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.
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; http://maggielynch.com