The past few months have been a whirlwind for me, I don’t know about you. From COVID-19, toilet paper shortages to lost income, this crisis has me anxious and waiting for the other shoe to drop. Granted, this isn’t my first economic meltdown years ago, when I started writing professionally, the Great Recession hit and wiped out a ton of magazines and newspapers. I, along with many writers had to learn a new way of doing business in the digital age. But we managed and I believe we will succeed again. However, economic disasters have a tendency to bring along change and I believe this new crisis is definitely going to bring about big changes for indie authors and here are just some of the things that I predict:
More Publishers Will Fold
Some traditional publishers still rely heavily on paper books and in November of 2019, Amazon, was already reducing the amount of books it was accepting into its warehouses. Those publishers who relied on Amazon for the majority of their distribution were thrown into a tizzy. Now ALL major retailers in the U.S. are reducing their focus on luxury items (yes books are considered luxury items) because of their struggle to maintain essential items in their stores. That means hardback and paperback book sales are going down for everyone. Those publishers who never focused on digital products will be doomed. Already, several employees got their pink slips at Harper Macmillan, while the CEO of John Wiley & Son’s, estimates they will lose 50 million dollars in revenue due to the COVID-19 crisis. As if that weren’t enough, Simon & Schuster was put up for sale by Viacom, this past March, right at the beginning of this pandemic. For those of you who don’t know, S&S is considered one of the New York Big Five Publishers, so if this sale goes through, it will reduce that number down to only four. This loss will be felt all over the industry.
Though the fourth quarter results aren’t in yet, it doesn’t take a genius to know times are going to be brutal in publishing.
Authors Will Quit
Just as in the Great Recession, many authors will struggle and won’t be able to pivot. Even those who were successful may find it difficult to navigate the changes in this current environment. And those who were hoping and praying for a traditional contract may find themselves out of luck. In fact, if you do get a contract, you may want to hire a good lawyer to look it over because chances are it won’t be the kind of contract that makes the author money. In fact, I highly recommend authors be wary of traditional contracts after several authors have reported signing six figure contracts and only seeing a pittance of that. Like it or not, it’s the new math of the publishing industry.
Authors Will Have To Learn New Skills
Over the past few years, the tech prophets have been preaching about the rise of A.I. and voice technology. Soon we won’t be using our tablets and phones for entertainment and when that happens everything from blogging to publishing will change. In fact, we are being warned by marketing experts to start uploading audio and video to our websites in order to make it searchable by the new smart speakers like Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Home devices. This is similar to what happened during the mobile revolution 6 years ago, when website owners had to scramble after the Google algorithms began deranking sites that weren’t mobile friendly. Dubbed Mobilegeddon, many popular websites had to completely redesign their sites just to maintain their ranking in the search engine. I predict authors will have to learn how to use voice technology for advertising, and general book marketing if they want to remain relevant in the upcoming years.
Indies Will Have To Become Pennywise
Experts are warning us that we are not in a recession but a depression which is worse. That means businesses will have to become lean (frugal) in order to survive. Sure, you could pay $5,000 for a book cover but is it necessary? Only you can answer that question. Right now, I would hold off on buying anything unnecessary unless, you had a guarantee of an ROI.
Authors Must Exploit Their Intellectual Property
It’s no secret that billionaire author J.K. Rowling made her money not through publishing books, but through the licensing of her I.P., Rowling, had her Harry Potter books made into movies, toys and an endless amount of merchandise. She turned her books into multiple streams of income which built her billion-dollar empire. We indie authors need to get business savvy like our colleagues and start maximizing our work. If we don’t, this new economy may crush us.
The Competition Will Be Fierce
In his financial forecast, John Wiley & Son’s CEO announced they were focusing on their digital products like courseware and online education to offset losses. This means if other publishers focus on their digital products indie authors are going to have to be competitive in price, quality, as well as customer service. Hopefully, you have been working on your brand and already have a relationship with your readers. If not, now would be the right time to work on that. The one thing that indie authors have done right over the years is develop their brand. Most indie authors have mailing lists, social media accounts and even beta readers. Meanwhile, most publishers don’t have any connection to their readers and rarely promote their books. This might change soon and that’s when the paradigm will shift. Indie authors may find themselves competing for ad space, social media visibility and even influencer attention. This could drive prices up so high that authors may find themselves shut out of certain opportunities. Remember work on your brand, if you want to thrive at a time like this.
There Will Be More Disruptions
Even if they find a vaccine or therapy for COVID-19, the damage to the economy worldwide has already been done. People are already losing their jobs after returning from quarantine and it’s being predicted that if a vaccine isn’t found there will be more waves of infections. So just as we are emerging from quarantine, we may have to return if another wave hits. For those with children, health problems and family members who rely on them, this will be a challenging time financially, as well as emotionally. I recommend if you have a line of credit or can secure government loans or financial assistance, you may want to start looking into that now BEFORE things get dire.
There Is Hope
Before you quit and crawl into a hole, remember if you’ve been slowly building your business, you can ride this out. Some authors are reporting strong sales because people are stuck at home bored and reading more books. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to go hard on the marketing right now if you have the time and financial resources. Another approach would be to keep your head down and write more books.
However, if you are having a difficult time during this uncertain period, you should step back and take care of your own emotional and physical needs first. If your family or community needs you then your responsibility is to them. Your work will always be there when you come back.
No matter what you decide on, remember you can survive this. Your career isn’t over, the publishing industry will find a way out of this mess like it always does and life will go on. Granted, it won’t be anytime soon but we will see better days, and this prediction you can take to the bank.
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Thanks so much. I really appreciate your insights!
I would still try but don’t be surprised if no one is willing to commit. Publishers are scrambling to offset loses and not spending money is one of those ways. If things get really bad, all you can do is keep your head down and continue to write. Then when the smoke clears, you’ll have a catalog of work you didn’t have before the crisis. Remember times will get better, we just all have to ride out this wave.
Rachel, this is exactly the post I needed to read today. I’m been trying to decide where to focus my writing / querying time in the midst of all of this. Your predictions and ideas are great food for thought, and I appreciate you sharing what you’re hearing. These insights are really helpful. I do have a question about querying specifically, whether to agents or small presses. Do you think it’s worth it in these times, or better to hold off? As you said, a publishing contract from anyone right now is something to really consider carefully and review with a good lawyer given all the upheaval in publishing.
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