In another era, an aspiring writer might dream of one day having a book published by one of the Big Six Publishers: Random House, Penguin, Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, Hachette Book Group, or Macmillan.
But then in 2013, Random House and Penguin merged, and we were down to the Big Five. Now, with the proposed sale of Simon & Schuster to Penguin Random House – announced last November and to take place at some point in the not so distant future – only Four Biggies remain.
And there has never been a better time to be an indie author!
Behemoth publishers have a lot of money and clout, but as we know from so many other life experiences, bigger does not necessarily mean better. In fact, the opposite can be true. What many authors don’t realize is that traditional publishers actually create systems that make it difficult for authors to sell books. In general, retail is finicky, trends can happen overnight, and publishers are notorious for ignoring trends and opting to forge ahead with what worked 20 years ago. So while indie authorship comes with great responsibility because you retain all control over your book (including the creative, digital, international rights, and promotion) that control also gives you one of the most important tools for success: flexibility.
Unlike the giant and old-fashioned ocean liners of traditional publishing, your smaller and more agile yacht can chart its own course – and you are the one at the helm.
So let’s look at all the cool things you can do!
1. Book Pricing
Being in control of pricing is huge. Publishers often overprice their books in an effort to make their money back, but that makes it a long, hard road for promotion (which they’ll expect you, the author, to cover).
Unless you’re a mega-bestseller, trying to get someone to buy an overpriced book is an exercise in futility. The phrase “sell a cape to superman” comes to mind. Never gonna happen. Indie authors can stay competitive with their pricing, offer limited time discounts around holidays – there are a lot of creative book marketing options that revolve around pricing.
2. Digital Book Options
Like book pricing, eBook options are another area where indie authors have the one up on traditionally published authors. Some publishers don’t even give authors their eBook file. Why would you want it? Because different retail sites use different formats, and maybe your publisher doesn’t work with Apple iBooks.
And eBook pricing is a big part of a successful book marketing launch strategy. Playing with eBook price points, discount promotions, and free days are fantastic ways to gain more traction for your book.
3. Book Updates
Some publishers have rules that say they won’t update your book until you achieve X number of sales. If you write non-fiction, this is insane, and it cripples your ability to remain up to date on your topic and to stay relevant as a product. Even fiction authors can get in trouble with this. Say you want to re-release a series that did well five years ago because your storyline and concept are back on trend – nope, not an option.
4. Amazon Optimization
Indie authors have full control of their Amazon presence, which is gold when it comes to discoverability and book marketing. You have full control of your categories, which are expanding all the time, and keywords, which should be updated regularly to match buying trends. You can also update your subtitle or your book description if you win awards or get a glowing review of your book.
We’ve worked with traditionally published clients who have gone to blows with their publisher over basic Amazon updates; it isn’t pretty.
5. Book Marketing
Most publishers offer minimal to zero marketing with their contracts. They use the majority of their budget on less than 1% of their authors. Let that sink in.
But most authors don’t realize this, or they bury their head in the sand. That is until they pull it out a year later when their book has flopped and they can’t figure out why their publisher didn’t make them an instant success. As an indie author you know from the get-go that you’re going to have to handle your own book marketing. So you learn, you study, you go to writers’ conferences. You become publishing savvy out of the need to survive – and that’s a powerful thing.
Traditional publishing is alluring, but don’t waste time waiting on a lucrative deal. Getting your book out there, even as an indie author, is going to get you farther, faster, than sitting on something that sounds better in theory then it is in reality.
So cheers, matey! To quote William Cowper, you are the master of all you survey, your “right there is none to dispute/ From the centre all round to the sea….”
Celebrate your independence by putting some time into whatever aspect of book marketing and promotion most appeals to you. And if you need help choosing key areas, we’re always happy to help.
Penny Sansevieri, CEO and founder of Author Marketing Experts, Inc. (AME) and Adjunct Professor at NYU, is a best-selling author and internationally recognized book marketing and media relations expert. Her company is one of the leaders in the publishing industry and has developed some of the most cutting-edge book marketing campaigns. To learn more about Penny and AME, visit www.amarketingexpert.com.