Every industry changes—some more often than others. For those in the publishing industry, the roller coaster of change has been running on full speed for the past several years, and we’re likely to continue on this path for quite some time. There will be blog posts about how much power indie authors have and blog posts about how traditional publishing is spiraling down the drain—blog posts about low quality books (on both sides), scorching nasty reviews and inappropriate practices, and, I’m sure, several blog posts about what publishing is likely to look like over the next twelve months. Some of those blog posts will be accurate, or at least have slivers of accuracy among the piles of guesses and slams. One thing is for sure, changes in the publishing industry will come.
I don’t think any one person can accurately foresee what is to come in this ever-changing industry, so instead, I put my efforts into what needs to happen to succeed.
Let’s look at what the masses are saying and take an educated guess on the accuracy of how it will play into the future.
INDIES HAVE ALL THE POWER
This one always throws me for a loop. First, one has to ask, what is “power” when it pertains to publishing? Power might be seen as the ability to publish, and yes, indies have that within their grasp. Perhaps power is seen as the ability to make money. Yes, indies and traditional authors alike have that ability—write a breakout novel and market it well.
My next thought would be, what part of “power” do indies not yet possess? The power of the brick and mortar bookstores (where yes, there are great numbers of books being sold daily). Access to the same reviewers and advertising venues as traditional publishers? Nope, another loss of “power”.
THERE ARE TOO MANY LOW QUALITY BOOKS
This happens on both sides of the publishing fence. I think it could be said that both traditional and indie books have those that stand out and those that are laden with issues, be it pacing, structure, grammar, or some other flaw that is noticed by readers.
ADVANCES ARE GOING DOWN WHILE INDIE SALES ARE GOING UP
I believe that if you took publishing as a whole and looked at the number of indie authors and the number of traditionally published authors, then lined up their yearly income, you might be surprised at what you see. We hear about the few indie authors that are making it big. Amazon’s recent press release mentions this success, and as you can see, the top sellers were previously traditionally published, with a following/readership in place—and those readers are used to paying higher, traditional publishing prices, so when a previously traditionally published authors goes indie, readers are in download heaven: “Top sellers this year include Hugh Howey, author of the New York Times best seller “WOOL,” Stephanie Bond, author of “Stop the Wedding!,” the #2 best-selling book in the Kindle Store in December, and Barbara Freethy and CJ Lyons—both members of the Kindle Million Club.” Furthermore, it’s not immediate sales that matter as much as long-term readership. Are indies gaining the followings that traditionally published authors are? I’d say yes, a few are, while others are relying on free ebooks follow-up sales to gain readers and they’re surprised when their next books aren’t selling as well—because many of those after-freebie 99-cent books are never read.
There is money to be made on both sides of the fence. If you read Publisher’s Weekly, then you recognize that major sales are indeed happening every week. There’s also money to be made on the indie side of the fence. The trick will be in making it happen.
FREE EBOOKS HURT SALES
There is no doubt that KDP Select has brought the focus for many readers to downloading free ebooks rather than paying for them. Is publishing going the route of the music industry? Only time will tell. While promotion has its place, I believe the free bonanza has lost much of its value for authors. Follow-on sales are not as strong as they used to be (though for some they are still strong enough to be worthwhile compared to their pre-free sales), and I can’t imagine that free ebooks are helping the industry as a whole. That being said, the ability to list a book free has helped many first-time authors gain recognition, and that's a good thing!
NOW THAT WE HAVE DISCUSSED WHAT THE MASSES ARE SAYING, LET’S TAKE IT APART
Readers love books, no matter what format. They’ll find ways to gather as many books as they would like to read in any way that suits that particular reader (free, paid, ebooks, paperback, bookstore, online). What do I believe needs to happen in 2013 to bring readers and authors together?
INDIES NEED TO FIND MORE PATHS
If Indies are going to truly compete with traditional publishers, Indies need to write well enough to be considered viable books for bookstore shelves—and then they need to go after them. That means money goes into editing and covers, and it also means upping indie marketing budgets. Bookstores have return policies—indies need to allow for those returns.
There can be no major success without equal marketing opportunities. Indies need to make this a focus and find a path into the advertising and reviewing venues that matter. Indies need to reach the readers that are outside of the indie realm. Again, this means higher quality books, serious writing efforts, and marketing dollars on hand.
WE CAN ONLY GUESS AT THE FUTURE OF PUBLISHING
As we all know, Amazon holds the purse strings for many. The algorithms of the marketing machine that is Amazon can make or break an author’s sales. No one knows what Amazon’s next move is going to be. Their last marketing baby, KDP Select, certainly helped a number of authors find an audience, until Amazon changed its focus from free ebooks to higher paid ebooks. What will they come up with next? Every author I know is holding their breath in anticipation of Amazon’s next move. Will there ever be competition for Amazon? That’s the other big question. Authors hope for another venue that will do the marketing job that Amazon does—or maybe what they really want is for Amazon to choose their books to market.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Marketing, reviews, ebooks, bookstores—they all matter, but nothing matters more than writing a breakout novel that readers will talk about and pass along to friends. Word of mouth still travels faster than any author can imagine.STOP worrying about HOW publishing will change, and instead, FOCUS on how YOU can make it in the publishing industry—and that starts with a damn good book
Melissa Foster is the award-winning author of three International bestselling novels. Melissa is a community builder for the Alliance of Independent Authors and is a touchstone in the indie publishing arena. When she’s not writing, Melissa teaches authors how to navigate the book marketing world, build their platforms, and leverage the power of social media, through her author-training programs on Fostering Success. Melissa is the founder of the World Literary Café, Fostering Success, and the social and support network for women, the Women’s Nest.