The future is happening to the book business.

Jean-Honore Fragonard: A Young Girl Reading
Jean-Honore Fragonard: A Young Girl Reading

We have reached the end of another year and again, it has proven to be year of change. Many call it the effects of “disruptive technology” or what happens when new technologies unexpectedly displace an established technology. And while the revolution in publishing certainly continues to be disruptive, it also seems to advance in short, rapid spurts. For example, what works in January no longer works in April, and by June, the next  “shiny new thing” has come and gone. What follows is my attempt to focus on the cycles of 2013 and what they mean for authors and publishers.

Libby Hellmann
Libby Hellmann

Discoverability and the SEO consultant

“Discoverability” became the catch word of 2013, as both authors and publishers realized the glut of self-published books means there’s a lot of noise and clutter out there. And with it came the elevated status of the “SEO consultant.” Suddenly authors are talking about Google Author ranking, the power of Google vs. Facebook ads, the constant tinkering Amazon does with its algorithms, and semantic search. Authors and publishers are searching for consultants and “doers” who can redesign their digital footprint so they can break out.

The problem is that, like many industries where consultants have become  paramount, most of us (including me) don’t really know which consultants really have the goods and who’s just hawking their wares because it’s a growing and lucrative field. In fact, I’d really like someone to tell me what qualities and skills a worthwhile SEO consultant should have. I know it depends on what I want to do… so maybe I should start there. What does an author need to do SEO-wise to position themselves for growth? And who’s doing it well?

The SP author as a mini-business

The corollary to discoverability and SEO is one that you’ve heard before. As more authors self-published in 2013, the bar for professionalism was continually rising. Which means that one of the advantages of SP—the low cost of entry—might not be the best way to break in. Covers, conversions, distribution, marketing, print, ebook, websites, blogs—all of these tasks and activities require more care and thought than they did the year before. I’ve realized I can’t do it all myself, and I find myself hiring people who can. Which means I’m functioning as a small business. It also means I’m investing more money. So far, so good: sales are keeping up. But I’m very conscious of what my ROI is and the upper limits to my investment.  Geez…I’m even using more business terms… who would have thought?

Now it works, now it doesn’t…

Traditional marketing is dead, digital marketing is king, and if you don’t keep up with all the changes, you’re already several steps behind. Last January Book Bub was the newest, shiniest thing since sliced bread. By December people were saying maybe not so much.  Other promotional sites come and go, all with a different strategy that sounds great on paper, but may not yield results. At least yet. Articles on the long tail of marketing counsel patience, but most of us are still looking for the short burst of glory that will push books and get us noticed. And don’t get me started on the changes with Facebook.

Writing too much and fast

Although many writers will (and have) disagreed with me, I still believe writing and publishing multiple books too quickly will backfire. You exhaust yourself. Quality can drop. And sales of those other books may not be as robust as you hoped. Most of all, though, you can easily lose your way, writing with a market goal in mind instead of from the heart. And if you fall out of love with writing, where are you?

The second generation and the rise of Mobile

It looks like we’re into the second generation of self-publishers, where the writers who were stars in 2008-2009 are realizing it’s not that easy to maintain their positions. A steady stream of new writers have surfaced and are capturing the market. Do you ever feel like a rat in a cage? There are days I do.

Along with the need to be a nimble marketer is the rise of Mobile. Some studies say that people shop more via their mobile phones and tablets than on desktop computers. An author who doesn’t have a dynamic website that looks good on all devices ought to think about developing one. Lots of folks read on their tablets as well, and apps that facilitate both the purchase and display of books have seen their fortunes rise.

Painful price squeezes, old-style models, trolls

Traditional publishers have lowered their prices significantly, especially over the holidays. This, after saying they would never stoop to the lower price model. Is it a permanent situation? Who knows? But it does make the competition at the $5.00 and under level even more cut-throat.

Speaking of traditional publishing, they still don’t seem to understand they’re clinging to a model that no longer works. Or if they do, they haven’t quite figured out how to turn the ship around. But I think 2014 we’ll see some new moves. I think the Big 5 will start selling ebooks from their own portals and websites. Which, in turn, may start a flood of authors doing the same. Should be interesting.

People can be anything they want on the internet, including mean spirited. Internet anonymity means people are more apt to make negative comments and post 1-star reviews. While their effect is probably negligible in the long run, it is hurtful, even cruel.

Predictions for 2014?

While there was still a lot of sturm und drang about Amazon in 2013, they are still hard to beat. Their displays, their search function, customer service, and prices are unsurpassed, especially for books. One takeaway from 2013? Maybe it’s time to stop the hate-mongering and learn to work through and with them. I think Jeff Bezoz had a point when he said, “Amazon isn’t happening to the book business. The future is happening to the book business.”

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  • Caleb Pirtle

    Libby, you have produced a great recap of the pas year in publishing and have given writers everywhere an encouraging hope for the future. We are all trying to change with the changing world of digital publishing, it’s just that no one has really figured out which direction it is going. Your post has helped a lot.

  • Lana L. Higginbotham

    Libby, thanks for a great summarizing post with an on – point overview. All the best to you in 2014.