What traditional publishers can learn from indie authors [PART 2]


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. 

In the second of this two part post, Ricardo shares what publishers can learn from self-publishers. Read part 1 here.

By taking the publishing process into their own hands, indie authors have been developing an approach to publishing and marketing that is giving them an edge over many traditional players. What are indie authors doing differently from Big Five and independent publishers? And what can publishers learn from them?

Share information

In my opinion, the main reason why indie authors are quicker to react to change and adopt new tools and tactics is because of the incredibly supportive community they’ve built over the years.

Writing is often seen as a solitary profession, but I’m not sure that has ever been a reality. Writing groups and author associations have always existed, and with the advent of social networks, there are now hundreds of Facebook groups, Goodreads groups and online forums dedicated to authors of pretty much any genre you can think of.

Self-publishing communities tend to be particularly strong and active, with a constant exchange of information. To give an example, within 24 hours of Bookbub announcing their CPM ads in May 2016, the news had been shared in all the major indie author Facebook groups I follow. And within a couple of months, early adopters were already reporting on their first experiences and results with this new advertising platform.

This rapid exchange of information allows everyone to keep up with the new developments of an ever-changing industry, and to benefit from the experiences of others. This is what, I believe, gives many indie authors an edge over traditional publishers when it comes to marketing.

Now, I’m not saying that publishers don’t talk to each other. There are several associations (the AAP in the US, the IPG in the UK), event-based communities (Bookmachine, Byte the Book, etc.), and even online forums that foster collaboration and the exchange of information. However, I’ve found that publishers are much more “secretive” than authors when they find a new marketing avenue that works for them, as if to preserve their newly found “competitive advantage.”

This can stem from the fact that publishers were traditionally used to competing only against each other. Now, they have to face indie authors and Amazon Publishing. So it might be time to start banding together, and adopting a new, more collective mindset.

“A high tide rises all boats”

This is one of the recurring themes in the indie author community, and what makes it a supportive (as opposed to competitive) community: there is space for everyone. Yes, there are well over 1 million titles self-published every year (in the US alone). But that doesn’t mean that there is a “content glut” like many industry observers have been claiming. Hugh Howey explains it really well in his 2015 post “The Glut is Good.”

Now, let’s be honest: many genres are becoming saturated. But that’s the nature of popular genres and trends, they can only be popular for so long.

And the more important point is: whether Hugh Howey is right or not, he creates a mindset that fosters collaboration and the exchange of information I mentioned earlier. If two indie authors within the same genre are not really competing, this means they can help each other. And not just by sharing information, but through newsletter swaps, bundles, giveaways, etc. A high tide rises all boats, as goes the saying in the indie community.

Now, you know what? I’ve never seen two imprints within the same genre do anything like this. Even at the author level (within a same imprint), you rarely see any form of cross-promotion among authors — and when it happens, it’s usually at the initiative of the authors themselves, rather than impulsed by the publisher.

This fundamental difference in mindset is at the heart of all the other differences outlined in this article. If you believe there aren’t enough readers out there for everyone, if you believe you’re “competing” with everyone else, you’ll be reluctant to share information. If there is no exchange of information, testing new marketing avenues requires taking a shot in the dark every time. And that’s how you end up behind the curve.

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