The indie book world is constantly changing. There are many posts out there with a far more knowledgeable view of it than mine, I’m just an ideas person. This post is really to record some ideas I had during and after my in-person book sale at the Mynt Image craft & gift fair at Romsey in May.

by 2020 there will be more authors than readers

Brainstorming session, London Author Fair , 2014

They were exacerbated by an email from a friend (okay, Rebecca 🙂 ) headed ‘Goodreads is Dead’.

And… I was clearing out and came across the notes I made from Writers & Artists lectures.

Even more useful were the notes from the London Author Fair (which was really useful–and my report still is!).

How it was ten years ago

Ebooks were coming into their own. Kindle (Amazon) and Smashwords were the two big players, and Apple, Kobo and B&N working towards an author interface rather than just getting the epubs from Smashwords.

Paperbacks were mostly beyond the capability of many indie authors – still tarnished with vanity press and scams. Createspace was doing reasonably well in attracting authors with an easy to use interface where you loaded up your word document in one of their templates. If you could put in a lot more work you could publish with Lightning Source but you were on your own for getting paperbacks sold anywhere. If you bought your own ISBNs you could work with Neilsen and Ingrams to get them made available.

Most booksellers were extremely wary of anything not coming from mainstream publishers.

Marketing ebooks was a question of getting your name out there and getting the buying public to notice you on social media – Facebook and Twitter, but also a couple of independent book haunts like Goodreads and Librarything. There were lots of sites who would advertise your cheap ebooks for not a lot of money, and you had to take their word for it that anyone actually noticed the adverts. But you could do things like Giveaways, seen by thousands of readers anywhere in the world via Goodreads, just for the cost of sending a paperback somewhere (if you wanted) or more likely, the ebook. So, free promotion.

Slide from Mark Coker’s 2021 year end review

How it seems now

Apple, Kobo & B&N still take the epubs from Smashwords, and don’t appear to distinguish between them and the ones sent through their own publishing portals. Kindle (Amazon) has evolved so many times that it wants to keep you all to itself but make it very difficult for you to be seen unless you spend a lot of money on advertising. But even if you do, if you haven’t already sold loads of books through them, they won’t show your book to anyone that you can validate.

Amazon now owns Goodreads. Giveaways are only available to those who want to spend a lot of money on them, and in the US only. Goodreads appears to recommend the most popular Amazon books to every Goodreads reader (thanks, RD). They have dropped the Author advertising programme.

You can set up some lovely ads on Amazon. I have no idea how the algorithms work, but the chances of my books being seen by anyone and clicked through is about one in a million, I reckon. At Bookbub it came in at 1 in 5,000, at any rate.

So what’s the problem?

To me, it seems a lot of people are doing the same things we always have, but with even less success.

Either ‘established’ indie authors will get disillusioned and drop out, which will slow the ever-growing number of authors. This creates its own problem, because indie authors seem to be to be divided between young wannabes who can’t get traditionally published, and those of us who are empty-nesters and can finally find time to write. Yes, there is a large chunk of established indie authors in the middle, who have built a loyal following, and look after them professionally, with Patreon and mailing lists, and the like.

I don’t know how those established indie authors are doing.

The market of indie authored books is huge – vast – and the number of books sold by them is probably very small.

My most successful ebook – my dad’s memoirs. Note how one sale sticks the line up to the same level each time. I suspect the difference between the starting levels of those leaps relates to the number of ebooks published in the period between them. Data from my Author Central page on Amazon.com

Amazon figures tell part of it. When I started, my books at the bottom of the sales list were ranked in the 3 millions. A quick check of my Amazon.com sales list shows one book published in 2014 in the 8 millions. A lot of the Princelings books and more recent (flash fiction collection) books are in the 3 or 4 millions. One is in the 10 millions.

If I have any claim to being established (even though I’ve been published for over ten years) I don’t think I’m successful.

Without getting our books in front of possible buyers, we’re sunk.

And, I’m out of ideas about how to get my ebooks in front of new readers online.

Idea for a new way of getting them to interested readers

I have to say I’ve been thinking of just giving up. Write for myself if I like, but give up trying to get other people to read them. And especially, wasting money on trying to find readers.

One way I thought was to go local and work harder at in-person sales – hence the craft & gift fairs.

I wasn’t selling as much as I needed to cover the costs of buying the books, renting the stall space, covering the other overheads, parking and petrol (gas).

At May’s stall, I did. But I also spotted an opportunity. Lots of people say they only read on their kindle. One gentlemen said he couldn’t read books any more because of his eyesight. After a chat, I showed him my kindle App on my iPad, and how he could change the font and so on. And how to get the free kindle app on his tablet. If only I could sell him my books, too.

Another lady confessed she only bought 99p ebooks when she saw them. I wrote down the Smashwords address for her (on my courtesy bookmark), highlighting the July sale coming up!

If keeping the stock of paperbacks is going to be prohibitively expensive, then how do I sell more ebooks at an event? The readers are there.

Using file transfer technology

Given that I take payments for the books by credit card, I ought to have thought of this sooner. As well as credit card, I take phone apps for credit. Whether it’s Apple Pay or Paypal, I don’t mind, the Zettle will take it.

What if I could sell someone an ebook by sending it from my iPad to their iPhone?

Duh. Airdrop. I know I can do that.

What about people who havent got iPhone? There must be a way to do this.

Is it an App? Does it exist?

I thought I’d read something about a new Smashwords App. I contacted them, but no App. They are too busy with integrating their software systems as a result of their merger with Draft2Digital. I thought of a way to use their ‘gifting’ system, though.

And… I always fancied making an app of my own, just for the fun of it. I’d rather have people get it from Smashwords, though, in case they ever lose it. It happens.

Other ways to reach readers I can’t see myself using

In truth, there are lots of new ways of reaching readers some of you will be using already. I have reached a level with new technology where I am never going to embrace TikTok and its successors. I don’t like Instagram or YouTube as a medium, mainly because I’m not a video sort of person. Heck, I don’t even watch tv any more (unless it’s live sport).

BUT – are MY readers using these media? The kids, might be, and some Mums and Dads will be. If you have an older reading audience, then you will likely be at the same stage as me. Getting in front of them is more likely to be by traditional means. Blogging is not one of them.

I suspect that for all my disappointments, I do get in front of more potential readers for the cost of my stalls than I do for the equivalent amount of money spent on other promotional activities. It is a lot more tiring, and it requires investment. But if I can crack the ebook sale aspect, it’ll be worth carrying on.

And maybe writing books for those readers. So far my notes include: social history of Frome (unlikely), curling, running, sports autobiographies, railways, women protagonists.

PS My June Jubilee stall was just as successful… nobody tried the ebook idea, though.

Lyndhurst Platinum Jubilee stall

The Indie book world is changing
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7 thoughts on “The Indie book world is changing

    • 15 June, 2022 at 8:00 pm
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      Well, I think you have a much more established platform than me, and the cosy mystery genre is hugely popular. And the Pilgrim book will attract readers like White Water Landings does, a steady stream of interested people. But even so, discoverability is the issue, even for those with plenty of money to throw at it.
      But maybe it’s about expectations.

      Reply
  • 16 June, 2022 at 4:22 pm
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    I’m with you on how hard it is to get traction online if you don’t have an established audience now. It honestly feels very pay to play now. It’s why I did what I did with my books recently and unpublish everything so I could rethink my plan. Doing the same thing over and over with few to no results is just a waste of time.

    Since you’re doing more in person stuff, here’s a good idea I’ve seen someone try in order to sell ebooks there. https://twitter.com/ds_whitaker/status/1515823985912647681 QR codes I think are free to generate so you’d just need to make the code and have it so people can easily scan it on your table.

    Reply
    • 16 June, 2022 at 8:05 pm
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      Yes, I do have QR codes, and put the series ones on the banners. I’d like to take their money, though!

      Reply
  • 18 June, 2022 at 7:05 pm
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    Good report. Both discouraging and encouraging, I think. One thing, if I can find my way to direct sales (ie craft fairs and the like), I have a large stock of most of my books on hand. So that bit of overhead has already been written off, and I wouldn’t mind getting some of it back. Chuck Wendig used to sell some of his books (the self-published writing books) directly from his website via some kind of payment and delivery system. I don’t know what it was, and it probably isn’t out there anymore, but that’s the sort of thing I’d like to add. I never get direct sales of paperbacks via the web page (honestly, i can’t compete with Amazon prices, since I have to pay real money for shipping), but maybe ebooks?

    Not going to think about this now!

    Reply
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