Tag Archives: self-publishing

A Perspective on E-Book Sales Trends

E-book sales in fiction leaped by 42 percent in 2012 over the year before, to $1.8 billion, according to a recent publishing industry report. Non-fiction sales of e-books rose by 22 percent, to $484.2 million, while e-book sales in the children’s and young adult categories rose by 117 percent to $469.2 million, according to BookStats, the Association of American Publishers and the Book Industry Study Group. The survey included data from 1,500 publishers, including the six major trade houses.

While sales from bricks and mortar bookstores continue to make up the bulk of publishers’ revenue at $7.5 billion, that figure is a seven percent drop. Revenue from online retailers like Amazon, the biggest player in the market, shot up by 21 percent to 6.9 percent of total revenues. This was the first year-long look at the industry since the bankruptcy and liquidation of the Borders bookstore chain.

Sales of downloadable audio-books enjoyed a 22 percent increase in revenues in 2012 compared to 2011 (from $197.7 million to $240.7 million). Publishers saw the increase as the result of the widespread use of mobile devices.

None of these numbers should come as a surprise to those who closely follow the publishing industry. Let’s look at what the numbers mean for writers and for readers. For both groups the key words are choice and accessibility. Writers who can’t crack the Big Six (and that’s most of us) have options to publish their work. And those options are affordable. A writer can upload a novel to Amazon in minutes at no cost, though I strongly recommend investing in a book editor and a graphic designer. Readers can read the work of a dizzying array of writers—not limited to the best-selling authors, but talented indie writers.

This is an amazing time to be a writer or a reader (or both). The downside of the ease of publishing a book is that anyone can do it, from accomplished writers to hacks and neophytes with no writing skills. The proliferation of hastily written, sloppy books makes it difficult for good writers to break through all the clutter. For readers, it’s an equally steep challenge to find literary gold in the new online slush pile.

So what does the future hold for readers and writers? Here are a few predictions to consider:

• E-book sales will continue to rise, but will level off at some point. Some experts say they will reach 50 percent of all sales, but I believe e-books will climb even higher than that.
• Dislocation and mergers will continue in the publishing industry, making it even harder for unpublished writers to land a contract.
• Successful indie or self-pubbed writers will be those who are prolific and can create an effective and far-reaching marketing apparatus. Marketing, more than content, is king when it comes to achieving success in e-book sales.
• Bookstores will continue to close. Those that survive will be the bookstores that can deliver value and a unique customer experience that will engender loyalty.

What about you? Where do you see the publishing industry heading in the years to come?

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E-books Outsold Hard Covers in Adult Fiction: What Does It Mean?

It was both stunning and expected—the recent news that e-books outsold hard covers in the adult fiction category in 2011, according to a report co-produced by the Association of American Publishers (AAR) and the Book Industry Study Group, based on sales figures provided by 2,000 publishers.

It was stunning because it was one of those watershed statistics, never before achieved and unimaginable just ten years ago. It was expected because publishing industry observers knew the day would come when e-books became the preferred mode for the majority of consumers, even if it is happening in just one category at the moment.

Other findings in the report include:

  • Net sales of e-books jumped to 15 percent of the market in 2011, up from six percent in 2010
  • Overall, U.S. book market sales declined by 2.5 percent to $2.72 billion in 2011, down from $2.79 billion in 2010.
  • Majority of publishers’ revenues still come from print books at $11 billion, compared to $2 billion from e-books.
  • In the adult fiction category, e-books accounted for 30 percent of total net publishers’ sales, compared to a 13 percent share the year before.
  • Online retailers represented 13 percent of total net dollars, but grew by 35 percent from the year before.

Read a summary of the report on the AAR site

Read more about the report on the BookStats site

Here’s a good analysis of the report by Jeremy Greenfield on the Digital Book World site.

Greenfield noted two interesting facts in his story. For the first quarter of 2012, e-books represented 25 percent of all sales in trade fiction. He also pointed out the BookStats report found that publishers made over $1 billion selling directly to consumers in 2011, up from $702 million in 2010.

What do all these statistics mean for authors? Clearly, e-books will continue to grow in market share, as some analysts predict they will eventually dwarf sales of print books. The report also shows publishers are still making a heck of a lot of money. The industry is healthy, but undergoing change. Though revenues dipped by 2.5 percent to $2.72 billion in 2011, much of that could be attributed to the demise of Borders, as well as a slew of independent bookstores. Traditional publishing remains the most viable option for authors to achieve success. However, readers are flocking to e-books and that bodes well for authors whose only route to publication is self-publishing. Of course the self-published writer must shoulder all of the editorial, platform building and marketing burden.

It behooves writers to pay attention to what’s going on in the publishing industry. Writers should also watch what goes on around them. More and more of my friends are buying Kindles, Nooks and iPads. Lovers of traditional books (like me) have a dual mindset. I still read printed books, but I also read many books on my Kindle. When I travel, I carry a paperback and my Kindle.

The publishing world continues to change at a rapid pace. The good news is there is so much diversity of content available and that bodes well for reader and writers.

What’s your opinion of the changes taking place within the publishing industry?

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The Decision to Self-publish: A Terrifying Leap

The blogosphere is rife with essays about the war between traditional and self-publishers and the internecine feud among self-publishers, who belittle other writers and publishers alike. Everybody is mad at someone. Public venting may make some people feel better, but it demeans us all.

I left a comment on one of these posts stating those who say self-published writers have a choice is a little like saying I chose the over-40 basketball league at the local gym over the NBA. The NBA wasn’t offering a contract, even when I was 21-years-old and in peak physical condition. Upon further reflection, this comment missed the mark.

Most self-published authors have four basic choices:

Option 1: Keep pitching your book to agents, knowing each rejection chips away at your self-confidence.

Option 2: Work hard to improve your manuscript and then renew your efforts to pitch your work to agents.

Option 3: Consider self-publishing on Amazon, Barnes & Noble or the other popular e-book platforms.

Option 4: Abandon your novel and move on to a new project.

Most writers pursue Options 1 and 2 with vigor, but as time stretches from months to years without success, they move from Option 2 to Option 3. Having been through that thought process, I found the self-publishing option terrifying to me. It’s like the feeling I got the first time I dove off the high diving board. Don’t look down. Take a deep breath and just do it. The idea that my work would be out there for anyone to criticize was scary enough. The stigma associated with self-publishing (though that is changing) also gave me pause. The lack of a strong platform was an equally daunting thought.

I agonized over my decision. If you are facing a similar decision, here are some considerations:

Age. For an older writer, the self-publishing option may be appealing because time is not on your side. If I was 20 years younger (or even 10 years younger), I would be willing to wait up to 10 years to secure an agent and a publishing contract. As a writer in my mid-50’s, I don’t have time to wait. I want to write more novels. I may decide to shop these novels to an agent, depending on the marketability of the story and the quality of the writing. Or I may self-publish.

Genre. If you are writing Young Adult, Science Fiction, Romance, or Mystery, and you have a strong manuscript, you have a shot at publication. It’s a long shot, but an agent is going to pay attention to a strong pitch followed by an engaging sample. If you write family sagas like me, the odds are really against you.

Skill level. Some writers are ready for prime time, but maybe their book is the wrong vehicle or it doesn’t showcase their talents. These writers should keep at it and try to get published. Novice writers shouldn’t pursue traditional or self-publishing until they have honed their craft.

Tolerance for rejection. Writers must have a thick skin. Simply put, if you have no tolerance for rejection, traditional publishing may not be for you. However, that doesn’t mean you can take short-cuts in your desire to self-publish your book. Self-published books require the same level of editing, proofreading, outside review and due diligence as traditionally published books, if not more.

Marketing platform. Some self-published authors are not great writers, but they sell tons of books because they are expert marketers. Social media guru Jane Friedman has cautioned self-published writers not to publish their books until they have built a substantial platform. This calls to mind the axiom, “If a tree falls in the woods and there’s nobody around to hear it, does it make a sound?” A writer with a strong platform and lots of followers on social media is in a good position to self-publish.

Productivity/staying power. Are you a one-trick pony or do you have many novels in you? A lot of people wonder how Amanda Hocking achieved her astounding success at self-publishing. She worked extremely hard, pumping out novel after novel. She was prolific at writing and platform-building. Writers must ask: am I in this for the long haul? Am I willing to put my heart and soul into this? (Sorry, I must have turned off the cliche-checker today).

Self-publishing is a choice, but it is far from an easy one.

What considerations do you weigh when you are thinking about self-publishing?

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What Makes a Good Book Cover-Part II

Since I published my novel, Small Change, through Amazon.com I have received a lot of compliments from my writer friends on the cover design. The praise is misplaced for I had little to do with the cover design. I was fortunate to work with a friend who is a talented designer, Greg Reese of West Hartford, Connecticut, who was really the brains behind the cover.

Here was the process. Greg and I had lunch and I explained what the book was about. We reviewed some of my ideas for what I wanted the cover to convey. Since many of the dramatic scenes in the story took place at a lakeside resort, I wanted to feature the lake on the cover. There was a dock located between the cottages of the two families in the novel, the Sykowskis and the Crandales. My original concept was to have the main character, John Sykowski, sitting on the dock looking out at the lake, with his friend, Rebekka Crandale, standing behind him with her back to him. It would be dusk and the figures would be shadowy. This reflects a key moment in the story when Rebekka asks John if he loves her and John tells her that he does not.

Greg and I discussed typography and art work. One basic question Greg asked was whether I envisioned a drawing or a photograph or some other type of image. After discussing it, we agreed a photograph would work best. Greg asked me to send him three book covers that were similar in concept to what we had in mind. I did a quick Google search and sent Greg three images.

Based on our discussion, Greg came up with nine basic designs. We narrowed it down to two, but we needed a specific photograph to make them work. I called my son-in-law, Brian Marzi, a budding artist who enjoys photography. Brian took more than 200 photographs at a lake in Ohio, Twin Lakes, located in the Twin Lakes section of Kent, Ohio. He brought one of his friends who looked close to the age John would have been to pose for pictures on the dock.

As soon as we saw the photograph of the young man sitting on the dock with his back to the camera, looking out at the lake, we knew we had the shot we wanted. It spoke to so many elements in the story: the water representing surface truths but hiding secrets, the dock as both a unifying and dividing line, the young man who is gazing out at his future, the trees and the clouds representing the horizon of his life.

Our only remaining issue was the typography. One design had the title in white with a black border. It was stark and basic, reflecting the tone of the work, but the other design, with the title in red, drew the reader in. We ultimately decided on the red lettering with my name in black on the next line.

The image displays well on the Amazon page, which is a must for e-book covers.

So here are some key lessons learned:

  • Use a professional graphic designer.
  • Meet with your designer and explain the concept and your vision.
  • Make sure you and your designer are on the same page in terms of the basic cover concept.
  • Be frank with your designer. If a design doesn’t work for you, speak up. Your designer will appreciate the feedback.
  • Ask for several options working within the basic design. For me, there was a cover design I didn’t choose that I really liked, but everyone else thought the design we selected was superior (and they were right).
  • Just as you cannot hurry the creative writing process, don’t rush the design process. Design professionals know what they are doing. Don’t put undue pressure on them.
  • As is the case with editing, ultimately you are the boss—not that this was ever an issue for me since we were totally in synch.

An attractive book cover is essential for a self-published author. Be sure to put in the effort to ensure your book cover attracts readers.

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