Business, Indie Publishing, Inspiration, Life, Marketing, Personal, Publishing, Writing Business

Publishing In 2020: Figuring Out The Next Step

Publishing In 2020_ Figuring Out The Next Step

Pic by juanfer_erazo

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. 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 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 Properties  

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 loses.  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 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.     

Indie Publishing, Publishing, Writing Business

Audiobooks: The Next Indie Frontier

Image via Pixabay

Five years ago, I wrote a post about audio books and I’ve been wanting to write another since there have been so many changes in the past year alone.  When I wrote: Audio Books: What Indie Authors Should Know, producing an audiobook was expensive and time consuming.  Also, there was the fact that there wasn’t any real place to promote them.  In the article I actually said, “there is no BookBub for audiobooks,” but guess what?  That all changed in March of 2019, when BookBub announced their latest newsletter called, Chirp, which promotes limited audiobook sales to readers.  Neat, huh?  However, the feature is still in beta and you’ll have to join a partner  waiting list.     

As if that weren’t enough, Kobo announced their own audiobook subscription service for readers which costs $9.99 per month.  This is lower than Amazon’s Audible’s subscription fee of $14.95 per month.  So for the first time in a long time, Amazon has some competition when it comes to audiobook retail.  This is great for indie authors because the barriers to enter this market are slowly disappearing bringing opportunity to distribute audiobooks farther and wider.  Audiobooks have always been difficult for indies and here are just a few hurdles we’ve faced:    

Problem #1:  Production 

Just a few years ago, you had two choices when producing an audiobook and those were: DIY (Do It Yourself) or go through Amazon’s ACX.  This was because most professional narrators have a fee of around $200 – $400 per hour.  At ACX, they had narrators who were either paid based on a flat fee, or shared a piece of the royalties.  Many authors pressed for cash took the later and hoped for the best.  Today however, indie authors can find reasonably priced narrators (notice how I didn’t say cheap) or find a narrator who will agree to a royalty share at the following places without any exclusivity:      

Problem #2:  Distribution    

If you went through ACX, the terms were exclusive or you paid for expanded distribution with smaller royalties.  Since at the time, ACX was the biggest game in town, most indie authors went in that direction, naturally.  Making money with ACX was hard because you could only sell your books on Audible, Amazon.com or iTunes.  Many indies, myself included, didn’t see the point in even producing an audiobook when distribution was a joke. 

Luckily in 2017, Draft2Digital partnered with Findaway Voices to make audio production and distribution seamless.  So now that ACX has real competition in this arena and indies should be seriously considering getting into the market.  If authors start going elsewhere to produce and distribute their audiobooks, maybe Amazon will be forced to rethink their contracts at ACX.    

Problem #3: Marketing

As I stated in the beginning of the post, just a few years ago, there weren’t any major sales routes for indie authors wanting to advertise their audiobooks.  However, things have improved and now, there are more serious avenues that indies can pursue when promoting their audiobooks.  

For those who don’t have a big advertising budget, there are sites that will review your audiobook and even hold giveaways if you’re interested:

The Reality Of Audiobooks:  Doing The Math

What a lot of indie authors don’t understand is that it takes time to get an ROI on an audiobook.  Despite all of the hype that has been going around the publishing community in the last year, this is a lot of work.  One professional narrator said that authors have to sell about 100 ebooks to make just one audiobook sale.  So this is not a get rich quick scheme, in fact, despite the new opportunities, I would still caution indie authors to set realistic expectations when going into the audio market. 

Another point authors don’t consider is the complexity of a project, for example, some authors commission several narrators to read the female and male characters of their book.  If this is your idea, you’re going to have to pony up more money of course.

So as you can see, audiobooks are not the cash cow that some people are claiming.  I still think audiobooks are worth the investment but only after you’re making consistent sales on your print and ebooks.  I see audiobooks as a more advanced part of an indie author’s career.  This particular game isn’t for rookies because you can easily lose money in this type of project.  Nonetheless, the audio market is evolving after years of stagnation and those indies who are ready could find another potential stream of income and this is always a good thing in our industry.                 

apps, Book Promotion, Marketing, writing

Chatbots: How Authors Are Using Them For Marketing And More!

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Image via Pixabay

In the past three years, a new type of book marketing has emerged using internet bots which has indie authors buzzing.  Now bots have been around for years, but they were only available to those who understood coding or had deep pockets to hire someone else who did.   Today,  I want to explain the possibilities as well as the pitfalls of this new marketing tool.  But before we move on, let me explain what a bot is…

According to Techopedia, an internet bot is piece of software that is programmed to do automated tasks on the internet. This can include things like; answering questions, collecting data, selling products, and pretty much anything else you can imagine.  In an article from the Atlantic, it was estimated that more than half of all internet traffic now consists of bots.  So you’ve most likely encounter one either on social media or at a major retailer’s site.  Internet bots can be a life saver for small businesses, because they save both time and money.  Imagine having a bot greet a person who just signed up for your email list right on your website, or who answers questions on social media.  Now let’s take it a step further, image a bot conducting a giveaway or doing deep research on your behalf.  Neat, huh?  Well that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this type of technology.

The Publishing Industry Is Already Onboard

Last year, Harper Collins launched its own Epicreads chatbot for teens on  Facebook Messenger, they also have another bot called, Book Genie both bots offer book suggestions to readers.

 

Epic Reads Bot
Epic Reads Chatbot

 

The traditional publishers aren’t the only ones getting onboard with social media bots, indie author Nick Stephenson, has a bot of his own on Messenger as well.  His bot alerts you to new articles and free video training.

On the Self-Publishing Formula podcast, host James Blatch spoke with indie author Kerry Gardiner, who gave examples of how authors are using bots in order to;

  • Build up their email lists
  • Increase their social media following
  • Ask for reviews
  • Create choose your adventures for readers

She has a bot of her own which she created for her website called, BookBotBob.  On the site readers choose whether they want a free or discounted book.  Once the choice is made, the bot eventually moves the conversation over to Facebook Messenger.

Kerrys Book Bot
BookBotBob Chatbot

Kerry also has a course in which she teaches indie authors the in’s and out’s of creating a bot for Messenger.  (Not affiliated.)

The Pitfalls of Automating Your Marketing: A Warning

There are numerous stories of people who have used bots to automate their marketing and failed miserably.  The results include situations where bots spouted inappropriate gibberish at random people, to bots that got social media accounts deactivated for violating terms of service.  Remember, before creating your bot for a social media site learn about the rules because bots need to be approved before they can deployed on any site.  For example, did you know that on Facebook Messenger, promotional content is allowed for standard messaging but not allowed for subscription messaging?  Strange, huh?  To learn more, check out more about Facebook’s rules and regulations for developers here.

How To Create Your Own DIY Bot

Believe it or not, it’s not that hard to learn how to create a bot, because these days you don’t even have to know how to code to do it.  There are several services also that will allow you to create a basic bot for free (restrictions apply).  The service that lots indie authors are going gaga over is ManyChat because it’s a free site and easy to use.

Here are just a small list of resources which can help you to design your own bot:

If You’re Not Technically Inclined

If you aren’t technically gifted, you can always find someone to do the job for you.  Below, I’ve list several websites where you can find a freelance chatbot developer.

Final Thoughts

Marketing experts believe that bots are here to stay but there are others who believe that AI devices like voice assistants are the future, and will make bots obsolete very soon.  Personally, I can’t say what the future holds but if bots can help make our lives easier now then why not use them?  They are much cheaper than hiring an assistant and they don’t need rest nor do they give you (the boss), attitude.  If you’re an overwhelmed author who can’t find the time for things like social media or email marketing then bots may be the answer for you.

 

 

Business, Indie Publishing, Marketing, Publishing, Social Media

The Future Of Book Publishing: Figuring Out The Next Move

The Future Of Publishing
Image via Pixabay

It’s 2018, and 2017 is finally behind us which has a lot of authors wondering, what’s next?  Well, I took out my crystal ball and tried to see what the future holds for the publishing industry?  Will bots replace authors?  Short answer—not anytime soon.  Will AI technology replace word processing software like Microsoft Word and Scrivener?  In a nutshell—not yet.  Do we finally get our jet packs?  Again—not anytime soon.  So what will change next year?  Well, read on and find out…

Prediction #1: No More Superstars

It was pointed out at one news outlet that there were no breakout books in 2017.  Many blamed the slow down due to various political elections around the world and although, that could be the case, it could also be an ominous trend.  One only has to look to the music and movie industries to see where ours is heading post digital revolution.  For the past ten years, shelf space at brick and mortar stores has been disappearing and there are no indications that trend will cease.  When Barnes & Noble announced they would focus less on books, and applied for a liquor license, the publishing industry shuddered.  Amazon alone, now controls 71% of the ebook market, and accounts for 37% of all print book sales in the U.S. and has no serious rivals as of this posting.  This leaves the publishing industry at a huge disadvantage.

Major publishers are finding it harder and harder to introduce new books to the masses which has them turning to their backlists in order to make a profit.  Also, it’s been reported over the past few years, that midlist authors are being unceremoniously cut loose by major publishers.  So what does this mean to indie authors?  It means that the industry is getting careful about their spending and they’re doing everything they can to squeeze every last dime out all of their intellectual properties.  Many authors will have to either move on to another line of work, or seriously consider self-publishing.  This will ultimately mean more competition for indie authors.
In fact on the Creative Penn, this was discussed and the conclusion was made that the superstars like J.K. Rowling and Stephen King will become a thing of the past.  Mainly, because there won’t be any money to invest in an author’s career anymore.  This will lead to self-publishing becoming a default setting in an author’s early career.  In other words, self-publishing will become the norm and the only way to get a contract with a large publisher. That’s if large publishers can remain relevant.

Prediction #2: Social Media Is Going To Get A Lot Harder

In October, Facebook, began dividing their user’s newsfeeds in two, between personal and promotional posts in an experiment.  Without warning, people in six countries found their newsfeeds had changed, dramatically.  It was similar to what email services like Gmail and Outlook, did when they divided their inboxes between promotional and primary tabs.  Though Facebook says it doesn’t plan on rolling out these changes to every single country just yet, it does makes sense to begin shifting your marketing plan away from your page and possibly focus more on Facebook groups or maybe consider spending money to get your posts seen.

Prediction #3: Authors May Turn To Mobile Apps & Texting Services To Reach Readers Directly

With the effectiveness of email and social media marketing coming into question, those authors who went mobile won’t sweat it too much.  Believe it or not, apps and texting services aren’t for big businesses anymore, celebrities, athletes and even musicians are embracing the technology.  Romance author, H.M. Ward, said during an interview at the Self-Publishing Formula that most of her readers open her emails on their phones which is why she has a texting service to reach them now.  However, she does also say that your list has to be worth it (profitable) to warrant the expense.  The good news here is, is that these options are becoming less expensive with each passing year which, is perfect timing for authors looking for a new way to connect directly with their readers.

Prediction #4: AIs Will Make Books More Accessible   

You’ve probably heard by now that podcasts and audiobooks are very popular in this busy world we live in.  Instead of mindless corporate playlists on the radio, people are listening to niche podcasts and even audiobooks on their way to work, or at the gym.  Amazon saw this coming and developed their AI, Amazon Echo, to easily link with their ebooks and Audible library.  So readers can now have their audiobooks accessed and played while, ebooks can be read by Amazon’s AI for free.  Google and Apple are likely going to follow suit because they also have AIs and a somewhat healthy book catalog.  In fact, it’s believed that AI technology will only continue to evolve and affect every area of our lives from healthcare, to warfare.  Physicist and author, Stephen Hawking, has gone on record predicting that AIs will eventually take over the world.

Prediction #5: Virtual & Augmented Reality Will Present New Opportunities

In October of 2017, Harry Potter fans were treated to a thrill when Google announced it would be offering on their virtual reality platform Daydream, a gaming adventure based on the book series.  Also, this past year, The Washington Post, published an augmented reality article based on the Freddie Gray case.  It’s believed that in the future, media outlets will begin using augmented reality more in order to present complex stories.  As if that weren’t enough, The Washington Post also has a robot reporter who already published 850 articles.  Called Heliograf, it is being used to free up staff from redundant projects as well as helping with big data sets.  So what does this all mean?..

It means that it’s not beyond reason that publishers could use this type of technology when presenting both fiction and nonfiction books.  Several decades ago, publishers were producing choose your own adventure books where an author would write alternative endings to a story and readers would decided which one they wanted to follow.  This was popular for a short while but it may be revived if technology evolves.  That could mean interactive books will take on a whole new dimension and authors, as well as publishers, will have a new potential income stream.

It also means that big data is going to play a larger role in aquisitions, meaning data trends will soon play a role in how much a publisher will pay for an intellectual property.

In Closing

I hope I gave a balanced view of the future, there is a lot for indie authors to look forward to as well as several challenges.  Isn’t that always how reality goes?  Now, I’m handing the mic to you, if have any predictions of your own, add them in the comment section.

Business, Publishing, writing, Writing Business

Should Indie Authors Write According To The Trends?

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Image Via Pixabay

 

It’s controversial advice that’s been given to authors since nearly the beginning of the printing press, and that is to write according to the trends.  Most authors scoff at the idea citing that by the time they write this trendy story, and publish it, the trend will be over.  Sadly, they’re mistaken, it’s traditional authors who are restricted by the time constraints of corporate publishing.  Indie authors are flexible and have time on their side, if we don’t catch the first wave, we can always catch the next.

Besides trends are usually patterns, patterns that have repeated themselves over and over since the days of the Greek bards and campfires.  Let me show you…

Trendy or Familiar?

The first modern romance novel made its debut in 1740, it was called Pamela, by Samuel Richardson.  Since that time the story has been retold by generations of authors such as Jane Austen, Margaret Mitchell, Daphne du Maurier and even E.L. James.  But why?  Why do authors keep writing the same story and more importantly, why do readers keep reading those stories?  The prevailing theory is that the reader is trying to recreate or recapture a feeling.  That makes sense because according to Psychology Today: “When evaluating brands, consumers primarily use emotions (personal feelings and experiences) rather than information (brand attributes, features, objective facts).”  This means readers gravitate towards the familiar but is that really a surprise?  If a certain book made you feel good about yourself or the world around you, why wouldn’t you want to repeat that experience over and over again?

Trends aren’t new to the publishing industry in fact, there are people who get paid big money to predict them.  There are patterns in every market whether it be real-estate, tech, or retail but if you are observant enough you can predict them too.

Everything Has Been Done Before—Everything!

Think your work is original?  Hardly, just ask any agent or editor who reads unpublished manuscripts for a living and they’ll tell you nothing is original.  They’ve seen werewolf billionaire erotica and even self-help books on sex in the afterlife.  Your book is probably not going to shock anyone let alone, surprise them.  Besides, they’re really not looking for originality, they’re looking for profitability.

Trendy or Cyclical?

Since the days of Homer and the Bible, salacious stories have been the norm in human literature.  E.L. James wasn’t the first to write about BDS&M try the Marquis De Sade or Anne Desclos.  Think thrillers are a bit too violent and filled with sex these days then, try the Iliad or the Cypria.

I’ll break this down even further: In 1990, vampires became huge when a series of Anne Rice’s novel Interview With A Vampire went to the big screen.  Then two of the biggest stars Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, were cast as the lead characters and the movie made a fortune so a few years later Queen of the Damned, was released.  History went on to repeat itself in 2008, when Stephanie Meyer’s vampire novel Twilight, was release and made into a series of movies as well.

Around that same time in the 90’s several of Danielle Steel’s romance novels ruled the bestsellers list and were eventually made into television movies.  Today, Nicolas Sparks and Nora Roberts, are enjoying that same success in the 21st century.  Noticing the cycle here?

Here is a small list of the genres that become trendy over and over again.

  • Romance
  • Erotica
  • Horror
  • Sci-Fi
  • Thrillers

How Authors Can Use Trends To Their Advantage

If you’ve already published an erotic novel and that genre becomes trendy again, you could relaunch with a new cover and maybe even a new title.  Your book doesn’t have to be brand new, many indie authors have relaunched books from their back catalog and found great success.  Why not cash in on a trend when the opportunity strikes?

Another thing to consider is to anticipate reoccurring trends, we all know that vampires will eventually come back.  Ever since Bram Stoker published his novel Dracula, in 1897, they have been making their rounds.  The same goes with romance novels that feature rich men and virtuous (virgin) women, remember Pamela?  Sure these books get modernized but the basic elements are always there because the publishing industry won’t mess with a sure thing.        

A Final Thought

I believe authors recoil at trends because of the notion of selling-out but there is no such thing in the business world.  Remember as an indie author you are a publisher and you need to understand the industry or suffer the consequences.  Every year millions of people start businesses all over the world and most of them fail.  Don’t be that business, take advantage of all of the opportunities that present themselves.  Don’t be shy and don’t apologize for making money with your art.  *Stepping off soapbox*