Independent Publishing in the Year 2015

I mentioned in a previous post that I was planning on self publishing my upcoming Non-Fiction book Overcoming Anxiety, and I noted the changed landscape of the publishing industry. I promised to update and share the information I learned as I picked it up. Reader beware, at the speed of a flash, these things are changing so everything I say here will be outdated by the time I push the publish button on WordPress.

One most noticeable difference is that Discoverability is now the buzz word. There are millions of digital books flooding the market and the gatekeepers have changed.  While previously you needed to send ARC’s to bookstores and newspapers, the gold standard was Publisher’s Weekly and New York Times. You also wanted your legacy publisher to buy you shelf space near the front of the store. Blogs were a nice niche place to get reviews, but they were often seen, with the exception of a few of the bigger ones, as rather frivolous and really nor important.

in 2013-2014 it became more necessary to get plenty of reviews, to get promoted on a site know as Bookbub (which reached over a million digital readers and could be targeted), and to write series, as they were the engines of online sales. For reasons I won’t go into now, even that changed and independent publishing got much harder. It no longer was a gold rush.

Bookbub‘s success (it now reaches over 2 million subscribers) meant that it had to get picky and expensive. You still made your money back and more if they “picked” your book but it was an expensive outlay for the struggling indie author. But getting picked meant, among other things, that you needed at least five substantial reviews, a certain length of book, and the most convincing book description, since you were often competing with 19 other authors for one opening (nowadays there is no specified number, but in a recent Q and A on Kindle boards Bookbub admitted that in a competitive area like contemporary romance, typically 100+ reviews were the norm

To make matters harder, how was a new independent author to get all those reviews? The multitude of authors with whom you are competing all turned to niche blogs to get reviewed, which worked for a while, but then all these bloggers were swamped with books to read after they came home from their day jobs.  Soon getting five reviews in the first few weeks became hard, and when the goal posts moved again (Bookbub‘s success squeezed your success out) – there was no way to get 100 reviews, except by giving away free books in the tens of thousands.  The free giveaway worked briefly for increased sales and definitely for more reviewers (including more negative ones) but Amazon changed the algorithms and the way affiliate referral were made, and so free books, while still a good idea with a series, became much less useful.

When I return to this topic I will talk about the trend to lend (especially on Amazon) instead of sell, and to other issues only briefly touched on here.

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BookTour.com is closing

While on the subject of eBooks, and changes in technology, I just got an email announcing that BookTour.com is closing. I was one of the first to welcome them when they came on the scene a couple of years ago, and for a while they seemed to be striking just the right chord.

To quote from their email:

“We regret to inform you that BookTour will be shutting down….fewer author tours and changes in book marketing budgets have made our company financially unviable.”

While stores like Borders are closing and ceding territory to Amazon and other eBook vendors, the emerging market for eBooks has put a premium on online promotion and virtual book tours, not to mention social media in general.

For book publicists this is a new wrinkle in the terrain, and raises further the question of what role publishers, publicists, book chains, and Indies will be playing in the new market.

Some Observations From a Book Tour

Since I only work in promotions part time (I am a psychologist by trade, and an author, book promoter, and online poker player all tied for second) I get only snapshots of the ever changing book market. There are many new trends since I last managed a book tour in 2002. First and foremost is the internet, but I will save that for another post. I will also save my thoughts on the Kindle, and on the chaos in the publishing industry.

But I wanted to ask if anyone else has noticed a couple of trends in the chains, especially Waldenbooks, but to a lesser extent other chains like Borders and Books-A-Million. The big things I notice are:
1. The centralization of power away from the bookstores.
2. A Just-in-time inventory management approach.

The first issue, centralization has been happening for a while. There was a time when a book seller with some clout, such as Kathy Baker (who has won bookseller of the year and other such awards), could get her store to stock what she wanted to push. It seems now that most if not all of the say has moved up to at least the district manager level, and of course these people already have plenty of clout because they do the hiring and firing. If much of the ordering and inventory control lies now at the district level, (what does not fall squarely to the computers and bean counters) one of the main reasons for touring is now subsiding. Namely, if you develop a good relationship with the local store owner they will push your books, and of course that helps with everything from sell through to making a list. But if they can’t get your book in, it doesnt really matter so much how much they love it.

Of course centralization will not be an issue with the typical small to medium size independent book store. If I manage another tour soon, however, I for one may be inclined to do fewer of the Waldenstores and such and quite a few more independent stores. That would be a philosophical preference of mine anyhow that was always trumped by the practical consequences; but realistic considerations now seem to be pointing away from the chains.

The other issue is the inventory management. It seems that more and more they are ordering only a small number of each book when they first come out, keeping the inventory low. This makes financial sense to them, but can have severe impact on how you promote. I have tended to have much of the promotion I do front loaded, which in the  good old days was great for bumping you up the list and assuring that your initial sell through looked good. But if you spend a lot of money or creative genius targetted at the first few weeks, and instead of ordering 48 they order 12 and then reorder as they sell, you will only sell about 12 initially, then need to wait for reorder and shipping. It speaks for the need to spread your efforts flat like the inventory over the first 8 or so weeks.

Any body else notice this?

Five Best Sites For Your Book Promotion On The Web

(Social Media for Book Promotion), Part II

Social networking sites grew by 60+ million users in the last 6 month period. There are dozens of very popular places an author could join, but unless you really want to miss your deadline and annoy your publisher, it is better to prioritize. To that end I recommend the following strategy. For each of these sites, when you set up an account, be sure to put a link to your website, a picture of your upcoming book, and a link to your blog, if you have one.

1. Start accounts on Facebook and Myspace, if you do not yet have them. Myspace is the third ranked website in the USA, only Yahoo and Google are more often visited, so swallow any of your reservations and begin there. One in fifty people worldwide have a Facebook account, can you afford not to? Later (or now, if you are already on top of these) you can turn your attention to sites that are specialized like librarything.com, or mycrimespace. In later articles I will go into more depth on all the sites discussed in this article.

2. Twitter. It’s quick and easy, and some day you may just get addicted. But you have to have it, to stay in rapid touch with fans, peers and others when you get your networking activities rolling. Get an account, and when you have your profile ready and a password, then go to summize and twellow. Twellow has a directory; you need to enter some basic information so others can find you.

3. Digg and Stumbleupon are your next stops. Digg is a social news site (later you will want to join at least one other such site) and Stumbleupon is similar, but its has  a focus on saving and sharing bookmarks of the sites you like the most.

OK, well there are a lot more to join, but for now its time to get familiar with the terrain. In the next series of articles, I will begin with a discussion of networking; helping you determine how to make friends and fans feel a part of it all.

After that, we will explore blogs and how writing blogs, or commenting in other author’s blogs, can help you become a welcome and contributing member of the growing internet community that will, if you are a good author, help your book rise to the surface and get noticed across the internet.

Then we will offer a series of “how to” articles that will take you a little more into what you don’t yet know about each of the sites mentioned in this article.

Finally, a series of more advanced offerings will discuss blog book tours, podcasting, how to find and make use of a niche in your social media efforts, a survey of book review sites, and ideas about where to go next.

Other Links in this Series:
Part I: Overview of Social Media: New Opportunities for Book Promotion
Part III: Friends or Fans? Social Networking Basics for Authors