Change is in the air in the world of print. It’s a cliché—but a true one—that the internet has transformed how we work, relax, date, socialize, consume culture, share news, and most of everything else we do. Something else that’s been redefined by big changes in digital tech is how writers write, publish, and promote their work.
One thing that hasn’t changed is that publishing a book first requires writing it. Writing means wrangling with a manuscript, fussing over edits, proofing it, and all the rest. And because even the most polished final draft won’t sell itself, you’ve got to find your readers and get your book into their hands.
On the traditional publishing model of yesteryear, writers typically needed an agent to do the promotional work and represent them to publishers. Here’s where things have changed. Today, there is an abundance of digital tools designed to help you spread your ideas and tell your stories. These tools can help you publish your work without traditional support from a publisher and an agent. With the right tools and some patience and determination, you can self-publish your own work, and perhaps even achieve bestseller-grade success.
Autonomous publication has enormous potential to transform your writing career. But it can be hard to know where to start. Keep reading to clear away the confusion and pick up some of the best tools available for putting the power to publish in your hands.
Some Starting Tips1
1. Get ready for a long, slow burn. There’s a reason that there’s a whole category of professionals (agents) who specialize in promoting books and ushering them into publication—it’s hard work! That’s the price to pay for self-publishing. It is, without a doubt, a demanding process. Thankfully, being prepared to put in the work will help you to envision and bring the second stage of publishing to life. The thing to remember is that success depends just as much on publishing and promoting your work as it does on writing it in the first place.
2. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to publishing or marketing your work independently. As you research and prepare to embark on this journey for yourself, remember that what worked for others may not work for you, and what didn’t work for others might be a great fit for your needs.
3. The title and official description of your book is all-important. It will either capture the attention of the audience you want, or not. Which leads us to the question you should start with—who are your ideal readers? These brainstorming questions can help you narrow things down:
- Why did you write the book? What purpose would you have it serve?
- What (specifically) is the value you hope it will provide for your readership?
- Why can’t or shouldn’t your readers get that value somewhere else? What does your book offer that others don’t?
Some Recent Trends
It turns out that there are plenty of changes afoot in the world of print in 2019. Many of them are being driven by trends and innovations in a digital world that’s harder than ever to separate from the world of print itself. Whether you’re still picking a topic for your writing project or already brainstorming a marketing strategy, it helps to know the lay of the land.
In terms of content, over the past year or two there’s been a general shift in the direction of non-fiction writing. Looking at general trends, there appears to be an overall emphasis on politics, pop-culture, and current affairs. Blending styles and genres seems to be the order of the day, too. Many recent bestselling authors successfully combine memoir, popular history, social critique, and personal reflections on timely issues in cultural politics, mass media, and major elections.
In terms of format, generational differences have had a big impact on what attracts popular interest. Virtually all Millennials (and their juniors) have only ever known a virtual information environment that exists at least partially online. The 18-35 demographic therefore gravitates to content that lives in both analog and digital space.
One way for books to span the gap is to provide supplemental streaming or downloadable content or subscription-based materials obtained via email. Another popular medium is allowing access to dedicated spaces on social channels where fellow fans and followers can engage. By the same token, those who launch content online will do well to supplement with print materials that expand brand visibility and allow readers to scratch the analog itch.
Interestingly, the very same factors that make digital content so essential also make it problematic. Readers, especially younger ones who are prone to digital burnout, crave physical print and “old-fashioned” media forms. It’s why markets in vinyl and other analog music formats are thriving, and why print media has staying power.
This underscores the point made earlier about the importance of strong graphic design and visual presentation in marketing your work. Books are on the rise as status symbols and luxury items, but yours doesn’t have to be either in order to turn heads. A close look at recent design trends can go a long way towards attracting the readers you want.
On the marketing side, a number of additional points are worth mentioning.
First, e-books have been giving print books a hard time for a while. That’s partly because e-books are lower-maintenance: they never go out of print and don’t compete with each other for physical shelf space. But diminishing returns has set in and readership hasn’t kept up with the explosion in digital publication.
Or look at it from the perspective of Kindle Unlimited’s subscription service, as an example. A subscription gives you access to over 1 million e-books and audiobooks. This is potentially great for subscribers. Unfortunately, subscriptions are not so great for the authors if they hope to fetch traditional e-book prices for their work. By the same token, the popularity of digital streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu have predictably depressed DVD sales. Why spend as much on one title as you can pay to have instant access to it and countless others?
What all of this means is that print books are poised to (re)gain ground as active readers weigh digital convenience and oversaturation against the creature comforts and nostalgia of analog. The recent boost in subscriptions to newspapers and magazines like The Atlantic, as well as new print launches like Airbnb Magazine all point toward a print renaissance.
These trends point to some developments around promotion that independent authors should bear in mind.
The big takeaway is that it’s essential to build an online following. Grassroots marketing is a powerful tool for doing so. Self-published authors have found that it pays to shed preconceptions about what it means to be independent. They use every tool at their disposal to make their brand and product more visible, including promotional partnerships with brick-and-mortar retailers, collaborations with other authors, bloggers, journalists, and digital artists, and much more.
Building a following is easier said than done, of course. Fortunately, others have tread this path in recent years, and given the rest of us cues to follow.
For instance, video and live seminars and webinars have proven to be effective tools for autonomous promotion. And happily, they’re low-budget affairs. Instagram Live and Facebook are ideal platforms for this sort of effort. Print materials can serve as a sellable supplement to the fluid and fleeting digital content you make available via social channels.
Or it can be seen the other way around. What’s important is that, as we saw before, print and digital media play well together these days. There are endless possibilities of using them in concert, and this all works to the advantage of savvy self-published creatives.
Hire the Help You Need
Even successful self-publishers typically don’t totally go it alone. Though it’s your job to identify your target audience (see above), capturing their attention and presenting your work in the best possible light probably requires investing in some outside professional services.
First impressions really are everything. So, besides your book’s title and official description, its cover has an outsized impact on readers’ interest. This one’s such a big deal that hiring a professional graphic designer is one of the smartest marketing investments you can make.
When it comes to the promotional process, there are plenty of free book promotion services, but you get what you pay for. Though investing in paid services may make perfect sense given your needs, you’ll want to closely investigate the options. Remember that what often works best for an author is to put together the right combination of paid and free promotion for your project.
As with pretty much any media outreach or marketing effort these days, social media platforms are extremely powerful, versatile tools for self-publishing. There are plenty of tools you can use to help automate your social media marketing effort. But you’ll want to keep potential disadvantages in mind.
Paid Facebook Ads, for example, help to launch a title but they often don’t directly generate enough sales to pay for themselves. But when they help readers find and like your author page, where a link to buy copies of your book is easily found, they can have a big indirect impact.
Expand Your Toolkit
In 2019, there’s no shortage of platforms designed to help authors publish and promote their own work. We’ve already touched on a number of digital tools and venues for doing so. But plenty of others exist.
Through Kindle Direct Publishing, independent authors host and manage their Kindle content, whether audiobook, e-book, or paperback.
The service provides a streamlined means of getting your work to market worldwide within 24-48 hours of submitting your manuscript. And even before you’re ready to submit and publish, free resources are available through the Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing forums to help guide you through the formatting process.
Alternatively, LiberWriter is a paid but relatively inexpensive formatting service that helps authors convert Microsoft Word files into Kindle format. And if these options aren’t a good fit, Fiverr can be used to source paid formatting talent on a freelance basis.
Finally, even in the digitally transformed world of 2018, advertising is a key resource for creators. As for where to concentrate your efforts, it’s worth knowing that Amazon has begun to beat out Facebook as a marketing venue. It accounts for more than a third of book sales and 7 out of 10 e-book sales. In fact, Amazon now provides internal advertising resources for content visible on creators’ terms.
Self-publishing is a powerful and empowering way to share your stories and ideas. As we’ve seen here, it’s not only ramping up in 2019 but reflects many broader trends in culture and media. This means that it’s a method whose time has come, since resources, tools, and communities for helping authors embark on the journey are cropping up left and right. If you’re ready to start getting your work into the hands of the readers it deserves, with the tools we’ve reviewed and a little persistence, you may stand a better chance of success than ever.