While I was digging deep into the ugliness that traditional publishing contracts have devolved into, the indie publishing world has grown and changed and become even more positive. More than a light at the end of the tunnel, the indie world has become a haven to those of us willing to work hard and to understand that real achievement takes time.
It amazes me how far we have come in the publishing industry since the Kindle revolutionized the ebook in 2009. While indie publishing hasn’t exactly stabilized yet, it has become both easier and harder in the past few years.
Easier, because there are a lot more tools, and there’s more data that shows what works and what doesn’t. Harder, because so many fad-chasers who got rich quick off their fad have left in discouragement as their fad-based income decreased.
Here’s the truth of indie publishing, folks: It’s a business. It takes five to ten years for a business to become solid. So if you started your indie publishing business in 2010, you might (if you managed it well) be seeing some predictable patterns and very real growth. If you started last year, you’re still in the early years yet, and you have some tough times ahead.
Those of you new to this blog will note that I say “indie publishing” when so many others say “self-publishing.” The reason is simple: it now takes several people to produce a book. Yes, you can do most of it yourself (self-publishing) but to do it well, you need copy editors and maybe a cover designer, beta readers and some classes in marketing (or someone to teach you how to write ad copy). There are a lot of things worth hiring out, and some things you should keep close at hand, and those things all vary according to the author.
But very few authors go it 100% alone. Those authors are self-publishing. The rest of us, those who hire out a few (or all) of the jobs? We’re indie publishers.
So what has changed while I climbed into the muck and stared horrid contracts in the face?
A lot, much of which I did not make note of. I had to ask Allyson Longueira, publisher of WMG Publishing, for her list because I know she has one. Mostly, it’s a “we’ll get to that when we get to it” list, but it’s more organized than my “oh, cool!” list.
Thank you, Allyson! I couldn’t have written this blog post without you.
Top on her list of changes this year are innovations by Draft 2 Digital. A few years ago, D2D was the upstart rival of Smashwords, a way to publish ebooks DRM-free and to get them to hard-to-reach platforms overseas (or in some cases, in the U.S.—places like iBooks).
Nowadays, Smashwords looks like a twenty-year-old website, and creaks like one too. D2D is constantly improving, constantly innovating, and constantly adding new things. And, a plus for those who use D2D to disseminate their ebooks worldwide, D2D pays monthly. Smashwords pays quarterly. I hate that Smashwords sits on the money that long, and have slowly migrated a lot of product out of Smashwords because of the money and the creaky website and a whole bunch of other reasons.
Also, D2D gives writers a lot of incentive to go there. One incentive that you might have noticed on my blog in the last few weeks?
D2D has started something on its Books 2 Read site that D2D calls “universal links.” D2D calls it “one link for every reader everywhere.” And while it doesn’t quite cover everywhere, it does take the time out of list linking.
Frankly, I gave up listing all of the places my ebooks were available two years ago. It took me 20 minutes on every post to list all the links. I finally decided the readers could figure out where the book was on their own. I didn’t like that solution, but it was better than wasting countless hours over the year copying and pasting links.
D2D now lists all the ebook links it can find on one page for your book. An indie friend of mine refuses to use this service because it takes the reader off his website to another landing page, but I don’t mind that at all. (I also know how to click that little place on my WordPress site that says, “open link in new window.” <vbg>)
As a reader, I love having all the choices in one spot. I’ve used that option on other websites for traditionally published books. As a writer, I love the time savings.
And did I mention this service is free? Plus, D2D links to your affiliate accounts if you input them into the D2D system.
They call this Books 2 Read, which I’m just fine with. Books 2 Read provides another service for readers. It notifies them when their favorite authors release new titles.
Amazon does that—which I love, because that way, my regular readers often find my books before I announce them. Now, D2D has made that easier as well.
So has BookBub, which we will get to in a moment.
But let me finish with D2D. D2D provides free ebook conversion from Word documents. I hear that the conversion is a very good one. So if converting from word to ebook has been one of the daunting steps in your process, here’s a solution for you.
Now, BookBub. Just like Amazon and D2D, BookBub will notify your followers on their site of any new releases you have—even if those new releases are not part of a BookBub ad.
For those of you who don’t know, BookBub is a highly successful newsletter advertising service that informs readers who sign up and personalize their account of discounted ebooks in their areas of interest. The slots in the newsletter are paid, but BookBub advertising is effective.
For example, the daily email newsletter that goes out to crime fiction readers has (at the time of this writing) 3.8 million subscribers. If you advertise a free crime novel through that newsletter, BookBub will charge you $500 and estimate that you’ll get about 60,000 downloads. I personally don’t believe in paying something to give something away, so when I do a BookBub ad, I sell the books at a discount.
It costs anywhere from $1000 to $2500 to place a BookBub crime fiction ad for a discounted book, depending on the discount (the lower the book’s price, the cheaper the ad price). In these cases, BookBub says that the average number of books sold in this category will be about 4,000.
I’ve found that BookBub’s sales averages are on the low side. And, let me point out that every BookBub ad I’ve placed has made me a profit—because I do not pay to advertise my book for free. So if I discounted my crime novel to $2.99, it would cost me $2500 to advertise that discounted book on BookBub. At that price, I would make roughly $2.25 per book sold. And if BookBub’s averages are correct (and they usually are), I would make a gross profit of $9000. Subtract the cost of the ad, and I would net $6500.
This is why every indie author competes for the limited BookBub advertising slots. And these indie authors are competing with some traditional publishing houses now, as well.
If you run an ad campaign on BookBub, then they will collect followers for you and your titles. And once BookBub does that, they will advertise, for free, your newly released works.
We’ve talked for years about discoverability here. I’ve just told you three ways that are pretty hands-off to get your books discovered: Amazon does it for you automatically (for free); Books 2 Read will do it for you for free if you but sign up; and BookBub will do it once you’ve advertised with them.
It’s all about informing readers, folks.
Other places do this as well in a variety of ways, most of which I’m unfamiliar with. Goodreads does, for example, but I’ve been too busy to investigate it closely.
As I mentioned last week, the most precious commodity an indie writer has is time. There just isn’t enough of it, and no real way to do everything well. I’m writing this through bleary eyes, as I also prep for a week-long writers workshop. (If I don’t respond quickly to emails or comments this week, the workshop is why.) I’ve actually doubled my workload this week to compensate for losing next week—and what’s suffering is my hours of sleep.
Indies know what I’m talking about. So when services like D2D’s ebook conversion service comes along or the Books 2 Read universal links develop, they manage to do the one thing indies need the most: they save time.
We’ve investigated a couple of other time-savers, but haven’t used them yet. For example, if you want to give away free copies of a short story to your newsletter, you can upload all the files on your favorite newsletter service or make a private page on your website. Some plug-ins, like Enhanced Media Library, will make uploading the files on WordPress sites easier.
Or you can use BookFunnel. BookFunnel charges for the service (again, paying for free), but the costs appear to be minimal, and sometimes paying $20 annually is well worth it for the time that you save by not doing the thing yourself. Again, I haven’t tried this one, but I plan to at some point Real Soon Now.
Another service that caught my eye during this contracts-writing period was an audio distribution company that promised to distribute audiobooks all over the world through a variety of services. I waited long enough on this one to decide not to recommend right now. Initially, I wanted to use it, but the distribution agreement is onerous. A friend is trying to negotiate it right now, and if he’s successful, you’ll see more here.
Normally, I wouldn’t bring it up because we’re not going to use it right now. But I am mentioning it, because these new businesses are cropping up all over the place. Some are wonderful and help with the time-sink aspect of indie publishing. Others sound wonderful until you dig into their Terms of Service and realize that, like traditional publishers, these new companies are trying to make a rights grab to make their service worthwhile.
My point is this: as indie publishing becomes big business, these sorts of new things will crop up over and over again. We indies will have more opportunities, not less.
I’ve blogged about that before—about the way that my indie books (in English) are most countries around the world now, and my traditionally published books are not. Opportunities expand for indies, which is one of the coolest part of this new world in which we find ourselves.
The old world is starting to pay attention. Two statistics caught my attention this past month.
The first comes from Quartz titled “Amazon has cornered the future of Book Publishing” (as if Amazon is the only ebook service in the world), has this little nugget right after the lede:
Between 2010 and 2015, the number of ISBNs from self-published books grew by 375%. From 2014 and 2015 alone, the number grew by 21%.
Quartz cites Bowker, the company that issues ISBNs as the source of those statistics, but Quartz misses half the story. Many ebooks on Amazon (and other services) don’t use traditional ISBNs at all. Amazon doesn’t require them for Amazon-only ebook publishing. So even though the growth in ISBNs has been astronomical, that growth doesn’t begin to measure the actual number of indie ebook titles published.
Traditional publishers—after all their mergers these last ten years—have drastically scaled back the number of titles they publish. The money isn’t in traditionally published titles any more. It’s in indie, and that money has dispersed through individual authors and small publishers, rather than gathering in a few large companies.
That’s what these services are going after—they’re following the money.
Don’t believe me?
Then look at the second statistic, this one from The Guardian about Kickstarter. Kickstarter has become one of the major players in getting books published. Here’s the quote:
Of course, Kickstarter doesn’t get involved in the messy business of producing books – it’s a platform that puts people who want to produce books in touch with others all over the world who want to support their projects. But if you put the 1,973 publishing pitches that were successfully funded in 2015 together with the 994 successful comic and graphic novel projects, then last year’s tally of 2,967 literary projects puts the crowdfunding site up among publishing’s “Big Four.”
The Guardian goes on to quote Publishers Weekly statistics on one of the Big Four, Simon & Schuster. Apparently, S&S only published 2,000 titles last year. Heh. More books, more readers.
Full disclosure here. We just finished our third Kickstarter, and it was by far our most successful. If you contributed, thank you! I greatly appreciate it.
I think one of the reasons for the success is the broadening use of Kickstarter among the general population. People love to fund publishing projects on the site, and there are more people funding those projects than ever before.
I also think we know how to run a Kickstarter now, and it shows. We’ll be doing a few more as time goes on.
Kickstarter and other crowd-funding websites make starting projects—and continuing projects easier. There are also more ways to sell books, as I mentioned last week, in discussing Storybundle (and all the other bundles). Really successful Storybundle sales numbers can rival those that put books on The New York Times bestseller list in a given week. I’ve had bundles that have outperformed the ebook bestsellers on the Times list. (Of course, I have been in bundles that haven’t done as well either.)
Opportunities abound now. And everything is changing so fast that taking time away to write a blog series, like I just did, puts me far behind the curve in what’s growing and changing in the new side of the industry.
Frankly, I love the changes, and I love the growing opportunities.
This new world of publishing has not only kept my career alive, it has revived me as well. I’m now doing things I could only dream of a few years ago.
And that’s completely cool.
I’m teaching a class this week so am pressed for time. When you comment, be aware that I might not be able to put the comment through in a timely fashion. But I will put it through.
Thanks to all of you for the support through the contract series and beyond. You folks are just great!
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“Business Musings: Good Things,” copyright © 2016 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright © 2016 by Canstock Photo/sjenner13.