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Saturday, December 12, 2015

State of Publishing (or look into my crystal ball) by Maggie Lynch

Romancing the Genres asked me to once again share my thoughts on the state of publishing as we close out 2015.  As always, crystal ball gazing is more art than science.  My crystal ball does show me future possibilities, but it never gives me precise timelines nor guarantees of what is most important.
What I will share below is not only my ideas. Instead it is a compilation of things I’ve read over the past year, experienced myself, and/or my gut feel is that this is true. However, I would not be surprised if your gut simply wanted to toss up the serving. 
With those caveats here are my thoughts on the
Top 5 things that are now shaping success in publishing:
1. Mobile is Dominant – Last year I predicted a move away from e-reader devices to tablets. Well, I was partially right. Actually the most commonly used reading device were smartphones (43.4%), followed by tablets (25.2%) and laptops (12.4%). That also translates to nearly 80% of all access to websites, buy sites, blogs are done via mobile devices not desktop computers.

In 2013 the mobile app was replaced by the mobile web.  We saw a reinforcement of that change early in 2015 when Google stated it would penalize rankings (SEO) for sites that weren’t mobile-friendly. They were only reflecting a two-year shift in consumer behavior. In 2016, it will be more than simply having a responsive website. We need toe valuate how our content is perused on a smartphone or tablet, how easy or hard we make it for mobile users to read, engage, buy our products. Looking at the world through a large 17-21 inch monitor is no longer the norm.

2. International Sales/Foreign Markets Are the Next Ebook Frontier – Many authors have chosen not to focus beyond their home country. This is particularly true in the U.S. They claim that the majority of their sales (e.g., 85-90% come from the U.S. or come from Amazon).  This is changing and, with the focus on mobile and smart phones, will change even more rapidly in the next few years.
There are now more than 1 billion Apple devices in the world, each with the iBooks app installed.  And that is small compared to the Android operating system which garners more than 80% of the mobile market. Google has promised a big push for Google Play ebooks in 2016. Don’t be surprised to see a special Google Play Book app available on all Android devices. Apple currently distributes in 51 countries. Kobo is in 190 (though realistically most sales are in about 40). Amazon is in 14. Google is in almost every country in the world. Draft2Digital reports that 30% of their sales are now outside the U.S.
What does this mean for authors? It means you need to get good foreign distribution now because it takes time to get noticed and to build an audience. You don’t need to focus on translations.  There are English speakers around the world who read in English. Once your book starts getting traction in a foreign market, then you might consider translation (which is a long and costly process).
3. Self-publishing Will Become the New Normal –  There will no longer be the question of which is better—traditional publishing or self-publishing. Instead, the question is what is the path to get the career you want? We are already seeing this where the book begins as self-published and then, after reaching a certain sales number, is given the option of moving to traditional publishing.  What is that number? It appears to be around 50,000 copies. Though it depends on a lot of factors relating to genre and perceived market penetration, big publishing is looking for capitalizing on a market already created rather than trying to create one itself.  They prefer to spend $250K on a celebrity or someone already with a following, then to spend $5K on a book they love but the author is unknown.
4. Big Publishing Will Become Rights Holders Instead of Innovators – This goes with #3 above and has been evolving for more than a decade. Big publishing will make their money buying and selling rights (ebook, audiobook, film, serial, etc. ) of current catalog titles rather than create new work. They will rely more and more on proven content from boutique agencies/publishers and bestselling authors. They will no longer nurture writer careers or produce new work—outside of celebrity books.
5. Series Continue to be The Best Way to Advance a Career – Most bestselling authors are writing at least one series. Many are doing more than one. Those who, in the past, primarily wrote stand-alones are now finding ways to connect them (by theme, location, or characters). Along with this is consistently releasing new titles on a regular basis (every three to six months) in order to build fans. Having more titles gives an author many more marketing options to bring in new readers. The branding and promotion benefits offered by a series give authors a big head start in discoverability and in finding their niche.

We are long past the I-only-want-to-write stage of authorship. If it was ever possible in the past, it is certainly gone now whether you are traditionally or indie published.  Every author who wishes to be financially successful must also become the CEO of her own business; or hire someone to be your CEO. 
Today’s publishing environment requires someone with entrepreneurial skills. These include:
  • Good interpersonal communication and relationship management

  • The expertise to negotiate terms and conditions (whether that is with your virtual assistant, a cover designer, or with a publisher purchasing rights to your work)

  • The ability to manage to a budget and a delivery timeline

  • A desire and willingness to learn about the market and apply it to your products

  • Resourcefulness—the ability to keep looking for a way to move forward when faced with a barrier; the ability to learn from mistakes and rise from failure; the ability to believe you can and will succeed

An entrepreneur does not waste time worrying about how someone else is doing (usually a bestseller they wish to emulate), and then attempting to replicate it. Whatever opportunities she had then are likely at least two years old and do not provide the same results now. Doing what everyone else does puts you behind the curve and in a saturated sea of sameness.
Finding your unique path provides an opportunity to do something that no one else has tried before. Evaluate all advice for fit and then tweak it to reflect and benefit your uniqueness. Most important is that whatever you choose to do, you are able to do it consistently.
I wish all of you great success as you close out 2015. I pray that you find some new insights and wisdom that will help you to plan well and to be significantly closer to your goals in 2016. 

Maggie is the author of 15 published books, as well as more than 30 short stories and numerous non-fiction articles. She is also the founder of Windtree Press, an independent publishing cooperative. 
Her love of lifelong-learning has garnered degrees in psychology, counseling, computer science, and education; and led to opportunities to consult in Europe, Australia, and the Middle East. Since 2013, Maggie has enjoyed the luxury of writing full-time. Her adult fiction spans romance, suspense, SF, and fantasy titles under the name Maggie Jaimeson. She writes for young adults and children under the name Maggie Faire.  Her non-fiction titles are found under Maggie McVay Lynch.


Tammy Palmer said...

Interesting post Maggie!

Paty Jager said...

Maggie, you always keep up with what is happening and about to happen. That's why I like hanging around with you. ;) Thank you for the great information!

Barbara Rae Robinson said...

Thanks for another great post, Maggie. Love your insights.

Courtney Pierce said...

Maggie's insights never fail to resonate with me, especially her advice to write what you love and find your unique voice. Chasing the market is a no-win for an author. It's exhausting, but Maggie is spot on when she says we have to cultivate our following, and then feed it with consistent product. It's a labor of love - emphasis on the labor.

Sarah Raplee said...

Thank you once again for sharing your knowledge and encouragement, Maggie. I consider this post to be a reality check on what it takes to be an author in the 21st Century.

Mary Tate Engels said...

Thanks for the necessary reality check and reaffirming that even though we are self-publishing, we cannot do it alone. I am just a writer... Caught up in a very big business. Where... And if... I fit into all this.

Cathryn Cade said...


Thanks for the affirmation that changes are the norm in publishing today.

I think we'll see more huge changes in 2016, as Amazon continues to use ebooks as a loss leader to bring customers into their 'buy everything here' sales funnel, and indie authors continue to see their book sales shift to the other sites like iBooks, Kobo, and Google Play.

And hopefully, as you mention, overseas sales will continue to pick up.

Off to make sure my website is mobile friendly!

Maggie Lynch said...

Thank you everyone. I'm happy my comments resonate with you. I believe this has been a difficult transition for many authors, myself included. Part of it is giving up on the myths of publishing that I've grown up with: publishers will always find the best work and nurture the author to great sales. I frame that as a myth because it was never true. Yes, publishers did find some great books and did nurture authors back in the 70's and '80s. However, it was never true that if a book was good that it was published. And once book publishing became part of larger media organizations--and sometimes even a subsidiary of a company like GE that had media companies as part of its portfolio--the nurturing part completely disappeared.

I make no judgment on that. Business is business and I believe there has always been a tension between art and culture and business profits. It is only that the ebook revolution and tech company (e.g., Amazon and others) involvement has made it more clear that publishing is a business. Prior to this evolution, many authors saw publishing as a mystical process run by a few very powerful mages of great wisdom (whether those were agents or editors or both) who had the power to anoint the next group of great American books and their authors.

It was never that way. It was always the readers who made the market. Moving forward the question is who really understands the readers and can deliver what they want? I believe many independent authors are doing that. I also believe a few traditional publishers will do that as well. The difference is that authors, as individuals, have always been the ones to take chances with their careers. Companies are not as good at doing that; and the bigger the company the less agility they have.

It has always been so, but now authors know it too. Information is power. If authors don't stick their head in the sand, they can consciously choose to wield that power in a way the best suits their own careers.

Judith Ashley said...

Thanks for an informative post, Maggie. I value your view of the publishing world (among other things). I do believe writers/authors need to think outside the box and outside their country to grow their readership. I'm looking forward to 2016 and seeing how things shake out in the wonderful world of publishing.