I’ve independently self-published four books and I’m preparing a fifth release for Love Power, my new Crescent City New Orleans Mystery in October, 2020. Since I made the decision to self-publish over a decade ago, I thought now would be a good time to share the experience of my initial decision with an update on the self-publishing marketplace for anyone considering the indie path.
Backstory – Why did I self-publish?
After I finished writing The Nature of the Grave I followed the traditional publishing route by querying agents, submitting my manuscript to publisher’s slush piles and drafting the next book in my Nantucket Mystery series. Everyone told me that the publishing process could take years. Then I attended a writer’s conference and for the first time I heard a discussion about digital eBooks and how they would revolutionize the way readers bought books and change the author royalty structure. That got my attention.
I’d worked for ten years as a commercial financial typesetter, so I already knew how to put a book together using fonts, point size, and pagination. Now, with my mystery series manuscript in hand I also had the content.
As I listened to the presentation it dawned on me: I can access readers through the retail distribution channels on my own. Yes, I would need to hire a professional editor and a graphic designer for my covers, but I liked maintaining that level of control. I needed to market and promote my books myself, but from what I was hearing writers were already maintaining their own websites and online communities as a necessary consideration even before being offered a publishing house contract (e.g., show me your numbers before we make you an offer). If I was going to do all of the legwork, what did I need an agent or a publishing house for?
Caveat: At that time, I had more than one established contracted writer warn me that once I was branded a self-published indie author I would be committing writing career suicide, and that going forward no publisher would be interested in handling my work. This was a genuine business risk that needed to be considered since most conferences were sponsored by the big publishing houses. There was some initial difficulty getting conference panel assignments and/or my books into the sale room, but most booksellers were (and are) willing to work with my books on consignment. Thankfully, with more writers transitioning to ‘hybrid author’ status (e.g., having both traditional publishing house contracts and self-publishing some titles) this conference author access hurdle has resolved itself.
Market Update – NEW 2020 Indie Publishing Choices
The one guarantee with the indie publishing experience is that the technology will have evolved since the last time you used it. Creating digital and POD pub files a decade ago was laborious but relatively simple. You added styles to a stripped-out Word document, created a print specific PDF, slapped a cover on it and loaded your book onto Amazon and Smashwords.
The current digital eBook world has been revolutionized. Now there are three main self-publishing choices:
- Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) remains
the major eBook player, generating nearly 70% of eBook sales. However, digital
distribution is restricted to Kindle devices only. A trade paperback print on
demand (POD) feature is built into KDP which makes it convenient to cover both the
digital eBook and trade paperback options.
- Smashwords is the largest distributor of
eBooks to iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and to library directories.
Smashwords also offers an audiobook creation and distribution option.
- New to me this go-round is Draft2Digital (D2D), a super easy self-publishing aggregator with a global reach to digital storefront retailers including Amazon, Apple, B&N, Kobo and libraries. POD and audiobook options are available.
What did I do this time?
Following my old school notes, I produced Love Power on Amazon KDP as an eBook (Kindle/Mobi) and as a trade paperback POD including a professionally designed cover. One roadblock with Amazon is that only the eBook version is available for pre-order (grrrr!) but Amazon is reportedly developing a pre-order option for trade paperbacks. In the meantime, I can order paperback Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) for reviewers who prefer that format.
I used D2D for my ePub file, and it only took minutes to format. I'm going to research using D2D's Findaway Voice Partner to produce audiobooks.
The surprising takeaway was the need to offer readers a digital audiobook option. In 2019, for first time, US audiobook sales eclipsed eBook sales. The most popular audiobook genre continues to be Mysteries/Thrillers/Suspense. In 2019, most people listened to audiobooks in their cars. In 2020, research shows that most people are listening to audio books in their homes and listening for longer periods of time.
What will I do next year?
As I gaze into my great crystal ball, I suspect that I'll be using D2D as an aggregator for all of my files (Kindle/Mobi, ePub, trade paperback POD and possibly audiobook) next time.
What has been your experience with print, digital eBook and/or audiobook options? Which version(s) do you prefer?