Sixty years ago there was a strong belief that the arrival of “television” marked the end of radio. Television did change the entertainment landscape, but radio continues today as a very big business. Less than five years ago there was a strong belief that ebooks marked the end of their printed brethren. In support of that contention, vast growth in ebook sales seemed to indicate that electronic versions might potentially gouge the market share of physical copies…and then 2013 arrived.
Throughout 2013 the number of ebook publications continued to rise at extraordinary rates. Unfortunately, ebook sales increased only by 5% while Hardcover sales saw one of its best years. Late in the year, Sony announced the discontinuation of its ebook platform and it is well-known that B&N will likely exit the direct ebook market. So what does that mean for the Indie Author?
The ebook market “matured” quicker than expected. It seems that ebook market share found its baseline the same as any industry finds its baseline. The challenge for authors is that “growth” of the industry won’t be the driving factor in individual success. That is there won’t be hordes of new readers coming to the fold to buy books. It also means price competition with big publishers will continue. Fortunately for the Indie author, being self-published requires little overhead costs. In order to find success however the Indie Author needs more than luck and happenstance to make a mark—he or she needs a sound business and marketing strategy.
It comes down to business 101
At the start of any industry the atmosphere is like the wild west — get in, grab your dream and ride the wave. Once an industry establishes its market share and customer base, providers switch to differentiating their goods and services from the rest of the brands. Those who do that well live on, those who don’t find a different industry. If you’re old enough to recall the dot com era then you remember there was a time when just having a good idea for a website business could net you tens of millions of dollars. Today—a dime a dozen and most web design can be done by anyone with a computer.
Success won’t be a matter of genre
By the time an author recognizes what is selling and writes something in the genre, the readers have moved on. Trying to predict the next Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Fifty Shades, or Twilight is as pointless as it is impossible. Of course, Big Publishing is trying to do that exact thing through data analysis, but in the past decade they haven’t exactly nailed much about the book market as evident in their decline. Reader preference ebbs and flows. Every genre will have its fans. Success won’t be from writing what everyone is reading but in developing a fan base who wants to read “your” stuff. The future successful author needs to do as much work after they hit “publish” as before they hit it. And much of that work needs to be directed at creating a fan base. People who want to read all the future stuff you write.
The change means no short cuts in the work
The first and most critical component of gaining readership is to honor the reader. That means “well it’s good enough for now, I’ll fix all the issues after people start to read it” days are gone. And they should be. In an established market with a defined market space there is little room for error. A review board filled with criticisms on the author’s work quality is detrimental. Why should a reader give a writer another chance? If you go to a restaurant with terrible food and service do you feel any need to revisit and give them another chance? Why bother with so many other places left to try?
Everything about the book becomes important in an established market
Create Space understands that and now offers Matte finish for their books. Why? Because it looks better and it is the same finish used by the publishing houses. The contents, the cover, and the options need to meet the industry standards or the author can’t compete. That doesn’t mean every one can’t continue to publish, it means if an author is serious about gaining readers then they have to be serious about the product. And entry into an established market means some costs—like it or not. You may be able to make your own beer at home, but if you want to compete with Budweiser then you’re going to need a good plan and some cash.
You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression
I’ve gone to many “look inside” views of books on Amazon. I’m surprised and sometimes horrified at what I read within the first few pages. Typos, awkward sentences, immediate info dumps and stuff that looks like first draft material. I’m not criticizing writers for trying or for the vast efforts it takes to write a novel. I’m just suggesting that if you’re putting your name on a book you should ensure that people hate it for the story, not because you don’t know the difference between their and there. Editing is an absolute requirement whether a writer can afford it our not. A writer can either save up the $800 it costs for a professional service or invest in grammar classes and a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style. In a limited market the “come as you are” novel will kill a writer’s career.
We Do Judge A Book by Its Cover
Readers are already suspect of Indie Books. The book cover is used to both judge the content and to determine the professionalism. The book cover doesn’t need to be fancy and expensive. You don’t necessarily need an illustrator, but you do have to ensure that it doesn’t have all the tell-tale signs of a $40 or made with clip art cover. Again I’m not saying an Indie author can’t do as they want—we’re simply speaking of the rules of competing in the market. One of the big rules, the one that companies spend oodles of dollars on is…product packaging.
Limit At Your Own Risk
A writer writes books. A writer wants readers. The majority —vast majority—of readers like to turn a page(not slide their fingers). So why limit your product line to just an electronic form? Most of today’s ebook sales are from titles available in print form. Those ebook formats represent a fraction of the hard copy version. Future competition requires physical book versions. Save $3 a week for a year and Create Space will not only produce a high quality paperback for you…they’ll also professionally format the thing.
Here is the best chance to get ahead of something everyone knows is coming. Amazon will sooner or later open brick and mortar stores. They will no doubt create a book section devoted to Independent authors to support their Create Space operations. If an author’s book isn’t in print then it can’t be in the store.
Be a Marketing Team
Quality control aside an author needs readers. Readers require marketing and the best marketing is relationship building. That means “hey look at me, buy my book” won’t do anything more than make people smile and think “hey no, because you’re a self-promoter.” If you’re a writer then you need to make connections, make friends, do unto others etc etc. Every author, myself included, wants to help other authors succeed. Okay a lot of authors don’t care about others but they’ll soon find out that they are on a lonely island where no one reads their books. Marketing in today’s social media world is easy because its not marketing at all really. It’s making sincere connections with others, helping them reach their dreams, being busy in forums, and mostly trying to add value to other’s lives. So pretty much the basics of how we should live our lives even if we weren’t writers.
The leveling off of ebook growth is not a bad thing. In fact, if you are a serious writer, the settling out and the end of the hype will be very positive for those of us in the game for the long term. Quality will increase, Indie Authors will have an opportunity to demonstrate they offer great reads, and those who stay in the business will be themselves quality minded individuals.
The best part is that you’re not alone. I have found some outstanding folks in this “Book and Blog” world— service providers, authors, bloggers, and readers. Amazing people willing to support my efforts as I support theirs. As I said, sincere connections to a community of readers, writers, and service providers is the best marketing tool and at worst you enrich you’re life with new friends.
My final thought on the subject is—It’s not a question of whether there remains room for the Indie Author— it’s a question of whether Indie Authors are ready and have what it takes to face the changes required to be a part of this exciting industry. I think I do—how ‘bout you?