Self publishing: predictions to 2020

Blank White Sign With Copyspace Includes 3d CharacterEach January I devour the publishing forecast for the coming year from Smashwords CEO and founder, Mark Coker. (See 2015’s forecast here: I find it not only necessary from the point of view of my job (as MD of IndieMosh) but also intriguing to see if what I’m seeing is reflected in the Australian marketplace and in the minds of Australian authors contemplating self publishing.

Generally speaking, I find it hard to disagree with the points Mark makes each year – he’s mostly ‘on the money’ and where he’s not spot on, he’s rarely far off. What’s fascinating to me, though, is still how far behind Australian attitudes are. We’re catching up, but ever so slowly. When I reach a six month period when no new author asks me which bookstores we sell in, or how to get their books into bricks and mortar stores, then I’ll know that we’ve begun to take the changes in publishing on board!

But in the meantime, while Mark makes predictions that tend to favour those who are (self) publishing, I’d like to make some predictions for those working in publishing, too. Because what happens between authors, publishing houses and retailers is going to keep affecting what happens to the ‘tradies’ like me – the editors, formatters, graphic designers etc who have in the past worked for traditional publishing houses and for companies subcontracting to those publishers. So here are my predictions for the next five years:

  1. Self published books will begin to naturally divide into two categories: those which have been truly self published by the author, and those which have been facilitated. The difference is that facilitated self publishing (like our IndieMosh service) helps the author publish their book while the truly self published author manages all the steps and subcontracts select elements, such as cover design, if they consider they need it. This will give the authors three options: truly self publish, self publish with help, or pitch to literary agents for a ‘traditional’ publishing experience.
  2. Authors will start to wield more power. In the 1930s, the Hollywood movie studios ‘owned’ the actors, forcing them to change their names to something more palatable, leasing them out to other studios when they didn’t want to use them etc. (‘Renee Zellweger’ would never have been printed on a movie poster back in the 1930s!) And so it will be with authors over the next five years. They will take more interest in owning the asset – their writing – and with it, they will own the power.
  3. Australian authors will stop seeing traditional publishing as the end game, but be satisfied to simply publish their stories their own way, and connect with their audience their own way.
  4. If you wish to publish a book, you will have basically one choice: do it yourself. The only way you will get a ‘traditional publisher’ to take you on is if you have a track record of previous publications that you can interest them in, or you’ve managed to write something so potentially successful, with more in the pipeline, that they can see the benefit of investing in you. Now don’t get me wrong – I don’t blame them one iota. It takes a lot to develop and publish a book, and traditional publishers invest heavily in bringing a book to market, so they’re not going to say ‘yes’ to you unless you can prove that there are serious reasonable grounds for them to expect to make money. And I don’t want to hear you whingeing about that! They are businesses, and if they don’t make money, they go out of business.
  5. Traditional publishing will shrink back to those books which are almost guaranteed to sell. The risk taking of the past, the nurturing of new authors, will be wound right back and replaced with publications such as celebrity biographies and books which complement reality television shows so as to ensure their survival. They will also move to ‘picking up’ indie authors who have been successfully self publishing, but will need to offer them something new as more and more self publishing successes decide that they want to retain their autonomy – and their income.
  6. We will see more and more retired people writing. Those who have left fulltime employment and have a few dollars to spare from their pension or income stream will derive great satisfaction from writing the book they always wanted to write, and doing it properly.
  7. With self publishing becoming more and more accessible to writers across the country, more and more people will take the opportunity to publish their memoirs, their philosophies, their stories, not as a money-making endeavour or to feed their egos, but simply to have the satisfaction of ‘putting it out there’ and recording their story or thoughts for posterity. Family tree research in a hundred years’ time will be so much more fulfilling when we find a book written by great grandad and we actually get to hear his ‘writer’s voice’, to ‘hear’ his thoughts – we will know so much more about him than just his date of birth, who he married, where he lived and how many children he did or didn’t have. We will have more than just third party facts, we will have a little piece of him, a little ‘piece of his brain’ (as Basil Fawlty once said).
  8. The quality of self published books will improve. More and more authors approaching IndieMosh are asking for proofreading or editing services, or are bringing an already edited manuscript to the table. Self pubbed authors will care more and more what people think of their efforts and so will make the effort to respect their readers and, in turn, earn their readers’ respect by delivering a quality publication.
  9. Authors will become more cognisant of the fact that readers want a solid, well-written ‘story’ (whether fiction or fact), and that while things like cover design, layout etc are important, none of that will help if the story itself is not of some quality. And some enjoyment!
  10. Less people will expect to make any ‘real’ money from their books. They will publish for pleasure, for the ability to say ‘This is me and what I think’. There will still be authors who do make viable money, but they will be those who work at it, like a plumber learning his craft, releasing quality books regularly and building their audience one book at time. But on the whole, I believe the bulk of people will publish simply because they can and because they need to, for their own personal reasons.
  11. The expectation of being an overnight success after one book will fade for most new authors. Most self publishers by 2020 will know that ‘one book does not an author make’!
  12. With (traditional) book, newspaper and magazine publishers continuing to evolve their products as they adapt to technological change and successive Australian governments encouraging small business and sole traders, we will see more and more editors, proofreaders, graphic designers etc setting up as freelancers. With that will come increased awareness of the ‘publishing pipeline’ as independents form relationships and refer clients on to the next provider in the process.
  13. Authors will have more choice about how their books are developed. Rather than having to enter into agreements with self publishing facilitators who have a set pattern and system for publishing where the author is required to add on in-house editing and proofreading packages, marketing packages etc, more and more facilitators, such as IndieMosh, will offer the author the ability to bring their own suppliers to the table.
  14. For freelancers in the publishing industry, work opportunities will change. Instead of working for one large employer, such as a publishing house, newspaper etc, freelancers will build up a clientele of smaller clients. At IndieMosh, we are building a network of editors, proofreaders, formatters, graphic designers, trailer makers etc to help our authors find freelancers who are a ‘fit’ for them and their books.
  15. And on that point, more and more service providers will focus on being a ‘fit’ for their clients, rather than focusing on the hard sell. Getting it right for the right client will become more important than trying to sign up any and every client.
  16. Where caveman used to write his stories on the wall of his cave many thousands of generations ago, to be stumbled upon by those traversing his territory, we will see a move towards modern man writing his stories on and for a variety of devices which will enable his story to be accessed in different forms by billions of people across the planet. As China and India open up, and more and more people in non-Western nations learn to read English, the market for Western writers will expand dramatically.
  17. Those who can write stories which cross cultures with authenticity will benefit greatly. Migrants from non-Western countries to Western countries in particular will write tales across the divide and publish them in dual languages, giving them double the market potential of single-language, single-culture authors.
  18. Self published authors will finally realise that Amazon is not the devil, that KDP is simply ‘Kindle Direct Publishing’ which requires no exclusivity, and that it’s the optional ‘KDP Select’ program which means they have to be exclusive to Amazon. And as that realisation dawns, they will stop Amazon-bashing, realise that it is simply another avenue of distribution, and get back to their ‘real’ writing!
  19. Smashwords will develop their own app for iOS and Android, plugging that one last hole that exists in their distribution network. Well, maybe not, but they should be considering it before someone else does it for them.
  20. People will pay less attention to literary reviewers and more attention to crowdsourced review sites such as Goodreads etc. Readers will be more trusting of reviews of other readers who like what they like, and so will trust those reviews to guide them towards books they are likely to enjoy.

So there are my thoughts on where we’re headed for the next half a decade. Don’t forget to check back in 2020 to see how far off I was!

Blue-Lab-RGB-landscape-e1427847086317If you’re in the Blue Mountains and interested in hearing a discussion on publishing decisions, on 21 May I will be sitting on a panel at the inaugural Blue Lab Creative Industries Symposium at the Carrington Hotel, Katoomba. The panel discussion is called To E or not to E: is independent or traditional publishing the way to go? and will be chaired by Jo Chipperfield. It features yours truly (a self publishing facilitator), J-L Heylen (a self published author), Bianca Nogrady (a traditionally published author) and Anna Maguire (an author and crowdfunding specialist). Hope to see you there!