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Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Indie Self-Publishing: 2020 Market Update

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?

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?


Jim Jackson said...

I use KDP for both print and ebook, but only for Amazon sales. To obtain greater royalties, I use other methods for any non-Amazon sales.

For ePub sales, I produce my own ePub file and publish separately on Kobo, and allow Draft2Digital to publish to other ePub retailers. (As I did with Kobo, I may eventually pull B$N and Apple from D2D and publish directly, but so far the advantages of extra royalties and more control are not yet worth the extra time to deal with two more retailers).

For print, I use IngramSpark. Because I do not expect bookstores to stock my book, they are acting only as ordering agents for their customers, I provide a 40% discount and allow no returns.

And, as you say, everything changes, so next week I might have a different approach.

~ Jim

Kait said...

Great information, Martha, and very timely as I intend to bring out my next series as an indie. Based on my research, I plan to use Amazon and Draft2Digital. In 2011 and 2012 I self-published my first two books using Amazon and CreateSpace. The times, as you say, change on a daily basis!

Best of luck with Love Power and please keep us informed.

Martha Reed said...

Thanks, Jim and Kait for checking in and the additional insight. I feel like I have my finger on the pulse now, but as you both noted, indie pub changes are happening daily!

KM Rockwood said...

Very informative! Those of us mulling how to proceed with our next work appreciate hearing about your experiences. Thank you.

Martha Reed said...

I'm here today to answer any questions you may have. Mull away.

E. B. Davis said...

Thanks for the report. It was an education for me.

Martha Reed said...

Me, too. I didn't realize audiobook sales were so strong, especially with male readers. I'm learning something new everyday.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

Very helpful round-up of the current indie scene. Thank you!

Martha Reed said...

Good morning, Margaret, and thanks! I'm sure we'll see more changes with next year's release. It's always something!

Susan said...

I haven’t indie published for a while, but this is a good read. Things have sure changed. Thank you for your timely update.

Martha Reed said...

Thanks, Susan! Things sure have changed. I spent more time researching and deleting stale notes than actually publishing. The real surprise was how easy creating the ePub file was. That used to take hours, now it takes minutes! It's also gotten easier to order print ARCs and/or email eBook review copies. I'm thinking next time should be even better.

carla said...

excellent info. Thank you!!

Lori Roberts Herbst said...

As someone who is brand new to all this, I found your blog incredibly helpful--and a little daunting! Thanks so much for the tips.

Martha Reed said...

Please don't feel daunted. Yes, there is a lot of ground to cover, but all the information you need is readily available just by googling the topic. Plus, since indie publishing is always in flux we're all learning 'how to' get it done.