The battle has been going on for years now: traditional publishing vs. self-publishing. For fantasy and sci-fi, romance and young adult, a million different options are available to those brave enough to try.
And whether you decide to traditionally publish or self-publish, getting your book discovered is a problem. Amazon has weird algorithms. Goodreads has merciless reviewers. Bookbub promotions can be effective, but hard to attain.
But good things can happen to good books. Alec Hutson is proof. Hutson, author of the fantasy novel The Crimson Queen (December 2016), decided to self-publish after a frustrating year of trying and waiting and trying some more to get agents to read the book.
In just five months, the book has 800+ ratings on GoodReads. He’s seen spikes of 100+ book sales overnight. And he’s out-earned any advance that agents could promise him.
When my friend gave me a copy of The Crimson Queen, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It’s hard to find a good fantasy book. Especially in the world of self-publishing. But it was a great book. Far better than the absolutely dreadful Queen of the Tearling, which can be found recommended in New Yorker blogs and National Bestseller lists alike. It’s rated higher, too.
So how did Hutson break though? What was his journey to becoming a self-published author? I recently had an email interview with him to find out.
At #FutureBook16, a conference based in London, authors, agents, publishers, and others converged to discuss the future of the book. Or, really, the future of publishing.
Spoiler: the industry doesn’t think it’s that bright. In his keynote, Tim Healy Hutchinson Hachette UK said that the book market is in “secular decline.”
The entire industry is shaking, reeling, seizing up. I’ve talked about the failure of the book industry to adapt to digital marketing strategies.
One statistic that I saw passing through the Twittersphere really leapt out at me:
In online searches, 60% of all book searches are deliberate.
If you’ve paid any attention to the book industry, you’ll know by now that Hachette and Amazon are locked in some kind of pricing battle.
The details aren’t that well known, but the strategy is: Amazon disabled the pre-order option for Hachette books, discounts have vanished and some authors have gone completely unlisted.
Meanwhile, Hachette just laid off 30 people (or, in The Wall Street Journal’s more dramatic terms, 3% of its US workforce). The reason? “Softening book sales.”
Hachette isn’t exactly a two-bit publisher. It’s part of a media conglomerate, Lagardère. Famous authors on the roster right now include JK Rowling, Steven Colbert, Malcolm Gladwell and James Patterson.
People don’t really know why Hachette and Amazon are having a stand-off. All they know is that they can’t get the publisher’s books as easily if they’re trying to buy from Amazon. But most speculate that it has something to do with discounting the prices of eBooks.
The real question, then, is this: how do we value books today? And what happens if publishers decide to not renew their contracts with Amazon?
When it comes to online marketing, independent authors like to think they’re ahead of the curve. Social savvy, internet savvy, and savvy in other miscellaneous ways.
But just because you made a Facebook Page and have a Twitter account doesn’t mean that they’re helping sell your eBook.
Online marketing is a mysterious mix of luck and gossip. Whenever social media is brought up – whether by indie authors or bands, or in a corporate boardroom – a reflective hush falls over the crowd. The sound of doubt.
Social media or a blog campaign can help promote your eBook. But you need to know how to measure those efforts to see what’s actually working and what’s just hype (such as paying $599 for social media services). Amazon won’t give you any kind of dashboard to see where sales are coming from, so it’s up to you.
Here are three ways to do it:
The Tribune Company did something that surprised me the other day: it released a new product. An app, to be specific. Newsbeat converts newspapers into audio, so people can listen to them in the car, on their iPhone and in various other Mobile scenarios.
Aside from Tribune newspapers like The Los Angeles Times, Newsbeat will also play content from news providers like CNN and Fox News. Stories can be skipped and, over time, the app will learn what kinds of stories readers – I mean listeners – will want to hear most.
Maybe this will work. Maybe people will stick with the relatively unpredictable and unpersonalized stuff coming from the radio. But the great news, either way, is that The Tribune Company is trying to do something different.
Can book publishers say the same?
The government shutdown is over. For now. After so much productive and rigorous hashtagging on Twitter, complaints on Facebook, and half-plagiarised news articles looking for traffic, our representatives had no choice but to start funding things again. And agree to fund the things they passed this year already.
During that time – while I was caught up in the virtual world of eating different blog posts like Cheetos – I stumbled upon one entitled “The Great Library of Alexandria was destroyed by budget cuts, not fire.”
Interesting headline. Related to the current crisis, albeit peripherally. It was enough to get almost 100,000 views since October 8, along with over 200 comments, so I would consider the piece a success.
And the best part? The blog post was advertising a book by the author. A book I actually clicked.
Ebook studies about market shares and sales are all over the place. But eBook studies about reader habits are a little harder to find.
That’s why I was excited to finally see one that talked about… copyright.
What is a book “worth” when authors are being taught by Amazon that the way to promote their work is to give it away? Or when a quick search for “free ebooks” on Google can get you over 100 million results?
Here are the results from “The Online Copyright Infringement Tracker” from Kantar Media. The statistics are UK-based, but have a lot of significance for any author, reader or otherwise lover of books in all their forms.
You wrote the book. You did the research. You got a cover. Finally, you formatted the thing for Amazon Kindle and decided to try KDP Select.
Gleefully, you set up the promotion and let ‘er whirl. You scaled your expectations accordingly. “Maybe a dozen sales, not more… but, you know, maybe it’s the next Fifty Shades of Grey. A hundred sales.”
The downloads come rolling in like a tsunami – ten, twenty, a hundred downloads. Those are great, because it shows people are interested in what you’re writing. Or at least interested in stockpiling free books.
Then, it’s over and you wait for the “ripple effect” you’ve heard about… but nothing happens. That’s it. You just worked on a book for a few years and handed it out to anonymous strangers. You get zero sales from your KDP Select promotion.
When it comes to social media for authors, I’m skeptical at best. The average conversion rate for B2B companies on social media is 1.6 percent and they’re selling a solution to some kind of problem.
Authors are selling a commoditized experience, something that depends on recommendations – word-of-mouth – more than anything else.
In part, that’s what intrigues me so much about Libboo, a new company that is trying to help authors promote their work through “advocacy marketing.”
Libboo offers authors the power to reward their most passionate readers – the ones who recommend your book to their friends – and has the data analytics tools to monitor just who recommends the stuff and how they’re doing it.
It’s a bold step in the emerging world of social commerce. I recently had an email interview with Michael Boezi, Vice President of Strategy, to learn more about the solution and what Libboo hopes to achieve.
I accidentally clicked a press release the other day. This release announced an exciting new “social media system” to help independent authors create buzz for books.
A noble goal, albeit a lofty one. Dog Ear Publishing, one of the many self-publishing platforms in the indie author world, offers the service with a nice little bonus: a 32-page instructional eBook.
I don’t doubt the expertise. I don’t doubt that these guys know what they’re doing and want to help authors get established on social media.
What I do doubt is the price tag for the services: $599. Because I’m not sure there’s any proof that social media can drive (that many) book sales for independent authors.