Self-publishing: What's trending?
Self-publishing has been an established route to market for authors in a diverse range of genres for over a decade. Orna Ross, author and Founder-Director of the Alliance for Independent Authors (ALLi) identifies the latest trends.
Image © Thomas Ball
Self-publishing is an umbrella term, embracing authors with vastly different aspirations, needs and outcomes, from leaving a legacy for family to publishing a bestseller. This article looks at the very latest trends affecting those self-publishers who aim to reach more readers, sell more books and make a living from their work.
Trend #1: Self-publishing Continues to Grow in All Directions
It can be difficult to get accurate data about self-publishing as so many indie authors don’t use ISBNs (the International Standard Book Numbers that the book industry uses) but the most conservative estimates indicate that 30% of Amazon bestsellers are now self-published.
Equally exciting are the new genres and literary forms emerging as indie authors are led by their close relationship with readers. Abby McDonald, for example, created a new sub-genre in the overcrowded market of adult romance by targeting millennials. Readers loved McDonald’s stories about post-college 20-somethings; other self-publishers jumped in, and a new genre was born. A look through Amazon’s categories shows this is a widespread occurrence as digital reading allows for atomisation of interests.
In a Nielsen survey of 2,000 people this past December, about 54% of e-book buyers said they used smartphones to read books at least some of the time
Trend #2: More and More Self-publishers Go DIY
Large assisted publishing companies which, for a fee, put a book through the processes of publishing are losing momentum, as more and more self-publishers go direct, hiring their own editors and designers, and publishing to Amazon (KDP – Kindle Direct Publishing – for e-books, and CreateSpace for print-books) and, increasingly, also to Apple iBooks, Kobo Writing Life and Ingram Spark, while using distributors such as Smashwords and Draft2Digital to reach other e-book outlets.
All these companies offer excellent terms to authors, including up to 70% of sales revenue.
Trade publishing and most assisted self-publishing contracts cannot match this, unless they offer standout marketing services.
Trend #3: Indie Authors Increasingly Work with Trade Publishers Too
Writers increasingly move between self-publishing and trade publishing and consider all possible pathways. Indeed, any indie authors successfully selling online will sooner or later find themselves engaging with the trade, if only around subsidiary rights. It is still much easier for trade publishing to reach bookshops with print books for example and authors need to deal with overseas publishers if they want to sell their translation rights.
Publishers’ Weekly recently reported on a steady stream of authors who took publishing deals in the past few years only to return to self-publishing, while other trade-published authors, like CJ Lyons, do both, side by side. And a survey by Digital Book World found, unsurprisingly, that authors using both methods earn most.
Trend #4: The Rise of Phone Reading
Generally, people are reading more on their phones. In a Nielsen survey of 2,000 people this past December, about 54% of e-book buyers said they used smartphones to read books at least some of the time, up from 24% in 2012. Indie authors have been quick to move on this trend, creating shorter books with phone-friendly formatting.
The global e-book market is expected to reach more than $22 billion by next year says Kobo Book Report, largely thanks to phone reading “The advances that we’re seeing year-over-year are incredible,” Kobo Chief Content Officer Michael Tamblyn said.
Meaningful distribution in conventional bookstores remains a challenge for self-publishers but last year saw the emergence of bookstores exclusively for self-published books
Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon are investing in growing reading technology globally, encouraging reading and literacy as they go. Facebook has just announced the satellite system they will use to launch broadband across sub-Saharan Africa. This is broadband delivery by drone; solar-powered, unmanned planes the size of Boeing 737s that will beam broadband internet into the most remote locations.
While traditional print publishing focuses on bookstores and local newspapers, the focus for self-publishing and e-reading is firmly on what the community calls “going globile”.
Trend #5: Indie only Bookstores
Meaningful distribution in conventional bookstores remains a challenge for self-publishers but last year saw the emergence of bookstores exclusively for self-published books. Children’s author Patti Brassard Jefferson opened the tiny Gulf Coast Books in Fort Myers, Florida, in April of last year. Within six months, she has moved to a 1,700 sq ft store, carrying ten times as many books as its predecessor. Another indie-only bookstore launched in Colorado last month. And, of course, at the end of last year, Amazon opened its first bookstore in Seattle. Early days but it’s easy to see this trend taking off.
Trend #6: Expanding Readership
ALLi was proud to feature Accessible eBook Guidelines for Self-Publishing Authors by Dave Gunn in our recent Indie Author Fringe Online Conference. Published by the WIPO Accessible Books Consortium in conjunction with IAF, the International Authors Forum (ALLi is a member of the Forum), this easy to read PDF is a highly practical overview of the world of accessible publishing, complete with a helpful how-to checklist and a further resources list.
This is a tremendous resource for all authors but indie authors, being nimble and able to implement quickly, can create accessible e-books as soon as they decide to, unlike those who have to negotiate corporate structures.
Self-publishing technologies are also bringing writing and publishing into communities that have traditionally been reading-challenged, with a much wider range of books than the traditional white, middle-class output of trade publishing. This will solve the long-lamented problem of the lack of diversity in books, and will be self-publishing’s most significant and most enduring trend.
Trend #7: Expanding Authorship
Libraries, prisons, ethnic and religious centres, age action groups and many others are waking up to the power of self-publishing in developing new voices. The importance of this was expressed eloquently recently by ALLi author, Pelham McMahon: “As my life is being shortened day by day, and I struggle to see what I am doing, self-publishing is giving me wings to fly and a comfortable feeling that when I am gone my work can live on, no matter what others may think of it. My voice will be heard.”
Orna Ross is an indie author. She writes novels, poems and non-fiction and is Founder-Director of the non-profit Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) and Indie Author Fringe. A long-time teacher of creative and imaginative practice, she lives in London and writes, publishes and teaches around the globe, fostering creative writing, creative publishing and creative living. Tweet her: @ornaross.
© Orna Ross