Today marks the fifth anniversary of our Write Well, Write To Sell blog. Scott and I began this blog on August 22, 2011, and it’s been a great five years. We’ve each learned a ton of stuff. The blog has grown from a few hundred hits per week to over ten times that now. Granted, we’re nowhere near as big as some of the popular writing blogs out there, but we’re pleased with how we’ve done, and we plan to continue.
When I told Scott about the topic this week, his comment was “That’s a huge topic. Things have changed a lot in the last half decade.” Yep, they sure have, and I found it interesting that he said “half a decade” because that made it sound a lot longer than “five years.”
Truly, much has changed for authors in the past five years, and I’m just going to attempt to hit the highlights. Let’s begin with how we got to where we are—in case you’ve forgotten.
The self-publishing era began less than ten years ago, when Amazon introduced the Kindle e-reader for $400. Now, there had been e-readers before that, but they were just as expensive. The problem was that there were not many e-books out there, not that publishers hadn’t tried to remedy that. Most of what existed came from small publishers, and not many of them were very good.
So, if you’re a big online retailer with a new e-reader, as Amazon was, the only way you’re going to be able to sell it is to have books to read on it. Rather than recount the history of the Kindle, I’ll let you read all about it here.
What Amazon did was make it easy to publish e-books for the Kindle, opening it up to both traditional publishers and to the common man.
CHANGE #1: THE KINDLE FIRE AND THE RISE OF THE KINDLE AS A TABLET
What started as an e-reader has become an excellent tablet. My wife and I both own a Kindle Fire. She has the 8.9” version that she uses daily far more than she uses the desktop computer I built for her back in 2011. I still have the 7” one, which I plan to upgrade soon.
So, that’s one change: the rise of the Kindle (and other tablets).
CHANGE #2: SELF-PUBLISHING LOSES ITS STIGMA
In opening up Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) to writers everywhere, Amazon was motivated by profit motivated by profit, but Amazon is extremely customer focused and it recognized that by helping their own business, their customers would also benefit.
Some doomsayers still claim that Amazon doesn’t care about us writers, that we’re just a source of income for them. They warn that it’s just a matter of time before Amazon screws us all. As soon as Kindle Direct Publishing is no longer profitable for Evil Amazon, they’ll pull the plug and bring about the end-of-the-world, Self-Publishing Apocalypse. Of course, those doomsayers have been claiming this for a while now. The world hasn’t ended yet.
We do have to recognize that the world around us is changing more rapidly than ever before, and this is certainly true with publishing. Five years ago, self-publishing was still viewed with skepticism and often disdain, and for good reason. Anyone could publish, and there were no gatekeepers to keep out the trash. However, that didn’t mean that ALL self-published efforts were bad.
The naysayers often forget (or never knew) that self-publishing existed long before traditional publishers came about. A number of the classic authors self-published at least some of their works.
At the time, many believed that if you couldn’t land a traditional publisher, then your work was probably not very good. In the past five years that myth has been dispelled as more and more good self-published novels have come out. Some of these authors did try for a traditional publishing contract, while others didn’t bother. When it comes to traditional publishing, we sometimes forget that they do publish a lot of mediocre books, and we’ve seen some very good books that publishers rejected get self-published and do very well.
It’s taken a while, but because some very good books have come from self-publishing, the stigma has gone away. Major book conventions now recognize self-publishing and offer spaces for workshops and book sales for indie authors.
CHANGE #3: TRADITIONALLY PUBLISHED AUTHORS ARE SWITCHING TO SELF-PUBLISHING
Because self-publishing has lost its stigma, we’re seeing more and more traditionally published authors switching over to self-publishing for several reasons.
One reason is that publisher advances have shrunk. New and mid-list authors used to be able to get five-figure advances. Now, the average advance is mid-four figures. With advances that low, you can do better self-publishing.
A second reason is that publishers have gotten used to blockbuster novels making big bucks for them. They’re no longer interested in the anything else. Midlist authors seem to have zero change with big publishers nowadays. Hence, they’re self-publishing.
And a third reason is that traditionally published authors are learning that there is a demand for their older, backlist books (ones that have gone out of print). Many are finding that they can make more money from those sales than from their new books through their traditional publisher. They get back the rights to those out-of-print books and self-publish them. Since these authors already have an established fan base, their older books sell well for them.
CHANGE #4: E-BOOK SALES OVERTAKE PRINT SALES.
Let’s not forget this milestone: In 2011 Amazon reported that, for the first time, e-book sales surpassed those of print sales.
CHANGE #5: FALSE REPORTS OF DECLINING E-BOOK SALES
I’ll let you read these articles and decide for yourself.
This article, if you look at the data, shows number from ONLY the major publishers. What’s interesting are the comments trying to explain this “decline.” As the next two articles show, the decline is indeed false, which means that these rationalizations likewise are stabs in the dark to explain something that’s not real. I find it amusing that some booksellers still think that e-books are a fad and not working dealing with.
To summarize: Book sales overall may have declined slightly due to readers’ attention being grabbed by other media. High-priced e-books don’t sell well, and greedy publishers still don’t understand that simple fact. E-book sales overall are holding their own and increasing year over year.
CHANGE #6: TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING CONTRACTS HAVE GOTTEN REALLY BAD
Go read Kris Rusch’s blogs on Contracts. Below are links to the first and to the most recent one in her series. I’ll leave it to you to find the articles in between. Even if you self-publish, you should read these because some of her comments apply to you as well. Remember, if you’re serious about being an author, you need to be informed about ALL aspects of publishing.
CHANGE #7: THE RISE OF INDEPENDENT EDITING AND COVER DESIGN SERVICES
In the past five years, self-publishing authors have become aware of the need for good editing and good book covers (because their books sell poorly otherwise). This has led to a rise of independent services for editing and book cover design. Serious authors have become more aware that if they truly want to have a career in writing, then they need to do the job right, not half-assed.
CHANGE #8: OVERALL SUMMARY OF HOW SELF-PUBLISHING HAS CHANGED THINGS FOR US
I hope you enjoyed this post and found it encouraging. See you next week.