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The Top Ten Publishing Industry Trends Every Author Needs to Know in 2020

Every year at Written Word Media, we write about the major publishing industry trends as we see them. Some we get right, some we get wrong, but the best part is hearing what authors have to say in the comments and on social media. Self-publishing is a rapidly evolving industry, and those who keep one eye on the future will be best positioned to take advantage of changes. 

This year we’ve interviewed industry leaders, talked to our author customers and friends, and conducted our own research. Here are our top ten publishing trends for 2020.

1. Audiobooks will continue to gain popularity, and more indie authors will invest

It seems like almost everyone you meet is talking about audio these days. Whether it’s podcasts or audiobooks, people are consuming more spoken word audio than ever, and the stats back it up.

A 2019 survey from Edison Research revealed that half of all Americans over the age of 12 have listened to an audiobook in the past year. Additionally, audiobook listeners trended younger. Fifty-five percent of listeners were below the age of 45. The survey stats showed an increase from 2018, and the expectation is that audio will continue to grow. “For audiobooks, 2019 was really the year of the library. We saw incredible library sales growth for authors in 2019, especially in the Cost Per Checkout model,” adds Will Dage of Findaway Voices

Indie authors have long experimented with audio, and we see more indies getting into audio in 2020. Mark Lefebvre of Draft2Digital notes that access to audio is getting less difficult for authors: “Indie authors have more options than just being exclusive to Audible via ACX by using services like Findaway Voices.”

With better access to audiobook creation and distribution, we expect to see more audiobooks in the marketplace in 2020. Marketing audiobooks remains a challenge for authors but effective marketing will become more important as the space gets more crowded. Will Dage notes that Deeply discounted audiobooks are hot. We’re seeing a lot more experimentation with price control and running promotions.” 

What this means for you:

Start learning about how audiobooks are made and sold. If you already have an audiobook and own the rights, make sure to distribute your audiobook to as many outlets as possible. Talk to other authors who have had success with their audiobooks and learn what is working for them when it comes to marketing. 


2. More indie authors will collaborate on marketing

Authors have long seen success with collaborative marketing techniques like email list swaps and group giveaways. In 2020, we expect to see more cooperative marketing as competition grows and indie authors find creative ways to gain an edge.

Michael Anderle sees indies aggressively pooling resources in 2020, saying that “many teams will pool resources to get a minimum of one million emails in their email co-op group.”

Of course, authors will need to be strategic to see success here. Oversaturating readers or marketing to the wrong audience can damage an email list. But, as many authors know, getting it right will pay off.

We also expect that indies will continue to innovate when it comes to collaboration. Lefebvre sums this point up well, “Collaboration is becoming more popular than ever before in the history of publishing.”

What this means for you:

Start establishing relationships with authors in your genre or your local community. Try small collaborative experiments. Don’t assume everyone is trustworthy. Make sure to do your homework on your collaborators before partnering up with others. 

3. We’ll see more published works from author groups

As we learned from our author survey this year, successful authors tend to have large backlists. In 2020, we expect to see more authors collaborate on series and universes to speed up the process of building their backlists.

Bryan Cohen of the Sell More Books Show broke down how he sees this trend. “2020 will bring more author-publishers. It started with romance but sci-fi and fantasy authors are creating giant interconnected universes with a stable of co-writers and ghostwriters. They’re taking the James Patterson model to the nth degree.”

Granted, sharing a backlist will require sharing income in some fashion, but with tools like Abacus from PublishDrive, revenue sharing is getting easier. We expect more authors to join together and make more money faster from this shared model than they could on their own.

What this means for you:

Similar to #2,  Building relationships with other authors can lead to some fantastic opportunities. Don’t be afraid to be the one to start things. If you have an idea, reach out to your network and see how you can make it happen.


4. Organic reach will decline

This publishing trend is a reality across every online industry. As the big players, like Amazon, Google, and Facebook rely more and more on advertising money, they lose incentive to provide a broad reach for free.

This means that blog posts, Facebook posts, and Amazon book listings will see fewer views for free (also known as organic reach). Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced in 2018 that organic reach of branded pages would decline, and that has played out as expected over the past two years.  Mark Dawson observed a similar trend on Amazon, “Organic visibility is being reduced on Amazon, with authors – including me – reporting big dips in income when also-boughts disappeared from book detail pages. What replaced them? Carousels of ads.”

What this means for you:

Don’t assume that your work is done once your book is published. Discovery will not happen organically. Pay attention to the changes that are occurring on Amazon and in the industry at large. Listen to or follow industry leaders (like Joanna Penn or Mark Dawson) to stay in the know. Don’t get too bogged down worrying about how things may change. Control what you can. 


5. Running ads will become a requirement

As mentioned in the preceding trend, getting your book in front of readers for free is going to get even more difficult. No one is thrilled about this, but it is the reality of a maturing marketplace. 

“Advertising is no longer going to be something that you could do, or even should do – it’s going to become something that you must do, at least if you want to pursue writing as a viable full-time career,” says Mark Dawson. Online advertising is widespread to the point where in many industries, you MUST run ads to compete. As self-publishing grows and organic reach declines, we expect to see the same in publishing.

What this means for you:

Authors will need to learn how to use paid advertising if they are serious about making writing a career. If you have yet to develop marketing skills and savvy, 2020 is the year to do it. 


6. Big five publishers will start using KDP Select

This trend comes to us from the great mind of Michael Anderle. He anticipates that Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster will look to capitalize on Amazon’s reach by using Kindle Unlimited. 

According to Anderle, “We will see big five publishers using KDP (Amazon Kindle Unlimited) in 2020 as they seek to acquire income with their enormous backlists.”

Logically, this makes sense, and some major titles (Harry Potter series) are already available within Kindle Unlimited. Getting readers going on a series is a proven way to make some serious cash, and no one has as many series as the big five. 

What this means for you:

Competition in Kindle Unlimited might get more fierce in 2020 (if that’s even possible!). If you have multiple books or series, experiment with making some of your books wide and enrolling some of them in KDP Select. If you are a die-hard Amazon exclusive author, be prepared to spend more to market your KU books. 


7. Scam services will continue to pop up

Unfortunately, this trend will continue in 2020. With self-publishing continuing to grow, more shady characters will be attracted to the money in the market.

The good news? There are some tremendous people who regularly expose and spread the word about bad actors. We recommend following Victoria Strauss and David Gaughran on Twitter as they both regularly identify and publicize scams aimed at indie authors.

What this means for you:

Follow Victoria and David. Be skeptical of services that reach out to you. And before using a new service, vet them with other authors. Scammers are tricky, but the author community can be an effective weapon for weeding out bad actors.


8. The eBook market will grow even more in 2020

There’s been some buzz about younger readers not buying eBooks, but Nate Hoffelder debunked these rumors in this recent post. Hoffelder includes data from Pew and that show that younger readers are buying eBooks and reading eBooks as much, if not more, than older readers.

As more young readers enter the market, it stands to reason that eBook sales will only increase. Because almost all young people use a digital device every day, moving to eBooks will be a much more seamless transition than the one made by older readers who grew up reading print. 

What this means for you:

Audiobooks are all the buzz, but ebook sales and royalties remain the bread and butter for most successful authors. Continue to invest in your ebooks. Publish more ebooks in 2020. Don’t get too distracted by shiny objects. 


9. Email lists will increase in value

With organic reach declining, spending money on ads becoming a requirement, and collaboration increasing in popularity, an author’s email list becomes an incredibly valuable asset.

Your email list is a marketing channel that you actually own. Once you have a reader’s email, you have a direct, inexpensive line to them. Readers who give you their email addresses are also opting in. They WANT you to email them. Otherwise, they wouldn’t sign up.

An author’s email list is also a valuable way to attract partner authors. The bigger your list, the more authors will want to partner with you to get in front of your audience.

Email isn’t without its challenges. Gmail and other inbox providers will continue to work to declutter their user’s inboxes, so getting eyes on your content may get more difficult. It is increasingly important to maintain clean lists and to educate your subscribers to expect your emails. 

What this means for you:

If you don’t have a mailing list, you should start one. Read this post for some more information. Once you have a mailing list, make sure to nurture it. Email your subscribers on a regular schedule. Your email list can grow cold quickly if you leave it dormant for too long. Work on growing your list in 2020: make sure your sign-up form is easy to find on your website, encourage readers to sign up in your backmatter, and ask current subscribers to share with their friends. Remember to play by the rules. Don’t buy lists or email people who have not opted into your list. 


10. Creative indies will experiment with new ways to make money

In 2020, more indie authors will experiment with other ways to make money and try new models for selling books. 

Jane Freidman aptly noted, “I expect more writers to charge for content that’s been free in the past, although not every writer will be successful at it. I’m seeing more people adeptly use Patreon to secure donations and early sales for all types of work, and Substack to solicit donations and subscriptions for newsletter content.”

Mark Lefebvre and Michael Anderle both think indies can and will start to earn more from libraries, and also agree that more authors will start to take advantage of licensing opportunities from video games to avenues yet unknown. “The book is just one of the formats or things that can be generated from the idea or concept,” said Lefebvre. “Instead of thinking of the book as central, and the other properties, formats, assets as a spin off of the book, consider the book as just one realization of that idea, and intellectual property licensing opportunities suddenly magnify or even explode.”

What this means for you:

Experiment with one new monetization technique in 2020. Research Patreon to determine if it could be right for you. Release one of your books on pre-order. Consider a box set or a special edition print set if you have a loyal fan base. Keep an eye on what other authors are doing, and don’t dismiss a new thing out of hand. Catching on to a new tactic early on can pay off.

That’s it! Our 10 publishing trends to watch for in 2020. What do you think? Are you seeing a trend coming that you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments below.

To see our most recent trend predictions click here!

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14 comments on “The Top Ten Publishing Industry Trends Every Author Needs to Know in 2020
  1. Definitely agree with the rise of audiobooks. I’m part of facebook and instagram book communities and I see audio versions constantly recommended when readers struggle with the written copy whether that be due to format or story.

  2. This is a great comprehensive list, and I totally agree with all of it. Thank you for putting it out there. Reality is important in our personal worlds of fiction!

    One thing I’d like to add: I predict that even though there are publishing scammers out there (those who do not call themselves “vanity” when that is exactly what they are), legitimate hybrid houses will continue to grow and be the perfect place for some authors. While I do not use them (I have an agent), I do see the value in some of them. I have had a few author friends meet with some success using these platforms. Whatever we decide is the right path for our books, we have TOTAL control as self-published authors. I may be represented by an agency, but I have self-published 5 books, and have 7 more on my backlist. Hey, if my agent can’t sell them, hard as he tries, then I will!

    Much success to everyone in 2020!

    1. Written Word Media, you are my go to for most of my marketing efforts. I also include you in all of my seminars about Self-Publishing. This list (I look forward to these each year) helps to redirect our focus and to expand our business and careers. Please keep us informed and Thanks so much for all you do.

  3. Thanks for a wonderful and comprehensive list. I’m bookmarking it to read again and keep for reference. I love industry podcasts and I think they’ll get bigger and bigger as time goes by.

  4. The advice given here, is applicable across the board of the broad spectrum covered in ‘Arts.’ Informative and useful.

  5. David is constantly talking about scams… when he has a new book coming out. And then he usually targets romance authors, who are primarily women. Disappointed in you for giving him a platform when his anti woman bias is known.

  6. Comprehensive and helpful. Thank you! Just self released a self help workbook and have a children’s book coming out soon and we are desperately trying to learn what to do, and not do. Appreciate your information.

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