The Year Indies Finally Got On Top

For self-published authors 2012 was a groundbreaking year.
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When I published In Leah's Wake in 2010, self-publishing was, for all intents and purposes, in its infancy. Yes, authors had been self-publishing for years, but it was only when e-readers finally entered the mainstream that self-publishing exploded. Suddenly, platforms like Amazon's Kindle Direct, Smashwords, and B&N's PubIt made publishing an e-book inexpensive and easy. Still, there were hurdles: proper formatting and conversion posed challenges and there were few services to help indie authors.

As with any new venture, processes had to be established. No one really knew how to promote self-published books. Established authors like Barbara Freethy enjoyed tremendous success, but for a new author with no fan base or insider knowledge, it was tough to get notice. We formed groups, asked questions, and tried pretty much whatever we could think of to market our books, hoping some of it would stick.

Most difficult was enduring the stigma. Traditional publishers wrote the rules; no one--publishing houses, agents or mainstream media--would touch self-published authors, largely denigrated as hacks who couldn't cut it in the traditional world. Even superstar John Locke, who'd sold millions of e-books, had few fans offline. When Locke struck a sweetheart distribution deal with Simon and Schuster, his books appeared in bookstores, but few owners and shoppers knew who he was; as a result, his books languished in the lower rent area on shelves at the back of stores.

Happily, the world has changed. In December 2011, Amazon stunned the industry when they introduced their KDP Select program, giving Amazon Prime members free access to thousands of books (now 180,000) in their Kindle Lending Library and offering authors an exciting new marketing opportunity and a brand new revenue stream. To participate, authors are required to distribute exclusively through Amazon, sparking outrage in the publishing world and--surprisingly--opening new avenues and presenting new opportunity for self-published authors.

For self-published authors 2012 was a groundbreaking year, with the Amazon KDP Select program only one of the many changes that altered the publishing landscape. Here, in my view, are the 10 most exciting changes that took place over the last year.

1) The bar continued to rise. Many talented authors self-publish, for a variety of reasons including finances and artistic control. Still, in a rush to publish, some sloppy authors put out work with egregious editing errors and poorly designed covers. Unprofessional work reinforces old prejudices against indie authors, frustrates readers, and infuriates indies who produce quality work.

Over the last year, groups have formed to evaluate and identify quality books and publishing professionals, once reluctant to deal with self-publishers, have joined forces with indie authors. Like any author who cares about her work, these pros expect self-published books to stand up to the New York competition. With quality self-pubbed books attracting a wide audience, reader expectations increased, raising the bar for all self-published authors.

2) Assisted self-publishing opportunities exploded. Early on, self-published authors were on their own, shouldering full responsibility for all aspects of the publishing process. For many authors, this was a daunting proposition.

Today, high quality assisted self-publishing companies take care of all the nuts and bolts, some offering services for a pre-determined upfront cost, others offering a range of ala carte services. Some of these companies even publish under the own ISBN, emulating the traditional publishing model while allowing authors greater control and a higher share of their profits.

3) Self-publishing platforms became more author-friendly and easier to navigate. Improving DIY platforms mean fewer of the post-conversion issues--odd formatting, for instance--that plagued indie authors. Companies introduced new platforms like Kobo Writing Life, giving authors flexibility plus additional sales and distribution channels. And aggregator/distributors like Book Baby and companies like Author Solutions/Booktango offer myriad services from editing to design, distribution, and marketing and promotion.

4) More traditional publicists began to promote self-published authors. Traditional publicists cannot replace Internet publicists nor do they replace the vibrant book blogging community, without which the e-book revolution would not have taken hold. Still, with their knowledge of and experience with mainstream media, traditional publicists can get exposure for indie authors that would be impossible to get on one's own. In 2012, I had the honor of appearing on the Jordan Rich and Mary Waldon Inspiring Women radio shows, and I received coverage in the Boston Globe and Newton Tab. By provided mainstream exposure, this helped me build a wider audience.

5) Bookstore owners became more receptive to self-published books. Until recently, authors who hoped to see their book on shelves in brick and mortar stores reached out to individual store managers and owners. If the author could show a local following, bookstores would often carry the book, but few others showed any interest. Due partly to animosity toward Amazon, seen by some as the behemoth putting small stores out of business, many store managers and owners refused on principal to stock self-published books.

In 2012, as self-published titles continued to gain steam, routinely making the NY Times and USA Today bestseller lists, store owners began to realize that refusing to carry self-published books cost them opportunities. Today, some forward-thinking store owners offer self-publishers an opportunity to buy shelf space for a reasonable price--under the same or similar contracts offered to traditional houses.

6) Distribution chains opened for self-published books. Until John Locke signed his distribution deal with Simon and Schuster, no self-published book enjoyed mainstream distribution. For a while, not even Barbara Freethy, a traditionally published author with numerous bestsellers, sold her self-published books into stores. While distribution remains limited and available primarily to authors who've reached a certain sales threshold, smaller distributors have begun to work with self-published authors.

This year, Bella Andre received a 7-figure deal for worldwide rights to distribute her bestselling novels in paperback--while maintaining rights to her e-books! Expect to see more such deals as indie authors continue to prove their worth with mind-blowing sales records!

7) The mainstream media finally took notice. Until recently, the mainstream media shunned self-publishers, refusing to write about or review their books. As more and more indie books claimed a spot on the staid NY Times and USA Today bestseller lists, self-publishers became harder to ignore. Today, Forbes, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, and The Huffington Post report regularly on the self-publishing industry; many other outlets have begun to follow suit.

8) Literary organizations reached out to self-published authors. Grub Street, the second largest independent center for creative writing in the U.S., now offers classes in self-publishing and publishes posts on self-publishing on their blog. Bookstores host readings by indie authors and community groups continue efforts to recognize and celebrate self-published authors.

9) Traditional and self-published authors began working together. In 2012, disparaging remarks by authors Jodi Picoult and Sue Grafton infuriated self-published authors. While many traditionally pubbed authors supported Picoult and Grafton, their ranks are thinning. Increasingly, established authors self-publish their backlists--and in many cases new work--blurring the line between traditional and self-published authors.

In August, I had the wonderful opportunity work on a co-promotion, The Bestsellers' Sandbox, with the lovely and talented Ann Pearlman, a bestselling traditionally published author. Ann and I discussed our experiences and appeared together in a Twitter chat and radio show. Many of the readers who participated expressed surprise at the similarity between our backgrounds and experiences. Appearing together exposed each of us to a new fan base. By breaking down walls, such promotions benefit everyone.

10) In 2012, for the first time, as Amy Edelman reports in IndieReader, the New York Times reviewed a self-published book. It is impossible to overstate the groundbreaking significance of this. Mainstream reviews will never replace the trusted reviews and recommendations of talented book bloggers. Still, by reviewing an indie-published book, this respected review validated self-publishing--a landmark step toward evaluating books based solely on the quality of the work without regard to who published the book.

As 2012 comes to a close, I'm deeply grateful for the privilege of self-publishing and I have tremendous hope for continued change in the exciting new world of 2013!

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