In 2014 it seems that both publishers and authors accepted the fact that self-publishing and traditional publishing are not mutually exclusive. Non-delusional authors sell books and build platforms concurrently with seeking an agent and a traditional deal. Today’s publishers like to see proof that the author has an audience. The “hybrid author” is more the norm, though today’s successful self-publishers (good marketers, all) may altogether reject traditional publishing in favor of keeping the bulk of the pie. Many writing conferences, such as the San Francisco Writers Conference, now offer up many classes on hybrid authorship, no longer dividing the audience with “if” you should self-publish but how to manage the process “when” you self-publish.
Though the self-publishing book market has flattened out (yes, everybody’s doing it now), innovation and businesses that help self-publishers have boomed. Some popular and proven services have narrowed their customer base and even increased prices. Crowdsourced author service sites boomed, as did reader subscription programs and, most interesting, the ability for the author to sell in the social stream and do real business as a small press. Let’s take a look what happened in 2014 and what to look for in 2015.
Formatting and Distribution
It costs a lot to help self-publishers through the formatting and distribution process. I’ve long suspected that vendors have been taking a hit with their low-cost packages in order to attract authors. While Smashwords, Kindle Direct Publishing and CreateSpace have always been free, they require work by the author to format and upload books for distribution, a task that many find insurmountable.
Two great services that have done this for authors changed their business models in 2014. Vook eliminated POD distribution in favor of digital only, and raised a few eyebrows by requiring authors to actually apply to become a “Vook author.” Vook told me they started vetting their authors because of their ever more hands-on approach with editing, designing and marketing books. Like any publishing partner, they want to make sure the author is on board with creating a quality book and that process takes time.
BookBaby also raised its prices (use a coupon to to take advantage of the old prices for a limited time only). They currently offer e-book formatting and distribution plus print book formatting services. You can order short runs of your print books right now but they do not offer POD distribution.
In May 2014 I wrote about Blurb’s new and wildly popular tool called BookWright that lets authors concurrently create both print book and fixed-layout EPUB files. Their model is free but you’re locked into their printing and distribution service (which includes Amazon and Ingram channels). Many authors like the painless creation process and find it worth the exclusivity. Workarounds include buying your own PDF but fixed-layout EPUB is more difficult to duplicate and do elsewhere.
IngramSpark spent the year developing a single offering that competes effectively with the indie author’s trifecta of complete print and e-book distribution (CreateSpace, Smashwords, and Kindle Direct Publishing). Spark provides arguably the most thorough distribution available, along with flexible discount-setting, a returns program, and that rarest of features, real access to bricks-and-mortar bookstores. IngramSpark’s Robin Cutler told me that in 2015 they will offer print and e-book formatting tools for book interior and cover files. They’re also developing tools to allow authors to sell books direct from their own websites and social media sites.
You might not think that Bowker, the ISBN agency, would suffer from a lack of visibility among indie authors, but they don’t advertise at all and so many don’t know about their very reasonable assistance packages. When you buy ISBNs from their MyIdentifiers site you also have the opportunity to purchase a self-publishing solution that includes 10 ISBNs, an e-book template in Word, and two barcodes, all for $484 (for a limited time, $395, and an additional discount for the holidays). They even have editing and design services now. Conversion services are provided by DCLabs and distribution is via Vook. Members of the most excellent IBPA (Independent Book Publishers Association) enjoy discounts on ISBNs and other essential products, so investment here can even out in the long run.
There are a few really easy and affordable tools and services for formatting books, such as Joel Friedlander’s Book Design Templates in Word and InDesign and PressBooks gorgeous CSS-based templates in their cloud-based publishing platform. Despite this, freelance ebook formatting services have thrived. Possibly by now many authors have realized that their time is better spent writing than piddling around with formatting, especially if their books have suffered from bad reviews online due to poor formatting.
Finding the right experts
A boom in sites that curate book pros include BiblioCrunch, Writerly, Booktrope and newcomer Reedsy, based in the UK. They all pre-approve the capabilities of book professionals that join their sites, such as formatters, editors, designers, author assistants, and even marketers.
Finding a reliable book formatter is key for authors who want to make complex books in fixed-layout format for reading on the new tablet devices that became so popular in 2014. Because each format is device-specific (iPad, Kindle Fire, iPhone, Android) you must build a different book for each device. Authors are just beginning to understand the concept of marketing to owners of particular devices rather than to readers of a genre of book. For example, instead of marketing to people who buy cookbooks, authors must market to people who own iPads who want to read cookbooks. Authors who skip market research into device specific audiences can easily fail, but hiring a formatting pro who understands the challenges can help them succeed.
Over the years since I’ve been writing for PBS MediaShift I’ve looked to Aerbook founder Ron Martinez’s innovations for a peek into the future of publishing. I’m happy to report that his products have finally landed in the present, for everyone, not just the tech-adventurous. Aerbook began as a fixed-layout multimedia e-book creation tool with Aerbook Maker. Martinez then added the capability for authors to create social fliers that allow authors to send news of their book down the social stream where readers can sample and buy books directly from Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. The new Aer.io product (in beta) perfects this strategy and takes it to the next level to allow anyone to build a bookstore on your own website for fun and profit. With this ability to so easily build a bookstore I expect that many tech-savvy authors will create niche sites in order to promote their own titles.
Since 2010 I’ve also looked to Smashwords founder Mark Coker for innovations and partnerships that help authors reach more readers. In a recent blog post Coker pointed out that one reason for the recent decline of e-book sales may be the subscription model offered by Scribd, Oyster and Kindle Unlimited. Self-publishers can reach readers through Scribd and Oyster via Smashwords and BookBaby, but need to go exclusive with Amazon’s KDP Select in order to reach Kindle Unlimited readers. This exclusivity has long been a bone of contention with Coker and many authors who want to deliver their books in all channels. Many authors I know use KDP Select to launch their books and soon abandon it. I posted an in-depth piece on how authors can get into the various subscription programs earlier this year.
In conclusion, though the self-publishing boom has flattened out, by no means has the industry come to a standstill. Look to existing services for improvements and new companies sprouting up to give them some competition. All this activity is happening to make life easier for you as an indie author to do more writing and marketing, tasks that only you can do.
Carla King is an author, a publishing consultant, and founder of the Self-Publishing Boot Camp program and the Indie Book Summer Camp starting in June. The program provides books, lectures workshops and group support for indie authors. Carla has self-published her adventure travel stories since 1994 on the internet and in print. She authored PBS MediaShift’s How to Self-Publish Your Book: A Practical Guide to Creating and Distributing Your Ebook or Print Book, which describes today’s self-publishing landscape. A great companion book is her step-by-step Self-Publishing Boot Camp Guide for Authors, found on SelfPubBootCamp.com.