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4 Lessons for Authors About the Current State of Publishing

14 March 2016

From Jane Friedman:

Last week I was at Digital Book World, reporting on industry discussions of current marketing practices and emerging business trends.

. . . .

1. An author’s online presence is more critical than ever to long-term marketing strategy.

Industry analyst Mike Shatzkin opened the conference by discussing what he thinks is the greatest challenge right now in the publishing industry. He said that authors have long been recognized as the consumer-facing brand that most matters (to publishers and readers), and that today every author can build some kind of digital presence. However, he said, while a few authors do that very well, most do it badly.

Shatzkin said the biggest failure of traditional publishers to date is the lack of programmatic help for authors in building their digital footprint.

At the very least, he said every house should do a digital audit for every author they contract, which includes concrete suggestions for improving online engagement. To his knowledge, no publisher does, but he thinks it should be every house’s top marketing priority.

. . . .

  • Make sure your website is accessible, mobile-friendly and optimized for search. Fishkin said that using WordPress is a great shortcut to ensure your site is following best practices related to SEO. He encouraged authors and publishers to consistently link to a book landing page (on the author website) rather than to Amazon, to help ensure the author website and book landing page owned by the author will turn up as the first search result. Fishkin believes it’s better to control the message and capture that visitor/reader before sending them onto Amazon.
  • Do not split up your content website and promotional websites. For authors, this means don’t split up your author website and your author blog (don’t house them separately) or create separate websites that serve only to promote or sell your books. Authors should integrate all content, whether promotional or not, under a single online umbrella, usually a website built on author name. If you want, buy a domain that closely matches your book title, and have it redirect to your main author site (or possibly create a microsite). Fishkin says it increases the probability of your site ranking number one for important search terms, such as your name, book titles, and keywords related to your work.

. . . .

2. Be reluctant to trust mainstream media headlines when it comes to publishing sales and trends.

Michael Cader of Publishers Lunch, arguably the foremost expert in reading the tea leaves of publishing industry data, offered an overview of what we know and how we know it when it comes to print and ebook sales.

He listed the biggest misleading conclusions appearing in news headlines—conclusions that consistently misinterpret the sales data.

  1. Print is back!
  2. E-books are dead!
  3. Bookstores are back!
  4. Amazon’s publishing division failed!
  5. If only we could count self-publishing, ebooks are booming!

What every author should know about the current industry data:

  • The flattening of ebook sales started happening back in 2013. Plus, some of the ebook decline we’re seeing may be attributable to rapidly falling Nook sales.
  • Adult ebook sales have been relatively stable; the big decline is in children’s/YA ebook sales due to the lack of a big franchise hit in 2015.
  • A big question is whether customers may be transitioning from ebook purchases to audiobook purchases—some of the most dramatic industry growth is happening in digital audio.
  • Recent print sales gains can be accounted for by coloring books.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman and thanks to Deb for the tip.

PG’s only observation is that, unless the publishing experts are carefully looking at the Author Earnings data, they’ll know nothing about indie author sales trends. Traditional publishers would prefer that indie authors and their sales would just go away and this influences their motivation to dig into numbers that demonstrate any sort of indie success.

Realistically, traditional publishers have no way of exerting any control over indie authors, so why bother with indie numbers? Besides, seeing indie success is just plain depressing.

On occasion, a successful indie will sign with a big publisher and receive some exposure in publications that cater to the traditional publishing industry. However, PG suggests that for every such signing, there are dozens of successful indie authors who aren’t interested in Big Publishing and politely decline to start negotiations for a traditional contract because they like making money and don’t want to give up control over their business.

Since indie authors don’t hire publishing experts, experts tend to talk about things traditional publishing wants to hear and can enlighten tradpub about parts of the book market that tradpub can actually influence.

Big Publishing

25 Comments to “4 Lessons for Authors About the Current State of Publishing”

  1. “4 Lessons for Authors About the Current State of [Traditional] Publishing”

    “1. An author’s online presence is more critical than ever to long-term marketing strategy.”

    Because unless you’re a 1%er, trad-pub isn’t going to spend a dime on ads for your e/book.

    “2. Be reluctant to trust mainstream media headlines when it comes to publishing sales and trends.”

    Because the owners of mainstream media also own the qig5, and twist things around a ‘bit’ …

    “What every author should know about the current industry data:”

    Is that it doesn’t track the indies at all …

    “3. Learn to find your readers, go where they go, and speak their language.”

    Or write and let them find you.

    “4. Pricing is the industry’s Achilles heel.”

    Because they’ve priced themselves to fail.

  2. Oh, please. I can think of no one less qualified to give authors advice about improving online engagement than a traditional publisher. The Big 5 don’t know their SEO from their elbow. When they pooled their collective wisdom about direct-to-consumer digital marketing, they came up with…Bookish.com. Anybody remember that multimillion-dollar train wreck?

    As with so many (most? all?) aspects of 21st-century publishing, the Big 5 should be studying successful indies to see how it’s done right.

    • I’m with you on all but the SEO part. Rand Fishkin, the guy quoted in the OP, is an SEO-industry veteran and one of the best out there on the topic. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s an expert at selling books, but I think he’s worth taking seriously.

  3. I am in total agreement about using your own website URL on ads, social media, and anywhere else instead of Amazon or other bookstore links. It helps to increase SEO that brings up your website higher in Google. If you’re a nonfiction (Indie) author like me, it makes the readers aware of the other services you provide.

    • And it decreases you chance of getting a sale and lowers your visibility on Amazon. Any additional click between the reader and the purchase lowers your sales, — you lose people every time they have to click something.

      In your specific case it might be worth it, as you state you offer other services, but if you’re just looking to sell books it’s horrible advice.

      • Nonsense. Funneling all marketing to your book’s landing page on your website is the only way to control your future. (You vs Facebook/Google/Twitter/Retailers/anyone-else)

        It has no impact on your visibility with Amazon. The only issue that is disputable becomes whether your back-of-the-book link for the next book points to the site the book was sold from, or your book’s landing page.

        If you’re exclusive with Amazon, it’s much of a muchness for your ebooks. But for your print books, or for all the dozens of additional ebook retail sites, there’s no point maintaining unique retailer pointer editions, so the book’s landing page again remains the best choice.

        • Totally agreed. I get links on my landing pages for iBooks, Nook, Kobo, and lots of other stores. Being able to give my readers one non-confusing link for each book is huge. Right now, my click rate for my email list is up around 20%.

      • While Amazon is the ebook selling gorilla, there are readers who buy from other retailers.

        Giving more than one choice of where to buy from makes sense if you’re not Amazon exclusive, so using your books’ landing pages on your own site, with all relevant purchasing links, is a good idea.

        • You backmatter needs to be vendor specific, the link in an iBooks ebook takes you to iBooks, the Kobo book takes you to Kobo, etc. If you send them to your website to click again you will lose people.

          Having a book page on your website with all the buy links is a good idea. Sending everyone there instead of directly to the appropriate vendor pages is not. And yes, we run vendor specific ads, Amazon ad, iBooks ad, sometimes a Kobo ad. You’re costing yourself money but not doing the work to provide the reader the simplest buying experience possible.

          • Alas, that means maintaining multiple editions for every retailer (and it’s not just Amazon, B&N, Kobo, iBooks — it’s every podunk nowhere retailer, too, reachable only by distributor). And every time those retailers change their links, you now have tons of already sold ebooks that are pointing at dead webpages. What could be better.

            And then there’s the issue of including affiliate codes (forbidden by some and volatile in any case).

            No, if you’re producing a “permanent” document, such as an ebook file or a print book, far better to direct it to a location you control.

            Yes, it might take two clicks instead of one. On the other hand, the link will always work, and they can see all your other products, too.

            • I was really going to walk away, but since I just had to reply to Joe, I’ll do you too.

              Why would you ever make an edition for some Podunk retailer? Do the ones that move enough books to make it worth while. By all means send the small ones to your website.

              If you’re making a vendor specific link, why would affiliate codes be an issue? That’s why you have a specific link, so you can customize it for the vendor. If they don’t allow the code, don’t use it.

              Ebook files are anything but permanent. They evolve to your current needs. For example, the current furor over where the TOC is at Amazon. They don’t like it at the back, look at that, you can move it to the front and republish.

              I’ve never yet had a retailer move a book link, though a link did change at B&N for one book when we moved it to D2D to go free. That did cause the link we had to not work for a day. Given the size of the product databases, moving book links would be an ungodly mess. I’d be curious to know just which vendor you had change their link to one of your books.

              You do have a point in that if you link to your web page you can see you other books easier, kinda. Amazon and iBooks are both providing series pages now on the individual book pages, and they are the two biggest sellers. I’m sure Kobo can’t be far behind. Google-ah who knows with them, and BN will only do it if they can figure out how to lose money doing it.

              Do what you want, but there is very clear data that every click you make a person go through will lose you sales. It might be your sales are low (or high) enough that you don’t care about them. I’d rather pocket everything I can.

            • You can all save yourself a ton of time by using Pretty Links in the back of your books. One link, you control. When the retailer links change, you just change the link on the backend on your website. That’s it.

              I agree that sending people to vendor specific links in the back of the book is key to sell-through. When sending from FB or Twitter, I send to website. Ads are vendor specific.

              But Pretty Links Pro is your friend. Use it and win.

          • Good luck doing that for 20+ books. At that point, the money you’re saving is far outweighed by the time that you’re spending.

            Also, do I really want the readers who can’t be bothered to click on two links? If the landing pages are done well, the links to the retailers are clear and easy to find, and the marketing material is well-presented, then it should be fine for the readers I’m trying to target.

            • Oh Geeze, it’s almost like this was a job or something. Yep updating backmatter can be a pain, updating the bibliography and sample chapters is a pain as well. Doing things that are a pain, but make you money, is more or less what makes it a job and not a hobby.

              Last year we sold 155,000 books. If even 1% won’t click through, that 1,550 sales we would have lost, or roughly 5 grand in cash. And that’s if only 1% won’t bother (the percentage will be higher). And god forbid if your website is slow, or ugly, or hard to navigate.

              You want to p*** away money you don’t have to, your choice. Saying it’s work, or that you don’t want those readers anyway…well that’s an approach. I, however, like working from home and having this as my day job.

              • And what if the time you spend on book maintenance is keeping you from writing more books? If that’s the case, then you’ve actually lost money. All I’m saying is that there’s a cost-benefit analysis, and you’ve got to prioritize.

              • Yes, updating backmatter is a pain. It’s also scriptable, I.E. – you can create scripts in various languages to automate the process.

  4. Why would indie authors even need to hire publishing “experts”? They can just hang out here, where the hive mind knows more than any individual expert ever could.

    • We don’t know ‘everything’, but it’s nice to be able to throw something out and have those that have ‘seen this trick before’ warn the rest of us of its good and/or bad sides ..

  5. I don’t care if a search for my book shows the relevant page on my site or on amazon at number 1 on a search. Chances are that the other page will be number 2, and readers aren’t idiots. They are perfectly capable of deciding which site they want to visit, regardless of the order of the search results

  6. As a book consumer the only information I need from an authors web presence are.

    1. A clear list of all your past works including what book order the series are in. I need to know what book to read /order next in a series. It’s frustrating to have this be a hard search.

    2. A somewhat up-to-date plan of what is being worked on next and when to expect it to be available. Hugh Howey used to do it perfectly with his dashboard of progress for each of his works. Sadly, this seems to be gone in his current site.

    Thats about it. Everything else is gravy.

    One thing to consider though. If you can’t keep your political bents private and you feel you have to spout your views consider that you risk losing about half your customers at least in this country. I’ve personally blacklisted half a dozen authors who just had to attack one side or the other. If you keep it neutral you risk nothing. Your milage may vary,.

  7. The first mistake is to think that ‘advice for authors’ is a concept that makes more sense than ‘colorless green ideas sleep furiously’. There is no marketing advice that makes sense for every product that could be packaged in cardboard and the same is true for all things that could be packaged in a print book.

    If you are a novelist, SEO won’t help. If it would, you are probably dead. Trust me, nobody but you and your mom is searching for you on Google. You need a website, but people are coming through links or a friend is telling them the url. Make it easy on your fans.

    A specialist non-fiction author, OTOH, might live and die by SEO. If you don’t know it, you really need to learn.

  8. I followed the link to the blog and thought this was a pretty good list. Thanks for sharing PG.

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