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Episode 1:  Seven Publishing Trends (24 min.)

Mark examines seven trends shaping the future of authorship, and explores what these trends mean for your future as an author.


Mentioned in this episode:

Indie Author Manifesto




Welcome to the Smart Author Podcast, where you'll learn to publish ebooks with greater pride, professionalism, and success. I'm your host, Mark Coker. Let's get started.

In this episode, episode one, we examine seven trends shaping your future as an author. These trends are turning the old world of publishing upside down. You'll learn how you as a self-published author are standing at the epicenter of this change. You'll learn how to harness these trends to your advantage, and you'll learn why there's never been a better time to be an author. So, let's jump in.

I present to you seven trends transforming the future of authorship.

The first trend is the rise of ebooks. Screens are the new paper. 10 years ago, ebooks accounted for less than 1% of the overall book market. Today, that number's closer to 25%, and although 25% is impressive, it understates the true impact that ebooks have had on reading. Because ebooks are priced dramatically lower than print books. This means from a unit perspective, probably over 50% of words are read on screens now.

So, as an author, you want to make sure that ebooks are really central to your publishing strategy. You want to follow the eyeballs because this is where the eyeballs are going. Now, why are ebooks so hot? Well, I think the biggest reason is that for many readers, screens offer a more pleasurable reading experience. You can click a button and instantly increase the font size of your book.  With larger text, it's more comfortable to read. 

Ebooks also appeal to the three biggest drivers of consumer behavior. 1.  They're lower cost, much lower cost than print, they're convenient, it's so easy to make a couple clicks, and you can discover, sample, and purchase a book. 2.  It's instant delivery of reading pleasure. 3. The selection is massive. There are over five million ebooks to choose from today, so from a consumer point of view, ebooks have a lot of advantages.

The second big trend, ebooks are going global. To understand the significance of this trend, it's helpful if we take a moment to talk a little bit about print books. Printed books are heavy and bulky. With all that paper, ink, and glue, they're expensive to produce. They're expensive to box, ship, unpack, and stock. It's simply not economically feasible for publishers to make printed books available everywhere. In developing countries, print books are unaffordable to the majority of the population.

As a result, publishers typically only publish print books in the largest markets. So, this brings us to the eBook opportunity. Ebooks are different. They're digital. They're cheap to duplicate and distribute, because they're just digital bits and bytes. It costs nothing to transmit an ebook from one corner of the globe to the other. In short, ebooks overcome the economic and logistical limitations of print.

Billions of consumers around the world with smartphones in their pockets are carrying fully stocked bookstores. Your book is just a couple clicks away from being discovered, purchased, and read by these readers. Retailers everywhere are making ebooks available everywhere. Apple iBooks, the world's second largest seller of ebooks, is in 51 countries. Amazon is in dozens of countries. Kobo, a mid sized eBook retailer, is in 160 countries.

Even Smashwords, although our primary business is eBook distribution, we operate our own little store. Our store caters to readers in over 200 countries.

Here's an interesting data point. We're probably the largest distributor by title count of ebooks to the Apple iBooks store, so that's the Apple iBooks store, reaching 51 different countries. About 40% of our sales through iBooks are outside the United States. Our books are almost entirely English language.

This speaks to the massive global opportunity for you to reach readers all around the world. Every day, self-published authors writing in the English language are selling books into nearly every country. It's easy to reach this global market. Just distribute your book to all the major retailers. As they expand their international footprint, they'll take you with them.

The third trend is the democratization of publishing.

10 years ago, a period of time that I like to refer to as the Dark Ages of Publishing, publishing was a print centric business. Publishers controlled access to the printing press, they controlled access to retail distribution, and they controlled the expertise. They possessed the best practices knowledge, that knowledge that's required for professional publishing, so in short they controlled the fate of writers.

Publishers were the bouncers at the pearly gates of authordom. Publishers based their acquisition decisions on perceived commercial merit. Due to the high cost of publishing, publishers were simply unable to take a chance on every author. If they didn't think your book could sell a lot of copies, they'd reject it. This meant that the supply of books was artificially constrained. Even though they were publishing close to 300,000 books per year, hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of other books, were not finding their way to market.

It meant that millions of writers were denied the chance to be published. It meant humanity lost access to thousands of books that would have gone on to become cultural treasures if only given the chance to be read by readers. It meant that publishers decided what readers could read, and of course, it meant publishers decided which writers became published authors.

Today, thanks to the rise of ebooks, the tools of professional publishing are available to every writer. The printing press is now democratized. Free ebook publishing tools like Smashwords, or like Amazon KDP, make it possible for you to upload your manuscript today and have it available to a worldwide audience today. The retail distribution channel has been democratized. eBook retailers want to carry and stock every self-published ebook. This means your book can appear side by side on the same virtual shelves as the books from the large traditional publishers.

The best practices knowledge has also become democratized. Knowledge is what separates amateurs from professionals. The Smart Author Podcast will teach you how to publish like a professional. I'll share this knowledge with you so that you can publish a book that's as good or better than what the big New York publishers are putting out. Publishers are losing the monopoly they once had. Writers no longer need publishers to reach their readers.

This has led writers to start asking some dangerous questions. These are dangerous questions if you're standing in the shoes of a publisher. First question is, "Do I need a publisher?" That wasn't a question 10 years ago. 10 years ago, you had no choice. The second question, "What can a publisher do for me that I can't already do for myself?" The third question, and this is potentially the most dangerous question for publishers is, "Will a publisher actually harm my ability to reach my readers?" This is a big concern in the ebook market, because publishers tend to overprice their ebooks which harms affordability and desirability.

Publishers are trying to price their books over $10, whereas most self-published eBook authors are publishing under $4. So, what happens when writers everywhere are given access to free publishing tools, free distribution, and free best practices knowledge? More importantly, what happens when writers are given the freedom to publish?

This brings us to trend four, the rise of indie authorship.

If you're new to this term, indie author, a quick definition is in order. Indie stands for independent. Indie authors are self-published authors, so indie and self-published mean the same thing. Over the last 10 years, hundreds of thousands of writers have self-published ebooks. We're still in the very early days of this revolution. Indie authorship has unleashed an unprecedented wave of diversity in books. Indie authorship has become a global cultural phenomena. It's a movement.

In 2014, I published the Indie Author Manifesto. This was my attempt to capture the ethos behind the indie author movement. The Indie Author Manifesto was inspired by the growing professionalism I witnessed among self-published authors. I also found inspiration from other great manifestos, including the US Declaration of Independence, Martin Luther's 95 Theses, which led to the Protestant Reformation, and even the Bible's 10 Commandments.

When I published the Indie Author Manifesto, it generated a fair amount of controversy. Indie authors found the manifesto inspirational. Many indie authors printed it out and posted it on their walls to inspire them to write. But others in the industry found the manifesto profoundly upsetting. I think critics were most upset by the very first paragraph. The first paragraph focuses on equality. Here, I'll read it to you.

"We indie authors believe all writers are created equal, that all writers are endowed with natural creative potential, and that writers have an unalienable right to exercise, explore, and realize their potential through the freedom of publication."

Now, yes, we can all look at a book and we can say, "Well, that writer's not as good as another," but who are we to judge? From my point of view, if your book has the potential to please a single reader, your book is just as important as any other book.

Some people also viewed the manifesto as anti-publisher. It's not. There are voices in the publishing community who seek to turn this "indie versus traditional" debate into a religious war. I am not one of those voices. I love self-publishing, and I love traditional publishing. Each offers important benefits. I think from this day forward, all authors are indie authors.

Why? Because today, you can start writing a book and know with 100% assurance that one way or another, your book will be published and purchasable in stores. This wasn't possible 10 years ago. You have multiple publishing options. You have the freedom to choose self-publishing, and you have the freedom to pursue traditional publishing. You also have the freedom to do both. This is what is typically referred as a hybrid author. Hybrid authors work with traditional publishers, but they also self-publish. You can choose what's right for you.

Since the Smart Author Podcast focuses on self-publishing, let's take a look at some of the benefits of self-publishing. When you ask a self-published author what do they love about self-publishing, this is typically what you'll hear. You'll hear that they appreciate that there are no gatekeepers. If your book is ready today, you can upload it today and reach the market today, so faster time to market is a big benefit. But probably more than anything that I hear from authors is that they love the total creative control. It's your book, you control it, you decide what goes in the book.

Another big benefit that authors commonly cite is the promotional flexibility. You can wake up tomorrow and decide that you want to price your $3.99 ebook at 99 cents, or maybe you want to give it away for free so you can drive up your readership. You have that flexibility, flexibility that you don't get with a traditional publisher. It's because you control the rights to your book. You control everything about your book. As a self-published author, you often enjoy better distribution to a global market than even the authors that are represented by traditional publishers.

Because you're writing an ebook, your book is immortal. Your book will never go out of print. In the old world of print publishing, a publisher would publish a book, distribute it out to hundreds of bookstores, and if that book didn't start selling well immediately, the retailers pack up all the books, all the unsold inventory, and ship it back to the publisher for a full refund, so they could make room for the next books coming out. But with your ebook, it will be on that shelf forever.

Another big benefit of self-publishing is that you have access to the very same professional tools that the large publishers have, and because you don't have Manhattan or London sky rise office rents to pay, you have lower expenses. This means you can price your book, your product, at a lower price. Any time consumers have access to a product that's at a lower price, it makes that product more appealing, more affordable. And, you have the ability to earn higher royalties with your eBook.

So, how much? Quadruple plus. Let's look at some numbers. As an indie ebook author, you're going to earn 60-80% of the list price as your eBook royalty. A traditionally published eBook author, by contrast, only earns 12-17% of the list price as their royalty. So, let's put more numbers on this. At $3.99, a self-published eBook author's going to earn about $2.50 as their royalty. In order for a traditionally published eBook author to earn $2.50 for every unit they sell, their book would have to be priced over $14.

Put yourself in the shoes of readers. If a reader has a choice of two books of equal quality, and one is 3.99, and the other is 13.99, which one are they going to choose? So, herein lies one of the biggest competitive advantages indie authors face in the eBook market. These lower prices mean that indie eBook authors can reach more readers more quickly and they can sell more units, and they're selling these units, they're selling these books at higher profits per unit.

So, you've got this virtuous self-reinforcing cycle of a more appealing product, and more profits for the more units that you're selling, and you're growing your readership faster.

Trend five, indie eBook authors are hitting all the best seller lists. By combining high quality with low prices, indie books are hitting, every single week, the best seller lists at any major retailer. You can go to Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, look at their eBook best seller list, and you'll see indie ebooks in that list. Many weeks, the indie ebooks are dominating the list.

Every week, indie ebook authors are hitting the USA Today Best Seller list. I think someday in the near future, most best selling ebooks will be published by self-published authors. 10 years ago, it's fair to say that indie ebook authors controlled 0% of the eBook market, but today, that's grown to probably somewhere between 15 and 25% and every year from this year forward, that percentage is going to increase.

In some genres, the percentage is much higher. In romance, for example, indie ebook authors are probably accounting for close to 50%, if not more, of ebook sales in their category. Other genre fiction writers are also strong performers.

Trend six, the prior stigma of self-publishing is disappearing. 10 years ago, self-publishing was viewed as the option of last resort. It was seen as the option for failed writers, writers who weren't good enough to get a publishing deal. These writers were labeled vanity authors by critics, who accused these authors of being so vain that they self-published, even though conventional wisdom said that they weren't good enough. By the way, the truth of the matter is, all publishing is vanity.

If you think about it, how dare any of us writers think that we deserve to be read by millions of readers. The stigma was pervasive among publishers and agents, but it was even stronger within the writing community. Writers turned upon their fellow writers who chose to self-publish, as if these self-published authors had somehow betrayed the book gods. There was this false and pervasive belief within publishing and among writers that only publishers had the divine wisdom to identify books worthy of publication.

It was an old boy's club, designed to enforce the status quo with agents and publishers as the gatekeepers. There was this idea that rejection made you a stronger writer, and if only you kept at it, eventually you would sell your book to a publisher as soon as you deserved it. This was hogwash. The publishing model was broken. As I mentioned earlier, publishers based their acquisition decisions on perceived commercial merit. Yet, commercial merit is the wrong way to measure a book's value to humanity, and the dirty little truth of publishing is that publishers, even despite their best efforts and even despite their wisdom and experience and talent, even publishers don't know what readers want to read.

Most books, by traditional publishers, fail. Readers decide what they want to read, and often the reader doesn't even know what they want to read until it smacks them upside the head. But today, this prior stigma of self-publishing is melting away. Why is that? You can't argue with success and you can't argument with opportunity. For many authors, self-publishing is simply a better way to reach readers and a better way to earn a living writing books.

Now, if we think back to 10 years ago, it's fair to say that no writer in their right mind wanted to self-publish. Everyone aspired to get a traditional publishing deal, because publishers controlled access to the printing press. Nearly 100% of all book sales were through print, and if you wanted to sell print books, you need to work with a publisher because only a publisher could get your print book into physical bookstores. But, when ebooks came along, there was this huge backlog of books from writers who were unable to get a publishing deal but writers who believed in themselves, and wanted to self-publish.

Ebooks provided them an option. There was also a huge backlog of books from traditionally published authors, mainly romance authors, authors for whom the publishers had reverted the rights to their previously published books. The publishers basically said to the writers, "Here's your book back. We've exploited this book to its fullest potential. This book is worthless to us now. You can have this worthless book back." So, the romance authors said, "Well, I'm going to self-publish these books" and something amazing started happening.

These professional romance authors, taking their reverted rights books, starting self-publishing them as ebooks at 99 cents, 2.99, 3.99, and many of them started earning more in a month than they had earned during their entire contract with the publisher. So, these fairly early successes from these self-published authors opened the eyes of other authors, and soon, it became apparent that yes, you can self-publish an eBook with pride, professionalism, and commercial success. With every success it inspired the next generation of writers.

Some of the earliest best sellers were authors at Smashwords and Amazon, in those very early days, like Amanda Hocking. She was the first author to sell a million ebooks. In the years since, we've seen other amazing authors at Smashwords, like Jamie McGuire, and Kristen Ashley, and Abbi Glines, and Colleen Hoover, authors that started off self-publishing, hit it big, and still self-publish today, even though many of them also work with traditional publishers.

Every single year, indie authors are achieving more and more success. So, if 10 years ago no author in their right mind aspired to self-publish, we're seeing that change. We're seeing every year, more and more authors are self-publishing as their option of first choice. So, I think it's only a matter of time, maybe just a couple of years away, where we face a situation where more authors aspire to self-publish than to work with traditional publishers.

Trend seven, indie authors are writing the next chapter of this industry. Earlier I mentioned how publishers acted as the bouncers of the pearly gates of authordom. They held complete power over writers, because they determined which writers became authors and which didn't. Today, thanks to the rise of ebooks and thanks to the democratization of publishing and of distribution, indie authors are rejecting the rejection letter.

Indie authors are throwing off the shackles. Indie authors are learning to self-publish ebooks with pride, professionalism, and success. They're doing this on their own terms. You don't need a publisher to reach readers anymore. This means that the power center in publishing is shifting from publishers to authors. The power center is shifting to where it belongs.

This is great news. You are in control now. As an author, you decide when, where, and how you publish. You choose your publishing partners. With this great power comes great responsibility. The collective decisions of authors like you in the next few years will shape the course of this industry for a generation. The future of publishing is in your hands. You are the future of publishing.

So that concludes this episode. Thanks for considering how you have the power to shape a brighter publishing future for yourself, your readers, and for the industry at large. Coming up in episode two is my introduction to eBook publishing. I'll teach you how to publish an eBook like a pro, and then I'll follow that episode with episode three where we'll explore the best practices of the best selling eBook authors.

In the next two episodes, and those that follow, you'll learn how to rise above the crowd and make your books more visible, more desirable, and more enjoyable to readers. I really appreciate you taking the time to join me here. Until the next episode, keep writing. I'm Mark Coker.