Book Publishing and Covid: Be Aware, Be Nimble, Pivot

Lots of authors feel pulled to write to trends. When the Harry Potter and Twilight series were hot, slush piles (the towers of manuscripts at publishing houses for editorial assistants to read) were filled with wizards and werewolves. During the heart of the pandemic, did you feel compelled to put aside any dreams of writing a travel guidebook and instead start wondering if you could pull off writing a breadmaking cookbook? Did you think, “Finally, my book on mulching, now that people have time to think about mulching, will find an audience!”

Homemaking books, children’s books (both for escapist fun and for at-home education), and “‘fat’” books, “‘those books that everybody is supposed to have read but perhaps hasn’t,’” all saw great sales during the pandemic, while few were buying books on foreign languages and business, at least, not on business as usual.

But here’s the thing with trends, be they fashion, pedigree dogs, or books: as soon as they exist, they’re already out the door. Consider travel guides during the pandemic. While sales of those had declined 40 percent year to date in May 2020, sales also saw four consecutive weeks of growth that same month. Not as many travel books were purchased in January to May 2020 as in that same period in 2019, but the 2020 numbers didn’t continue to fall. Instead, people started buying guides for the travel they could do—like regional travel by car or bike. Guides to parks and campgrounds saw their sales increase by 123 percent in May 2020.

So, the key is not to write to some vague trend but to be aware and nimble, willing and able to pivot quickly and assuredly.

According to NPD BookScan, which tracks book sales through retailers, “it won’t be demand that determines the industry’s future.” Instead, book publishing will be thinking about the stability of the channels that sell (for example, bookstores, online booksellers) and deliver (for example, print-on-demand facilities) books. It will even more closely monitor any crises in the world, and it will think about how its current capital and resources can be put to the best use during the next rainy day. In other words, the book publishing industry is thinking not in trends but in big-picture solutions that can apply under any condition—it is thinking how to be aware, be nimble, and pivot.

Here are three broad areas you as an author should be making A, B, and C plans in:

  1. What’s your topic? If X, Y, or Z happens and negatively affects your topic, how could you easily adjust while staying true to your expertise and interest?
  • Are you open-minded about formatting? EBooks have become standard alongside print, and some books are published only as electronic books, but should you consider making an audiobook as well? Audiobook revenue in the US rose 12 percent in 2020 over 2019 sales figures, but that wasn’t a pandemic blip. The audiobook industry has seen double-digit increases for nine years in a row. There’s a lot to consider about taking that plunge, but it’s worth the consideration, at least.
  • Are you comfortable with all kinds of sales and marketing approaches? Can you give a successful reading in-person and over video calls? Do you know your local booksellers, so they can sell your title, even without the benefit of customers in their stores? Are you familiar with all the different types of people who are putting your books in the hands of readers? If independent stores, libraries, or big-boxes (both bricks-and-mortar and online) stumble for any reason, what do you need to do to direct readers to one of the others? (And don’t forget relative newcomers including Bookshop.org, which picks up all books distributed by Ingram. It did $51 million in sales in 2020—which just happened to be its first year.

Book Publishing and Covid: Quick to Fear…and Quick to Rebound

Back in March 2020, the book publishing industry was scared.

Of course it was—the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic was scary in general. Many of us were washing our groceries, and we were told not to see even our closest of friends. No industry but those that produced toilet paper and hand sanitizer seemed certain to survive.

No one knew if there would be supply-chain issues for paper or if people would have money for books or even the capacity to leisurely read them. Not even the World Wars closed bookstores, yet suddenly in 2020, all the shops were shuttered.

In May 2020, the New York Times reported that total US book sales in March of that year were down 8.4 percent from March 2019. Bookstore sales were down by more than 33 percent.

But just as quickly, the industry was rebounding. In that same Times article from the pandemic’s early days, we could already see signs of recovery, with readers buying up commercial fiction and children’s nonfiction. The downturn was largely from a decrease in educational sales, the Times said, but that made sense—schools were closed. Even with indie bookstores closed, people bought books from big boxes deemed essential and remaining open. And sales of paper books for the week ending May 9, 2020, rose 10.5 percent over the previous week. A year later, the World Economic Forum reported that the US trade and consumer book industry grew 9.7 percent in 2020.

A lot has happened in this past year and a half. It can be easy to forget some of the details of what was normal, what wasn’t normal, and what became normal. Now that you’re lightly up to speed on what we just lived through, look for tomorrow’s post on being proactive, not just reactive, as an author in the book publishing industry. If anything is for sure now, it is that we can’t trust anything, not even our trusty books, to stay exactly the same forever.

Self-Publishing News: 5.18.2021

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There has been a lot of news lately regarding self-publishing and politics, specifically how it is providing a publishing haven for those individuals that have been rejected by the Big Four traditional publishing houses (Penguin Random House/S&S, Hachette, Macmillan, and HarperCollins as of May 2021; PRH has already begun the process of absorbing Simon & Schuster). At first glance, this news isn’t a surprise, as self-publishing has always been the place where authors previously seeking traditional book deals turn after finding them too constricting or flat-out unavailable. What’s different this time is how the choice, repeated regularly and often by high-profile politicians or those affiliated with politicians, has set up self-publishing to be cast as partisan: right now, those affiliated with the conservative right are self-publishing, while those affiliated with the conservative left are championing traditional publishing. Or at least, that’s how news outlets are covering the various happenings. This article from Fischer and Rummler of Axios outlines the sequence of events that has led up to this situation, and holds back from drawing too many conclusions. It is to be hoped that these same news outlets will also cover the critical role that self-publishing has played in providing a platform for diverse and marginalized voices of all kinds for decades, and steer clear of judging the many thousands of such writers who continue to self-publish today.

Time for a palate-cleanser! This article from Forbes contributor J.J. Hebert is not quite what it looks like, as it’s most definitely an argument for self-publishing. (Many articles that start with “Don’t X before X” end up being arguments against X.) Hebert, CEO of a self-publishing company and a self-publishing author himself, covers five critical aspects of the process that lay the groundwork for a solid start for those authors who have not yet taken the leap. His questions cover everything from quality control and editing to format options to identifying target readers to selecting a self-publishing platform that fits an author’s needs. It’s a fantastic and fairly concise introduction to much of the architecture required for a solid self-published success.

It has been a rough year for those who love (or whose success depends on) book fairs. Thankfully, many companies have been working hard to adapt to the post-pandemic world, and Publishers’ Weekly is hosting its inaugural PW US Book Show from May 25-27. They’ve updated their website with a list of participating virtual “booths,” and you can find out plenty more about pricing information and how to participate [ here ] and [ here ]. This virtual book show is intended to fill part of the vacuum left behind after the cancellation of so many in-person bookish events, and to provide librarians and booksellers (and those affiliated) with access to information to assist in connecting readers with their books. As with many other book fairs, though, the general public is invited to attend. It will prove to be an interesting experiment!

This much-needed article from Book Riot provides a straightforward and comprehensive explanation of what both traditionally and self-published authors make, on average, from their books each year. It also provides a nice breakdown of what all the complicated terminology means, which is just as important. And finally, it also profiles fifteen authors from all kinds of backgrounds and from both spheres of publishing who were willing to share data on what they make. Article author Sarah Nicolas refrains from sharing most of their identities (Jim C. Hines is an exception), and notes that none of the big “blockbuster” authors (think Grisham, Rowling, Quinn, etc) shared theirs. But even beyond the fascinating data we find the stories of how the finances fit into individual authors’ lives most revealing of all. Given the range of authors who participated, there should hopefully be at least one that can provide insight and context for new authors looking to break in to the publishing world. Would you need to pay for medical insurance out of your book earnings if you wrote full-time? Do you plan to write as a side-job? How much, after taxes, do you need to achieve your financial goals? What does your schedule look like? Each author Nicolas interviewed has something different to share.

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As a self-publishing author, you may find it helpful to stay up-to-date on the trends and news related to the self-publishing industry.This will help you make informed decisions before, during and after the self-publishing process, which will lead to a greater self-publishing experience. To help you stay current on self-publishing topics, simply visit our blog each month to find out the hottest news. If you have other big news to share, please comment below.

Self-Publishing News: 9.24.2018 – Publishing Trends Roundup

Blue september paper banner with colorful brush strokes.

And now for the news!

Some highlights from this month in the world of self-publishing, specifically regarding publishing trends within the publishing industry, and their implications for all authors!

September has been a busy month in publishing trends! For one thing, there has been the annual trend toward gatherings, trainings, workshops, and conferences for writers becoming more friendly toward and inclusive of self-publishing authors. Take this article, from Tripp Crouse of KNBA, on the 2018 Conference for Writers and Illustrators, recently held in Anchorage, Alaska. Didn’t know that Anchorage was a hot-spot for literature? Well, now it most definitely is, and Crouse’s interview with Writer’s Guild President Brooke Hartman breaks down what, exactly, the conference was about–and in part, it was about “vet[ting] your different options,” including self-publishing (and how to go about it). If you happen to have a writing conference taking place near you, it’s worth checking out the lineup to see if they have a session on self-publishing; chance are good that it will.

Another trend this year, and this month, has been the leveling of the playing field. Self-publishing is no longer just a viable alternative to regular publishing as a means to an income; it’s a viable addition to business plans everywhere–and it’s making headlines on Forbes, among other business-savvy publications. In this article, Forbes contributor Abdullahi Muhammed puts self-publishing into a pantheon of four freelancing options which create what he calls “passive income,” or “sources of regular income that require little or no effort after the initial work has been completed and can generate consistent revenues over time.” Now, we know on this blog that when it comes to writing, one’s work is never over, but it’s worth hearing him out.

It’s not just regular conferences happening around the country this month: there are conferences specific to self-publishing authors now! This one, the 2018 Independent Authors Conference (#indieauthorcon), was presented by BookBaby, self-proclaimed as “the nation’s leading self-publishing service company” (metrics unknown, but everyone has to write sales copy). Despite its affiliation with one specific self-publishing company, the conference, which is upcoming in November, is broader than that: the Broadway World News Desk writes that “Rhe Independent Authors Conference features workshops, panels, and presentations from over 25 publishing experts, covering all aspects of self-publishing, from editing and production to book marketing and promotion.” Whether you go to this conference or another, that lineup sounds impressive enough to inspire some good work, indeed.

Last but not least, here’s a press release from self-publishing company Blurb, now partnering with Adobe (of photo and PDF editing software fame) to allow users of its Lightroom platform to make the best of both worlds. It’s only one among many in terms of new additions to a growing collection of companies enabling creative services in self-publishing, but it’s worth keeping an eye on; Adobe has quite the portfolio, and a great deal of influence over international visual aesthetics.


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As a self-publishing author, you may find it helpful to stay up-to-date on the trends and news related to the self-publishing industry.This will help you make informed decisions before, during and after the self-publishing process, which will lead to a greater self-publishing experience. To help you stay current on self-publishing topics, simply visit our blog every Monday to find out the hottest news. If you have other big news to share, please comment below.

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Copyright Infringement Rampant on CreateSpace

piracy

I don’t think it’s any secret that Amazon owns CreateSpace. I also don’t believe it’s any secret—especially after the author uproar that occurred in April—that CreateSpace no longer offers “creative services” such as interior book formatting, cover design, editing, or the like. When they ceased offering those services, they severed the one last component that identified them as a “publisher” instead of a “content curator,” which is the role CreateSpace now plays, and is a far cry from meeting the goals of writers who dream of publication.

A perfect example appears in a recent article on the Publishers Weekly website, written by Kenny Brechner and titled “Pirating on CreateSpace,” in which he identifies very specific examples of flagrant copyright infringement by individuals (I wouldn’t call them writers) sharing (I wouldn’t call it publishing) content through the CreateSpace platform.  One objective of a publisher is to protect their authors, and also prevent circumstances like the ones reported by Mr. Brechner. Unfortunately, the exact opposite objective is true for a content curator like CreateSpace.  Since it’s “free” to “publish” content there, CreateSpace and Amazon value neither the content nor the authors who created it. Instead, their goal is to compile as much content as possible for the purposes of offering it—usually by giving it away or encouraging their authors to give it away through thinly-veiled “marketing promotions”—to lure new Amazon members into its Prime, Prime Video Streaming, and KindleUnlimited memberships (all of which require monthly/yearly dues, and none of which reward the content creators for their contribution).  

Since CreateSpace/Amazon uses content and its creators as loss-leaders for subscriptions, they are hardly compelled to prevent copyright infringement or acts of piracy. In fact, as you can see from Brechner’s Publishers Weekly article, it was only after the article appeared on a highly respected industry website that Amazon bothered to do anything about it … and the author himself was unable to get CreateSpace to take any action at all, though not from lack of trying.  And as you’ll see from the comments already piling up below the article, this wasn’t an isolated case, nor is it something that authors are willing to tolerate. Comments include phrases like:

“I’d say, Createspace should be embarrassed – beyond measure.” – GISELA HAUSMANN

“…this article is a wise word of caution to us writers.” – Carol Johnson

“Same thing happened to me. I discovered one of its CreateSpace books had pirated both some text and several of my photos from my website that included those texts and those photos selected from my traditionally published book.” – Mark Mathew Braunstein

In fact, the same thing happened with one of my own books, too: Publishing Gems. I discovered that it had been copied in its entirety through the CreateSpace platform without my knowledge or consent. Not only was CreateSpace selling the pirated version, but so were a vast number of Amazon Marketplace booksellers. When I contacted Amazon about the infringement, they were quick to remove it. When I asked them the name of the individual who was responsible for this act of piracy, they ignored me entirely. Then I started receiving emailed requests from all the Marketplace booksellers, notifying me that they had removed the stolen book from their virtual shelves, and asking me to “approve them” for continued business under the threat of cancellation from Amazon.  Here’s the interesting part – all their emails were nearly identical, as if someone from Amazon’s legal department provided them with the exact verbiage to use to request forgiveness.

Do you know what that tells me? It tells me that copyright infringement happens so frequently through CreateSpace that Amazon’s legal department has come up with an actual procedure to cope with it.

Is that the kind of publ—er, algorithm, you want handling your books?

computer piracy


brent sampson
In 2002, Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Semi-Finalist Brent Sampson founded Outskirts Press, a custom book publishing solution that provides a cost-effective, fast, and powerful way to help authors publish, distribute, and market their books worldwide while leaving 100% of the rights and 100% of the profits with the author. Outskirts Press was incorporated in Colorado in October, 2003.
In his capacity as the Chief Executive Officer and Chief Marketing Officer, Brent is an expert in the field of book publishing and book marketing. He is also the author of several books on both subjects, including the bestseller Sell Your Book on Amazon, which debuted at #29 on Amazon’s bestseller list.