What does 2018 have in store for authors? Last year we predicted which publishing trends would impact indie authors and how. Many of them materialized and some of them will hold true into 2018. Here is the list of the top 10 trends in publishing that will impact indie authors the most, with specific guidance on how you can best navigate them.

1) Indie authors will continue to grow ebook share

Traditional publishers will continue to price their ebooks above market and will focus on print and audio sales in 2018. They will also continue to focus on their go-to franchises and signing authors who have a built-in audience (celebrities, politicians, successful indies). Indies will continue to fill the void by publishing high-quality, affordable ebooks and writing to niche audiences (something blockbusters cannot do as they require mass appeal). Bestselling romance author, Rachel Van Dyken says, “2018 is bound to be a year for books and a year for readers! Trends come and go but one thing I see coming back in a huge way is sci-fi and fantasy romance. Contemporary will always do well but I think readers are starting to get overwhelmed with the same old rom com with the similar fonts, colors, and titles. I say bring on the other genres—a great palette cleanser for 2018.” As authors like Rachel continue to stay ahead of the curve by innovating on content and design, and become ever more sophisticated at book publishing, readers will continue to shift ebook market share to indies.

What this means for you: Indies have an edge over traditional publishers with both content and pricing. Indies can leverage this by experimenting with pricing and running short-term free  promotions on their titles. As an indie author you can serve readers who are thought of as “too niche” for publishers. Figure out who your audience is and how best to serve them with your writing. Be true to who you are as a writer and don’t try emulate the bestsellers that trads are putting out.

2) Marketing will become more expensive

As we predicted, 2017 saw increased costs on Facebook as more brands and authors used the platform to market their products. We anticipate this trend will continue into 2018 to the point where Facebook ads will no longer make sense for authors with single titles. Returns may still be there for authors with series or multiple titles, but the ROI will be thinner. Unfortunately this trend will not be limited to Facebook ads. Amazon Ads (AMS) will continue to gain in popularity, driving competition and increases in costs on the platform. Authors’ primary marketing challenges in 2018 will be trying to find marketing tools that are time and cost efficient. “Anyone who thinks we are heading into a period of calm after the choppy waters of 2017 is going to be disappointed,” says author and blogger David Gaughran. “Current trends will continue, ramping up all throughout 2018. This means more involved marketing campaigns will be needed to make a dent in the charts: considerable multi-pronged efforts with PPC ads, reader sites, newsletter swaps, and social media push. I don’t think Facebook is going out of fashion at all, I think the game is changing there considerably and authors will either adapt a new approach, or start to see very poor returns.” The upshot of this is that authors will have to spend significantly more time on marketing to maintain the results they saw in 2017.  “As indie publishing becomes more competitive and requires more and more business and marketing skills, I expect to see all successful indies outsource a major part of their marketing efforts — including the planning — to professional freelancers or agencies. Those who don’t will almost certainly experience burnout”, says Ricardo Fayet, CMO at Reedsy

What this means for you: Authors with large catalogs are going to have an edge over authors with single or smaller catalogs as they are able to spread their marketing costs over multiple titles and will get better ROI from read-through. If you are running a successful author business, 2018 may be the year to hire a marketing assistant. If you’re early in your indie author career, focus on becoming more prolific in your writing or adding additional titles to your existing series so you can compete in the marketplace.

3) Email marketing will be tested

Email marketing has always been the most cost-effective marketing tool available to authors. The reach and response you get from email compared to the cost of sending an email is still unbeatable. 2017 saw indie authors turning to email marketing and aggressively building their lists. 2017 was the year of group giveaways and email list swapping. Indies were delighted at the performance of email and used it more aggressively. The side effect has been reader fatigue – lower open rates and lower performance. This trend will continue into 2018 as indies are stuck between rising costs on platforms like Facebook and the growing unsubscribe rates on email. Director of Marketing at Draft2Digital, Kevin Tumlinson says, “To combat newsletter fatigue, authors are starting to become far more personal with their readers, simplifying newsletters to plain text, removing graphics, and refining their copy to something softer than a marketing pitch. The author’s personal empowerment will start, in part, with a more personalized email newsletter.”

What this means for you: Despite some decline in email performance, your email list is still your most valuable asset and you should treat it as such. Authors who respect reader preferences and send compelling content will continue to reap the rewards of email marketing. Experimentation will be the name of the game in 2018 as authors retool and re-think their email marketing strategies.

4) Everyone will talk about going “Direct to Reader”

Due to the increase in costs mentioned above, 2018 will be the year that everyone talks about “connecting directly with the reader”.  This will be true for traditional publishers and indies alike.  “As we move into 2018, there is a lot of interest from authors wanting to build their own store and their own platform. We think more authors will start dipping their toes into direct sales and owning the relationship with their readers, and we see a lot of them using exclusive content and bargains for their true fans. That will only grow as we move into the new year. Our data shows that readers are willing to pay for exclusive content and great bargains. It’s not all about free anymore.” says Damon Courtney, CEO of Bookfunnel. Bestselling author and creator of The Self Publishing Formula, Mark Dawson says, “One development that I am very excited about is the ability to use Facebook’s Messenger platform to reach readers in a way that cuts through the noise of email. I’ve been experimenting with both a chatbot on my author page to build a subscriber base on Messenger that then allows me to send broadcasts with delivery, open and click rates two or three times higher than can be achieved with email.” While writing might always have been seen as a solitary activity, storytelling itself has always been about a collaboration between the story-teller and the listener; or, to put it another way, the writer and the reader. We are continuing to see more opportunities for writers to connect directly with readers, particularly through digital publishing, as well as authors collaborating in ways that transcend simple co-authoring or multi-author promo bundles,” says Mark Leslie Lefebvre, former Director of Self-Publishing & Author Relations for Rakuten Kobo, Inc.  Going  direct to reader will mean different things to different authors and includes everything from chatbots to email marketing to launching a store to having in-person events with readers.

What this means for you: It will be easy to get distracted by all the Direct to Reader chatter in 2018. Many indie authors are already connecting directly with readers due to the nature of being an indie author. Focus on the activities that you know work to communicate and engage with your readers. Pick one new Direct to Reader idea to experiment with in 2018. Learn from the community by staying informed on what other authors are trying and what’s working.

5) The Audiobook market will grow and be shaken up

Audiobooks were the fastest growing segment in the publishing industry last year. For traditional publishers audiobook sales mitigated declines in ebook sales, and trad publishers are bullish on audiobooks going into 2018. Audible (owned by Amazon) still has the lion’s share of the audiobook marketing but others are trying to make inroads. 2018 may well be the year when we see new and existing players disrupt the established order. Audiobooks.com was acquired by a media group in 2017, Apple’s exclusivity agreement with Audible ended last year and more players are getting into the mix with Kobo launching their own audiobook subscription service in late 2017. Findaway voices launched in July 2017 giving indie authors an alternative to ACX and an efficient way to distribute their audiobooks to multiple retailers. All this combines to give indie authors more control and more opportunity over their audiobook catalog. Kelly Lytle of Findaway Voices says, “Digital audiobooks will remain the fastest growth area in publishing with sales increasing 30% to 40% or more. The dynamics—ease of access for consumers, lifestyle habits, increased market competition, new selling models—have all synced up to create significant staying power. It should surprise nobody when the market size of audiobooks surpasses eBooks in a few years. In 2018, we expect to see independent authors empowered to capitalize on this explosive growth. Indies will take advantage of wide distribution (domestic, international, and public library), realize the advantages at key retailers of setting prices to meet consumer demand, and benefit from more discovery tools created to connect authors with their audiences outside traditional audiobook credit models.”

What this means for you: Producing an audiobook runs into the thousands of dollars or requires giving up significant royalties and is still a significant investment for authors. New authors who find the price tag too steep are best off focusing on building their catalog of ebooks first. Authors who are looking to invest in their publishing business should definitely have audiobook expansion on their list for 2018. All authors should keep an eye on the market and look to support audiobook retailers and production companies that are author friendly.

6) Amazon’s affiliate program will continue to be less generous

In February of 2017 Amazon made changes to its affiliate program that in effect dropped the payouts that affiliates were receiving. On January 1st of this year Amazon decreased the affiliate commissions on Amazon devices. We anticipate this trend will continue in 2018 because once Amazon has the majority of American households as customers there will be less incentive to pay affiliates to drive customers to Amazon. In the publishing world the impact of a less generous affiliate program is felt most acutely by book bloggers and deal (promo) sites that are running either solely on affiliate income or using affiliate income to significantly supplement their business. Amazon will also continue to be aggressive in enforcing its affiliate policies, banning or dropping deal sites it deems to be in violation of its terms. These two trends will couple to remove book bloggers and deal sites from the eco-system.

What this means for you: If you have relationships with book bloggers who actively review and promote your book free of charge, 2018 would be a good year to donate to their blog or purchase some paid ad slots to ensure they stay in business. Expect to see price increases on some deal sites as they try to supplement the affiliate income they have lost.

7) Amazon’s challenge with scammers will continue

In 2018 there was widespread frustration with Amazon’s enforcement of scammers who gamed the charts to siphon cash out of Kindle Unlimited (KU). In response Amazon implemented new techniques to identify these scammers with the unfortunate side effect of innocent authors being caught in the dragnet. Trying to catch fraudsters is a literal game of whack-a-mole, with many companies deploying technology and employing people whose sole job it is to whack those moles. This problem will not go away in 2018. “The reason the Kindle Store, and in particular KU are targeted by black-hat search engine marketers looking to make a quick buck (e.g. the KU romance stuffers) is that Amazon is a relatively “young” search engine. As such, it lacks the refinement and trained artificial intelligence that Google has detect clickfarming and other anti-TOU (terms of use) tactics. I expect Amazon to close the gap soon and introduce a similar AI to Google’s rankbrain to both fight against scammers and offer even better recommendations to readers,” predicts Ricardo Fayet of Reedsy.

What this means for you: Most authors don’t care about this issue until it impacts them directly. But they should. If the author community banded together to demand a transparent and speedy process for exoneration in cases of false rank stripping, Amazon may listen. In 2018 authors should look for opportunities to voice their concern over this practice. David Gaughran has done a good job of documenting and explaining specific cases and would be a good place to start to get educated on the issue.

8) New subscription services will pop up but more authors will join KU.

Kindle Unlimited remains the largest reader subscription service, but others are trying to make inroads. Kobo launched Kobo Plus in 2017 and after a few bumps in the road Scribd seems to have stabilized. It’s likely that 2018 will see new entrants trying to crack the subscription model. Apple and Google lack a subscription model for books but do have experience deploying subscription services for music. One of them could easily roll out a book service. Despite more competition, Kindle Unlimited will continue to dominate market share in 2018 and more authors are likely to opt-in to KDP Select so they can be included in the KU payout pool. Whether you like the KU model (exclusivity, payout based on a pool) is irrelevant for most authors. The hard truth is that with a pot of almost $120 million per year that is being divvied up between indies and small presses, KU payouts represent real money to indie authors and the economics are hard to resist. “The power curve in Kindle Unlimited will continue to worsen, and more aggressively sort authors into winners and losers – which will make millionaires of some, and force many more wide. Those authors will have to adopt a very different approach to reaching readers, one far less dependent on Kindle Store visibility (which will get harder and harder to achieve, particularly those outside the KU tent),” says David Gaughran

What this means for you: Whether to enroll or de-enroll in KDP Select will be the primary decision that most authors agonize over in 2018. For most authors, the answer will likely be to enroll in KDP Select. This will provide short-term earnings increases to authors but at the painful cost of having all their eggs in the Amazon basket.

9) More Indie authors will achieve success

Ever year we conduct a survey of authors to identify what high-earning authors are doing to achieve success. In 2017 the number of authors who reported making over $100,000 from writing grew by 70% over 2016. The percentage of authors making between $5,000 and $10,000 per month doubled year over year. Indies who persevere and continue putting out books slowly increase their earnings over time. Is it easy? No. Will it take time? Yes. But there are plenty indie authors who are making money. They will continue to grow their businesses in 2017 and a new batch of high-earning authors will join their ranks.

What this means for you: Successful indie authors see themselves as entrepreneurs who are running a business. And they are. Their product is their books. Successful authors are those that focus on their business and manage the ups and downs. In 2018 be honest with yourself. What are your goals? Are you writing to pursue a passion? Are you writing to supplement your income? Are you building or growing a business? Then align your efforts with your goals to achieve what success means for you.

10) Readers will continue to buy and read books

In 2018 people will continue to purchase ebooks. Mark Coker noted in his 2017 review that “one of the big takeaways from this year’s Smashwords Survey was that we found our bestselling authors were able to increase prices without undermining unit sales. $4.99 has joined $2.99 and $3.99 as pricing sweet spots. This tells me that authors who build devoted followings have pricing power.” In 2018 we’ll continue to see reports of declining ebook sales however the data being used is focused on traditionally published titles and is incomplete; it excludes self-published titles, digital sales on Amazon and through Kindle Unlimited and stats on library ebook lending. Data Guy tried to reconcile this discrepancy in 2015 and 2016 (the last report from Author Earnings was in early 2017) and in June of last year Michael Cader at Publisher’s Lunch put out a deep-dive analysis of the overall 2016 ebook market. These reports show that yes, ebook sales are declining for traditional publishers, but that does not necessarily hold true for ebooks published by small presses and indie authors.

What this means for you: There will be plenty of stories in 2018 about the demise of reading, screen fatigue and increasing competition for reader’s time. As an author, you are best off ignoring the pundits to focus on your writing instead. There are readers out there who will pay for your work and your job is to find them, connect with them and write for them.

Publishing Trends Summary

There you have it, the 2018 publishing trends we predict will shape publishing in the coming year. We recommend reading each point but if you’ve skimmed down to the end for the summary it reads like this: Indie authors will continue to steal ebook share away from traditional publishers as readers continue to purchase books that are competitively priced and that cater to their specific genre tastes. Audiobooks will continue to be a bright spot for the publishing industry at large. Amazon will continue to be the thousand pound gorilla with more authors flocking to Kindle Unlimited despite other retailers trying to compete. Amazon will not be without its challenges as it continues to battle scammers and faces backlash from affiliates as Amazon diminishes its payouts. Marketing will be the primary challenge for everyone in 2018 as costs on platforms like Facebook and Amazon Ads continue to climb. Indies with large backlists who focus on multi-pronged marketing campaigns will be the winners. Indies will experiment with new ways to connect directly with readers though success in these areas will likely take multiple iterations and time.

 

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