Monday, 30 December 2013

2014 - My Predictions as an Indie

Hi Guys,

Well 2014 is five hours away New Zealand time, and I think it's time to start guessing what the new year holds for us indies. So here are my predictions and if they prove to be slightly amiss I claim its due to the after effects of bad egg nog!

1. Free. For the past year we have seen Amazon moving away from free. To be fair the trend was always predictable, they were counting on free to boost sales of  kindles and perhaps bring other people into their book stores. But in 2012 they changed their algorhythms in a clear sign that free was costing them too much for too little revenue. In 2013 they introduced Countdown as an inducement to authors to discount rather than go free. And my prediction would be in 2014 the trend will continue. The days of free are not numbered but they are going to be restricted.

2. The big five / Barnes and Noble. Konrath has predicted that 2014 will be the year for bankruptcies / retrenchment for these players in the book world. I'm not so sure of that. Notwithstanding the fact that I haven't seen their books, I don't think these guys are going to simply roll over and play dead. They will fight. And my guess is that their fight will involve a number of strategies.

a) They'll start realising that book selling is turning into an electronic business more and more. So my thought is that their big sellers will be full priced, and that everything else will be more competitively priced on the various e media.

b) They're going to start using their stable of authors more and more heavily. This means not just looking for the next blockbuster, but also boosting their mid sellers. So their authors will be producing more books and getting them published quicker (after all editing and cover design doesn't have to take a year). This will be good news for trade published authors.

c) They're going to boost their stable of authors. More authors equates to more books to sell. So expect them to start hunting through the indies and their submissions looking for more prospective authors they can quickly publish at least in ebook format. This is good and bad news for indies as it means more chance of being picked up by a publisher, but also more competition.

3. The hybrid author. My thought is that 2014 will be the year the hybrid author (authors both trade and indie published) will really take off. Partly that will be driven by publishers. After all if they already have an author on their books and his back list, it's a very short process to republish the out of print issues, and it's a quick source of revenue. Partly this will be driven by the authors themselves, as more and more of them realise that they have the rights to their own back lists, and it's not that hard to publish them themselves as ebooks. And as the survey discussed previous showed, not all trade published authors are making a living from their writing.

4. The quality seal of approval. This is a topic that comes up in the indie world year after year. There is no doubt that authors and readers alike would benefit greatly from having some sort of standards body to help sort the wheat from the chaff. But my prediction however, is that despite all the calls for it, this will not come to pass any time soon. There are simply too many hurdles in the way.

5. Indie service providers. There is no doubt that the indie publishing world is a boom market. More and more books are being published by more and more authors. And all of those books need marketing, cover design, editing, not all of which can be done by the author. So as the industry booms, so too will the numbers of people providing services to indies. My prediction is that this trend will continue. This will include both the legitimate service providers, and the rip off merchants, vanity publishers and the like.

6. Sales. Sorry guys, this predictions a bit of a downer. More and more books are being published every year, and it's becoming harder and harder to get your new book noticed. So my thought is that while overall book sales will continue to increase, the average number of sales per author will decrease. And on top of that it will become more and more difficult for new authors to get a start. Those who do well will more likely be the better established authors with reputations and back catalogues, and those who know how to market.

7. Bricks and Mortar Bookstores. Yeah times are hard, stores are closing and more and more people are going on line for their reads. This trend will continue. Those stores that survive will have to innovate, and it likely will not be the smaller stores.

8. Me. Yes for me it will be a big year as I predict that I will finally sprout wings and go flying with the pigs down the road!

Happy new year to all, and as always, be good or don't get caught.

Cheers, Greg.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Writing For Money

Hi Guys,

Well I guess most of you have heard the news since it seems to be doing the rounds of the blogosphere. Digital Book World and Writers Digest just did a survey of how much writers earn and came up with some figures suggesting it isn't much. Jeremy Greenfield then did a review on the survey and came up with a summary.

In essence he says Indies have a median annual income of between 0 and $5,000, trade published authors have a median income of between $5,000 and $10,000, and hybrid authors between $10,000 and $15,000. (Median is used as a better indicator of the middle of a distribution when there are a few extreme outliers which could distort an average).

So what does this mean?

First, and this needs to be stressed time and again, in the days before self publishing the median income for indies would have been zero. So any way you look at it, this represents an improvement for the writing lives of millions of authors.

Second, and this is the thing that surprised me most, trade published authors typically aren't doing that well either. Less than $10,000 per anum - that's not enough to live on in most places.

As for hybrids doing the best, that doesn't surprise me. Hybrids with books in the trade publishing world and indie published world usually arrive in this situation in one of two ways. Most often they're established authors with extensive back catalogues who have gained the publishing rights to their old books and are putting them out themselves. Thus they have plenty of books for sale and perhaps more important - a name. Alternatively they become a hybrid from first being an Indie and then because of their success get picked up by an agent and publisher. So they already have success.

Now as to the numbers. Why are the numbers so low?

Well for indies, the reason is simple - there are an awful lot of books put out there that never sell at all. This may be for a variety of reasons, they're poorly edited, have poor covers and blurbs, aren't well marketed, are on topics that aren't popular, they may actually be thinly disguised ego trips or rants, and often enough the writer never intended to make any money from their book and so just gives them away. There's no shortage of reasons why a book won't sell. And unfortunately there's no shortage of indie authors who simply aren't willing to invest in their craft. It's simply a sad fact of life. Not every author cares.

However, if we take this chunk out of the equation and look only at indies who do take their writing seriously I believe we'd see a whole new picture. The median income for indies would rise and it might well rise to the point where it matched or surpassed the median income for trade published authors. Naturally I have no figures for this - it's all guesswork, but it's based on one very sound principle. Trade publishing, like it or lump it does do one thing. It provides an entry barrier to the industry, one that prevents this same group of people entering their part of the market. That has to boost the median incomes of the trade published authors. And when you take that together with the fact their median incomes aren't that much higher to begin with, it suggests it wouldn't take much for the two incomes to meet.

Now having said that, the median income for the trade published is still surprisingly low. There are two reasons for this in my view. First the return per book sale. As an indie I receive between 35% and 70% of the price of every ebook sale as income. (Paperbacks aren't nearly so good). Trade published authors receive far less as the publisher takes a massive cut. They have to rely on selling more books through having professionally edited and marketed books to make the same income.

The second reason though is more to do with the inefficiencies in the trade publishing system - specifically it's slow. Actually it's glacial. This year I published seven books. I can't think of one trade published author who could match this output. The reason is that every step along the trade publishing way is filled with people dragging chains. Cover design takes weeks and months. Editing goes through multiple phases and cycles and sometimes multiple editors. Publishing is set to hit certain marketing schedules, not the author's timetable. Yes sure, maybe this does result in a product of the highest possible quality (though there have been some shocking exceptions) but at some point you have to ask whether you're guilding a lily - or polishing a turd! Either way the ratio of the additional reward for the work being done is starting to slide - and not in the author's favour.

To put this in perspective, if you are a trade published author, and you are hampered by the system so that you can only put out one book per year compared to my seven, and your cut per book is say 10% compared to my 70%, you start off behind the eightball. To match my income - which isn't really that great - you have to sell forty nine times as many books.

So where does this leave us? More correctly where does it leave the industry?

For the indies the answer is obvious. If the median income for an indie is somewhere between 0 and $5000 per anum and we know that a vast chunk of other indies out there are producing unsaleable books, then you know you can make better money than this simply by putting effort into your work. I'm not saying you will get rich, but I am saying you can do far better than this figure would suggest.

For the trade published the answer is equally obvious. If you want to make more money go hybrid if you can. Get the publishing rights for your out of print books and learn a few new skills. What have you got to lose? Also, have a bit of a beat down on your publishers about their slowness. That does not work in your favour.

And for the publishers? Well much as I hate to give advice to the enemy (sort of) - guys lift your game. If you want to earn your authors more money and at the same time protect your market share against the tide of indies, you need to sell more books. That means if an author can write five books in a year you need to be able to publish them within the same sort of time span.

Anyway that's my take on the survey. I'm sure you can find many others.

Cheers, Greg.