Happy Indie New Year…?

Taking a break from football on this New Year’s Day to ponder the future of indie publishing.

Pretty Dreams front cover
they call this marketing

Call it self-publishing, call it the Revolution. This year, the first full year of lots of firsts, including Amazon’s KDP Select program and the demise of Borders, has also been a plus/minus year for me as a publisher. I published a new indie book, ALL YOUR PRETTY DREAMS, I spent more dollars on marketing (although not really that much being eternally Scottish), I tweeted and Facebooked and tried to connect with readers in all sorts of ways, I gave away books at Goodreads, I changed book covers, got old books back into print, and all sorts of other little things.

Yet my e-book sales are on a downward trend. This makes me wonder if the glory days are behind us (or just behind me.) Eighteen months ago — before KDP Select — I reached #2 on the Free Kindle Books list for nearly a week. Now I can’t get above 1000. Free days don’t help. Discoverability is the new buzzword. How will readers find you and your marvelous book in the quagmire of “stuff” out there? Who will curate a list, read all that dreck, send readers to a trusted site for recommendations without one-star reviews from people who can barely spell? Will it be you?

Because if you offer services to the e-book industry, formatting, covers, marketing, and whatever new thing is yet to be invented, this is your year. According to Mark Coker at Smashwords, more money will be made in services for e-books this year than in book sales themselves. The cover-making business is burgeoning, the formatting business is perking right along. (Why so many writers are technophobes is another question.) Writers who decide to self-publish must manage the editing, proofreading, copywriting, cover design, formatting, and marketing themselves. Do they want to do all that? Hell no. They just want to write a really, really awesome novel. As they always did.

You might say that all you really should be doing is writing that book. Concentrate on it. Write and re-write it until it is fantastic, un-put-downable, charming, funny, scary, and emotionally involving. And you’d be right. The creation and marketing of indie books fractures the focus that’s needed to delve deeply into story. Is the answer to hire out all those creation and marketing roles? To pay $X for a cover, $X for proofreading, $X for formatting, and even more $$ for marketing? Possibly. That’s up to you. If you’re lucky your spouse rocks inDesign like a pro, you can pay your kid to tweet for you, and your next door neighbor likes your books so much she’ll do the formatting for free. But you probably aren’t that lucky. And even if you are, sales of your masterpiece are not assured.

Then, as reassurance, someone mentions “the long tail.” Unlike traditional publishing you don’t have to break out in the first month to make a tidy sum on your book. Because there is no advance (actually there is a reverse advance of your investment in those creation services) you don’t need to make your nut right away. That’s the good news. Your book will stay in “print” in perpetuity. Unfortunately it will compete with more and more books over those months and years and unless you do something to keep it in the limelight like write another book in that series or become a reality TV star, you’re going to work to keep any sales going.

So go ahead, read Mark Coker’s predictions but realize that even someone as tech and pub savvy as Mark Coker has no real idea what the hell is going to happen to this industry. Maybe your best bet is just to keep your nose to the grindstone, focus on your story, think deeply about the arc of characters, their motivations, your word choices, the tantalizing first paragraph, the rocking last paragraph, and the high adventure you are offering your readers.

Maybe? No, definitely.

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  • Plenty of food for thought, Lise, as well as so much to learn. Two years after publishing my first novel, The Bridge Club, I’m slowly beginning to see real returns. My second release will be in a month or two and the decisions to be made are mind-boggling. I will take your suggestion and read Coker’s predictions but I suspect your advice here is wisest. “Maybe your best bet is just to keep your nose to the grindstone, focus on your story, think deeply about the arc of characters, their motivations, your word choices, the tantalizing first paragraph, the rocking last paragraph, and the high adventure you are offering your readers.”

    • A

      I have to tell you, Patricia, that when I went to your blog (via Diane Capri tagging me for the Next Big Thing) I was so inspired! I changed the theme and design of my own blog in preparation for the blog hop! Love your photos, and I am a big Francophile so looking forward to your new book! I wrote a book set in France a few years ago: Blackbird Fly. I am impressed with all your online connections! Best of luck with the new book (and the older one — may the long tail continue to wag!)

  • I find that surprising. Yes I did a lot of the technical stuff myself. But I put out a 50 page children’s illustrated book. I had to hire and artist because I can’t draw, and that was not cheap. My sales haven’t been stellar. But I was in the black within weeks of the paperback release. Granted for kids books paperbacks are going to sell better than ebooks, but even my modest ebook sales would alone have put me in the black over the last 90 days (just past my KDP exclusive mark). As I put my book on B&N apple and Kobo. While my paperback is selling better its not flying off the createspace shelves as can be seen by my rankings, yet I am well in the black. For my current WiP I’m writing an urban fantasy series. I will have to hire someone for cover design, but I am sure that will be less than the cost of the artwork for my kids book. My sales are not as high as they could be since I work and have two little kids at home, I have no real time for marketing, yet I’m in the black, with relatively low rankings. I find it hard to believe the cost of services will out weigh the profit realized.

    • A

      I’m in the black too, Corey. I don’t know the market for children’s picture books but I imagine they stay in print and popular for much longer than novels. I’m also guessing a 50 page book is much cheaper to print than a 250 page novel, even with pictures. I’m very impressed by your success though, good job! Anybody who takes on selling their own book, in whatever format, is looking for hard work. And success is not just monetary.

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