Monday, April 4, 2016

Making Sense, and Cents, Out of the Current State of Book Publishing

This past February, I received an email about yet one more publisher closing their doors, shutting down. The publisher is Samhain, and I signed with them last year for a title that was due for delivery in August of this year, scheduled to be released in February of 2017.

In a newsletter, the publisher cited reasons why they could no longer sustain their business, one being that they were closing due to the continuance of declining market shares. They also said that recent sales were not providing any hope for recovery, that each month their sales continued to shrink, in spite of their various marketing efforts, and that it would be disingenuous to keep contracting new titles.

As it turns out, my rights will be reverted back to me, as I had not yet turned in my title. However, I cannot help but to once again take a serious look at the big picture. Some publishing companies are making money in this business, but a lot are not. Some authors are making good money in this business, but most are not. Very few authors have book deals with majors, and some prefer it to be that way because of the independence. And another very important factor is true, that readers have so many choices as far as titles, with so many at rock-bottom prices, that there's not enough money coming back into the pockets of publishers and authors. Even those authors who had made great amounts of money years ago, are seeing checks with fewer digits.

We focus on learning how to write, but do we focus on learning how to sell? Are we as authors and/or publishers not adequately reaching out to readers to let them know about our titles so that they are aware as to what's out there? Do we need billboard ads, magazine ads, Facebook ads, Instagram celebrity shout-outs, drive-time radio spots, subway ads, that cost thousands of dollars? Independent authors have always had a hard time affording that, and now, publishers are cutting that out of their budgets as well. Or, maybe it's the covers, the plot, or the price. Is the book is lacking the IT factor, or is it the author in general who is not appealing enough to readers to make them curious enough to check out their works? More book signings, more events, more giveaways, more blog posts, more social media, more videos? Will having a book-to-movie deal help (a movie that is actually released)? Will being on Steve Harvey, Oprah, or The View help? Some say just keep writing, and focus on writing a good book, and readers will come. Well, no they won’t. Not unless you let them know the book is on the shelf, or available via the click of a mouse via ebook, and still, it's all up to the reader to decide to purchase . . . IF . . .

Yes, publishers are being undercut by the river of indie publishing. And yes, authors can post and sell a book on Amazon in ten minutes – some crafty books, some intermediate, but authors are writing, and trying. Some have gone back to work, some have taken breaks, and some of those authors who I know personally have also come back to their true love – writing, whether they make money at it or not.
And so yes, some publishers are closing their doors, book stores are continuing to close. Is part of the reason that with readers having so many online choices at low prices, they’re not motivated to spend a certain amount? I know that some readers will spend $20+ for a hardback version of their favorite author's book that they’ve been anticipating, and it's usually an established author who has worked hard to build up their readership base over time. There are the big time hits and super popular success stories that lead the way. Those stories are encouraging for the rest of us, yet they also force us to wonder what we can be doing that will propel us to that level. After nearly twenty years in this business, I wonder as well. And that's natural.
I know some readers who only buy ebooks that are $3.99 or less (mainly $.99), and some readers who claim they only buy paperback books, no matter the price. I know some authors who offer ebooks at $3.99 or less who say they're making really good money, and some authors who offer paperback books who say they’re only selling a few hundred, if that. Some say genres can be a factor, or race is a factor, though overall, I’m looking at the bigger picture. The bottom line is . . . what are some publishers and authors doing, that other's aren't?

Samhain also stated that Amazon might be a factor. Oh yes. Amazon. Amazon is the giant, the number one source of book-buying, who is now opening brick and mortar stores. Amazon claims more than two-thirds of the U.S. book buying market, and that equates to power. A monopoly. It is said that Amazon has brought publishing to its knees. They have market power and they were successful at pressuring publishers to lower their ebook prices. Publishers say that factor lowered the perceived value of books, so readers expect to pay less. And yet, as big and small publishers scramble, Amazon continues to innovate. This part of the big picture is major!

What is your opinion as to what some of the factors about why publishers and authors are not able to sustain might be? I'd enjoy reading your opinions as to what the state of publishing looks like in your eyes, as we're now into 2016.

As for the series I was writing for Samhain, I've put it on hold and moved on. Maybe I'll pick it up later. Maybe not. Everything happens for a reason, and I accept the original blessing, and the lesson. For now, I continue to write on!

Whatever your take on it, fellow authors, most importantly, we’re all in this together, figuring it out together, which is a lot better than bashing each other for what we do wrong by another author’s opinion. It’s time to take a good look and come out writing, but also, come out promoting, showing up, and selling our books! 

Write on!


Charles Gramlich said...

I'd like to be selling a few hundred. By sales alone, I should just get out of the business.

Liane Spicer said...

Sorry to hear Samhain went under--but I'm not surprised. And sorry about your title with them. I can empathize. Several of us right here on NS have had our publishers go out of business and cancel plans for our books.

It often feels futile to continue. Amazon is indeed a big problem. When Kindle Unlimited came on stream my indie sales flatlined. My numbers on non-Amazon platforms, though small, are now several times my Amazon numbers, where they used to be a tiny fraction of my Amazon numbers. Whereas a new title used to get an initial push from Amazon, my last few releases sank without a blip. Maybe marketing is the key but I can't afford the ads. Even the promo machines like Bookbub that used to be so effective are waning fast.

Marissa, I think the tsunami of free and super-cheap indie books in the market killed it. Lots of people saw this coming.

On the upside, I'm having fun exploring new genres. I wrote a series in a historical niche and those titles are my main sellers now. Note that I did not say 'big' sellers or 'best' sellers, but books in that series are seeing sales every day, so I'm going to write another series in the niche and hope something good happens. We authors are optimistic creatures.

Jewel Amethyst said...

Between writing as a profession and writing as a hobby, I prefer writing as a hobby. The market is such that it is extremely difficult to get our books to stand out among the tsunami of books out there regardless of the promotions.

G. B. Miller said...


Spent several minutes trying to write a comment that doesn't come off either snarky or snotty about Amazon, only to have an epic fail.

For better or worse (for me, better), Amazon is the first thing that people ask where you're at for books. Sometimes you gotta do what's best to get your toe inside the doorway. Even if it means playing with someone you have a love/hate relationship with.

Sunny Frazier said...

I have always believed, and professed, it all comes down to creative marketing. Face Book is the strongest tool for that--and it's free! I don't spend a penny on promotion, but I'm out there. I'm building my fan base while waiting for my 1st book to be reprinted.

I'm investigating the news that Random House is shutting down its Cozy mystery line. They saturated the market and commissioned books on topics like culinary mysteries, hobby mysteries, animal mysteries. Hard to believe this stuff happens.

Might I suggest the publisher I'm with now: Black Opal Book. They do reprints, the quality is very good, and they have the highest royalties I've ever seen. They only ask for rights for one year. The downside is that they have grown so fast that you might be far back in line. They're out of Portland.

Marissa Monteilh said...

Charles, I hear you, truly, lol!!

Marissa Monteilh said...

Liane, I've been noticing the same. As you said, the good thing is we hang in, we're being creative, and it can be fun. Keep the optimism going, sis. I will try as well.

Marissa Monteilh said...

Jewel, oh how I wish we had the recipe for standing out from the crowd. If I learn more an figure it out, I'll be sure to share.

Marissa Monteilh said...

G.B., I understand, lol! Amazon does have so much power, and we play, hoping for the best. Sometimes, we've just gotta!!

Marissa Monteilh said...

Sunny, I do find benefits to FB as well. I do sometimes pay for ads, very affordable. But most times, just sharing on my pages works, and it's fun. I like connecting w/readers via social media. Thanks for the suggestion in Black Opal. I'll look them up.