Indie Publishing in the Time of Covid

From Writers in the Storm:

When New Jersey went into lockdown on March 21st, I foolishly thought that I would get infinite amounts of writing done. During the day, I am the author acquisitions manager at IngramSpark and by night I like to write humorous personal non-fiction and romance novels. In my mind, I thought that the pandemic would give me a small reprieve from business as usual that included a very busy travel schedule.

I didn’t expect that business as usual would take on a whole new meaning.

As the publishing world began to screech to a halt with independent bookstores closing, publishers furloughing staff, Amazon focusing on essential items, and other printing plants closing, all of a sudden Ingram and the IngramSpark felt the burden, more than ever, to uphold our commitment to the publishing industry to keep it all humming. Needless to say, the writing really hasn’t happened.

. . . .

I am privileged to work with self-published authors all day. I have always been awestruck by their ingenuity and resilience. In the past six weeks those qualities have quadrupled, because the indie publishing world is uniquely suited to adapt to abrupt changes.

My clients have taught me several valuable publishing lessons recently that I would like to share.

. . . .

#1- Authors Have More Power Than Ever

I keep finding myself saying, “The author has more power than ever!” Before the pandemic hit, I still found this to be resoundingly true. Now, in the time of Covid, I believe that the shift in power has become even more apparent.

When I first started at IngramSpark, self-publishing was still the “red-headed stepchild” of the publishing industry. In the years that followed, self-publishing started to become a legitimate route to getting published. I believe that the pandemic has shifted the landscape even more.

While large businesses were slowed down or forced to close, indie authors kept plugging away. In fact, they took the opportunity to grow their burgeoning businesses. Being nimble is a hidden superpower of the indie author.

When this all shakes out, no one can predict what the publishing landscape will look like. Sadly, there will likely be some casualties when it comes to publishing businesses. This will allow indie authors with small publishing enterprises to emerge as serious players in the game.

. . . .

#2- Direct to Reader Sales are the Future

Early on in the pandemic, both indie authors and publishers saw the benefit in direct-to-reader sales. Larger retailers became overtaxed with the influx of orders and shipping has been taking longer than the two days Amazon has spoiled us to expect. Why not sell directly to your fans?

There are plenty of great ways sell directly to readers.

  • Shopify and other services can plug into your social media.
  • Ingram has a great direct to consumer tool called Aer.io that is very easy to use.
  • There has been a lot of buzz around Bookshop.org, an online bookshop run by the American Booksellers Association.

Why the buzz about Bookshop.org?

10% of all proceeds from Bookshop.org sales are put in a pot and given to independent bookstores. With those stores closed now, this is a wonderful way to support your indie bookstore. They have raised $1.1 million dollars already! The real perk about Bookshop.org is that you can set up your own affiliate shop.

Early adoption of these tools has given indie authors and publishers personal relationships with their readerships and a whole new sales vertical to explore. That brings me to #3…

#3- Direct Engagement with Readers is Powerful

Selling directly to readers is the perfect way for indie authors and publisher to engage directly with their readers and create personal, lasting relationships with them. These relationships create super fans which in turn create an army of evangelists for their books.

Authors and publishers have also found that direct sales are an opportunity to capture valuable information about your reader like their email address. If a reader opts to give their email address, this provides the huge bonus opportunity for long term engagement in the form of email blasts and personal, targeted communication.

The more an author engages with their fans, the more lifelong readers they will capture.

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

PG notes that Ingram Spark is effectively a sort-of competitor of Kindle Direct Publishing. In PG’s stunningly personal opinion, KDP is probably the best way into Amazon. Ingram provides “connections” to Amazon, libraries, Barnes & Noble and indie bookstores. Whether those connections ever generate any meaningful sales is another question.

PG also notes that if an indie author wishes to qualify for the 70% royalty on ebooks under KDP Select (which includes Kindle Unlimited and the Kindle Owners Lending Library which provide additional ways to increase ebook royalty revenues), she/he will not be able to sell the same titles as ebooks via Ingram Spark. Adding new content and/or bonus content that doesn’t appear in the KDP ebook to an Ingram Spark ebook won’t fly if you want to stay in the 70% royalty tier on KDP Select.

Amazon will definitely bounce a book out of KDP Select if it discovers an author doing this sort of thing or otherwise violating the KDP Select Terms and Conditions. The same warning that applies to Ingram Spark and KDP Select also applies to other independent epublishing outlets like Smashwords.

As a general proposition, if an author wants to stay in KDP Select and try out Ingram Spark or another route to non-Amazon bookstores, PG strongly advises the author to carefully read the Terms and Conditions Governing KDP Select (URL for US terms) or an alternative version applicable to KDP Select Ts&Cs in her/his country of residence.

If an indie author wants a hardcover version of his/her book, Ingram a way to go because Amazon only offers ebook and POD paperback options for indie authors.

As usual, PG will remind one and all that he doesn’t provide legal advice via his comments on TPV. If you want to obtain legal advice, you will need to hire PG or another lawyer of your choice.

(PG is not quite certain how he got the drop-cap in the prior paragraph with his recently updated WordPress theme, but he likes the look and won’t try to figure out how to undo the giant A.)

7 thoughts on “Indie Publishing in the Time of Covid”

  1. To use Ingram Spark you must have a ISBN. I’ve never met anyone who got a positive ROI off the purchase of an ISBN. The vast majority of sales come through ebooks where no ISBN is required. In the US they are expensive and provide no practical value for anyone other than the people who suffer from ADS.

  2. PG said:

    “Ingram provides “connections” to Amazon, libraries, Barnes & Noble and indie bookstores. Whether those connections ever generate any meaningful sales is another question.”

    At this point in time the question is how the non-KDP channels compare to KU *rentals*.
    At current monthly pool sizes, KU is providing more author revenue than Apple, Google, Nook, and KOBO combined. With pbook channels looking to shrink significantly that equation gets harder to balance unless you are an established (pre-2010) “legacy” author. Newcomers, in particular, with near zero B&M access are going to have a hard time resisting the KU siren song.

  3. A. PG: I like the drop cap. Can you control the number of lines deep?

    B. I like being KDP/KU exclusive. Around 40% of my royalty revenue is KU/KOLL. I doubt I’d be making that up “outside.” And it’s now mostly ebooks; PBKs are only 6%. And my book sales are up overall. Maybe COVID-related. Or maybe Amazon pushing them as my latest is in the Top 100 in several subcats. Whatever the reason, I see no reason to abandon AMZN. Nor to buy any more ISBNs (I’m in U.S.). (BTW: genre is Historical Fiction + Historical Fantasy + Time Travel Fiction)

    • H – I’m still not sure how I got the drop cap in the first place.

      I like the look in general, but agree that adjusting the number of lines would make for a better appearance.

      Once I figure out how to use drop caps on purpose, I’ll post a bit more about them.

  4. I didn’t know people were using Ingram for ebooks, because I always thought of them as being for print books. For print, you need an ISBN. That’s the established market, going by the established rules. Play in that sandbox, play by those rules.

    Ebooks were more wild west, no ISBN needed. However, I can’t remember if an ISBN is mandatory to get into certain ebook library catalogs, and at this point, that would be the only context where an ebook ISBN might matter. As a reader, I’ve used Hoopla via my public library as an alternative for buying expensive, out of print research books. I never use KU, because to me, library = deadline, and I’ve gotten used to consuming entertainment on my own schedule.

    In terms of direct-to-reader, just yesterday I was wondering about Bookshop.org, because I saw it used at the website of the Spectator, where the reporters were recommending books to read during the quarantine. From an indie author standpoint, the service seems like something you’d use to directly sell autographed copies of your print book.

    I specify autographed, because as a reader I’d probably just go to Amazon for any other version. Or maybe if you wanted to be able to provide ebooks in different formats for those readers who aren’t locked into Kindle, but wouldn’t you use Direct2Drive instead? Bookshop appears to handle the back-end of payment processing and such, which is a selling point. On the one hand, there’s also Amazon Payments … and I already trust Amazon with my card info.

    On the other hand, an author may need to do direct-to-customer for some other reason, and Bookshop looks promising for the purpose. It might especially appeal to customers who want to support a local brick & mortar shop.

    • When I hear about Bookshop being successful, my first thought is how successful is successful?

      Because given how big the combined ABA membership market share is in the context of the full trade book market (<5%) there's a lot of room for them to go before they catch up to even NOOK. I'm a big fan of numbers over adjectives.

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