How COVID has made self-publishing even more popular than before

How COVID has made self-publishing even more popular than before. Outskirts Press

Yes, the book industry, in general, is profiting from an explosion of sales. The sudden rise of homebound readers has led to them substituting outdoor activities with books. As a result, while other entertainment industries plummeted, the book industry has rebounded from the initial lockdown dip to levels higher than before!

Self-publishing authors, in particular, have thrived the last two years. The first round of pandemic lockdowns upheaved the job situation of many potential self-publishing writers. The circumstances of these writers varied. Some workers were laid off. Others left their jobs for health or family reasons. Many quit as part of “The Great Resignation.” Countless others remained at their jobs but shifted to a work-at-home environment and filled newfound time by taking up another pursuit, such as book writing.

No matter the reason, a number of aspiring authors faced change during COVID-19 and turned toward self-publishing as an even more desirable career path.

The self-publishing model endured when the pandemic forced most workers out of the office. The self-published author can write, edit, and publish a book—and never have to leave home!

For the self-publishing business, work-at-home is an ideal office. Thanks to modern communication, a self-publishing writer not only can make business calls from home but also engage in Zoom meetings. In the previous century, a manuscript sent by snail mail would’ve taken days, if not weeks. Now, you can also upload a manuscript to a book distribution service within seconds with email and file uploading. Readers can click the “buy” button on your book within minutes. You can even log on to the website of a print-on-demand (POD) distributor and list physical copies without having to negotiate a printing quote.

Work-from-home benefits even extend to the other professionals involved in self-publishing, like editors, proofreaders, and cover design artists. For example, one self-publishing author could assemble an entire team of collaborators that span worldwide without any member ever meeting in person!

The story looks different for the major, traditional publishers. When the pandemic lockdowns began, traditional publishers had to pivot hard to work-at-home. Some publishing houses have yet to return to the office almost two years later. A number of them still feel the pains of switching workplace settings after a decades-long tradition of office work. Other publishing houses had to bend corporate procedures to get work done.

The pandemic also hit the areas where big publishers had an advantage over indie publishers and self-publishers. Even with book sales rising, bookstore sales in 2020 were down compared to the year before because much of the sales surge was from online book sales. Tragically, many indie bookstores closed, like many small businesses that were shuttered by the pandemic.

And as we covered earlier in the blog, the supply chain’s congestion has slowed print book deliveries and frightened large publishers to delay new releases. The supply chain situation has grown only direr since then, with companies unable to ship customers their orders before Christmas. Of course, it doesn’t help that the unpredictability of COVID-19’s variants keeps brick-and-mortar stores on edge.

However, self-publishing authors have been able to fill in the gap left by undelivered physical books through the ebook format. Most self-published books are already digital. For many self-publishers, it was a matter of taking advantage of the rise in ebook sales, with digital sales spiking in 2020, and in 2021 remaining higher than the prepandemic.

Furthermore, the self-publishing author is more adept at adapting to work at home than an organization. As a business of one, a self-publisher can leap over the red tape, starting and finishing projects in months when the same title would take years for a traditional publisher to release.

A self-publishing writer also has some perks over traditionally published authors, such as higher royalty rates and instantaneous publication. Most appealingly, should you decide to go into self-publishing, YOU get to choose what story you create and put out in the world. You don’t have to wait to secure the validation of agents and editors when you can get on a computer and let the readers decide for themselves.

This appeal aligns with the main thrust of The Great Resignation: in the face of catastrophe, many workers have looked at their earlier jobs and decided that their dreams can no longer wait. No wonder lots of workers have decided to pursue their aspirational novel, autobiography, or self-help book by going into self-publishing.

It’s important to remember that for all the benefits self-publishing authors receive, we must still remember the losses from COVID-19. Beyond the closed bookstores and the two years spent indoors, the pandemic has taken a horrendous toll on lives and affected many more people’s health and livelihood.

But if you DO decide to take the plunge and self-publish your book, recognize that you are joining a movement that’s making the best of dire circumstances, sharing stories that will comfort readers during the pandemic, and will hopefully continue to do so post virus.


The Supply Chain – A Problem and Opportunity

The Supply Chain - A Problem and Opportunity

You might’ve heard how this holiday season, it might be more difficult for readers to get the books they want. Blame the international supply chain.

A supply chain is a system that a product goes through to go from raw materials and labor to a product delivered to the end customer. With a book, a manuscript is turned into physical books and ebooks for readers. With the COVID-19 pandemic, this process has been complicated.

The exact causes vary, with CNN and Vox having comprehensive articles. In summary, there’s a book shortage because of the following reasons:

  • increased demand for at-home delivery due to more shoppers staying inside and ordering online
  • increased demand during the holiday season, an already busy time of year amplified by delivery being at all-time high levels
  • increased demand for books because of consumers staying indoors and returning to literature
  • shortage of paper because of environmental concerns and increased need for cardboard in multiple industries
  • shortage of workers because of the pandemic, especially in transportation
  • lack of printing plants in the United States, especially after years of factories closing
  • commercial ship congestion at seaports. And yes, that includes the one ship that went viral after getting stuck in the Suez Canal.

The result? The supply chain has a traffic jam. Demand is high, and supply is low.

Book publishers wait in line for their titles to be printed and shipped at a time where readers want books more than ever. Booksellers and book stores can’t stock enough copies, publishers are postponing releases, and readers contend with delayed deliveries and more expensive shipping and handling.

Ask publishing professionals, and they’ll say it’s hard to overstate how much this is A Big Problem.

But even with these issues, you as a self-publishing author can find opportunities to adapt.

For instance, self-publishing authors can still get their books out there in ebook format. While electronic books still require work to convert a manuscript into a readable format, they don’t require paper, they can be read on devices that most people already own, and readers can buy and download them in seconds.

With these benefits, you can essentially skip the supply chain line and get your book to readers months before traditional publishers. This is an opportunity for new authors, because there’s an influx of new readers looking for stories to fall in love with.

What if you still want your book in print? While the publishing industry thought that ebooks would supplant physical books, printed books continue to outsell their electronic counterparts, even as ebooks are here to stay. With the two formats coexisting, a successful author shouldn’t rule out either.

Self-publishing authors can still get paper copies through print-on-demand (POD) books.

Traditionally, books were manufactured in large print runs, requiring a lot of money up front and a lot of sales to justify the endeavor. This gave traditional publishers an edge over self-publishing authors who couldn’t secure both, with the latter only entering the industry with the rise of computers.

More recently, print on demand has emerged as a profitable printing method. With POD, single copies are printed and shipped as individual customers order them. Furthermore, self-publishers can outsource distribution and fulfillment to an outside vendor and focus more on writing and marketing. POD titles can be restocked on a moment’s notice, and self-publishing authors don’t have to risk wasting money on unsold copies.

Because self-publishing authors retain a larger share of their titles’ revenue, they can take advantage of their leaner profit margins to get paper copies to their readers at reasonable prices. Pair POD with a primary ebook model, and self-publishing can thrive even in the middle of the book shortage.

Now, don’t forget about pre-orders.

Traditional publishers, authors, and booksellers are pushing readers to order in advance to more accurately gauge how many books to print and order and better plan around delays.

Self-publishing authors can also find much in making their books available for pre-order. The other benefits of pre-ordering stand, such as giving you time to do book promotion, allowing you to lock in sales before release day, and getting reviewers sooner.

On top of that, pre-orders can help readers receive an e-book automatically on release day or to shorten delivery times for physical books since you can produce and ship a physical copy beforehand.

Finally, the book shortage is one more opportunity for self-publishing authors to connect with readers. Some readers may not understand the book shortage’s severity, so you can use your social media platforms to practice transparency with why you may encourage them to be flexible with pre-ordering or buying ebooks.

If you’re honest about your situation, your readers will gain a higher appreciation of the publishing process, and your readers will be more invested in your career.

It’s easy to panic about the messed-up supply chain, but don’t let it scare you from self-publishing. The book shortage will remain in the short term, even as experts predict that supply chain congestion will decrease in 2022. The publishing industry has proven itself durable over decades of downturns, and it will survive the pandemic.

In the meantime, see the shortage as a challenge that will push you to grow as an author and a self-publisher. With a growth mindset, you can frame the supply chain problem as another interesting time in which to write and publish.

Pitfalls of Grammar Checkers

Grammar checkers, sometimes known as spell checkers, have the power to correct typos (misspelled words) and grammar errors in your writing. These days, you can find grammar checkers with almost anywhere where you can type words: word processors like Microsoft Word, online apps like Google Docs, and even online browser extensions like Grammarly.

But while grammar checkers can be for zapping typos in your texts or personal messages, don’t over-rely on them in your professional writing. Grammar checkers are not enough when self-publishing a book.

Your self-publishing author career relies on you building a team of editors and other professionals to assist you and your book. In this endeavor, it’s good to understand why computers are yet to replace human editors, and why it’ll likely stay this way.

Here are some pitfalls of grammar checkers that you can fall into when you rely solely on them, instead of hiring an editor.

Grammar checkers can miss grammatically correct errors.

You may use the wrong word, and because that word doesn’t cause a grammar issue, your grammar checker won’t flag the culprit.

Assume that you have a character named Mr. Petersen, not Peterson. You may write this sentence:

“Mr. Petersen will read the proposal and get back to you by Friday.”

Here’s a rewritten version that uses a different but incorrect spelling of his last name, but doesn’t trigger my grammar checker:

“Mr. Peterson will read the proposal and get back to you by Friday.”

See the difference? What if a reader notices that you spelled the same character’s name two different ways? You may get a bad review for poor editing.

While modern grammar checkers may flag the most misused word choices, you must check between the gaps for mistakes that the grammar checker misses, because you know your manuscript better than your computer.

Grammar checkers can interfere with your writing voice and style.

How many times have you typed a real word, only for the grammar checker to flag it as a typo?

Grammar checkers can wrongly flag new words, alternate spellings, and uncommon names. Names can be a particular sore point, as it’s not a good feeling when your software claims that your first or last name is spelled wrong.

You can address these situations by adding words to your app’s personal dictionary, or right clicking the word and selecting “Ignore.” Even then, your checker’s inaccuracies can distract you with its misplaced colored underlines.

At worst, grammar checkers can nudge you to “correct” sentences and push you from your personal style and toward the app developer’s biases. A skilled writer knows when to put style over “correctness,” and grammar checkers can sabotage these decisions.

Even the best editor needs a second pair of eyes.

Here’s a saying among lawyers: He who represents himself has a fool for a client. You can say the same thing about authors without editors.

Editors who publish their own book have an editor too, because they know that even the best editor needs a second pair of eyes.

A writer can be vigilant with using a grammar checker while editing. That said, a writer’s proximity to the work is a double-edged sword, as it’s easy to pass over mistakes that a second reader might spot.

Do yourself a favor and get a second reader to double-check your edits. And sometimes, even more.

Grammar checkers can’t do high-level editing.

Maybe you are the best grammar checker in the world, and you can check your writing perfectly. That’s not enough.

“Editing” can refer to different levels. Typically, a grammar checker only handles mechanical editing / light copyediting, checking for spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

Other levels of editing include:

  • proofreading to check what the manuscript will look like in print and ebook formats
  • heavy copyediting to correct non-grammatical errors and inconsistencies, such as style and word choice
  • line (or substantive) editing to check the tone and flow of paragraphs and chapters
  • fact checking to uphold creditability in non-fiction books and verisimilitude in novels
  • developmental (or structural) editing to revise a book’s more “macro” elements, like chapter order and the book’s big ideas

Some professional authors hire one editor for most of these editing levels. Others may hire separate roles, such as a developmental editor alongside a copyeditor.

You may also need other readers that don’t necessarily edit, but help you shape your story. For example, you can hire a sensitivity reader to check your manuscript for potentially offensive and inaccurate content, like with race or indigenous culture.

No matter what, even the most well-used grammar checker can only handle a narrow section of editing. For other levels, you must get an editor or other reader.

While technology is pivotal to the modern writing process, no app or tool can replace the human touch of an editor.

When you give your book to an editor, don’t think of it as admitting failure, but as your showing respect to your professionalism as an author and your manuscript’s potential.

Leave the grammar checker for your personal Facebook profile and give your book an editor.

What’s your experience with spell checkers and grammar checkers? What are some other pitfalls you can think of? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.