Before we step out into 2015, (our ALLi advisors will be posting some predictions for the coming year soon), time first for a look back at the year that was. Like every year, 2014 has been a mix of the good, the bad and the sometimes ugly. But for me, 2014 was the year that self-publishing came of age.
1. Poor Self-Publishing Services:
Large self-publishing providers like Author Solutions's many imprints continue to provide a poor option to authors — but thanks to authors who care, like our watchdogs Jim Giammatteo and Victoria Strauss and the work of other author community members like David Gaughran and Mick Rooney, more and more writers are now realising this and steering clear. (See also our publication Choosing A Self-Publishing Service.)
The self-publishing community is coming of age, coming to the understanding that yes, it is very possible to build an enterprise around writing and selling books directly to readers, (if you don't already, follow our Author-As-Entrepreneur Advisor Joanna Penn as she shares her way, step-by-step, dispensing sound advice and information as she goes). But more and more self-publishers are now also understanding that building such an enterprise is hard work and will ask for a considerable investment of time, money or both.
Self-publishing is not an easy option if you want to do it well. And you can't buy your way to success, certainly not by paying over-inflated prices for services that under-deliver.
Grown up author-publishers know: Commercial success is best viewed as a bonus or a long-term strategy. The author who focusses on creative success enjoys the process of writing and the four functions of publishing: editorial, design, production and reaching readers. We enjoy each tweet and blog post and campaign and launch. We know this is an uncertain and competitive arena; the work has to be its own reward.
2. Kindle Goldrushing:
The days when a poorly written, badly edited, poorly covered book can make it big are dwindling, if not already dead.
Grown up author-publishers know: A good book needs a team that includes editorial and design. And also know: Making our books available in a range of formats, in a variety of outlets (ideally directly to Amazon KDP, Createspace and ACX, Ingram, Kobo, Apple and Nook and to a distributor like Smashwords or Draft2Digital for the rest ), is not just the best way to ensure it can be found; it's also the best service to our readers.
3. 99c Books:
Sale pricing and free were originally a savvy marketing tool that gave indie authors an advantage but in 2014, that advantage was all but eroded, as trade publishing cottoned on and the race to the bottom fails to deliver over the longer term. It makes total sense to gift your work to the world if you have no interest in making money from it, and it can make sense to gift some of your work to show readers what they can expect if they buy, but books that are permanently priced at 99c devalue writing.
Russell Blake has a good post The New Landscape on how indie authors actually make money over the long term, rather than chasing the latest easy marketing method: “they are very, very good at delivering a reading experience their following will pay for, and they value their readers above all – they don’t put out slop, they don’t think in terms of ‘good enough', and they’re every bit as demanding of their work as the harshest acquisitions editor”.
Grown up author-publishers know: A book should cost more than a greeting card.
4. Tsunami of Crap:
The “tsunami of crap” was a term coined by passionate indie, Joe Konrath, to summarise a false fear about self-publishing. 2014 was the year when authors began to take some responsibility for raising self-publishing's reputation, beyond the obvious, and best solution proposed by Konrath: don't write crap.
“Is Self-Publishing The New Slush Pile?” and Debbie Young's “Spotting The Elephant in the Self-Publishing Room” shared the theme of addressing, rather than decrying, the negative perception of self-publishing, and encouraging indie authors to hold ourselves to the highest standards we can reach, while ignoring the begrudgers.
ALLi's “Open Up To Indie Authors” campaign offers an outline of best practices and etiquette for both writers and our potential partners: bookshops, libraries, literary festivals, awards and prizes. And our “Ethical Author” campaign focuses on putting our readers first and showing that self-publishing authors can lead the way in promoting a better book world.
Grown up author-publishers know: The best retort to the claim that self-published books are a “tsunami of crap” is a good book. And also know: The power and freedom of self publishing brings responsibility.
5. Getting Real:
Both Mark Coker and Kristine Kathryn Rusch have called 2014 “the year of the quitter”. And we have seen some high-profile defections, including a dear friend of ALLi, Dan Holloway and a long time supporter, Suw Charman Anderson, who both made very public exits. Dan was sad and Suw was mad but both expressed their sense that the joy had gone out of self-publishing for them. And of course that's a very good reason to stop. Disillusion, exhaustion, lack of self-care, poor management of resources or rights, laziness (physical, intellectual or emotional), overwhelm and unreal expectations have defeated writers, or moved them on to creating in new ways, since the first monk picked up the first quill. The need for self-care, good husbandry, energy and enthusiasm, good work habits and a grounding in reality are increased when you add publishing to the creative mix.
Grown up author-publishers know: When to quit, and when to put the head down and get on with it.
6. Getting On With It:
There are outliers in the self-publishing and trade-publishing sectors and we hear far too much about them. Then there are the quiet writers, who follow the not-so-secret formula for success: Learn your craft until you are interesting or entertaining or inspiring enough to win readers. Write an interesting/ entertaining / inspiring book. Give it the best description you can muster. Test covers. Show it, and any ancillary work, in whatever ways feel exciting and interesting to you. Reach out to readers. Give your book out for review and commentary while you write some more good interesting / entertaining / inspiring books. Get your pricing right. Then do it again. And again and again, and as you go, get better at writing, better at producing fine books, better at reaching readers.
Grown up author-publishers know: That writers are in service to readers. And also know: That nobody owes us a living.
At The Alliance of Independent Authors, we have many members who are taking this quiet and challenging path and are very happy with their choice. They are the kind of mid-list writers who did very poorly in the trade publishing environment of the last ten years, where big advances for debut authors distorted the publishing scene. As indies, they are earning enough to leave their day jobs for the first time in long writing careers. 2014 saw more and more of them producing books with strong writing, flawless editing, attractive covers and high production values. See ALLi's Members Showcase for many examples.
7. Here To Stay and Leading The Way:
But just as things seem to get harder for indies, more observers are noticing that, rather than heralding the death of the book, the reader- and writer-centric focus of self publishing has put it at the beating heart of the publishing industry. Here to stay… and in many ways leading the changes that are so invigorating to this once sleepy, hidebound, elitist sector.
Grown up author-publishers know: Self-publishing is good for literary culture.
8. Creative Collaboration
Often what we think of as trends may be perceptual, just what a vocal minority is talking about as opposed to what the majority is actually experiencing. But all are agreed that the very best thing about self-publishing is the collegiate and collaborative spirit between indie authors. As well as the mid-listers cited above, at ALLi we have other kinds of authors too. Associate members who are preparing a book for self publishing. Author members who are just starting out on their publishing journey, trembling and excited, and those who are writing their second or third book, as they build their readership. And our Professional Members who make a living in this strange and wonderful world and some of whom, yes, are the outliers who have sold more than one or two or three million books.
And of course, we also have our trusted Partner Members, those who provide good, author-centric publishing services. We couldn't do it well without them.
Authors can sometimes be so enclosed in our own world, its challenges and politics and in-fights, that we forget publishing is part of a much wider and deeper creative upsurge, evident in trends as disparate as post-modern literary criticism, quantum field theory, business interest in innovation and creativity and the human potential movements. Ours is the creative age.
Those self-publishers, and those who work in self-publishing services, who both revel in the glory and respect the power of the word, and know how to meet their own creative needs, are having the time of their lives.
We know we're living in the best possible time, ever, to have been a writer. We're excited and delighted to be here. We're showing up for the creative challenges, often stumbling, sometimes failing, but getting back up to try again. And supporting each other along the way.
All who appreciate the revolutionary power of self publishing technologies know: We do best when we work together for each other.
I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all our members for being part of our alliance.
And thank you, too, if you are one of the non-member regular readers of this self-publishing advice blog. I hope you find it useful and that you enjoyed your self-publishing year. Our advisors will soon share our predictions for 2015. In the meantime: Happy New Year from all the team at The Alliance of Independent Authors.