What does 2017 have in store for authors? If you haven’t had a chance to read forecasts and predictions for the coming year, fear not. We have read all of the top articles written by industry professionals and top indie authors so you don’t have to. We also reached out to some of our industry friends to see what their thoughts are. Below we have compiled a list of the top 10 trends in publishing that will impact indie authors the most, with specific takeaways on how you can best navigate them.
1. The Majority of Fiction Sales will Come from eBooks
Data Guy notes in his DBW White Paper that 70% of adult fiction sales were digital last year. It is likely that ebook readership will continue to grow in 2017. More eBook readers means more eBook sales. This means that if you’re writing fiction, promoting your eBooks is a good place to focus in the coming year.
What this means for you: If you are a first-time fiction author, publishing your work as an ebook is an affordable and easy way to enter the market. If you are a published or self-published fiction author, continue to focus your time, resources and budget on driving ebook sales.
2. Indie Authors and Small Presses will Dominate
In the October 2016 author earnings report we saw the Big 5’s market share continue to drop. Small presses, Indie authors, and Amazon imprints account for over 50% of market share. This shows a continued shift in reader perception: a book does not need to be traditionally published and available in brick and mortar stores in order to be deemed readable. Jane Friedman of The Hot Sheet foresees a tough year for traditional publishers:
I think it will be a lackluster and perhaps soul-searching year for traditional publishers. The “print is back” fanfare will diminish, with Barnes & Noble continuing to remain flat or decline, and Amazon further gaining market share across formats. 2016 didn’t have a blockbuster book, and I anticipate the dry spell will continue in 2017. Without smarter ebook pricing, traditional publishers will continue to see flat or declining sales in that format.- Jane Friedman, The Hot Sheet
What this means for you: Competition for indie authors is increasingly coming from other indie authors. Given that most indie authors price their titles at $2.99 or below, pricing alone is less effective at acquiring readers. Marketing your books (see trend #9) and cultivating a loyal reader following will become even more important.
3. Amazon Imprints will Command Top Spots
Amazon now has 13 active publishing imprints, each catering to its own genre market. In 2016, 7 out of the top 10 Kindle best-sellers were books published by their imprints. Data Guy also reports that Amazon imprints took an additional 4% of the market share in the last quarter. While there is no stated proof that Amazon’s algorithms favor Amazon published titles, the rankings make a convincing argument that they do.
What this means for you: Deploy marketing techniques that allow you to benefit off of Amazon’s preferential treatments of their own titles. If you can market your book in conjunction with an Amazon imprint title, resulting in your book appearing in their also-boughts, then the number of readers who see your book may go up.
4. Kindle Unlimited Readership will Continue to Grow
In his 2017 predictions, Mark Coker of Smashwords talks about the value proposition of Kindle Unlimited for readers (point number 7). For your average reader, Kindle Unlimited is a no brainer, in the same way that Spotify and other music streaming services are no brainers for consumers. This is exacerbated by the language that Amazon uses to market their service to readers, namely by telling readers that a book is “free” if they are a subscriber.
What this means for you: Be aware of how the program can affect your bottom line as more and more readers opt in, a trend that will surely decrease single unit sales of eBooks.
5. Crowding will Result in Increased Competition
Mark Coker talks about how the life cycle of a book has changed with the introduction of digital listings. It used to be that once a book stopped selling (or if it never sold at all) it was removed from the shelves, no longer discoverable by readers. Since eBook retailers don’t have to limit their “shelf space”, books stay available and discoverable for much longer (potentially forever). This means that the competition only continues to rise as not only do new authors begin publishing, but the old ones continue to put out new books and republish their backlists.
What this means for you: If you have legacy titles (titles you have published in the past but are no longer focused on) consider re-invigorating them by investing in the cover, book description and marketing resources. Understand that the more books you publish, the greater chance you have at taking a share of the ebook market. Take a holistic view of your marketing strategy by considering the impact of your marketing activities on your catalog as a whole, not solely on the title you are promoting at any given time.
6. Audiobooks will Gain in Popularity
The Pew Research Center reported an increase in audiobook listeners in 2016, with 14% of survey respondents saying that they listened to books. Additionally, The Association of American Publishers reports that audio remains the fastest growing format. This trend is driven by changes in how and where we listen to content. Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn weighed in on the effect of smart home speakers on content consumption:
With Amazon’s Echo (Alexa) being the biggest seller over the holiday period and the expansion of Google Home, I predict that audio will continue to become more popular as people can listen to audiobooks and podcasts through the devices. Authors should be distributing their books on Audible to capitalize on this growth, but I recommend the non-exclusive option in order to take advantage of other audio distribution models that will emerge based on this audio growth trend.- Joanna Penn, The Creative Penn
Mark Lefebvre of Kobo Writing Life expanded his horizons to include other formats, not just audio, in his list of places that indies can expect to see growth:
I think that 2017 will be the year that authors are able to expand not only their market reach but their offerings, taking full advantage of multiple formats and multiple sales platforms for selling their books. eBooks will still be dominant, but there’ll likely be other opportunities in other formats – POD, audio – that will continue to grow, allowing authors not to be beholden to a single format or single retailer for the majority of their income.- Mark Lefebvre, Kobo Writing Life
What this means for you: Once you feel that ebook sales of your titles are stable, consider publishing into other formats. Createspace (Amazon’s print-on-demand service) is making it easier for authors to publish in paperback once you have a KDP account set up. When considering audiobooks, research how your specific genres is doing in audio and weigh the costs of publishing an audiobook against the expected gains. The more formats you have available, the more readers you are able to reach.
7. Marketing will Determine the Winners
We all know that writing a book is only half of the battle. In an increasingly crowded eBook market, successful authors are authors who spend time and money marketing their books. Time and time again, email marketing has proven to be the best way to engage an audience. Ricardo from Reedsy has seen a rise in authors seeking assistance with marketing:
…A profession I see emerging more and more is that of “book marketers”, i.e. people with strong digital marketing skills (often authors themselves) who know about Amazon SEO, lead generation, email marketing, and search & social advertising. They’re more than VAs in that they work with the author to draw a marketing plan and then teach them how to execute it.- Ricardo Fayet, Reedsy
New York Times Best-Selling Author Barbara Freethy agrees, noting that authors that are seeking substantial monetary success from their work will need to “settle in for the long haul”:
In 2017, I see career-minded authors settling in for the long haul. It’s not a quick and easy game anymore. Authors are now focusing on plotting out strategies that will sustain and advance their writing careers beyond the explosive growth of the past five years. It’s not just about writing and publishing quickly but also about building a unique brand/platform, engaging and re-engaging the core audience and exploring ways to diversify income.- Barbara Freethy, BarbaraFreethy.com
What this means for you: Setting aside time and money to market your title is as important as setting aside time to write. Create a marketing plan with a corresponding budget by month for the first 6 months of the year, and execute on that plan. Capitalize on the effectiveness of email marketing by sending regular emails to your mailing list, and promoting your titles on rented lists, like those of Freebooksy and Bargain Booksy.
8. The Performance of Facebook Ads will Decline
Facebook ads continued to gain popularity among every business, large and small in 2016. Greater demand for Facebook ads led to increasing costs on the platform, which made their efficacy go down for marketers focused on ROI. Mark Dawson of The Self Publishing Formula recommends supplementing your social media advertising with Amazon Marketing service ads:
Amazon Marketing Service ads are likely to become the next big thing in the indie ads space. I have been experimenting with them on a reasonably large scale, and am achieving a steady 80% return on investment. By merging traditional CPC campaign strategy with specific tactics particular to the ebook space, savvy authors could make a killing before too many people try to muscle their way into the market.- Mark Dawson, The Self Publishing Formula
What this means for you: Diversify your marketing techniques, and don’t be afraid to test and try new avenues.
9. International Audiences Provide Opportunities for Growth
Mark Lefebvre of Kobo Writing Life has always been an advocate for expanding your audience internationally. His prediction for 2017 is that:
More indie authors will find audiences outside the more established markets of the US and the UK by embracing publishing wide. Yes, there is still digital growth in these areas, but there are so many other English and non-English language markets globally that have been growing in the same way that the US and the UK was growing a few years ago, and many authors publishing through Kobo Writing Life are starting to see growth in those markets (and yes, even without translating to other languages)- Mark Lefebvre, Kobo Writing Life
What this means for you: Consider releasing your books to English -speaking international audiences. Learn more about selling the rights to your book to foreign publishers. Joanna Penn’s article on international rights is a great place to start.
10. Authors Will Band Together
When we reached out to Jason Freeman, CEO of Instafreebie, his thoughts on the coming year were hopeful:
My prediction for 2017 is that we’ll continue to see a trend of authors supporting other authors through collaboration on promotions. Whether it’s through group giveaways, anthologies, and samplers, authors will continue to find success when they understand that promoting their book is not a zero-sum game.- Jason Freeman, Instafreebie
2016 saw a rise in writing partnerships that hit the bestseller lists, such as the partnership between Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman for the traditionally published Illuminae Series and, in the indie world, the partnership between Lauren Landish and Willow Winters, a duo that is rocking the top romance charts. Boxed sets and group promos are a great way to share audiences with fellow authors, thus reaching a wider reader base.
What this means for you: Reach out to authors in your genre to see if anyone is interested in working together. 2017 is the year for making friends and fostering connections.
If you’re interested in diving deeper, our reading included:
Looking back at 2016: Important Publishing Developments Authors Should Know by Jane Friedman
2017 Book Industry Predictions: Intrigue and Angst amid Boundless Opportunity by Mark Coker
Book Reading Trends 2016 by Pew Research Center
Trade Publishing in 2016 by Association of American Publishers
October 2016 Author Earnings Report
The Future of Digital Book Discovery, Not Distracting Gimmicks by The Bookseller
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