Self Publish Your Novel Part 4: Where Self-Publishing is Going

This post is part of a series of posts about self-publishing. I’m revising my book Self Publish Your Novel and posting the chapters as I finish them. If you’d like to be alerted when the new version of Self Publish Your Novel is available, please click here.

In my last post, I proved a bullet point chronology of developments in self-publishing and e-publishing. Here are some takeaways from that chronology and from my own experience in publishing over the past seven years.

Don’t Bet Against Amazon

climbersmileTime and again, Amazon has outmaneuvered its competitors in terms of technology and in anticipating customers’ needs, and has successfully stymied their attempts to gang up against Amazon. Some of these victories were simply a matter of brute force (Amazon can afford to lose money on their ereader devices in pursuit of greater market share, for example, and Amazon loves to gobble up potential competitors like Audible and Goodreads). But it can’t be denied that Amazon has led the way more often than not in the epublishing revolution. Any self-publishing strategy these days must revolve around Amazon to a large degree. It’s possible to be quite successful as an independent author publishing only through Amazon (and there are some advantages to this strategy, as we’ll see). It’s virtually impossible to be successful without selling on Amazon, and that’s very unlikely to change anytime soon.

As an author who was able to self-publish successfully because of Amazon’s Kindle Digital Publishing platform, who was able to sell several thousand books thanks to helping me reach readers directly, and who was one of the first authors to be picked up by the AmazonEncore imprint, I have a bit of a soft spot for Amazon. Without Amazon I wouldn’t have the career I have.

That said, I’m fully aware that Amazon is a business, and that at the corporate level they don’t particularly care about me or my books. Frankly, Amazon doesn’t particularly care about books, period. Books were always intended to be a loss leader for Amazon, a way to pull more customers into their platform. Amazon wants to be the “everything store,” your one stop shop for just about anything you might need. They don’t mind losing money on ebook readers because these devices are just hooks to get you into their content delivery system. Amazon’s sometimes strange behavior in the arenas of publishing and e-book selling make a lot more sense if you look at them in this context.

I know some authors who do everything they can not to be locked into Amazon’s model, and there’s some wisdom to this. But fears that Amazon is suddenly going to turn into Darth Vader, unilaterally dictating the terms of the marketplace (“I have altered the deal; pray that I don’t alter it further”) are mostly unfounded. Amazon is far from a monopoly in either publishing or book-selling (even when you consider only the ebook market), and they have plenty of competition nipping at their heels. Amazon isn’t your friend, but they aren’t your enemy either. They’re just a reality of the marketplace.

Ebooks are Big, But Print Is Still Here

The popularity of ebooks continues to grow, but they haven’t come close to replacing print books. It’s a safe bet, I think, that we’re not going to see the sort of explosive growth in the ebook market that we saw from 2009 to 2012. This means that your publishing strategy should probably cover both. It’s certainly possible to make a living selling only ebooks, and ebooks are attractive to self-publishers for a lot of reasons, but there are still several good reasons to publish print versions of your books as well. I’ll get into these in future posts.

Devices Don’t Matter (Much)

My latest novel as it might appear on a Kindle Fire

Five years ago, the ebook battle was largely centered on physical devices: do I buy a Kindle, a Nook, a Kobo, or something else? These days, that question is secondary. People read books on iPads, Samsung tablets, iPhones, Android phones… anything capable of running an ereader app. Relatively few people read books on a dedicated ereader like the Kindle Paperwhite, and even with those devices there are ways to get around the manufacturer’s plans to keep you locked into a particular ebook market or format. Thus publishers don’t have to worry as much about technological barriers to readers getting their books. Plenty of barriers remain, of course, but these are largely matters of law and of habit. I’ll get into both of these later.

Formats Have Stabilized

Nearly all ebooks sold these days are in one of three formats: epub, mobi/azw and PDF. PDF ebooks are pretty uncommon except in certain specialized markets; almost nobody reads novels in PDF. It’s very unlikely any new ebook formats are going to come along and rock the industry at this point. Basically, the choice is between epub and mobi.

Self Publishing Has Lost (Some of) Its Stigma

There have been enough self-published bestsellers that self-publishing has lost a lot of its stigma. When a self-published novel can sell millions of copies and be turned into a blockbuster movie starring Matt Damon like The Martian, it’s safe to say that it’s a bit silly to turn up one’s nose at a book simply because it’s self-published.

That said, the stigma will never disappear entirely. Or, more precisely, self-publishing will never have the cachet of traditional publishing. When I tell people I’m a novelist, one of the first questions they ask me is “Do you self-publish or do you have a publisher?” This is shorthand for “Are you a real novelist, or are you just pretending?” And frankly, it’s not a bad question, because most self-published books are garbage. Most of the books submitted to publishers are garbage too, but publishers do their best to eliminate the garbage (or at least pick the garbage that will sell). If a traditional publisher is involved, it means someone with a financial stake in your book’s success (other than you) read your book and thought, “Hey, this isn’t bad.” With a self-published book, you have no one vouching for you. So if that sort of validation is important to you, I recommend trying to find a traditional publisher. If what you care about is selling books, self-publishing may be a better choice.

This post is part of a series of posts about self-publishing. I’m revising my book Self Publish Your Novel and posting the chapters as I finish them. If you’d like to be alerted when the new version of Self Publish Your Novel is available, please click here.

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