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.

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: 4.28.2021

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“Thanks to markets like Amazon that have made it easier than ever to access books, authors no longer have to wait to be given a green light,” writes Beth Jordan in this recent article for Jordan briefly covers the history of the longstanding family feud between traditional and self-publishing forms, with the rise of the digital and Internet age as well as the market forces creating additional challenges for the more established institutions even while going indie seems easier and more reliable than ever–with all of this making the page. Jordan also covers some of the other finer points of the debate, including why authors might or might not choose to go indie, and how different pros and cons can influence an author’s relationships to their community of readers … as well as other authors. Says Jordan,

[L]amenting one’s inability to sell books or to be traditionally published can become a dangerous, unproductive spiral because there are many reasons an author’s book might not be selling — most of the reasons likely coming down to marketing, visibility or the book’s quality. While the frustration is understandable, publishing a book through traditional means is unlikely to fix the situation as Amazon and other companies continue to out-compete the traditional publishers.

Jordan covers shifting market shares, the powerful role competition plays in decision making, and some suggested steps towards boosting visibility. All in all, this article makes for a great, ahem, all-rounder when it comes to entering or revisiting the key points of why we do what we do, and how. We can’t think of a better way to kick off this week’s news!

Five is a solid, memorable number, and it’s neither too long nor too short a quantity of listed items to ensure peak performance. So when Josh Steimle writes for Entrepreneur online that “A successful first book could even become a quality revenue stream of its own, paving the way for future writing endeavors” and that this process “can be accomplished in five easy steps,” you can be sure we’re going to sit up and pay attention. Steimle’s points, which include straightforward suggestions to research, plan, and begin executing a marketing strategy well before your book’s publication date, have the force of “common sense” behind them–only, as we know, that isn’t entirely common in the way it probably should be, all things being equal and communication being free of the current status quo. The nice thing about Steimle’s article, too, is that he also touches on some suggestions, including those for advance copies and incentives by way of free content, that often aren’t talked about as often as they could be, or should be. This is the kind of specialized information that indie authors might not instinctually know going into self-publishing for the first time, and which can really make a difference.

Another totally unintended “five” that converses comfortably with our last news item: Last time we covered the news in self-publishing, we included a previous article by Forbes contributor JJ Hebert, “5 Low-Cost Marketing Strategies for Your Self-Published Book.” This time around, Hebert is writing to authors (or potential authors) of “business books” in order to encourage them to use a self-published book as a kind of brand launch or relaunch–a way of sending your thoughts and your way of doing things out there into the world, and to establish yourself as a person of authority on matters pertaining to your field. As Hebert puts it, “writing and publishing a book is the ultimate credibility booster and business growth tool because the book will position you as an expert in your field, and you will become the go-to person for your particular topic.” But making sure your book sticks its landing and isn’t a wasted investment of your precious time and money (and since time is money, on to the nth degree) has to be a top priority, and Hebert has a nice list of straightforward suggestions in order to make that landing the stickiest possible stuck thing it can possibly be. Hebert does have a toe firmly in the waters of self-promotion here himself, given that he is CEO and founder of a self-publishing platform himself, but that doesn’t mean his tips aren’t worth taking a good, long look at. We happen to think he practices exactly what he preaches, and what he preaches seems to be effective enough to make us stop and look–and when it comes to marketing, that’s half of the battle won right there.

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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: 4.13.2021

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This article from Amy Rosen for Toronto’s The Globe and Mail is everything we needed over the last couple of weeks: a dash of joy, and the solid affirmation that we’re not alone in looking for and publishing information on a new generation of platforms that have evolved in the post-print newspaper age. (Not that we don’t love print or newspapers! As with all new and wonderful things, these new ways and means will eventually, if they haven’t already, reach a new and happy balance with the old, and all will be welcome tools in the race to learn about this wild world of ours.) Writes Rosen, “From knitting and kneading to photography and illustrating, PDFs, e-books and other downloadable guides are surging in popularity. Selling DIY digital downloads is becoming the modern-day way to let your creative and entrepreneurial passions fly.” Rosen highlights one of the earliest DIY sources of such self-published projects: “On Etsy, makers sell digital downloads of face-mask designs, knitting patterns and printable 3-D gift boxes. No middlemen, no shipping, no waiting.” If someone hasn’t already immortalized that statement in needlepoint, one of us most definitely will––it’s our ethic, down to our very core. Rosen also covers the story of a cookbook author whose digitally downloadable new PDF ebook may “lack the cachet of the printed book,” but whose $5 download fee “translates into far more money per purchase than she’d receive with a traditional book deal.” She also points the way to numerous other kinds of creatives who have used the various ebook self-publishing methods available to them to take advantage of the pandemic-driven surge in experimentation and craftiness. This article is an injection of pure inspiration for those of us casting about for our next simple-but-productive project. has published many other thought-provoking pieces on self-publishing in the past, and continues that trend by hosting JJ Hebert’s recent collection of marketing tips for self-published books. (A list of five has always held an appealing degree of symmetry!) “Writing a good book is one of the simplest ways to establish yourself as an expert on a topic,” he notes early in his article; “Your book can serve as the ultimate business card, both as a way to connect with people and build your reputation.” And of course, he has both plenty of experience and a personal stake in self-publishing. “As the owner of a self-publishing company,” he writes, “I am an adamant believer in the value of self-publishing. Not only does self-publishing give you have complete control of your book, but you’ll enjoy higher royalty rates as well.” But how to find success in such a packed field as self-publishing? For Hebert, success ultimately comes down to marketing, and successful marketing comes down to branding, reviews, emails, a certain carpe diem attitude, and crafting a solid architecture of support. For more information and explanations of these barest hints, we highly recommend you read the entirety of Hebert’s article, linked above.

We’ve written about the three (primary or popular) models of publishing available to the average human before on this blog, but it has been a minute since we’ve revisited the topic, and Alinka Rutkowska does such a fabulous job in this article for Forbes that we recommend brushing up on the big three categories of publishing (traditional, hybrid, and self-published or “indie”) by checking it out. As Rutkowska notes straight off, “Traditional publishing is considered prestigious, difficult, long — and lucrative for a rare few.” While recognizing the perks of successfully navigating the traditional route, Rutkowska advises readers to be realistic about the likelihood of doing so; when it comes to searching for an agent, “only a very small percentage of the authors who pitch agents will hear back from them, so your chances are pretty slim. If you do make it, you should be prepared to relinquish some creative control as your book will now be ushered into the hands of a group of professionals.” As for the other routes, Rutkowska makes it clear that they, too, have some substantial benefits, and might just prove more accessible to the average writer. “The beautiful thing about self-publishing is that there are no gatekeepers and the market becomes the ultimate judge,” writes Rutkowska, before going on to allocate the lion’s share of the article to describing what she defines as “hybrid” (and it should be noted here that definitions vary wildly, and that some industry experts would consider what she describes to incorporate significant aspects of what others would consider plain ol’ regular self-publishing). With a devastating gift for brevity, Rutskaya’s article is a quick but interesting read.

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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: 3.24.2021

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I love this piece from Barbara Winard of Travel Awaits, in which she chronicles her own path and progress from childhood as a reader to an adulthood as a travel writer. As she does so, she sets out to answer the all-important question: How can a person, much less a woman, much less a woman past 60, become a successful–and well-paid–travel writer? According to Winard, the answer is rather simple: First, become a reader; second, become a traveler; and third, embrace those unexpected changes that life tends to throw our way. (And let’s admit, after the year we’ve had, change is now something of a constant.) Winard closes her article with a series of lists, including tips for writers and those looking to raise their own profiles as travel-writers, and some reflections on what she might have done differently if the opportunity had presented itself. Spoiler: Winard credits her experiences as they were lived, rather than wished, with a great deal of her own personal evolution. She sees travel writing as a cluster of enriching events that she would rather not have gone without. Her full piece is well worth a look.

There has been plenty of talk over the last decade over the role of platform in empowering and promoting marginalized voices, from communities of color to voices from the LGBT+ community, from the deaf community to women as a whole. Even here on our news blog, we have lifted up and amplified the volume of news relating to the democratizing influence of self-publishing on the larger world of words. In this article from Forbes’ Bianca Barratt, Barratt opens by noting that “However far we like to think gender equity has progressed, the truth remains that the world of books is still very much a man’s one,” and points to statistics reflecting the numbers of men versus women winning literary awards, and the ease with which men (or women posing as men) pass through the agent and manuscript review process, compared to women. With all that has been spoken and written on the subjects of equal pay for equal work and equal advancement for equal contribution, this is (regrettably) far from a fresh topic than it is a retreading of familiar ground with the added message that one possible route to making progress in lifting up the voices of female entrepreneurs is by way of self-publishing. It is somewhat unfortunate that we still require tools such as these in the year 2021, but the good news is that all of us involved in self-publishing might just be in a position to help make a difference.

Substack, an e-newsletter platform, has been mixed up in the conversation about self-publishing from the very beginning, and its rapid expansion in the age of the pandemic has only expanded its presence in that conversation. This may not be quite right, opines Peter Kafka of Vox, who covers the current controversy surrounding Substack’s profit model. Kafka spoke with Jude Doyle, a non-binary influencer who started putting out newsletters through Substack in 2018 but is now choosing to abandon the site in favor of another, nonprofit, newsletter platform. Said Doyle, “Substack isn’t a self-publishing platform [….] It curates its writers. It pays them, sometimes massively, and it makes choices as to who gets paid well and who doesn’t.” It is not, Doyle argues (and Kafka records), truly aligned with the payment model most associated with self-publishing. While straightforward in splitting subscription fees with its authors and its payment processing company, the company also commissions authors to produce content by way of its “Substack Pro” deal, and in that model “the general thrust isn’t any different from other digital media platforms we’ve seen over the last 15 years or so.” From what we can see from the Vox article and others, the argument isn’t so much that the subscription model doesn’t work but that hidden contracts like those offered by “Substack Pro” lack transparency and cast a pall over all authors using the platform, even those legitimately self-publishing via its services. It’s a difficult and complex story to summarize, so we not only recommend reading Kafka’s article but also Megan McArdle’s opinion piece on The Washington Post (Opinion: The Substack controversy’s bigger story) and Annalee Newitz’s post (on Substack about Substack, in the most meta account of all) which helped kick off the entire discussion to begin with (Here’s why Substack’s scam worked so well: They paid a secret group of writers to make newsletter authorship seem lucrative). If you are an author who has been using Substack to self-publish or promote your other self-published work, we absolutely do not mean to cast any possible aspersions on your valuable work. Whether you choose to stick with this particular popular newsletter platform or move to one of its competitors (there will be more news soon from Facebook on this score, and both Medium and Ghost are providing additional color to the dialogue), we want you to receive the credit–and payment–due your hard work.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is spa-news.jpg
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.