The Latest Trends in the Indie Author Market [Smart Set]

Smart Set

Welcome to the weekly The Smart Set, where I share three smart pieces worth reading about the publishing and media industry. I also point to issues and questions raised, and welcome you to respond or ask your own questions in the comments.

“To seek: to embrace the questions, be wary of answers.”

—Terry Tempest Williams

2014 Smashwords Survey Reveals New Opportunities for Indie Authors by Mark Coker

Every year, the founder of Smashwords, a major ebook distributor for self-published authors, crunches the company’s sales data and points to trends in the digital book market. I love the transparency, which is hard to find these days. His findings include:

  • Readers prefer longer ebooks. It appears there might be an advantage to selling books that are 100,000 words or longer—and a disadvantage to writing in the 45,000–60,000 word range.
  • Free as a marketing strategy still works, but not as good as it used to. Coker thinks the usefulness of “free” will continue to decline.
  • Pre-orders yield a sales advantage. Unfortunately, Amazon KDP doesn’t allow self-pub authors pre-order capability. Other retailers do, creating a strong motivation against using KDP Select (being exclusively sold through Amazon).
  • Series yield a sales advantage, and longer series books sell better. Coker says, “Successful novella writers might achieve even greater success if they write full-length.  The data appears to suggest that series books under 50,000 words might create friction that makes readers incrementally less willing to buy.”
  • Nonfiction authors are underpricing their works. I’ve thought this for a long time, having worked in nonfiction traditional publishing for 10+ years. Nonfiction can carry a higher price than fiction, regardless of how it’s published, if the information is unique and not to be easily found elsewhere.

Read the full post here, along with the 100+ slides from Coker’s report.

Thoughts & questions:

  • A growing problem for indie authors appears to be the declining ability to get a sales bump or greater visibility by pricing at “free.” That said, series authors appear to (still) have great success with that strategy when they make the first book in the series permanently free as a way to hook people into the series. What strategy will authors fall back on once “free” doesn’t get the attention needed?
  • Will we start to see longer books? And will traditional publishers end up following the indie author lead?
  • Still wondering if Amazon KDP might announce pre-order capability if you sign up for Select.

UK Author Income Survey: Another Publishing Bombshell by Porter Anderson

This week, everyone has been buzzing about the UK author income survey that shows a dramatic decline in earnings for professional authors. Porter Anderson, over at FutureBook, does an in-depth analysis of that survey, and compares it to the overall landscape of reporting on author earnings (e.g., Hugh Howey’s efforts). It’s an excellent way to get up to speed on what we know or don’t know.

Some people have rightly questioned the validity of this UK survey; the best summary of its problematic findings are well highlighted at The Digital Reader.

About the only conclusive statement I can make about the matter is: When it comes to how much money writers are making, it all depends on whom you ask. I have yet to see any objective or defining report.

Thoughts & questions:

  • Who or what do you think comes closest to accurate insight into author/writer earnings?

Big Ideas From Big or Small Data by Pete McCarthy

This is a Slideshare presentation from book marketing guru Pete McCarthy. While some of it might be over the average author’s head (or even mine), it’s still a fascinating look at how to better market books in digital environments; one slide overviews the many services that can be used to gain audience insights for marketing. Go take a look.

Thoughts & questions:

  • What are your favorite digital tools for analyzing your social media presence or figuring out the demographics of who you reach online?
Posted in Smart Set.

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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Erlich StewartIndie Authors: An Overview of Self Publishing | Musings and MarvelsIndie Authors: An Overview of Self PublishingBest of the Web Book Marketing Tips for the Week of October 20, 2014 - Author Marketing Experts, Inc.Jane Friedman Recent comment authors

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William Ash
William Ash

Very interesting set. I am getting more and more interested in the earnings dynamic. The self-publishing revolution was sold as a get rich/famous scheme. And like those schemes, compared to the old world it was to revolutionize, it looks remarkably similar to it. (Actually, I think model of the Big 5 Publishers is more instructive than the Big 5 Self-publishers.) The promise of millions of reader–this scheme only works through a lazy concept of mass production, a cheap product sold many times–just does not pan out. Social media is not, in and of itself, a driver of sales. But we… Read more »


Re: Big Ideas From Big or Small Data. I have tried a bunch of different tools for tracking social media and I think HootSuite provides the best product. With just the free version a single author could get everything they would need to market themselves and their book(s). The look of the application is a bit daunting and less friendly then some others but the number of tools that are provided for free totally make up for that if you are willing to put a little time into it.


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Erlich Stewart

Hey Jane, Thanks a ton for some great marketing tips. But recently, I stumbled upon somehing that might interest us here. Forget e-books, the latest trending thing in reading is Augmented Reality books! Yes, you read it right… AR books. Now they come with a dedicated app and coupled with your phone and headset, you enter a completely different world while reading these books. Look for the AR version of Jack Hunter : The French Connection. Children will definitely love it. If you want to know more about AR books, I suggest you this article I found very helpful. —->… Read more »