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From Amazon to Wattpad—A Look Back at Indie Publishing This Year: IndieVoices December 2018

I first launched my IndieVoices podcast in March 2017 as a way of helping to amplify voices that had been marginalized—politically, artistically, socially, and in many other ways that have tragically divided us recently. I truly believe that everybody with a story to tell should be given the opportunity to tell it and be heard. Indie publishing, of course, has provided this opportunity for these voices to come in out of the wilderness.

So, during the past couple of years, I have focused on interviewing publishers and authors who might have some uncomfortable things to say, but whose voices need to be heard. Criminal justice reform, autism, sex-abuse victims, aging, LGBTQ issues, are just a few of the themes I’ve featured since I launched the podcast.

In 2019, I’ll continue to amplify the voices of indie authors. They should be heard as the world dives into an unknown future.

I’m using this final episode of the year to review what’s been accomplished in 2018 and look ahead to 2019. Helping me do this is, of course, my much-more-accomplished and talented co-host, ALLi news editor Dan Holloway.

In this month’s episode, we discuss:

  • Technology, specifically the rise of blockchain and especially augmented reality;
  • Amazon’s up and down year;
  • The continued growth of ebooks in libraries;
  • Audio: both audiobooks and voice first;
  • The growth of international markets and opportunities for indies.

And more!

The AskALLi podcasts are sponsored by Damonza: Books Made Awesome.

If you haven’t already, we invite you to join our organization and become a self-publishing ally. You can do that at http://allianceindependentauthors.org.

Now, go write and publish!

Listen to IndieVoices

Subscribe to our Ask ALLi podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Player.FM, Overcast, Pocket Casts, or via our RSS feed:

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About the Hosts

Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 30 years, and has spent the last five years amplifying the voices of independent publishers and authors. He works with authors as a “book doctor” to prepare their work to be published. Howard is also a freelance business and technology writer, and is launching a new Jewish-themed podcast on Patreon. Find Howard on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Dan Holloway is a novelist, poet and spoken word artist. He is the MC of the performance arts show The New Libertines Earlier this year he competed at the National Poetry Slam final at the Royal Albert Hall. His latest collection, The Transparency of Sutures, is available on Kindle

Read the Transcripts

Howard: I’m using this final episode of the year to review what’s been accomplished in 2018 and to look ahead to 2019. Helping me to do this, of course, is my much more accomplished and talented co-host, ALLi news editor Dan Holloway. Hello, Dan and welcome back to Indie voices.

Dan: Hi! Thank you. I apologize in advance, I have a slight cold so if I start croaking, that’s what it is.

Howard: OK. Well as long as, you know, we can handle croaking, as long as you’re speaking and you’re healthy and you’re alive. So we’re going to discuss the news of the year today and some of our hopes for Indie publishing in 2019 but first, let’s talk about you. What were some of your personal or professional accomplishments in 2018?

Dan: Well, it’s sort of writing, but I launched Mycelium which is my creative thinking card game, so that was really exciting.

Howard: Right, right.

Dan: In theory, I’m in the process of spinning out a company that will be producing it and will be teaching people to be creative in trying to solve the world’s problems using creativity. That’s the aim of a company and that’s through Oxford University and I spent today at the Oxford University Career Service Christmas party. I was the entertainment. Getting them to play creatively with the game which was really good fun.

Howard: So what does that mean, do you come in a clown suit and start juggling?

Dan: Basically I came in a very sort of, basically, a clown suit and asked them the question “In 10 years’ time what would be more likely to take your jobs a spider’s web or a glacier?” So this is the creative thinking so we spent half an hour coming up with silly answers to the question and everyone-

Howard: Interesting.

Dan: Yes. I had never done anything like that before.

Howard: Well I’m guessing maybe melting glaciers may take away some jobs, I don’t know.

Dan: They might have a bit, yes, they might take away more than just your job, yes, so that’s me. So what have you been up to?

Howard: Well it’s it’s been a probably one of the longest years of my life and career. I began the year in kind of a professional transition. I was the executive editor for a book review magazine for almost 5 years and then I had been told that they no longer had any money to pay me so suddenly I was back on the freelance market and it’s something I used to. My career has been spent swinging from vine to vine as my profession has gone through various transitions and then I began as a traditional newspaper journalist but when people stop reading newspapers I had to quickly adapt so I specialized for a while in science and technology which is how I kind of rode out the Great Recession a decade ago.

Then I jumped at the chance to write about and direct coverage of Indie publishing and now I’m still writing about it but I’m also trying to do it and help others do it too, so this past year and in going into next year I’m launching kind of a side business editing books from small publishers and Indie authors and I discovered my journalism training helped me become a really good listener and understand what an author is trying to accomplish, to get their voice down and that has also led to their literal voices too as I’m branching off into audio book production now and as you know, audio content is growing and more people are carrying their devices around during their busy lives and they represent an increasing percentage of total book sales and the technology’s evolved to the point now where you don’t need a big studio to achieve a good sound quality and produce a great audiobook.

For example, I was just telling you before we started recording that I’m coming to you live right now from my walk-in closet where the acoustics are perfect. Much to the annoyance of my wife, I’ve taken over the clothes closet. So in 2019 I’m going to pitch my audiobook production services and also finally hopefully finish my memoir, a site called Longreads has been running excerpts and some publishers have been interested so it’s time to finish and then take stock and see how I want to publish it and then one other unexpected thing happen to me toward the end of the year. I was diagnosed with prostate cancer and that threw me for a loop for a few months but I’m in treatment now and radiation is doing its job and I hope to have kicked cancer out of my body in 2019 and achieve full recovery.

So no great ambitions for 2019, just launch a new business, publish a book and kick cancer’s ass. That’s about it for me. What are some of your goals for next year?

Dan: Well, the business will be launching very, very early in January. I’m writing a book on creativity to go with that, a slightly different take on things, on basically not just on how to be more creative but explaining how creativity is the only way to solve the world’s problems and trying to encourage businesses to do things differently.

The business world knows that it needs to be more creative. Every survey that comes out says that C.E.O.’s say they know they need to be more creative and yet in order to be more creative they just use the same methods they’ve always used so they know they need to be creative but they really don’t know how.

So I’m trying to explain to people not just how to be more creative but to make the case that they really need to go about everything in a different way in order for the world to be more of a creative place and more open to creativity.

Howard: Right.

Dan: So yes, that’s the kind of thing I’m going to be writing and hopefully speaking-

Howard: Yeah, that’s great and it’s also how creative types like us can hopefully find a home in a corporate culture.

Dan: Yes.

Howard: So here is where I’m going to kind of hand the microphone over to you and tell us what has excited you about the indie publishing world in 2018 and like me, you’re a technology optimist, I think and where other people might fear dystopia, I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords. So tell us what’s new in the world of technology for Indie authors.

Dan: I love technology and one of the things that when I teach creativity the first thing I ask people is “Why do you think you need to be creative?” and one of the answers people usually give is because they think it will, creativity will save our jobs because that’s the thing the robots can’t do and I always say “If you think the robot can’t be creative then you’ve got a very low idea of what robots can do” because I think that in a very short time robots will be able to to be as creative as humans and I see that as almost wholly a good thing because this is a whole new different set of collaborations we can embark on creatively with our robot overlords.

Howard: Right, right.

Dan: I think that’s an incredibly exciting.

Howard: We’ll call them our robot partners.

Dan: We’ll call them our robot partners for now yes, for a very brief period of time when we’re on the same level. And the first hint of that kind of thing this year we’ve seen with with the growth of augmented reality as a sort of creative medium. There was a conference that ALLi was involved with in Ireland called Writers Game and it was really exciting to see on that there was a main panel that was devoted just to writing for augmented reality and writing in that medium, so how you could use the technology that companies like Magic Leap have developed in order to find new ways of creating stories and new ways of creating characters and worlds that interact with our own. I find that an incredibly exciting development. And I’m sure I’ll talk about that-

Howard: What do you mean by writing in a context? Do you have to be a coder to really know what you’re doing or do you have a coding partner and you’re the creative person?

Dan: You don’t really have to be a coding writer, Magic Leap has launched sort of play pit for creatives that you can get involved in so that you can explore what it can do. And like everything these days, there are quite easy to use interfaces. There are also companies, there’s a company called Charisma who are using artificial intelligence to help you tell stories, to predict plot lines and again, they have very, very user friendly interfaces and you can find, it can help you teach you new things about the way that your narratives are formed and the way the characters are formed that you might not have thought about otherwise.

So it’s an incredibly exciting way of rethinking what it is to create a new world and I think there will be a lot of writers that say quite rightly it’s not for them but there will be a lot of new writers coming along and finding their voice who might not have been able to find their voice, who might have been wondering previously where their voice was and this is the thing for them and obviously a whole new audience.

Howard: Is the audience there yet?

Dan: No, not really. Well, it’s not there specifically for that but there’s obviously, there’s the gaming audience and there’s the audiences who like Pokemon Go and things like that.

Howard: Right, right.

Dan: But that are already there with augmented reality and for whom this is a natural way of doing things. If there are people who are doing that rather than reading books, there are people who are ripe for a new form of storytelling. So they’re there as an audience although they’re not actually an audience yet but they’re there ready to become a new audience for stories.

Howard: Are they primarily young people, you know, I’ve got two teenage boys and you know, they try to teach me how to use the Oculus virtual reality thing and I’m over there stumbling around the basement while they’re quite at home with it. Are they the audience right now and there’s no hope for people like me? Old people like me?

Dan: There’s certainly not no hope and I think there will be niche audiences across all demographics for new technologies. But there is a new group of people who are native to this who are growing up with this kind of technology and it’s familiar to them and they understand it.

Howard: So what does it mean for an Indie author who want people to read or buy what I’m producing and if there are new ways of telling stories, why should I publish a book, should I just go headfirst into into virtual reality now?

Dan: What I think that’s sort of and maybe you’re setting me up and I think that’s posing a dichotomy that just isn’t there, that this is a perfectly valid way of publishing a story, or telling a story. All we’re doing with the book is telling a story in the best way for that story. And this is doing the same thing.

Howard: No, it was not a set up question, honest, you know, I’m really curious because indie publishing, for a while, was great and now I think it’s saturated so I think a lot of authors are trying to think of new ways to have, to stand out.

Dan: Yes and I think this is obviously one, I think it will suit most naturally people who are maybe on Wattpad, so that kind of readership and that kind of writer, people who are writing science fiction, fantasy, young adult, some things that are very strong on worldbuilding basically and things where maybe more experimental in terms of how you read them so that they may be more open to writing serial literature. Subscription literature. I think people who are already writing on Wattpad, and that’s an awful lot of Indies, even though we often don’t see much of them in what can seem like our part of Indie land that there’s an awful lot of Indie authors writing huge amounts and getting huge numbers of readers on Wattpad and I think they will probably flourish in the new environment.

Howard: Right, right and that’s kind of like this closed loop almost of the people who have their own world. We hear about them occasionally when one of them gets you know a few million dollars in a Netflix deal and then we wonder where they came from.

Dan: Yeah and they get they get millions of reads so they are huge. And obviously the other thing in technology is blockchain that we can’t not talk about.

Howard: Yeah, so help me try to try to go through this. I began 2018 excited about it. As you know, ALLi, you know, wrote a white paper about it, we had some speeches and conferences devoted to, some interesting articles to it and then, you know, we’re at the stage where there’s a lot of snake oil too, a lot of promises and unfulfilled promises of what blockchain is and that kind of made me jaded a little bit so, you know, maybe you can help me go through what’s real for Indie authors and what we should be wary of.

Dan: Things have changed a lot in the last year and because it’s new to Indie publishing we sort of got into blockchain at just the wrong moment because it was already on the downward curve in the rest of the tech world so a lot of venture capitalists will no longer invest in any companies that are doing initial coin offerings which is sort of what blockchain companies do instead of I.P.O.’s in the more traditional business model. So it was already on the downward curve there and that has definitely followed through. You don’t see blockchain mentioned as much these days in publishing.

Howard: Right. Is it because we’re afraid of being associated with sort of this cryptocurrency underworld?

Dan: I think a lot of people have realized the block chain has just added to things to add an extra 0 to the value of a company and most things that people claim we need blockchain to do you don’t need blockchain to do, you just need to do something really well with existing technology. So like you say, there’s been a lot of snake oil, a lot of people say, who’ve got basically a fairly standard idea and then they say “Oh but I’ll do this on the block chain” and that is somehow meant to make it sound more exciting but then you’ve got companies like Publica who are one of ALLi’s partners so it should be open and transparent about that, who are doing things the block chain might be really useful for doing, in particular when it comes to getting payments directly to authors without going through an intermediary.

Howard: Right, right and that’s the most exciting thing for, I think, for many authors. It’s the kind of the de-Amazon-ization, if that’s a word of indie publishing.

Dan: Yes and it’s not the same as just selling direct. It’s about mechanizing everything so that the people who want to get paid who helped produce a book will automatically get paid every time the book is sold. There are other things like being able to resell the book so that you can have a used book market and a used ebook market in which the author still gets paid simply by the automation that’s done on the blockchain is an exciting development.

You can also have books, unlike with a lot of the DRM, you can have books that people actually own rather than books that people license which is something that happened at the moment with Kindle, for example, so your books aren’t disappear off your machine if the company who sold it to you goes bust because they will always be there.
They get transferred directly to you so ownership can be handed over to people without making piracy possible, so that that’s been one of the real problems with why we’ve had DRM. is you had to have to D.R.M. to stop people pirating books but that’s then meant that they can’t really own them, they only license them. What you can do on the blockchain is you can give the person the book but they can’t then copy it.

Howard: Right.

Dan: Because they can only have one copy but they can still own that copy so it got around a genuine problem and that’s something that block chain often hasn’t done in other industries.

Howard: Tell me what’s real, what’s happening right now and what will happen in the next year with blockchain. We’ve talked a lot about, you know, this past year of what’s possible and what will be possible but what is actually happening right now and what will happen in 2019?

Dan: Books are being published now and are being sold using using cryptocurrency. I think whereas something like augmented reality I think we’re just at the start of the upswing of the hype cycle so that’s probably going to go up this year and then crash next year before it comes back again so-

Howard: Right.

Dan: So I don’t know that a lot is going to happen in this blockchain in the next year but probably once we get on the sounder footing in a couple of years time-

Howard: Maybe without all the hype it might slowly be incorporated in different business plans.

Dan: Yes.

Howard: That’s usually what happens is there’s the hype and then there’s the slump and then slowly it’s actually incorporated as people realize where we’re it works and where it doesn’t work.

Dan: Yeah, exactly.

Howard: Everyone is talking about Amazon in terms of everything that’s going wrong and going right, maybe you can bring us up to date on Amazon.

Dan: Yeah, Amazon has had a strange year. I’ll run because I know we’ve been talking a long time, so I’ll run several stories into one. There’s been some really positive developments. They’ve finally taken, and people who blog the new publishing standard, who have been following this, they’ve finally taken India seriously, so Amazon has moved fully into India with e-books and with Audible. And that’s very exciting. They put a lot of money into that. They have also moved into airports which is quite exciting so that the first Amazon airport bookstore is going to be opening shortly and airports are obviously a great place to sell books and Indies will have access to that.

So here are some exciting things happening and obviously the other thing that happened that people been talking about a lot is createspace has become or has merged entirely with Kindle Direct publishing print.

Howard: Oh right, right.

Dan: So those are some of the slightly more positive things there. They’ve had a lot of bad publicity about their working conditions, about all the fuss around their headquarters.

Howard: Yeah, don’t get me started on their headquarters. You know, I live in Michigan and Detroit was, Detroit spent a lot of money trying to, you know, trying to pump themselves up as being Amazon-worthy and now people are like, you know, “Why did we even bother?”

Dan: Exactly. So that didn’t gain them many fans. They had some big payoff problems like there was an issue with removing everyone’s reviews, that got indies really, really wound up.

Howard: And see why-

Dan: A lot of people just had reviews, yeah, reviews disappearing and then there was a slew of authors having their books disappearing completely for no reason, so their books would just disappear, for example, from the Amazon.com store and they wondered why their sales are plummeted and then people say “Well, because I can’t see your books.” They never really tell you why these things are happening so that you can do something about it. So it’s, we understand that companies have glitches, computers go wrong, things happen but that Amazon seem to be not always very good at explaining what’s happening to their authors and that can leave people trying to figure it out and trying to second guess them and work out what’s happening.

Howard: I think the moral of the story for Indie authors is, you know, don’t put your eggs in one basket.

Dan: And that brings me to the two other things that I wanted to mention which were the the growth of international markets and we’ve seen a lot of stories about a company called Storytell which is, it’s a Swedish company, it’s an audiobook company and they’ve been expanding, literally, I think they’re now in 33 countries. Almost every week we have a story about them opening a new store and that’s fabulous and the other thing we’ve seen a lot of this year is is e-books and libraries.

And that has happened through Overdrive and Overdrive partnering with the Wreckage and Kobo. That provides all sorts of opportunities for people to not only get their books read through libraries but also now eBooks are starting to be paid in libraries, so just as there are sort of payment systems for people whose book gets physically borrowed, there are payment systems for people whose ebooks get borrowed. It’s really, really worth having your book enrolled in Overdrive which you can do either going through Kobo directly or through any one of the number of really, really good platforms.

Howard: What do you think is going to make the news in 2019? Give us one prediction that we can play a year from now?

Dan: I think, and this is going entirely because it was Seth Godin’s talk at Future Book that they, the sort of the increased writers of niche authors and a niche independent culture in general. So that will, I think, that will include authors being very successful within a very narrow niche and also bookshops and possibly platforms online being very successful in a very small niche. We’ve seen a great example of that in the U.K. in the last, literally the last couple of days, from the publishers Knights Of who are a BAME publisher, who write or who publish books whose central character are people of color and they have a pop up bookstore that they launched which is hugely successful and they’ve just had about a one week fundraising campaign to make the bookstore permanent. So that one may be a permanent fixture in London.

And I think that that’s a really good early example of people who are filling a very important niche in the market, something for which there is clearly demand and they’re focusing, they’re not even thinking about looking outside of that niche. And I think there’s been a lot of emphasis in the last 10 years on sort of doing it the Amazon way and being everywhere and having everything. And I think now people are starting to realize that it is really important to focus and I think Seth Godin’s talk said “You should find the smallest niche you possibly can.”

Howard: Right.

Dan: Which I think is fabulous advice and I think we’ll see authors trying that more and more.

Howard: Right, find the one thing that you are the authority and do it well.

Dan: Yes. Exactly so that’s my prediction.

Howard: That sounds very hopeful.

Dan: Definitely hopeful.

Howard: I thought we’re going to give our New Year’s resolutions but instead let’s do this, tell me what you’re doing for New Year’s Eve. You have any special way of celebrating it?

Dan: It will be a long distance walking, the same as most other days. Probably about 50 or 60 kilometers.

Howard: Wow.

Dan: They’re not that long distance for me, sort of long distance.

Howard:So where other people are are counting down and drinking champagne, you’re going to be off somewhere walking at midnight.

Dan: Walking on the trials at midnight, yes. With a head lamp.

Howard: OK, well, stay safe, alright? Well me, I live in northern Michigan, right off the shores of Lake Michigan and it’s really beautiful, so this year, weather permitting, we’re going to build a fire on the beach and our local community has New Year’s Eve fireworks display so that’s what we’re going to do. We’ll just going to build a fire on the beach and watch fireworks and that to me is just a great way to go to ring in the New Year and in many ways, good riddance, good riddance to 2018 for many reasons.

Dan: Yeah I think a lot of people will think that.

Howard: OK, well, thank you again, Dan and happy New Year to you and happy holidays to you and your loved ones and and I’ll see you next year.

Dan: I look forward to it, thank you.

Howard: OK, bye.

Dan: Bye

 

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