I’ve been working in the indie publishing industry for five years, with a smattering of trad pub experience right before that. I mean a very tiny smattering; I had a couple short stories and poems published in journals before I got addicted to self-publishing, and I was with a small press for a year. But I’ve always been an introvert, and the thing most people don’t know about us introverts is that we’re super observant. We may not say much, but we see everything. And we pay attention.
Lately there’s been a lot of ugliness in the lit community. Some high profile authors were outed for attacking readers, there’s been a lot of mudslinging over diversity in fiction, and now I’m seeing a lot of authors griping about how “oversaturated” the industry is.
I get it. Amazon sales have tanked for everyone this month. In general, there’s been a decline in sales. The industry has been plateauing, trying to find its footing in the midst of this digital revolution. But I’ve noticed the panic really dig in to authors when Amazon changes something. And then things get ugly.
I’ve been doing this for five years. It’s not a long time, by any means, but I’ve seen a lot of things change. It’s completely natural to look for something to blame when the industry shifts, but it seems kind of petty to lob it at the increasing number of authors and books out there.
For one, the market has always been full. Even before indie publishing took off—back when it was considered vanity publishing to go and print copies of your books and sell them out of your car—there was a vast traditional market. Book stores became more and more selective with who they gave shelf space to. It was a game of dollars—which publisher could pay the most to get their star author front and center in stores. And it still is.
New authors are debuting every day in the traditional world. Some never sell. Publishers are taking a huge gamble on them. Many authors will not publish again, or will and remain low- or mid-list. Those who buckle down for the long haul will ultimately have the most rewarding careers. Some will become overnight bestsellers and will be completely okay with their single famous series.
It’s the same on the indie side of the fence. The only difference is whose dollars are backing the production and marketing.
Authors, we’re not competitors. There are millions of readers around the world, with new markets opening up every single day. (Right now India and Nigeria’s ebook markets are booming, by the way.) Readers don’t play favorites. Sure, there are authors they love who they will always buy from right away. But most readers are just looking for something good to read that fits their tastes and their budget—especially while their favorites are in between releases.
We’re not competitors, the same way sushi and pizza aren’t. They’re different foods, with different flavors, but they’re still tasty. Depending on the day, I’ll have a craving for one or the other (or a variety of other foods).
Amazon tweaked an algorithm that slashed sales. Okay. That does sting. My sales, for example, aren’t that high in the first place. Being disabled and low income, I work hard so that my book sales help pay my bills. I more than understand the stress. However, Amazon isn’t the only retailer out there, nor are they the only avenue of income for authors.
For example, over on Kobo my sales are business as usual. I’m participating in a 30% off promotion and my standalone romance The Nanny with the Skull Tattoos is currently selling all over the world, with little effort on my part at this point. All I did was sign up for the promotion. Thanks to Kobo, I just sold my first book in Sweden. A couple months ago, I broke into the UAE market for the first time.
Kindle Unlimited is just not a long-term business plan for indie authors. It’s great in the short-term, but as Amazon tweaks algorithms to better service their customers, it affects the authors. And that’s fine, because Amazon is a business and they have to do what’s best for their customers. They don’t owe authors anything. Their job is to keep their business running—and our job is to keep our businesses running.
I was recently listening to an episode of The Creative Penn podcast and Joanna Penn said something like “readers don’t owe you a living.” This really resonated with me.
Amazon and readers aren’t obligated to keep our businesses running. We are. And we do so by being open to other streams of income, such as going wide (maybe rotating series in KU but not putting our entire catalogs in), writing in multiple genres, writing nonfiction, and looking for related work, like teaching courses and workshops.
Our entire careers do not and should not depend on Amazon. Our sales do not depend on whether other authors are releasing. Our sales do not depend on readers.
How well we do is up to us, the author—the entrepreneur at the head of our own businesses.
Our careers depend on how hard we want to work. It’s as simple as that.
I’m in it for the long haul. And no algorithm tweak or market condition is going to change that.