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Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Future of Publishing

by Maggie Lynch

I’m going to modify my predictions for next year to focus exclusively on Indie publishing—also known as Self-Publishing. The reason is that the publishing playing field is no longer weighted toward traditional publishers. In fact, it’s not even the level playing field it was in 2013 or 2014. I believe the market is now clearly tilted toward indie authors. The stigma of self-publishing is no longer looming large. Indie authors have increased their professionalism and their business savvy. Indie published books are regularly on all the bestseller’s lists, often holding 50% or more of the slots. Authors who have left traditional publishing to turn Indie did so to make more money and, the majority are very happy with their results.

The Top Trends I’m Seeing

I know most people do Top 10, but I’m going to stick to the top five. These five are enough to scare me into action in 2017. The overriding technological change that impacts the entire digital landscape is the role of smart phone use in society. According to PEW Research on Internet use, in 2015 over 68% of Americans had a smart phone, and the rest of the world is quickly moving to catch up. It is predicted that by 2020 global smartphone subscriptions will double. By 2020, 70% of people worldwide will use smartphones, and 90 percent will be covered by mobile broadband networks. As you evaluate my top five trends, keep this in mind and consider how it will change the way you create and sell your stories. 

1. Mobile Reading is Now the Norm – Many pundits have been predicting mobile reading for the future. I know I’ve been talking about the swell of tablet use for at least four years—predicting it will become the reading device of the future. Well, the future is now and I’ve been surprised. According to The Wall Street Journal more people are reading books on their phones than on tablets, and almost no one is reading on desktop computers. Though many people own an e-reader (Kindle, Nook, Kobo), device sales have slowed substantially in favor of phones. In May of 2016 PEW research reported that not only were people reading more on their phones, but they engaged with reading longer as the word count went up!  News articles that were longer than 5K words had greater engagement than the 250-500 word articles.

Why is phone reading such a boon? I would have not guessed people would be content to read long articles or books on a 5” x 4” screen and sometimes smaller. The answer is “convenience.” A phone is something people have with them all the time—waiting in line, on a commute, at their desk, at home in a pocket while they do chores, in a restaurant, and when visiting with friends. The phone is now a multi-purpose device: a computer, a search mechanism and research tool, a dictation device, a way to engage socially, a news distributor, a book manager, a video streamer, a calendar manager, and at the bottom of the list it is also a phone. Do people actually talk on the phone anymore? On a worldwide level, currently 52% of readers around the world read on their smart phones. And another 12% are reading on tablets.  That means the market is moving away from single use devices, like a specific e-reader toward app-based reading. A smart phone or tablet can have multiple apps on it—not tying a reader to one source for their content.

What does that mean to authors? On the design side, it means think about phone displays when designing covers. Yes covers can be enlarged on the phone, but it is still limited to that 3” x 4” screen of most smart phones. Don’t count on a 20” desktop screen or even a tablet larger than 8” to reach the majority of readers. Also, think about simplification of your text to make it easy to scroll quickly, without jumps, and keep the story intact. Instead of extra fancy fonts, dividers, drop caps and images taking up space in your text, consider something that is neat and readable. Certainly a nice font is important, and distinction between italics and normal. Even a bolded heading is fine. But not much more is desired or necessary.

Author and book marketing in a mobile world means focusing more on email, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media as the point of engagement with readers. Websites, blogs, any sales venues MUST be responsive. That means they must automatically resize based on the device. They must be easy to navigate on a phone. Calls-to-action need to be clear and easy to access with immediate reward. Advanced marketers are looking to strategies that link to easy downloads of content at transit locations: airports, hotels, trains, tourist and business destinations.

2. Audiobooks are the fastest growth area for the book publishing industry. According to the Audiobook Publishers Association (APA). The market grew by 27% in 2014, 38% in 2015, and though data for 2016 won’t be available until three to four months into 2017, first and second quarter reports put growth in the 37% range. Smartphones again play a critical role in audiobook consumption. Buyers report listening to audiobooks while watching children’s sports practices, handling rote tasks at work or at home, while commuting on buses and trains, and while exercising.

The key for author success in Audiobooks is choosing the right narrator. Good narrators have a certain celebrity following among listeners. Those who do a good job narrating bestselling titles become recognized—just as a great actor is recognized when a movie hits big. Listeners seek out specific narrators without regard to the book’s author.  Savvy authors invest in audiobooks at the front end as a valuable reimagining of their book—one that requires an outstanding performance of the author’s work. One cannot invest in it as an afterthought or something to be done on the cheap. It won’t compete well in the marketplace.

I had plans to narrate my own books, as I do have voice over experience. But seeing how the market has matured, I will now have to save to pay a professional actor (narrator) who has a following. Not to do so is to sink money that won’t see a return on investment for years, if ever.

NOTE: Though this is the fastest growth industry, it is still only 14% of all book sales. If you are evaluating where to spend money on a limited budget, audiobooks may not yet be the place to invest if you haven’t built a good fanbase in print and/or e-books first.

3. Print Books Are Still Important.  According to a May 2016 PEW Research survey, 65% of Americans still read print books. NOTE: The majority of print books sold are non-fiction. This percentage does vary widely by age, education, and genre with non-college educated individuals preferring to read electronically.  But overall, 65% is still significant.

Furthermore, approximately 30% of people read both e-books and print books.

This tells me that authors who are digital-only are missing an important part of the market. Yes, it continues to be difficult for any author—traditional or indie—to get a print book stocked in bookstores or in their local library. However, it pays to keep trying. Also, though independent bookstores are thriving—they are thriving in cities and large swaths of countryside do not have bookstores with large collections. So, print books are purchased online. Whenever possible, indie authors need to have a POD version of their book for those readers who prefer that option.

4. Controlling Reader Information is Critical. Given the mobile trend overall, and the fact that online purchases exceed local bookstore purchases, it is more critical than ever that authors find a way to know who their readers are and who is buying or not buying in order to target promotions and advertising more effectively. Third party vendors do not share purchaser information with you, even when they distribute your book. Keeping buyer information to themselves is the biggest asset a vendor has for further sales and creating loyalty.

If you engage with your readers on Facebook or Twitter, Pinterest or Snapchat, do you know who your readers are? Can you contact them on your own, without paying an intermediary through advertising? If one of these places go down (remember My Space?) or is no longer popular, do you still have a way to get to your readers and migrate them to a new popular platform? Technology change has taught us just that digital players can disappear quickly or be bought by someone else. If only third party vendors know who your readers are, you are truly an economic prisoner to their software system and what they decide your role can be, as well as how much they are willing to pay you for your intellectual property.

Many authors don’t think about controlling reader information until it’s too late. All of these wonderful mobile sites do great things to find readers and market to them and it’s easy to become complacent and let them do all that work. However, if you have 1/3rd of your sales with a vendor who goes out of business or decides to take a significantly larger cut, your income is drastically reduced. This means you MUST find a way to get that reader contact information yourself—names and emails. Just like vendors, you need to build your largest asset—your customers.  The larger your list of true fans, the better sales will result and the more opportunities you create for discovery of your books by new readers.

5. Discoverability and Marketing are Inseparable. In the early days of indie publishing, 2009-2011, the number of authors participating and the number of titles produced was significantly smaller. The chance for a good author to develop a following based on a well-written book and some buzz was decent—not easy but possible.  In 2015, according to Bowker, over 700,000 books were self-published. And that number is probably low because many e-books that are self-published do not use an ISBN, which is how Bowker tracks books. Many market researchers predict it is well over 1 million self-published books that are put out each year. The backlist of indie titles is over 13 million already.

This means that even well-written books, with a dozen good reviews, have a hard time finding an audience without an investment of marketing time and dollars. And, even if you invest those dollars and time, the upward discoverability and sales trends fall off fairly quickly the minute you stop investing.

An author can no longer wait for discovery, or depend on the craft of writing alone to get ahead. She must also drive readers to her books through a large mailing list, through advertising, and through consistent brand awareness. That does cost money. If you invest in one thing in 2017, invest in a reputable class that teaches you what works and what doesn’t in advertising and building a mailing list of true fans. Then take the time to implement all the steps to make it work. It is not a learn one day and implement it the next type of process. Then budget those dollars every month for implementation. Even bestselling authors continuously invest in marketing in order to maintain their bestselling status.

The good news is indie authors have a good potential to make more money than ever. Many traditional authors turned indie in order to make more money on their creative properties and with lots of hard work have finally been able to do this as a career. But it doesn’t come easy. It is still hard work—from the creation of a good book to getting discovered, and building a fan base that will return again and again to the buy the next book you write and tell all their friends.

Good Luck in 2017!

Maggie Lynch is the author of 20+ published books, as well as numerous short stories and non-fiction articles. Her fiction tells stories of men and women making heroic choices one messy moment at a time. In addition to writing, Maggie enjoys teaching about the business of writing and marketing. She teaches online for All Writer’s Workshops and will be moving classes to video in 2017. She is also a frequent speaker at conferences and for master classes at writer’s groups around the country.

Maggie and her musician husband have settled in the beautiful Pacific Northwest where she writes and teaches full time. Her adult fiction spans romance, suspense and SF titles under the name Maggie Jaimeson. She writes urban fantasy and YA under th name Maggie Faire. Her non-fiction titles are found under Maggie McVay Lynch. You can learn about her books and her classes at her website;


Judith Ashley said...


Thank you once again for sharing your perspective on what's going on in publishing. The idea that the cover needs to be designed to be conducive to a phone screen gives me hope that my foray into simple cover designs for my series prequels will be okay. I don't want to take too much time away from writing to learn more techie stuff!!!

And your section on knowing your readers and discoverability inspire me to continue putting together my email marketing program. I'm almost there but sometimes the details can derail me.

Are your Author Secrets books available through most if not all outlets or only on Amazon. And, are they available in print or only as e-books. I loved you DIY Publishing book and still refer to it. The "Secrets" series, as I understand it, has updated material.

Maggie Lynch said...

Thanks, Judith. I appreciate the opportunity to share my thoughts here.

Regarding cover design for the mobile world, the key is simplifying and making sure people can read the title and your name on the book when it is in small scale. Books with a single arresting image are easier to see and easier for the brain to process. Multiple images and layers can easily get muddied and lost in smaller image sizes. There are ways to make it work, but it requires a true professional to know what to bring forward and what to fade in the background so that it looks good in small formats.This presentation of book covers in smaller formats has been the case for awhile at book vendors, where the display is 200x300 pixels or smaller.

My new SECRETS series for authors has the first book out and the the other three are coming out by the end of this year. They do include most of what was in DIY Publishing, but updated and expanded. For example, DIY Publishing really didn't deal with marketing at all. The books are taken from the author courses I've been teaching over the past four years. Every time I teach a course, I incorporate new things that fit with the changing marketplace and the trends. I decided that it was time to expand. Instead of releasing a new edition of DIY Publishing (which would be 1,000 pages) I divided the content into 4 books. In this way, authors can get what they need depending on what stage they were at in their publishing journey. Sometimes having too much information stops an author from moving forward.

I wrote DIY Publishing 4 years ago now. Needless to say, not only has the industry changed dramatically in that time but I've also learned a lot more about what works and what doesn't over this time period. Given the state of technology, the availability of more author service options, and the nature of current competition in the marketplace, I would make different decisions about some things than I did four years ago. Once the entire four-book SECRET series is out, I'll be taking DIY Publishing off the market because I don't want something out there that is too outdated.

You asked about availability of my books. All my books are published wide. I have never been someone to go exclusive with anyone. I come from the technology industry and I've simply seen way too many big companies fail, change owners and direction, or decide to concentrate on something new and pretty abandon their previous customers. Also, I don't want to miss any part of the market and a chance for income. Though Amazon is big in America, there are many countries in the world where Kobo and Apple far outpace Amazon sales for me. My regular distribution points are Amazon, Kobo, Apple, Google Play, Barnes and Noble, Tolino, Libraries, and a variety of subscription services. I also have a Direct Sales route through Gumroad (which is where all Windtree Press titles are handled for Direct Sales).

Regarding print books, all of my titles that are 20K words or more are also offered in print. The only exception to that at the moment is my first SECRETS book for authors. But the entire SECRETS series WILL be available at the end of the year in both ebook and print. I just got myself backed up with releases over the past three months and now I'm trying to catch up.:) If your readers are interested in being notified when those books are out and some special deals only for authors on my AUTHORS list, please join at

Madelle Morgan said...

Great post, Maggie.

I have one thing to add in terms of marketing. I discovered that top deal promo sites will not allow authors to buy ads unless the book has several 4 &/or 5 star reviews on Amazon. This is a filter to ensure they send out emails that only promote books that are well-written/well-reviewed, rather than promote books that will potentially disappoint their subscribers.

Therefore, distributing ARCs to reviewers (not family!) who will post honest reviews on Amazon is a vitally important component of an indie-author's marketing strategy.


Anna brentwood said...

Knowing how thoroughly you study and investigate your subject matter- I am always anxious to hear what you have to say... I enjoyed and agree with your research- nowadays it all boils down to having a quality product and lots of marketing and promotion. As authors we can get involved on multiple levels and should -- and being part of a writing community sharing ideas is key since the marketing landscape changes continuously.

Barbara Rae Robinson said...

Very good information, Maggie. Thanks for sharing!

Maggie Lynch said...

Madelle said: "distributing ARCs to reviewers (not family!) who will post honest reviews on Amazon is a vitally important component of an indie-author's marketing strategy."

You are absolutely right. Reviews are important, but not as important as you might think from a sales perspective. The books I make the most money on have the fewest reviews. Of course, if I had 100-20 reviews that would probably make a difference--but only because it means that ten times that many people are reading my books. It's a chicken and egg thing--to get a lot of reviews you need a lot of readers. To get a lot of readers you need a good email list and a good street team (launch team or whatever you want to call them).

It is true that top tier promo sites, like Book Bub and others look at reviews as critical to the decision process. That makes sense because most of these sties make more money on affiliate sales than on the fees they collect from authors. So, their income is negatively impacted if they let in a book that will disappoint readers.

It is a process that requires multiple balls in the air to get to the point where you are making decent money. 1) A good book; 2) A good backlist; 3) A good mailing list; 4) a good way to drive traffic to your mailing list and then through that to more sales; 5) A good website; 6) Good social media presence; and 7) Good reviews. However, note that without the first two all the rest of this is minor. Because any promo you do becomes expensive if you don't have a backlist to push and those sales to cover your costs.

Maggie Lynch said...

Thank you Annie, Barb, and Madelle for stopping by. It is that time of year where many people are simultaneously pushing hard to have books ready to go in the first of 2017 AND trying to evaluate what went well and where they need to focus efforts in the next year.

I'd love to hear some of your goals for 2017 based on what you've learned in 2016. Judith outlined many of hers and I'm really excited to see what that yields for her. How about the rest of you?

Sarah Raplee said...

As always, you've given me a lot to think about, Maggie. Thank you!

Madelle Morgan said...

Maggie, my goal is to build a backlist, LOL. Book 2 in my Hollywood in Muskoka series will be published in late spring/early summer.

Diana McCollum said...

Great blog post! As always, Maggie, you are a wealth of information!! Happy Holidays!!

Lynn Lovegreen said...

Great post, Maggie. Thanks for sharing your expertise.

Pam said...

Thank you Maggie for the great article. I always learn something. And thank you Judith for the blog. So great to find such creative and intelligent info in one place.