Indie publishing gurus gaze into their crystal balls.
Happy new year, everyone! As the proud indie author of two self-published books, I thought it’d be fun to see what people closely involved in supporting and promoting indie publishing predict for book publishing industry in 2016.
“Most forms of publishing have dramatically changed in the past few years: it’s become incredibly easy to publish photos (Instagram), song tracks (Soundcloud), videos (YouTube), blog posts (WordPress), etc. In 2016, it’s book publishing that will become more mainstream than ever. Through books, more people will express who they are and communicate their vision of the world with others. With 2016 set to break all records with hundreds of thousands of titles pushed to the market, authors need to have a clear idea of what they can expect from publishing a book. In most cases, it will be a gratifying and enriching experience; but only those willing to work hard will find it lucrative.”
“I predict that Barnes & Noble’s eBook division will either be sold or auctioned off through bankruptcy proceedings and acquired by a tech startup that will reinvigorate B&N’s website and database and create a little more competition for Amazon.”
“Now that there are more and more quality books being published a day, largely due to self-publishing, you’ll see a rise of companies that provide marketing tools or services to help the best ones reach the top and get discovered.”
Meanwhile, Smashwords founder Mark Coker wrote an excellent post on his own 2016 predictions. I’ve quoted a few of his predictions below, but definitely read the full article!
Reedsy co-founder Emmanuel Nataf talks about the future of indie publishing.
Just because I’m an indie author doesn’t mean I can’t get good help with editing and book design.
I recently signed up for Reedsy, an innovative web platform that helps indie authors find freelance publishing assistance. A few days ago, I signed ex-DC Comics editor Rachel Gluckstern to edit my upcoming novel, The Wanderer and the New West. It’s an exciting collaboration that was made possible by Reedsy.
Reedsy was founded in London during the summer of 2014 by Emmanuel Nataf, Matthew Cobb, Ricardo Fayet and Vincent Durand. For the first year, the co-founders worked on Reedsy as a side project on nights and weekends, but it became a full-time job after the startup was accepted into Seedcamp, a London-based startup accelerator. Soon after, the tech startup raised cash from angel investors including Ben Yoskovitz, the bestselling author of Lean Analytics. Today, Reedsy is a team of seven that operates out of a co-working space in the Shoreditch neighborhood of London.
I spoke with co-founder Emmanuel Nataf about what Reedsy hopes to accomplish and where it sees the publishing industry headed. You can read the full interview below.
Adam: What problem were you trying to solve when you created Reedsy?
Emmanuel: We were seeing two major publishing trends converging. On the one hand, more and more authors were self-publishing, as they could easily reach an audience through digital distribution (460,000 titles were self-published in the US in 2014 according to Bowker). On the other hand, more and more top publishing professionals have left traditional houses in the past few years and have gone freelance, available to work with both traditional and self-published authors.
At the time, we were seeing too many low-quality books being pushed to the Kindle Store. It was clear that self-publishing was not yet a viable alternative to the traditional route. Quality can only be achieved with an investment in editorial, design and marketing services, something that self-published authors did not have access to. They needed a single, trusted and quality source of people that they could collaborate with.
It’s from this frustration that we decided to create Reedsy, a curated marketplace for the
More recently, we started to work with traditional publishers as well. They have been impressed
with the level of quality Reedsy professionals can provide, and love the way our collaborative
tools streamline their workflows.
Adam: Today, authors can self-publish a book all by themselves if they want to. Why is it important that authors pay for freelance help, and how big of an investment does that need to be?
Emmanuel: The production process of a book doesn’t stop after the writing phase – it starts there. Self-publishing authors can certainly release new titles much faster than “Big 5” authors but they can’t skip editing, design or marketing if they want to have any chance of being successful. In fact, to stand out from the crowd, they need to publish a high-quality product and have a solid plan to commercialize it. This takes time and requires experience. This is where Reedsy professionals can help.
We are planning on open-sourcing our data so authors can get a better idea of the cost of self-publishing. However, for an 80,000 word book that needs editing, design and marketing help, you will need at least $2,000. Most spend $5,000 or more if they want to work with award-winning professionals and want to design an aggressive marketing plan.
Adam: The publishing industry is in a state of flux right now. Where do you think it’s going, and how well will self-published authors fare against industry published authors?
Emmanuel: The whole value chain is evolving so much that I’m not sure how long the selfpublishing/traditional publishing antagonism will remain.
For instance, we recently helped PFD Literary Agents set up their own digital imprint where they give a very interesting 50/50 deal to authors. The emergence of more digital imprints is something that we follow closely. What we believe, though, is that the production of high-quality books can be commoditized through a service like Reedsy, and that publishers should only do what they do best: curate content, offer physical distribution and negotiate foreign rights.
Adam: How many freelancers and how many authors do you have on Reedsy?
Emmanuel: About 6,000 authors have joined Reedsy so far and we have selected 300+ professionals out of 7,000 applications.
Adam: What is the most popular service authors are looking for when they join Reedsy?
Emmanuel: Self-publishing authors are mainly looking for editing services when they come to Reedsy. We would love to see self-publishing authors invest more into their book covers though: too many of them still underestimate the incredible impact a beautiful cover can have for their book sales.
We see mix of authors looking to self-publish and authors looking to polish their manuscript before submitting to agents or publishers, which is why we recently added a “query letter review” service to our marketplace. Eventually, we want Reedsy to become the backbone of the industry, providing high-quality services to all authors or publishers.
Adam: Do you have any minimum qualifications for freelancers? Is it required they have
experience in the publishing industry?
Emmanuel: Yes! Our team receives hundreds of applications every week and only selects a handful of professionals. The objective is to provide the highest level of quality to authors and publishers. This is why people often describe Reedsy as a “curated” marketplace. We require a strong experience working at top publishers or with bestselling authors and a portfolio of at least 10 books. We also ask them to connect their social networks to Reedsy so we can verify their online identity.
Adam: How does Reedsy make money? Is it purely commission-based?
Emmanuel: Our fees are shared between professionals and clients who both pay a 10 percent commission on every transaction. This allows us to develop our product, curate our network, and offer customer support with a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee.
Adam: Besides Reedsy, what other innovative companies are helping indie authors right now?
Emmanuel: Crowdfunding platforms are a good complement to Reedsy. For instance, Reedsy authors often use Publishizer or Kickstarter to raise funds to pay for our services. We are also pretty excited to see what Find My Audience is going to release in the coming months to help authors locate and engage with a highly qualified audience.
Adam: What’s coming next for Reedsy? What can you tell me about any plans to further expand or enhance your services?
Emmanuel: Many things! First, we will be adding more services to our marketplace in the coming months: marketing, ghostwriting and translation will be progressively rolled out. Then, we will be adding dedicated publisher accounts to allow publishers to manage entire teams and projects through Reedsy. Last but not least, we will be releasing our collaborative book editor to allow any author to work collaboratively on their books and get properly formatted EPUB and PDF files instantly.
Today’s indie authors can punch above their weight and take on traditionally published authors, says The Fussy Librarian founder Jeffrey Bruner.
The Fussy Librarian, based in Des Moines, Iowa, sends daily book recommendations to readers based on their preferences.
“The line between ‘industry’ authors and ‘self-published’ authors has just about vanished,” Bruner, a former journalist for Gannett, tells me. “An author can hire a cover designer and copy editor and produce a book that looks and reads just as well as anything by the big publishers.”
“The fact is that they only do [extensive marketing] if you are Hillary Clinton or you’re David Beckham,” Kawasaki said last year. “They don’t do it for the other 10,000 authors every year because frankly they can’t call the New York Times 10,000 times every year.”
Bruner says that indie authors can do a lot with a little. “Self-published authors don’t need to have a huge marketing budget — just enough to create what Kevin Kelly calls 1,000 true fans. Once you have established that base, they will provide the word of mouth to boost you to 50,000, 100,000, 500,000, etc. But the book has to come first and it’s got to be great.”
He points to many tools available to indie authors today, including Rafflecopter for giveaways, MailChimp for mailing list management and PayPal for e-commerce.
“I’m not saying it would have been impossible to self-publish a bestseller 15 years ago, but it’s a lot easier now.”
Meet The Fussy Librarian
The Fussy Librarian seeks to help readers find well-written books, regardless of how they were published.
“We want to be your personal librarian, the person you can turn to when you want to read a good book,” says Bruner. “We’re like a matchmaker for readers.”
The company knows it must court authors if it wants to provide a valuable service to readers.
“Our business doesn’t exist without readers, so they have to be our primary focus … but you’re also not going to last long unless you provide great customer service for authors, too,” says Bruner.
While the Fussy Librarian is not the only game in town for book recommendations on the Web, the company tries to differentiate itself by providing more personalized recommendations to readers, he says.
“A lot of services send you a list of books. We email you a list of books that match your taste in reading.”
The Fussy Librarian breaks down book promotions into emails based on 40 genres, more than competitor BookBub, and also provides content filters for readers who don’t want to see books with profanity or sexual content, he says.
The company has tried to entice authors with competitive pricing offers. Authors pay a fee per genre, but get discounts when they promote books in more than one genre. Also, the Fussy Librarian doesn’t charge extra to promote box sets.
“Our company is privately owned, so we don’t have venture capitalists demanding a return on their investment,” says Bruner. “And we know that most authors aren’t rich, so we try to keep our prices as low as possible. The cost of living is low in Des Moines, so we don’t need to keep much for ourselves.”
How many readers see a promotion varies by the chosen genre, with anywhere from 25,000 for cookbooks to 95,000 for contemporary romance fiction, says Bruner. Readers see anywhere from three to 20 books in each email, depending on their preferences, he says.
With only one full-time and one part-time employee, the Fussy Librarian cannot read every book submitted to the site. To ensure a base-line level of quality, the website requires that books have at least 10 Amazon.com customer reviews with an average score of 4.0. If it’s a new release, the author must have a previously published book with 50 reviews on Amazon averaging 4.0.
Before starting The Fussy Librarian in 2013, Bruner worked as wire chief for Gannett’s national wire desk.
“Like a lot of people in journalism, I decided I needed a Plan B,” he explains. “I worked at the Des Moines Register and its owner, Gannett, started layoffs in 2005 whenever it decided the bottom line needed boosting. After surviving seven or eight rounds, I got tired of waking up each morning wondering if I would still have a job. I also calculated that, when adjusting for inflation, I was actually making less than when I was hired in 2000.”
At first, Bruner kept his day job at Gannett and worked on his new venture at night. Then, in October 2014, he submitted his resignation and made Fussy Librarian his full-time job.
“My only regret is I didn’t do it five years earlier,” he says.
Bruner says the service continues to evolve, with new features on the way. “We’re working on two major projects — one for readers, one for authors — over the next six months. We think they will both be innovations in the book marketing industry, so I’m reluctant to spill too many details, but they both hold tremendous potential and we’re really excited about them.”
I’ve always been envious of traditionally published authors.
I am the self-published author of two dystopian novels and I know there are advantages to my way, including greater control over the final product and more revenue per sale… but marketing is not easy and it’s certainly not cheap.
So, while self-publishing is going OK for me, there’s always been a voice in the back of my head saying, “This would be so much easier with a New York publisher!”
I have to admit I was a bit surprised when Guy Kawasaki said that’s all a myth.
“The publishing industry is a very interesting place because it used to be an oligopoly where a few dozen firms in New York controlled the whole world. That is no longer true because of self-publishing and Amazon.”
It can take a year to release a book under the traditional publishing model, he said. “As a self-publisher, from the time manuscript is done–which I can determine–8 hours later it’s for sale on Kindle.”
That all sounded good, but I couldn’t help but feel that Guy might be forgetting that getting initial sales depends on marketing. Maybe Guy is famous enough to sell his own book to thousands of people, but what about the rest of us? I had to ask, wouldn’t a relatively unknown author still get better marketing from a big New York firm?
Guy said no.
“The fact is that they only do those kind of things if you are Hillary Clinton or you’re David Beckham. They don’t do it for the other 10,000 authors every year because frankly they can’t call the New York Times 10,000 times every year.”
In many cases, even traditionally published authors end up doing their own marketing, he said.
“The irony is, if you are lucky enough to garner interest from a New York publisher, one of the first questions they are going to ask you is, ‘What’s your marketing platform?’ Which is kind of ass-backwards because the reason why you’re going to them is for their marketing platform.”
If the publisher actually took care of marketing, Guy said the 90-10 revenue split between publisher and author might make sense. But if that’s not going to happen, it makes little sense for the author to give up 90% of the sales, he said.
With self-publishing through Amazon, the author keeps 70% of each sale. “That’s five times better than what you would get from a publisher,” he said.
The good news, he said, is that self-published authors today have a free marketing platform to get the word out to their audience: social media.
“I’m not saying everyone is guaranteed a bestseller, but at least everybody has a shot and you’re not at the whim of someone in New York.”
It’s easy to feel a bit of information overload when you first learn about an information leak revealing that the NSA has spied on regular American citizens and that major Internet companies like Microsoft and Facebook have helped them do it.
Glenn Greenwald is the reporter who read through countless documents provided by the whistleblower Edward Snowden and wrote the first news articles bringing that information to the public’s attention.
Now, with his excellent book No Place to Hide, Greenwald offers an insightful and comprehensive discussion of the controversial documents. Greenwald clearly lays out the most significant revelations and why they matter to everyday people.
The first part reads like a spy novel, grabbing the reader from the first page with an exciting account of how Snowden first contacted Greenwald, their secret meeting in Hong Kong, and the ensuing behind-the-scenes drama to get the information into the newspapers. While some have criticized the Snowden leak as threatening national security, the book highlights the care and scrutiny with which Greenwald and his collaborator Laura Poitras handled the classified documents, seeking to shine light without putting anyone’s lives in danger.
The next two sections contain less narrative, spending more time explaining the most significant revelations and why surveillance is harmful to society. While they don’t read quite as fast as the thrilling opening, these parts are great for anyone who had trouble keeping up with the Snowden leaks and what they meant.
Greenwald closes with a critical and thought-provoking discussion of the American media and what he perceives as journalists’ growing sympathy to the government. In Greenwald’s view, journalism has lost its investigative edge, giving too much power to the government to decide what information is published — and perhaps more critically — what information is not.
As a journalist, I found this section fascinating. While it paints a dismal picture of corporate media, the book’s existence provides optimism for the rise of independent journalists to maintain the mantle of the Fourth Estate.
Adam Bender is a tech journalist and the author of two dystopian novels about government surveillance. You can find his books WE, THE WATCHED and DIVIDED WE FALL at most major online bookstores.