Monday, 14 March 2016

Have the changes in publishing been positive or negative for writers?

As always my mid month post is not about my books but a reflection piece. I don't know how many of you are aware of the fact that the last figures that came out showed indie writers having 45% of e-book sales on Amazon and the big five having only 23%.
If you look at the graphs you will see a steep rise in the sale of indie books and just as steep a decline in books put out by the big five publishers. The smaller presses are just about holding their positions. This means that those who were fortunate enough to get a contract with Orion etc have seen a dramatic fall in net income from e-books. The sale of paper books seems to have increased rather than fallen for the big five – so not all bad news for those with contracts with them.
Indie e-books are, on the whole,  a fraction of the cost of those published by the big five. They are also, on the whole, indistinguishable from those put out by traditional publishers. I suppose there are still some new writers who don't understand the necessity of having a professional cover/edit/proof read for their books – but the days of thousands of unreadable e-books being produced has long gone.
Amazon has now introduced a control mechanism were if a reader complains about errors in an indie book they will ask the writer to correct his mistakes or the book will be removed. Let's hope this doesn't lead to trolls using this tool to cause headaches for writers they have taken an unwarranted dislike to.
Being a published writer has never been easier. It's no longer necessary to have an agent or a mainstream deal in order to get your books in front of readers. I see the role of an agent having to change over the next few years or they will disappear completely.
Already publishers are asking hopeful writers to submit a sample on a website where their editors can browse and pick up anything they think might be a possibility. I believe that one or two agencies are also using this method – this will mean that the dreaded slush pile will be a thing of the past.
Samhain, a well-respected e-publisher, has collapsed and I know of several writers who got their main income from them. This is because a publisher can't match the low prices of an indie writer's e-books.  Readers want cheap books and a steady supply from the writers they like. An indie-writer can publish four or five new titles every year whereas a traditional publisher will probably only bring out two from any author.
So – do I think things are changing the better? When I started self publishing four years ago not many people were doing it and this gave me a head start. The fact that I had such a long back list meant I could put up a new title most months and this is crucial if you want to succeed in this buyer's market.
When I put up my first three box sets, again several years ago, this was also a brand-new concept and I was selling almost 1000 a week. Now everyone is doing it and unless you price very low you don't sell many.
Last year I got together a brilliant team of Regency writers and we produced three box sets. Again the first two did fantastically well but by the time the third one came out other writers had jumped on the bandwagon and our sales plummeted.  It's possible to get a ten author box set for less than a dollar – so why would a reader by ours at $3 for five books?
Small publishers are going bust because they can't compete with indie-writers. This makes it harder and harder for a new writer to get a foothold with a traditional publisher. Unless a writer has been through the process of professional editing etc with a traditional publisher it can be difficult to know exactly how to produce their own books.
This means there are hundreds of thousands of hopeful writers producing books themselves and the market is now flooded. In order to make in any sort of impact, and any sort of living, you have to be a social media expert as well as having written a riveting story.
Most of the writers I know in my main genre, Regency, have seen a sharp downturn in sales over the past couple of years. Their author ranking might well have remained the same, but their slice of the pie is now much smaller as there are so many excellent writers putting out a regular supply of books.
I'm maintaining my position, but only because I produce something new every month. Of course only half the things I release are new – six new books a year is my limit. I know that as soon as I stop writing so prolifically my income will fall.
Now to answer the question. "Have the changes in publishing been positive or negative for writers?"
For me I can answer with a resounding yes – but I am one of the lucky ones. For those dreaming of breaking into the traditional publishing arena it's become far more difficult. The steady demise of traditional publishers and e-publishers cannot be good for any of us.
What do you think? If you are just starting out today would you be searching for an agent and traditional publisher or heading down the  self-publishing route?


  1. I believe both are still good options for those who manage to succeed in them, whether by good fortune, outstanding talent, sheer hard work or a combination of all three. Having been lucky enough to be on both sides of the fence - though never as successfully as you! - I think there are pros and cons to both. But there are also a lot of authors who will fail to have any success in either way, which is sad, but was ever thus, although it's harder than ever now to 'make it' because so many people 'wannabee' an author! I do agree with you about ebook prices, though. Everyone likes a bargain!

    1. Sheila, thanks for commenting. I agree - price is key. I wonder how many indie-books are bestsellers and over £1.99.

  2. Samhain hasn't collapsed. There are plans afoot! It's nothing to do with self-publishing, it's the way Amazon treats publishers.
    When you self-publish, you are effectively putting all your eggs in the Amazon basket. I'm against giving any one entity that much power, so I remain hybrid.
    The recent move to Agency has played into Amazon's hands, IMO, but balance always rights itself.
    It is becoming more expensive to be an author, because it's the author who pays for everything upfront, and the author who takes the risk.
    I do like the avenue of self-publishing, and it's nice to have it there, especially for backlist books, but I do appreciate the support I receive from my publishers. I do get much more opportunity from them. If you can balance out the two, then it's probably better.
    I would take issue with your claim that there's no difference between published by a reputable publisher and self-published. At least a publisher guarantees a basic level of storytelling and grammar and spelling standards. Slick marketing has led me to some of the worst books I've ever read in my life.

    1. Lynne, Thanks for the update on Samhain -I hope they can get going have a point. However, most indie-writers use editors etc -and often they are the same people who work for the mainstream guys. I think the issue is that indie-writers make their own decisions - there are no gatekeepers. This is why I have three beta readers as well as an editor. The most successful, IMO, are those that have had trad publishing experience.