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The Future of Digital Publishing by Bob Mayer

Where Are We?
It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about the publishing business.  I used to blog a lot about it.  I used to make predictions.  I used to argue with people.  I used to contradict people.
I’ve surrendered.
I’ve got probably two hundred blog posts at Write It Forwardstacked up.  Feel free to peruse them.  I had to smile watching the tweets out of Digital Book World last month where it was excitedly announced that they had ‘invented’ the term ‘hybrid author’.  I have a blog post from June 2011 where I use that term.  And that pretty much sums up where I think traditional publishing is at:  eighteen months behind.  They used to be a year behind.  Since change is exponential, that means traditional publishing is falling further behind; all claims and blogs to the contrary.  It’s not dead and won’t die and will evolve, but it certainly is changing faster than most people can keep up with.
Indie publishing is also evolving.  I did trad for 20 years and have been indie since 2010.  I was in the Army a long time also.  I saw a three year cycle there and I see a three year cycle in indie publishing that we’ve just gone through. 
The biggest change is the top authors retaining e-rights while making trad publishing a subsidiary rights for print.  Something NY insisted would never happen.  They were still insisting that at NINC with Bella Andre sitting in the audience.
However, that doesn’t affect the vast majority of indie authors.  You’ve got to have massive numbers to get that kind of deal.  Most of us are focused primarily on eBooks and generating enough sales to make a living.  So I’m sitting here trying to think what advice I would give.
First, “self-publishing” is a term I’m not fond of.  It’s also almost impossible once you have more than a few titles.  I started out not self-publishing but teaming with Jen Talty and forming a publishing company.  I didn’t want to do the tech stuff.  And yes, you can outsource it, but an eBook is organic.  Wrap your brain around that. 
In the past six months we’ve made some adjustments that I think you might find useful to consider.  We don’t call ourselves a publishing company any more.  We call ourselves a publishing partnership.  Jen and I started as partners, and we realize we have to treat our authors as partners.  And that authors come first.
Product is king.  Kristin Lamb and I used to argue product vs. promotion.  I don’t think there is a vs.  You need both.  But, push comes to shove, you need product.  My goal this year is six new titles.  That sounds like a lot but I’ve been doing this for 25 years so I hope I’m a little better at it. Also, I have a secret weapon—my wife, who is a story streamer.  So it’s actually two people writing six books.  For me, 2013 is the year of product.
Series are key.  A big mistake I’ve made over the last two years is releasing individual titles.  Uh-uh.  My WIP actually merges Horace Chase from my stand-alone, Chasing the Ghost, with Dave Riley the hero of my first six books.  They’re forming their own team and moving forward.  I slid in Hannah and Neeley from my Cellar books into my next Nightstalker book coming out in July, merging their covert worlds.  If you look at authors who are having success, it’s because of series.  Readers want to visit again and again with those characters in their worlds.
Audio is a great income generator.  I invested a lot of money last year on Audible ACX and had 30 titles produced.  I broke even near the end of the year and now am in the black.  I’m a big fan of ACX.
Trad authors wanting to go indie.  This was a big stat that DBW put out:  1/3 of traditionally published authors want to also self-publish.  That makes sense.  It’s another reason why at CoolGus we’ve shifted gears to become publishing partners with some of these people.  We adjust to their needs and their traditional publishing schedules and contracts.  Each author is unique.  This is a reason I’ve kind of stopped blogging so much because each of you reading this is unique.  You have a special situation so one answer does not fit all.
Which requires us all to stay informed.  While I might not be putting much out there, I’m taking a lot in.  I’ll be going to BEA (BookExpo America), RWA (Romance Writers of America) Nationals, RT Booklovers Convention (Romantic Times) and other conferences and conventions.  There is no substitute for face time with the key people in the industry.
The last thing is WRITE.  If you look at the bestselling indie authors, they aren’t much on Facebook and Twitter and blogging, etc.  They’re writing!  You must have product to sell.  If you feel that offends your artistic integrity, that’s okay.  I want to make money writing so I can keep writing.  Most authors I know feel the same way.

Bob Mayer is a West Point Graduate, Former Green Beret, CEO of Cool Gus Publishing and a NY Times Bestselling Author. He has had over 50 books published. He has sold over four million books, and is in demand as a team-building, life-changing, and leadership speaker and consultant for his Who Dares Wins: The Green Beret Way concept, which he translated into Write It Forward: a holistic program teaching writers how to be authors. He is also the Co-Creator of Cool Gus Publishing, which does both eBooks and Print On Demand, so he has experience in both traditional and non-traditional publishing.

His books have hit the NY Times, Publishers Weekly, Wall Street Journal and numerous other bestseller lists. His book The Jefferson Allegiance, was released independently and reached #2 overall in sales on Nook.
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This Post Has 96 Comments
  1. Thanks for the wealth of information and the links. Spending a majority of my time writing being that I am back in college for a new career challenge. Currently, I am an English department student taking professional career writing classes. I am gathering a bit of basic information on Indie Publishing for a class project, so this conference is quite timely and beneficial.

  2. Thank you so much Bob. What you wrote strengthened the positioned I had already taken. Difference for me was I took my position for different reasons. I have seizures and so writing a novel became impossible. I would have a seizure and it would wipe out my story from my memory before I could finish even 1/2 of the novel. Now, I break the story into pieces, write a 1/4, self-publish, and pray I don’t have a seizure but if I do, like I did last year, then at least I’ll have my book out first. It turns out that’s exactly what happened. I got two books published last year, would have had three out, if I hadn’t had two more seizures. Now I’m looking at getting my next book published and out for the series. When all five books are done, together, they would make a 600-700 page novel. I am a graphic designer turned writer so I know the marketing world too. I feel fortunate to be able to bring my skills together and you helped me feel stronger in the direction I’m going since before I didn’t have a how-to book. Thank you so much. LM Fields Author & Cover Artist for the Dark Seeds series

  3. I try to spend 2-4 hrs each day writing when I can, I take care of my disabled husband and 2 children still at home. Right now most of my time is spent on query letters, but I’m not ruling out indie publishing. I have already started the second book of the series and plan to have at least 3 in the series(maybe more, if they continue to talk to me).

  4. I have 10 kids, 7 still at home, so I don’t have a ton of time to write. I’ve had 4 books traditionally published and just released my first self-pubbed novel a few months ago. I spent way too much time writing that book. I probably have an hour or two each day and that’s on a good day. I’m still searching for a way to use my time more effectively and how to write faster and then find the most effective ways to promote.

  5. About writing with partners … I’ve tried it a few times but never seemed to find the right ‘fit’ with someone else … probably not destined to go that route … however … the concept of a bunch of authors getting together to publish the groups work … now, that’s a whole ‘nuther kettle of kittens! … (in a perfect world) you’d have built-in peer reviewers/beta readers, the group would have a pool of skills that could create the best across-the-platform product for everyone. Not everyone would be at the same stage of producing their own book so there’d be time and expertise for lots of projects to fly …
    Author co-ops. The ‘publishing houses’ of the future?

  6. Thanks for sharing your hard-earned knowledge. I can’t wait to look at some of the other organizations you mentioned in your bio…especially Who Dares Wins. Thanks again.

  7. There is so much great info here, thank you! my writing time varies, but I am brank spankin new! Some days it’s 5-6 hours, some days it’s 1, or none. I hope to come up with a system that works for me where I can get at the very least 3 hours uninterrupted writing time on the weekdays. Time management is a work in progress for me.

  8. Thank you for your informative post. I wrote for a long time and then had twins. At 20 months old writing is hard to come by but I feel motivated again reading your post. Thank you.
    Kelly Ethan

  9. Thanks so much for this wonderful post! I’ve been recommending it to friends. As to how many hours I write… it varies. Some days none, it’s all about marketing, some days I write for hours. Or rewrite. Actually, the answer that immediately came to mind was “not enough!” It’s way too easy to get so caught up in marketing, you run out of time to write. So my 2013 goal is to write more!

  10. Some great thoughts here! I like how it also is very hopeful, even with a saturated market, there’s room for success for all of us. I’ve been leaning towards trying some shorter serials, and this convinces me I should go ahead with it.

  11. I spend at least 2 hours writing each day – sneaking in as much time as I can around my 6 children. The most productive time for me is from 2am to 4am – not much sleep but tons of ideas flowing.
    I appreciate your insight, Bob, and will be referring back to your blog regularly.

  12. How much time do I spend writing every day? Not nearly enough! An equally important question is what quality is the writing? It’s not enough to just crank out a word count. I’m very glad to see that quality and professionalism still matter. (See Bob’s point 1.)

    There’s a lot of great information here. I’ll certainly be reading more of Bob’s work!

  13. One of the things I realized when I took your Write it Forward class last year is that writing is the number one thing. Even knowing that, it is still a struggle to focus on the writing and not give into the temptation of the carnival barkers of social media. Not that I don’t think SM is important, I do, I just realize it can be a time sucker. Write, write, write and then you have something to sell.

  14. Bob, You’ve been a great inspiration, and I’m so glad we got to meet at last spring’s Desert Dreams conference in Arizona. Because of your posts over these last couple years, I’ve seen indie publishing as a legitimate path. Thank you!

  15. You all need to come up with some advice better than “write more.” I mean I spend hours and hours everyday reading these types of blogs telling me to write more. Who has time for that? 🙂

  16. This is great stuff! Thank you for sharing all of this.

    I especially appreciate your point about writing versus promotion. I’ve been strugglign with this for a few months since I published my first novel. Just last week, I decided to stop focusing so much on the promotion and just get back to writing. That’s what gets more product out there.

    I’m glad you mentioned that series are the way to go. My first novel is the first of series, with a spin-off series in mind, so I’m glad to hear it! I was beginning to wonder if I should focus on stand alones. I am working on a stand alone novel, but I’m going to leave it open to becoming a series too.

  17. Wonderful post, Bob! You seem to have a good grasp on what’s going on inside the world of self…just kidding…indie publishing. Thanks for being a speaker at Indierecon! I write about three hours a day. Sometimes longer if I’m doing rewrites. If I didn’t have a job it would be more.

  18. Awesome post with great insights. I try to spend at least a couple of hours daily on actual writing of some kind (poems, short stories, my novel draft, articles, etc.); and equal amounts of time researching promotional avenues and reading other writers’ works.

  19. Ooh, but I hate to answer that because I’m a “binge writer.” So aside from the excuses, each day doesn’t amount to enough to count up. Resolved to change that 2 weeks ago and that week managed 1.5 hours per day.

    Resolve to change that again. 🙂

  20. Good stuff. I spend about a hour or two each day working on some aspect of publishing, whether it is writing, cover design, editing etc.

    Thanks Bob!

  21. Thank you for the great information. Your last paragraph is music to my ears. It is difficult not to get caught up in the social media and “build your platform” advice, but I also find it exhausting (and still a little backward). I want to write great stories. Plus, I don’t read subpar or unfinished novels because I follow someone’s blog, and I don’t read my favorite authors’ blogs (if they even have them). Seems like the tide is turning on this. I’m writing 2-4 hours per day, but am trying to build up to longer working days.

  22. For the last few years at writing conferences I’ve heard a ton about blogging. That seems to be less crucial now, right? Does it work at all for marketing? Or is blogging more about searchability if someone is looking for something specific? I’m thinking with what I read from you, it’s okay to let it go and just focus on writing.

  23. How much time do I spend writing each day? Well, three weeks ago I was laid off from my full-time graphic design job. During that time, I’d only have about an hour or two a day to write, squeezing it in during my lunch hour and breaks. And sometimes at night if I still had the energy! Now I’ve become a full-time writer and I find that I write best in the morning. I usually write from 8:00am-12:00pm, with some breaks in there. After noon, my creativity has peaked and so I try to focus on the business side of writing during the afternoon. So I’m writing about 4 hours a day, but that’s split between actual writing and revisions on completed drafts.

  24. So much great information, Bob! Thank you so much for sharing your advice. I’m still trying to balance writing with time for building audience interaction and online presence. I’ve had a blog, Facebook, and Twitter for years, but I’m naturally very introverted, even online. Connecting with my audience is my biggest weakness at the moment, so I know #7 is the one I need to work on!

  25. Excellent info. I’ve been questioning how much my blogging and tweeting were helping my book sales. Thank you for giving me permission to cut back and not feel bad about it. I don’t spend nearly enough time writing, but now I can renew my focus and put my effort where it really matters.

  26. it is a way to touch your readers in between books.Stephen King did it with his Green Mile decades ago.

    It takes less time to write a 15000 short story/serials.

    Rashelle workman has been very successful. I think some readers like it and some don’t.

  27. Good post. Not a fan of 3a. A confident reader can get through a full length novel (80k+) in less than a week. I find most who read as a hobby (every day) prefer longer works. Novellas and shorter novels are great for casual readers who buy a book every couple of months, but for the reader who is willing to lay down 7.99+ twice a week expecting a story to get lost in? Is that reader going to look up your next title if the read barely makes a dent in their reading time? If the story calls for shortness, fine, but I dislike the idea of curtailing length for any reason but a creative one. This is something I’ve seen a lot of writers advocating recently as a road to success in self publishing; shorter work. I understand the reasoning behind it, but I don’t agree with it for those who have long term goals in mind. A great idea for rapid expansion of a backlist? Yes. Great for the reader who is supposed to support this author past the impulse purchase? I’m inclined to think not. Ta.

  28. Ooh, how much time do I spend writing each day? I am consistently inconsistent. I am consistent in writing five days a week. But that can be 1-10 hours. Depending on where i am in my writing cycle. I can’t do much more than four our five hours when working on a first draft. But I can edit up to 10 hours with breaks in-between.

  29. Thank you for that, Bob. I’m trying to learn everything I can about writing and the publishing business, and though I’ve yet to put anything out there, following your blog had helped me bring some sort of order to things. It’s interesting to me though, that a lot of authors say Kindle Select is saturated while others, like Konrath (on a recent post on his blog), think it still works just fine.

    Not that it’s relevant to me at the moment. By the time I’m in the game that will probably be dead and people will be debating about a different program 🙂

  30. Thanks Bob, this post was the splash of cold water I needed! Very Informative. Quick question, today on Digiday,com there is an article on LinkedIn as a component of publishing? What are your thoughts?

  31. I’m curious what tips you have for collaborations so that writing a book together takes less time than writing a book on your own. From my limited co-writing experience, I found that the co-written book has taken three times as long as books done on my own.

  32. I don’t care about the “stigma”. I only control my writing. It’s a waste of time to worry about what other people are doing.

    I believe it will take me two years to rebuild my science fiction audience since I’ve been out of the field for at least 8 years. That’s five years in trad publishing time. So that’s good, but it’s still two years of hard work, building that community and that reputation. Frankly, most people don’t want to invest that much in it. That’s how your quality work will separate you from the pack. A lot of your competition will simply quit, overwhelmed by the long odds. The #1 key to success is setting a long term goal and doing whatever it takes to achieve it. That’s why in Write It Forward, the first of nine steps I lay out is goal setting.

  33. Hi, Bob, wonderful thoughts, thank you.
    One of my main concerns with self-publishing is that there are some badly written books out there. Of course, these would never get accepted by agents or publishers.
    It seems that there is a stigma around self publishing in that only authors who cannot get published the traditional way end up self publishing. What do you tell aspiring Indie authors when faced with that dilemma?

  34. Really interesting talk. Although, if you say, Kindle Select and Free don’t work any more, what should we be doing. Assuming that is we have the quality, crafted product you say we have to have (naturally?). Its a big sea out there, and even with books that have been found to be offering *something* how do make them visible outside our sphere of influence?

    1. It’s not that they don’t work. Other people have had some success with Select. I tell everyone to wait to try it until they have at least 3 books out there before doing Select and FREE. Again, the results vary.

  35. I am so excited to be a part of indie publishing. It feels like being part of a gold rush, exploring new frontiers and forging new paths. Can’t wait to soak in some more wisdom during this conference.

    1. Thanks Janet. Your great comment has helped me get over the ‘full-of-fear’ stage I have been going through. Those new frontiers and adventurous paths are now calling me!

      [PLEASE NOTE: I have no idea how I acquired the ‘Maths Mistress’ name but I think it’s funny and I might keep it for the duration of the conference.]

  36. As far as time writing, you might not want to hear this, but I’ve got a manuscript open on my 27″ Mac monitor, where I’m incorporating changes I whispered into my recorder on my iPhone last night, even while I check these comments and reply. I’ve become very good at squeezing in work- -I work very well in airports, hotel rooms and on planes.

    1. True enough. The dream is to be able to go to your writing shed from 9 till 5, or failing that have your allotted time to write those 1000 words every day, but the truth is we just need live and breath our stories and write something, anything down, when we can in those odd corners of the day (and night).

  37. Organic means the medium changes. For example, we’re currently reloading some of our books, adding in links and end matter to new books. We change covers. I’m considering breaking down a particularly large book into two smaller books. We have much more control over the format with eBooks. With print, once the book was printed, that was it.

  38. “How much time do you spend writing each day?”

    Not enough! Many days I don’t get any writing done. Some days I’m lucky to get a couple hours in. Most common is 30min-1hr.

    My goal is to get to 2 hrs every weekday. Weekends are too difficult to schedule with the whole family home.

  39. This is a great article. Being a big reader I always wishes their was a sequel or series. And now being a writer I get to answer my wishes of having more than one book with the same characters. What I really need to do and learn is being open to publications evolving. Thanks you for getting me started on this!

  40. Thanks for the great article Bob. I suspect I’ll be reading this through a few times. I have a clear understanding of most of your statements, but could you explain a bit why you refer to an ebook as “organic”?

  41. Bob, I knew I liked you the first time we met on St Simons Island, too many years ago,but your continued savvy on the industry continues to keep me in your fan base. I followed your lead into indie authorship and haven’t looked back. I still deal with trad publishers, but on my terms.

  42. Few people will find success no matter what path they take. Serials will only work for a story that is adaptable to it. A story where each episode brings satisfaction but also leaves the reader wanting more.

    1. Exactly my thoughts as well! I don’t think you can “break up” a novel into smaller bites. Serials are a unique form, similar to TV episodes, where each has a complete story, but still part of a larger story arc.

      Do you play to experiment with serials yourself?

  43. Thanks so much for this. I’ve been struggling with balancing promotion over product lately. I prefer writing to marketing any day of the week, but getting your name out there is important as well.

    How would you recommend producing product, but still making sure the reading community knows about you on a regular basis? (I hope that makes sense.)

  44. Bob, you’ve been an inspiration to many indie authors, including me. Thanks for taking time to share your insights!

    I’m doing the revenue-share version of ACX, so I’m glad to hear that’s been so successful for you!

    I’m curious about your point on serials (since I’m about to launch one) – so far, the people who I’ve seen be successful with serials, it’s been at least partly because the story was simply so compelling that people gobbled it up. But, like you, I think readers are used to novel-sized stories. Do you think this form will catch on more in the future, or will it continue to be a one-off oddity, where some people find success, but many don’t?

  45. Thanks for the info Bob, I think you’re dead on. I’m on a similar track, but earlier, with one book. Last year I took that one book and made it ebook, paper, audio and Spanish. I’ve declared 2013 my year of writing with a second book in the series, a spin off novella series and thinking of serial fiction.

    What are your thoughts on novella’s and serial fiction in this environment of ereaders, phone readers, etc?

  46. I put a book on audio as soon as I can. ACX is a great program but it takes time to produce and for it to go through quality assurance checks at Audible.

  47. Thanks for posting!

    I know I need an editor, cover creator, and marketing partner! No one can do it alone.

    Yet, it often feels when chasing the traditional publishing route you are! After all, they want the marketing letter up front as a sales letter to even get their attention. Sometimes, it feels so backwards – write the product – market it, and hope someone will edit, publish, and help in later marketing.

  48. 11. You can’t really “self” publish, not at volume and in quality. Yes, I know some of you are doing it. But you are contracting out some of the work. The question is, does that contracting give you an organic relationship? Netminds is the ACX of eBooks and a good idea, but again, what stake does Netminds have in your particular career?
    12. eBooks are organic. They are not static. Thus you need a publishing relationship that is organic.
    13. Thus a publishing team is key. Partnerships where the author comes first. A dangerous aspect of this is building trust. Contracts are one thing most authors are terrified of right now. The business is changing so fast.
    14. Amazon is not the enemy. Nor are they your friend. They are a business reality. A trad publisher was never your friend either, no matter how much you loved your editor and agent. The second the numbers didn’t add up, they dumped you. Amazon works off numbers the same way.
    15. Kobo is a real player. Apple is a player, if there are any human beings working there. PubIt is struggling because it’s tied to Barnes & Noble. But they are a player, especially for romance writers.
    16. Direct sales might start gaining traction. Especially if you have a fan base and unique content, but readers prefer the McDonald’s route. They don’t want to buy from 100 authors’ separate web pages.
    17. I go back to team-work because it’s how Jen Talty and I started out. You are going to have to give up a slice of your profits to a team in order to be more efficient and act ahead of the power curve and react quickly as needed. This is what we’re doing with Jennifer Probst and other authors.

    1. Wow – there are so many gems in this post and your follow-up comments that my head is spinning and I can’t type fast enough to say thanks and put down my thoughts. (okay, deeep breath).

      Product is key – amen! I published my first novella in January and I can’t count the number of people telling me I have to promote the heck out of it. A novella! I’ve done a few guest blog posts and interviews – mainly for the practice – but for heaven’s sake it’s just 28k words. I need to keep writing – getting better, producing MORE.

      Series – this is the first time I’ve heard someone link series to success in indie publishing. Love it – great way to build an audience with the product.

      Thank you (and looking forward to seeing you in DC in MArch!)

  49. 1. The gold rush is over. The market is saturated now. Quality and professionalism are key.
    2. Everyone is an author. There are more authors at booksignings at conferences now than there are non-authors. How are you going to be different?
    3. What is the next evolution?
    a. Shorter works. People want complete stories they can consume in one sitting.
    b. Serials. Build your audience. But make sure you let readers know what they are getting. Hugh Howey built Wool. John Scalzi is doing it in science fiction, but notice some of the reviews where readers were shocked at getting a short story when they thought it was a book, even for .99.
    c. Transmedia. I think this is a while away. It’s a nice idea, but few are doing it and even fewer are doing it well. Mediums often don’t translate. One interesting area is live tweeting during events and shows that might link to your book.
    d. Collaborations. Consumers want products faster and faster. The year between books will no longer suffice. Thus writers will work together. I write four times faster working with my wife.
    e. Ghost writing. As part of the previous point.
    4. There is too much emphasis on promo and marketing, not enough on craft—distinctive voices will stand out. Every idea has been done, but unique ideas with a great voice will win out. Yet all we see are people wanting to know how to market and promote and not very interested in how to write.
    5. Will e-writing remain the same? Is the structure of the novel going to stay intact or will people be more interested in episodic work? Can you do more points of view, more characters, without focusing on a single plot line? Sort of Games of Thrones? Southland?
    6. Gimmicks aren’t working any more: Select, Free, etc. They’ve become saturated.
    7. Build community. An author has to be involved with their audience and expose themselves to some degree. What is special about you?
    8. You are an author-entrepreneur. You are running a business. You have to plan ahead. Just because your book is on a bestseller list now, don’t assume it will be in two months. The people who are succeeded have numerous titles that are their base. Then they push a series.
    9. Series are essential. It is the #1 way to build an audience.
    10. Urban flight—this is my new term (yes, NY you can steal it like you did hybrid author and pretend you invented it). This is authors who will start “self” publishing outside of their NY contracts. DBW survey says 1/3 of trad authors want to “self” publish.

    1. Totally agree, Bob. We’ve released 4 novels in our Black Eagle Force series in the last 12 months. All four are in Amazon’s best seller lists in the top 50. The first ones for 24 consecutive weeks…so far. We have never done the “Free” thing. All of our novels are in what we call the sweet spot – 2.99 to 3.99. We have actually written 5 novels in the last year, 4 in our military/action/techno genera and one historical fiction western (it’s already in the Best Seller list) . Working on the sequel to the western now.
      Been writing as a team (Buck Stienke and Ken Farmer) since we started after converting from screen/teleplay writing. Working so far.

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