It's been a tradition since founding the Alliance of Independent Authors in 2012 for ALLi's Director, Orna Ross to do a prediction post on the first Monday of the new year. Here's last year's post which was also a prediction for the decade to come, and so is still relevant). This year she writes about how to plan for what we want to achieve, even when things don't go as expected.
The events of 2020 have made the usual New Year's prediction posts feel like hubris. When I wrote last year's post, predicting digital expansion (especially in audiobooks), global growth, decentralisation and diversification, little did we know what was ahead.
This year, I'd like to focus more on planning than predictions. As was so clearly illustrated in 2020, we can't plan for all eventualities, but we also saw that, notwithstanding life's surprises and challenges, the best way to predict your future is still to plan it.
We just have to ensure that our plans are flexible enough to account for, and absorb, the unexpected.
WeTransfer's Ideas Report 2020 surveyed people from almost every country and showed that creatives are adapting better to corornavirus fallout than we might expect, with 41.6% of respondents having more confidence in their creative ideas (due to working from home and other changes in their working environment) and 81.6% at least equally as confident.
I would say the figures were similar among ALLi members and followers. While some authors found lockdown fostered inspiration, with fewer distractions and less travel giving them more time for writing and publishing, others had less time, due to caring for dependents. Still others had a hard time focusing and found the world turbulence, and social constraints, anxiety inducing and destabilising.
Authors with plans that focussed on digital tools and global growth were less immune to the creative disruption unleashed by the pandemic. While the emergence of vaccines has brought hope, the crisis is a long way from over in most countries–and new strains are emerging. We can expect more lockdowns this coming year–and all the creative and commercial consequences of that, good and bad. Now that we know what what COVID consequences and lockdowns look like for readers and writers, we can plan accordingly for 2021.
Self-Publishing in 2021: Coronavirus Consequences Continue
Reading surged during last year's lockdowns and the indications are that will continue. Readers spoke of reading as being a release and distraction in troubled times, and that people enjoyed having more time to read. Most of the increase has been in in fiction, especially classics and crime novels, but all genres have benefitted.
More readers realised that online booksellers offer a range of reading in all formats that physical bookstores can never match and at more affordable prices. And more authors turned to digital publishing of ebooks, print and, especially, audiobooks.
Alongside more people seeking books for entertainment, schools and colleges have now adapted to remote learning and digital reading. So the acceleration of the digital, global trends looks set to continue into this year… and beyond. That's good news for indie authors who tend to have a digital focus.
One of the consquences of COVID is that trends that were already underway have accelerated. Commercially, 2020 was actually a good year for indie authors focussed on digital and global growth. The pandemic hit traditional bookselling hard but digital reading, writing and publishing stepped into the vaccuum created by closed high-street bookstores.
“We paid close attention to global book trends and sales performance of over 20,000 PublishDrive authors”, says Kinga Jentetics, PublishDrive's CEO. “In March 2020, digital book sales hiked by 20%; in April, by 23%. In August, we recorded our highest increase of 69% in a one-year period. As we enter 2021, the growth hasn’t slowed.”
Written Word Media, another ALLi Partner, shared similar findings in October.
Digital libraries and subscription platforms are also doing well, with growth more than doubling in many cases. PublishDrive reports spikes on certain platforms and formats e.g sales on Bibliotheca are up by 240%, and on Google Play Audio by 110%. Much of this growth is from around the globe and predominantly digital, with 77% of digital book sales came from markets outside the US.
Digital publishing doesn't just mean ebooks, it encompasses ebooks, audiobooks and POD.
Self-Publishing in 2021: Planning Your Year
With the current landscape in mind, and the knowledge that a creative plan can be flexible enough to absorb the unexpected, let's look at some of the tangible actions you can take to prepare for this year's publishing activity. Continue to focus on the business basics like creating your mailing list, author website and store, and taking the steps that grow your readership. And continue developing your craft in three areas: writing, publishing, and digital creative business.
- Set an annual goal for the three aspects of your work: writing, publishing, and business.
What are you going to write?
Make a note of each of the books, novellas, short stories, poems or otherwise that you want to work on this year.
What books are you going to produce?
This may sound similar to the above, but separate out your writing and your publishing in your mind. Not all the books you write will publish this year. Or you may be carrying over publishing a book you finished writing last year, or earlier? Or perhaps you want to create multiple formats of the same book or box sets? Write down all the different formats, products and books you want to publish this year.
How are you going to grow your author business?
- Too many indie authors are overworked and underpaid. If you don't already, pay yourself first. The key to unlocking this is to pay yourself first. More details here.
- Measure your progress using four key indicators.
- Productivity: Your output. Expressed as words completed (writing productivity) and books published (publishing productivity).
- Profits: Your financial rewards. Expressed as money paid across to yourself after all your publishing expenses are paid (personal bank deposit).
- Purpose: Your influence and impact. Expressed as platform, reach and engagement with your mission and what is most meaningful for you as a writer (book sales, follower numbers and engagement ).
- Personal happiness: Your pleasure in your work. Expressed as a reading from one to ten based on internal self-observation, where one is misery and ten is creative bliss. Let’s give it a fancy title, and call it your creative happiness quotient (CHQ).
- Creative planning is a process of selection and letting go. Work out what you need to delete, defer or delegate, now and in the future.
Creative Planning Tips and Techniques
- Don't just plan your writing. You must wear three different hats as an indie author: Maker, Manager and Marketer. Make plans for all three.
- Your planning should incorporate the creative rest and play that are very much part of fostering creative inspiration and flow.
- Get into the habit of quarterly, monthly, weekly and daily planning. Always be aware of the top thing you want to achieve this year, quarter, month, week, day.
- What’s most important is rarely what’s most urgent. Know the difference and know what’s most important to you.
- What’s done first gets done. Do the thing that is most important (not most urgent) first each day.
- Pay attention to your self-talk. Do you need to reframe what you're saying to yourself, about your writing or publishing, about the virus, about the lockdown, about any aspect of your business or life?
- Observe your habits. Do they serve you well? What conditions might need changing in order to foster greater productivity or profits, to increase your influence or impact, to ensure you enjoy yourself more?
- Most of all stay flexible. Keep your overall focus and sense of direction while you adapt and change in response to evolving circumstances.
As an indie author, any business planning method you adopt must allow for the fact that you run a passion-powered, digital creative business, motivated by money and meaning, profits and purpose. And must be flexible enough to allow for the unexpected, for inspired deviations, and for taking the road less traveled.
Self-Publishing in 2021: Go Digital, Go Global
This time last year, I wrote:
However any of these predictions turn out, it is almost guaranteed — barring acts of god or global war — that opportunities will continue to expand for authors around the world. If you want to influence hearts and minds with stories or ideas, there has never been a better time to try. If you want to earn a living from writing books, and are prepared to do the creative and commercial work to make it happen, you can.
That remains true. And since ALLi founded in 2012, we have seen that such success is more easily won by those authors who are aware of digital and global trends, who invest in technology and tools and professional help, who believe in themselves and their books.
Likewise, our goals at ALLi haven’t changed. We will continue to campaign and work for excellence and ethics in self-publishing and hope to help our members to make better books and reach more readers than ever in 2021. Of course, the pandemic has been shocking and thought-provoking but good authors are more needed, and online books are more in demand, than ever. This digital wave will continue to grow worldwide, even post-COVID-19.
That's a prediction you can plan around.
Happy writing and publishing in 2021!
- PLANNING EVENTS & RESOURCES
- Joanna Penn and I will be doing a Facebook and YouTube livestream on How to Plan a Creative and Productive Year for your Author Business this evening at 7pm. If you prefer audio, it will be broadcast on the ALLi podcast on Friday next.
- For my personal creative planning patrons, there is a bonus planning workshop on Friday next (5pm UK) to build on the annual plans we covered in the last workshop, and shine focus in on the coming quarter. These workshops are not large webinars but small group events where you can bring your questions and receive personal attention. More details here: https://selfpublishingadvice.org/workshops
- Join our Facebook group for weekly accountability under the three hats – maker, manager, marketeer