In the spirit of the season, I thought I would serve up some predictions for 2013, based on a post I wrote today. It’s targeted at indie authors, but is more of a commentary on the state of the self-publishing union at present rather than anything else.
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Many indie authors are complaining that their sales are down. That may be true. Could be any number of things causing it. I speculate as to some possible reasons in my predictions. But with all the gloom and doom, at least three success stories from December are noteworthy. First, my friend and fellow author Steven Konkoly, who I did an Author Spotlight with about a year ago, hit in the Top 100 paid on Amazon on Xmas day, and has held remarkably well with his now-over-a-year-old action thriller Black Flagged. That translates into thousands of books per day. You can do the math, but suffice it to say December is being very good to Steven. Couldn’t happen to a nicer or more talented guy, either.
The second account is R.S. Guthrie, who I also recently featured in an Author Spotlight, who released his follow-up to Blood Land (one of the best books of the year, IMO), Money Land, on Dec. 27, and watched it catapult into the Top 500. The market is volatile, so ranking will bounce around, but his other books are also selling nicely – my hunch is December is treating him well.
The third December story is my own. I don’t like to publish revenue numbers, but this month is my biggest month to date, up 30% from November, which was a huge, and I do mean huge, month for me. This, 18 months into my journey. Over 100K books sold this year, not counting free downloads. How next year goes is anyone’s guess, but for now, so far so good.
The reason for highlighting these examples is because Steve’s book was 14 or so months old when it took off on this go around. My oldest is 18 months old. Rob’s are about the same, if not a bit older. It can take a while for a title to hit, and yes, aggressive and well-timed promotions can help, but foremost, having a book worth reading in a popular genre is a big part of it. Then again, maybe not. In January I’ll be hard at work penning 50 Shades of Yarn for Mr. Mittens, an erotic cat adventure featuring a billionaire and a demure but adventurous vixen who is obsessed with knitting and kink, which I believe will blow the lid off my sales records to date.
You think I’m kidding.
Only a little.
But on to the predictions. Feel free to disagree with them, or disregard them. We can return next year around this time and see how they fared. That’s part of the fun – returning to see how much of an ass hat I was only a few short months prior.
2) The environment will get tougher. Worsening economics in the U.S., greater reader discrimination (as when VCRs were new, for the first year or two the novelty of being able to watch a movie in your house meant that people bought or rented virtually anything – but as the selection grew, they became more discriminating over what they were willing to spend money on), and an ever larger supply of ebooks meeting a demand that is growing far slower than supply is, will all make it harder to rise above the clutter and get noticed, which one must do if one wishes to sell books.
3) The environment will get tougher, redux. Traditional publishers will lower prices or release some of their huge backlog of titles for which they own the ebook rights, creating even more competition for indies. Many of these books will be marginal or won’t have withstood the test of time, but supply will increase even more as trad pubs try to duke it out for dwindling reader dollars.
4) Many indies will give up. Having realized belatedly that 99% of indies fail to make any real money at this, those that don’t feel like beating their heads against a seemingly indestructible wall will go on to something more lucrative. The Gold Rush mentality of “hey, look at X, he’s a talentless twat and sold a ton; it must be easy, so I’ll throw my hat into the ring because then maybe I’ll sell a ton, too” will die, as it should. It will become abundantly obvious to even the dimmest that this is a very, very difficult business to make a living at, and that the chances of being that one in a million are close to nil.
5) Some will hit big, but nobody will be able to predict who, nor will they be able to reproduce the success. Put simply, once something works, it’s over, and those trying to follow in successful footsteps will fail to replicate the win. Which won’t stop people from trying, but it will be a pointless effort.
6) Rudimentary grasp of craft will become a prerequisite to authoring a book if you want to make more than beer money. The perceived environment where you can be illiterate and still find someone who will give your book a shot will dry up as readers demand more in exchange for their limited time. Just as agents and publishers used to be gatekeepers, more and more readers will become their own gatekeepers, and won’t suffer ill-crafted books lightly. Writing good books will become even more important as 2013 develops, although writing good books won’t in itself guarantee success of any sort. See point 4 for the actual odds, which I invented as I wrote this, but are probably optimistic at that.
7) Amazon didn’t “double down” on Select as many seem to believe, so the payout isn’t likely to be significantly more than it has been historically. What I believe they did is correctly project that, A) adding international markets will dilute the payout from the fixed pool of $700K they had set aside, reducing it to a level where most of the decent authors wouldn’t participate unless they added cash to at least somewhat maintain current payout levels, and B) they forecast the number of kindles they planned to sell between Black Friday and February, and calculated how much they would need to add to keep payouts relatively attractive. Then some bright lad in ‘Zon marketing positioned that like it was a big bonus instead of what it actually was, and a lot of folks who don’t think critically assumed the payout would go up. I don’t believe it will, but I’d love to be wrong, having seen about 1000 borrows in December. But I’m not holding my breath.
8) Amazon will continue to lean towards pushing trad pub books and their own labels, as they have most of 2012, for two reasons: Trad pub books generally cost more so they make more absolute dollars from doing so, and trad pubs pay advertising dollars back to Amazon, whereas indies don’t. This isn’t because Amazon is the great Satan. It’s because it makes better business sense to push products you’ll make more money selling, and higher-priced products from producers who will give you money to advertise tend to be more lucrative than lower-priced products from folks who produce no ad revenue. And the reason for pushing their own labels is obvious – more margin. It’s all about margin. So deal with it.
9) Other vendors like Apple, B&N, Kobo, etc. will take market share from Amazon, but unless you’re getting as good or better visibility in those venues, your odds will stay about the same. I understand that some think that more markets mean more opportunity, and on its face that would make sense, but if the odds are really about 99% against you making anything more than a few sales or ever turning a profit, the number of markets you still aren’t selling in will be slim consolation. Which is the reality of the book selling business. It’s a tough gig.
10) I am probably wrong about some or all of this. Think critically, for yourself. Come up with your own damned predictions and stop listening to pseudo-pundits on the web.
So there they are. The message is clear. In a muddled, garbled way. You can win, but the odds aren’t good. Having said that, I believe that focusing on writing, and not so much on marketing, is a good idea, but as Steven’s, Rob’s, and my own cases should indicate, a decent marketing approach can also be a game changer. I have read plenty of blogs advising folks to just focus on the writing and let the marketing handle itself, but I think that’s disastrous for new authors, and most established ones as well. My solution is different: allocate time for both, as they are both important to building a career. The best books in the world won’t sell themselves, and people need to know about them in order to buy them. Amazon won’t market them for you. None of the other sites will. So you are the marketing engine, as a book seller, who has to capture the readers’ attention and lure them into trying your books. Once they do, your job as the writer is to have crafted as compelling and well-written a product as possible, but if you wish to succeed in this business, I think you have to do both writing and marketing, not only one. I believe that notion is misguided panacea for the self-pubbing masses, and is a recipe for failure if followed to the letter. I personally devote about 80% of my time to writing, and 20% to marketing, which consists of promotions, advertising, interviews, blogging, tweeting and message board participation.
That’s all I have. I need to get back to writing now, having used up all my marketing time for the day. Have a good New Year, and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do. Oh, and buy my books. You’ll live longer and be happier. Really. Mostly.
Both JET and King of Swords are specially priced for the holidays, so if you’re feeling Blake-curious, those would be good places to start. I know. That is probably the shortest self-promotional bit I’ve ever tossed out. For that, we are probably all grateful.