This is a guest post from Ricardo Fayet. Ricardo is an avid reader and startup enthusiast who has been studying the publishing industry with interest for several years. He co-founded Reedsy, to help authors collaborate with publishing professionals.
An ALCS survey in the UK last summer crystalised industry concerns about whether career authorship is a viable profession these days. The report painted a somewhat grim picture for professional and part-time authors alike–regardless of whether those authors publish traditionally or independently. (For a crash-course on the industry landscape, I recommend Kristine Kathryn Rush’s exhaustive report on “things indies learned in 2014”.)
The question now is, has the inde “Gold Rush” passed? Is success finite, and has it been mined to depletion?
I don’t believe so.
In fact, I’m convinced we’ll see many more indie success stories over the next few years–maybe even more than the ones we’ve witnessed so far. The “Gold Rush” ends when there is no more gold left, or no way to get to it. That’s not the case here. The problem today is that there are too many people who want to find it, and perhaps not enough of them willing to do the hard work it takes to strike it rich.
If you think about it, that’s a not such a bad problem to have. A few years ago, when Hugh Howey, Joe Konrath, Bella Andre and their peers started “self-publishing”, the ‘problem’ was different but no less complicated: sure, they were the first prospectors to the river, but they had absolutely no clue how to find the gold, or if there even was any. As I like to say, the first indies had to sift for nuggets and hope for the best. Now, everyone can gather around a massive ore deposit someone else painstakingly discovered and chip away until they find what they need. The problem arises when the easy gold has been picked off and we have to start digging deeper to find the good stuff.
How to “mine deeper” in today’s climate? Genre-blending is one answer. Think of Western Fantasy, or “Weird West”–a genre Stephen King himself has embraced, but few indies have.
Indie authors have to start acting like startups: experimenting and testing, revising and trying again. If a book isn’t performing, change the cover. A/B test your newsletters. Cross-share with other authors on Google+ to improve SEO. Put calls to action at the end of every message (including your books). Learn about actual pricing strategies (and no, permafree isn’t one).
Once you’ve done all that, think outside the box. Authors have the enormous advantage of being creative people. Use that. Remember always that competition is a good thing. It means vanity publishing authors will get discouraged and that the standards of quality in writing and production will be raised. Finally, it means authors and publishers alike will have to get much more creative in their marketing efforts (something I’ve largely discussed with indie author Eliot Peper in an interview).
If gold were easy to find and obtain, it wouldn’t be valuable. Success awaits those open to change and hard work–especially those who dare to dream of riches lying below the surface.