published or “indie” or “self-pub”? Why does Lee now recommend this path for most authors? This new revision includes all the changes in the self-publishing movement that caught Lee’s attention in the past year. The book describes Lee’s advice on the publishing of printed books (print-on-demand), ebooks, and books-as-websites. Lee Foster’s full writing/photography range of articles and books can be seen on his Foster Travel Publishing website (www.fostertravel.com).
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