How have things changed in the last 3 years in Indie publishing?

Below is an adapted version of the opening keynote I did for IndieRecon last week– if you haven’t checked it out, all the posts and comments and chats are still up and you can read them.  Tons of great info from people like CJ Lyons and Hugh Howey and many others.

I feel like we’ve gone through a three-year cycle and now things are re-inventing themselves.  I’m going to raise some points here that Jen Talty and I then discussed during our chat, which is at the web site above.

  1. The gold rush is over.  The market is saturated now.  Quality and professionalism are key.
  2. Everyone is an author.  There are more authors at booksignings at conferences now than there are non-authors.  How are you going to be different?
  3. Shorter works.  People want complete stories they can consume in one sitting.
  4. Serials.  Build your audience.  But make sure you let readers know what they are getting.  Hugh Howey built Wool.  John Scalzi is doing it in science fiction, but notice some of the reviews where readers were shocked at getting a short story when they thought it was a book, even for .99.  I’ll be bringing the first season of Burners out in a few months, which I feel is the best high concept story my wife and I have every come up with.  BURNERS(RED_2)
  5. Transmedia.  I think this is a while away.  It’s a nice idea, but few are doing it and even fewer are doing it well.  Mediums often don’t translate.  One interesting area is live tweeting during events and shows that might link to your book.
  6. Collaborations.  Consumers want products faster and faster.  The year between books will no longer suffice.  Thus writers will work together.  I write four times faster working with my wife.
  7. Ghost writing.  As part of the previous point.
  8. There is too much emphasis on promo and marketing, not enough on craft—distinctive voices will stand out.  Every idea has been done, but unique ideas with a great voice will win out.  Yet all we see are people wanting to know how to market and promote and not very interested in how to write.
  9. Will e-writing remain the same?  Is the structure of the novel going to stay intact or will people be more interested in episodic work?  Can you do more points of view, more characters, without focusing on a single plot line?  Sort of Games of Thrones?  Southland?
  10. Gimmicks aren’t working that well any more:  Select, Free, etc.  They’ve become saturated.
  11. Build community.  An author has to be involved with their audience and expose themselves to some degree.  What is special about you?  I was never big on Facebook but since starting a fan page, I make sure to post something of interest at least if not two or three times a day.  We’ve started giving away free eBooks and audiobooks on my fan page and on this blog to give people an additional reason to come to the page and here.
  12. You are an author-entrepreneur.  You are running a business.  You have to plan ahead.  Just because your book is on a bestseller list now, don’t assume it will be in two months.  The people who are succeeded have numerous titles that are their base.  Then they push a series.
  13. Series are essential.  It is the #1 way to build an audience.  Ask Bella Andre, Marie Force, Barbara Freethy, Jennifer Probst, etc.
  14. Urban flight—this is my new term (yes, NY you can steal it like you did hybrid author and pretend you invented it).  This is authors who will start “self” publishing outside of their NY contracts.  DBW survey says 1/3 of trad authors want to “self” publish.
  15. You can’t really “self” publish, not at volume and in quality.  Yes, I know some of you are doing it.  But you are contracting out some of the work.  The question is, does that contracting give you an organic relationship?  Netminds is the ACX of eBooks and a good idea, but again, what stake does Netminds have in your particular career?
  16. eBooks are organic.  They are not static.  Thus you need a publishing relationship that is organic.
  17. Thus a publishing team is key.  Partnerships where the author comes first.  A dangerous aspect of this is building trust.  Contracts are one thing most authors are terrified of right now.  The business is changing so fast.
  18. Amazon is not the enemy.  Nor are they your friend.  They are a business reality.  A trad publisher was never your friend either, no matter how much you loved your editor and agent.  The second the numbers didn’t add up, they dumped you.  Amazon works off numbers the same way.
  19. Kobo is a real player.  Apple is a player.  PubIt is struggling because it’s tied to Barnes & Noble.  But they are a player, especially for romance writers.
  20. Direct sales might start gaining traction.  Especially if you have a fan base and unique content, but readers prefer the McDonald’s route.  They don’t want to buy from 100 authors’ separate web pages.fresh green grass with bright blue sky
  21. I go back to team-work because it’s how Jen Talty and I started out.  You are going to have to give up a slice of your profits to a team in order to be more efficient and act ahead of the power curve and react quickly as needed.  This is what we’re doing with Jennifer Probst and other authors at Cool Gus
  22. What do you think?

DHC(1)_SMFor this blog post, we’re giving away a free eBook copy of Duty, Honor, Country: A Novel of West Point & The Civil War if you can tell us which of those listed below was not at John Brown’s hanging, which was probably the spark that ignited the Civil War:

Robert E. Lee.  John Brown.  Stonewall Jackson.  John Wilkes Booth.

About Bob Mayer

Bob Mayer is a NY Times Bestselling author, graduate of West Point, former Green Beret (including commanding an A-Team) and the feeder of two Yellow Labs, most famously Cool Gus. He's had over 60 books published including the #1 series Area 51, Atlantis and The Green Berets. Born in the Bronx, having traveled the world (usually not tourist spots), he now lives peacefully with his wife, and said labs, at Write on the River, TN.

Posted on February 28, 2013, in Write It forward and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 43 Comments.

  1. Thanks, Bob, for a comprehensive and intelligent summation. I was especially glad to see number eighteen, after the relentless avalanche of anti-Amazon rhetoric and scary tweets whenever they adjust their operation. It’s about time that someone points out that the looming giant is really just a business after all. Not an evil plot, not a disease. As authors, we all have to begin to man-up and realize just what it is we’re trying to do as well as toss all the supposed sure-things that aren’t doing us any good.

  2. A great post, Bob. On the transmedia front, I think it depends a lot on the project. I’m bringing out a series at the end of March called Assured Destruction and it’ll have 7 Twitter feeds, a Facebook app, two blogs, two websites and free graphic novel components here and there. But I purpose wrote the series in conjunction with the transmedia elements so that they’re not a marketing gimmic, but rather add to and extend the storyworld.

    As for serials, I’m not sold as of yet. I think authors need to start writing them like you would a TV series rather than a chopped up book. Until the market is large enough, it might be difficult to convince professional authors to do this. And until Amazon removes the gatekeeper to serial publication, you won’t see the organic evolution of serials that you have had in books in general.

  3. I would like the shorter books — am getting tired of 500+ pages in one novel.

  4. Great blog post! Very informative. Like most readers, I prefer books that I can read in a single sitting. Not sure about serials as stand-alone books, although that format was successfully used in periodical magazines for hundreds of years. We’ll have to watch the trends.
    Answer to trivia – Robert E. Lee was not present.

  5. Transmedia. Have you checked out the Google glasses?

  6. Amazon doesn’t necessarily have a gatekeeper to serials– just the buy one get all.

    Actually, Robert E. Lee of the US Army was in charge of the Marines who captured John Brown at Harpers Ferry. JEB Stuart of the US Army led the final assault. Lee was there.

  7. Hey Bob, I’ve a copy of Duty, Honor, Country already. Part of me says that Stonewall is a trick question, he wasn’t known as that at the time of Brown’s execution and wouldn’t be known as that until 1st Bull Run, he’d have been just Thomas J. Jackson and superintendent of VMI at the time and would have had the opportunity to be present. I’m also guessing that Booth, being a southern patriot would also have attended. My guess is “Stonewall” was not present.

  8. Marketing — I think some of the emphasis on that is because most people, including myself as a business owner, have no idea how to go about it. I agree that marketing is getting pushed more than quality of writing, and sometimes at the expense of storytelling. I can deal with reading less than top quality writing if the story is entertaining and well told. However, typos and extremely bad use of the language makes me nuts! (I know, Bob, I was nuts to start with!)

    Series — I read series, but very seldom in the order they were written (Bob’s Area 51 and Atlantis series and Harry Potter are the only series I’ve ever read in order) so whether or not a book is part of a series doesn’t matter much to me as a reader. If each book in a series stands on its own, it shouldn’t matter to a reader if they read the rest of the series or not.

    Self-publishing is a fluid term — there are so many things termed “self-publishing” that, when investigated, aren’t “self-publishing.” In self-publishing, the author has to be writer, editor, proofreader, print broker (if not inclined to print a book on their own equipment) and salesman. I print (Well, my husband does the printing, I do the typing, layout and design, and some light editing.) books for local authors and strive to furnish as high a quality product as any major publishing company does. Since we’re a small shop, we can do as many or as few copies of a book as an author wishes. A lot of people have no idea, even with computer programs that make the job easier, how to set up a book for printing so you use the least amount of paper, ink, etc., to get the job done.

    Amazon — I think Amazon is a good thing for self-published authors. You can upload an e-book for Kindle, and also have print copies available for sale through Amazon and your own efforts. True, Amazon is a huge business and in the overall scheme, one self-published author isn’t that important to Amazon. However, what author can afford the world-wide exposure that is available on Amazon? True, the author will still have to do marketing on their own, but Amazon is a great tool.

    Social media — Facebook is a good thing in ways but I tire of the mindless posts — “Eating lunch at McDonald’s” — I don’t care where you’re eating lunch unless I’m hungry and haven’t made up my mind where to go. Bob does a great balance with the business and personal snippets on FB. I don’t consistently keep up with tweets (My cell phone is just a cell phone, nothing fancy enough for tweets.) but occasionally check tweets on-line; that’s pretty well the extent of my social media interactions, although I do regularly read a few people’s blogs.

    Every business in the world is in flux right now. We have seen numerous changes in the printing business through the years, and with a varied customer base, have seen changes in the way business is conducted in businesses ranging from livestock sales to lawn mowing services to medicine.

  9. Well the trick part was John Brown– he was certainly present. But Jackson was the commander of the Virginia Military Institute at the time of John Brown’s hanging, although you are correct– he wasn’t known as Stonewall yet. I actually have a scene in Duty, Honor, Country where I give an alternative version of how he gained that nickname from General Bee. I’m surprised no one has confronted me on that version yet, although someone gave the book a one star review because it said I didn’t portray Robert Lee as the great patron of saints, which just seems odd to me.

  10. > all we see are people wanting to know how to market and promote and not very
    > interested in how to write.

    It’s always been this way. When I gave workshops to aspiring writers in the pre-digital era, everyone asked, “How do I get an agent? How do I meet editors? How do I land a publishing contract?” Only a few asked, “How do I write a better book?” Those few are the ones who succeeded. Smart writers today still ask that question.

    > PubIt is struggling because it’s tied to Barnes & Noble. But they are a player, especially
    > for romance writers.

    Not for all of us. A handful of romance authors are doing well at PubIt, but most of us suffer from the lousy B& retail storefront just like everyone else. Visit the romance page at B&N and you’ll notice that nearly 100% of the Featured Authors, Favorite Series, Recommended Reads, and Staff Picks are NY-published books. Until B&N improves their search engine and gives indies a fighting chance at discoverability, they’ll remain a minor player.

  11. Well said Bob. Some points I knew, some I suspected, and some were aha moments. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Great summary of information, sir. I sent a question to you via Twitter. Would it be better to ask here if you are willing?

    Thanks again for your insight. Always valuable.

  13. As far as pricing of serials it depends on platform– Amazon, if you go into their official serial program controls that. Outside of that, I’d think I’d publish the first three episodes at least, give the first one away for free and then go either .99 or 1.99 for each subsequent episode.

  14. As you said, Bob, readers want the McDonald’s and I don’t see the work-around version of a serial as compelling. Too much education is required for the reader to understand what they’re buying. Besides, you give up so great a royalty at 0.99 and most indie authors are listing whole novels at 2.99 so I’m not sure the reader will see the value in a 99 cent episode either. This is just my view. I love the concept of serials and the buy-one get-all but even there is a leap of faith that other episodes are coming and of high quality.

    @Joyce As for Google Glasses — if you’re interested in those and storytelling look at the Niantic Labs of Google. They’re creating a massive ARG called Ingress which I see as the future of storytelling in the digital realm.

  15. Interesting, though I’ve not gotten to D,H,C yet the other interpretation that I’ve encountered with Jackson’s nickname was that instead of a praise it was a jibe, meant to motivate his own brigade to stand their ground because instead of Jackson’s brigade being an immovable object but being an object that wasn’t moving, forward! I happen to buy into this more than the other as Bee wasn’t on good terms with Jackson before Bee was shot down moments later after shouting this.

  16. Excellent insights here. Thanks, Bob.

  17. Yeah– I went with the jibe angle because Bee’s had commanded the units forward in a charge when he was mortally wounded. That Jackson wasn’t charging and sitting like a stone wall.

  18. Pricing strategy isn’t always about royalty. With serials, depending on how they are handled will depend on how we move forward with pricing. I think it is key that the reader understand what they are getting into and that requires some thinking on our parts.

  19. Thanks Bob an informative post, Tasha signposted me here from twitter and I am glad I came. I need to learn everything I can if I am going to grow as a writer. I have followed so I can learn more.

  20. Always good, current information from you. Thanks for the info and your insights.

  21. Thanks Bob for this insightful post. As a newby author I’m hungry for everything I can learn about this business. I loved the indierecon by the way, thought it was a fabulous idea.

  22. Excellent points. Write a wonderful book!

    Mary Montague Sikes

  23. Reblogged this on and commented:
    A lot of very sensible advice from Bob Mayer, who has been in the game for a long time. Well worth a read for any writer, published or not.

  24. You make a great point about craft. It seems many writers are more concerned with publishing than final rewrites.

    I find short books very predictable. I am less likely to finish books that don’t bring me into a space. Trust me. I love action, but a few brush strokes of description can paint a picture for the remainder of the book. I have read a few that are so stripped down, I couldn’t picture anything!
    Are longer novels not selling? I am not seeing that trend here in Boulder. Maybe with e-books.
    I just followed!

  25. Thanks for the reblog Dan.

    I find the comment “not seeing that trend here in Boulder” rather odd. How can one see a trend in a town? Do you mean bookstore? I used to live in Boulder and the Boulder Bookstore flat out told me “we don’t do your type of book here” so perhaps that’s why it’s not being seen. The bookstore gatekeepers? Apparently they were above genre there. But eBooks care little about geographical boundaries. I think we’re on the front edge of serials and more short stories. Whether it will blossom or die out– I have no idea.

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