The Kobo Writing Life team is excited to announce our latest Live Q&A on May 20th 2020. From 12:00 PM-1:00 PM EST, our takeover host, Orna Ross, will be answering all your questions on the Kobo Writing Life Facebook and YouTube pages. If you can’t make the takeover, feel free to comment on this post with your questions and we can ask them for you! Keep reading to learn more about going wide and what the Self-Publishing 3.0 mindset looks like.
True Independence for Indie Authors
As Director of the Alliance of Independent Authors, I’m often asked about success. Why do so many self-published books languish unsold and unloved, while others soar to the top of the charts?
Of course there are many reasons, to do with some mix of writing skills, cover design, formatting, marketing and promotion but these are just the surface indicators of the one thing that unites them all: the author doesn’t have a Self-Publishing 3.0 mindset.
If you’re not aware Self-Publishing 1.0 (in the 1990s) saw authors making print books through desktop publishing and print-on-demand. Self-Publishing 2.0 (in the 2010s) saw authors making and selling digital ebooks and audiobooks. Self-publishing 3.0 (in the 2020s) is seeing authors create viable and sustainable author enterprises.
It is not enough these days to know how to edit and design great books and how to reach readers all over the world through online distributors and retailers like Kobo. Authorship today is not just a profession, an art and a craft. For the self-publishing indie author, it is also a business.
Self-publishing 3.0 requires authors to set ourselves, our books, our websites, and our author business up to maximise the possible creative and commercial rewards, over the long term.
It’s quite a shift for an author to move from the traditional publish-me-please mindset to the entrepreneurial mindset required by the self-publishing 3.0 era. It can be a big ask too of authors who define exclusively as artists or professionals. And for authors who self-publish with a single platform, for convenience and exclusive benefits.
Many authors are making that shift, however, and many more are set to do so as the era of Self-publishing 3.0 takes root.
Self-Publishing 3.0: the Drivers
The four developments powering Self-publishing 3.0 are direct selling, wide publishing, selective licensing and author collaboration.
Selling books directly to readers means your website becomes your central hub online: the first thing that readers find in search engines when they google your name, the place where you establish your author brand and draw readers to your email list, the center of your author business.
This is not a recommendation to take your books off other retailers. Online retailers like Amazon, Apple, Kobo and others make amazing things happen for authors, every day. It’s not either/or, but both. (See Publishing Wide, below).
Recommendation: Have a sales landing page on your website that allows readers to buy there but also links out to other retailers, allowing readers to choose their preferred retailer. Guide readers to this central sales page on your own website. Your aim is to get readers onto your website and either get a book sale (on your own or other retail site) or an email sign up.
To “go wide” is self-publishing jargon for distributing your book via multiple platforms, either directly to platforms such as Kobo, or via an aggregator who will distribute from one dashboard to many distributors.
Publishing wide means shunning exclusivity, except for short-term, strategic promotion.
The more retailers and regions and formats we’re in, the stronger our foundation for consistent, scalable, sustainable, long-term income.
• Making all books exclusive on only one distribution platform leaves an author very vulnerable if something changes on that platform.
• Exclusively distributing in just one region, such as availability only in the United States, means an author is cutting off many potential sales around the world.
• Sticking exclusively to only one format—ebook or print only—means those readers who like to read in other formats cannot read or even discover your book.
Recommendation: Use exclusivity strategically. In general, make your books available wherever people might find them: through as many different retailers, different regions, and different formats as possible. Use your own website as your landing page.
Selective Rights Licensing
Understanding and maintaining clear control over rights is a key to independence as an author. By law, as a creator, you are the owner of any creative asset and are free to generate income from it as you wish.
While authors tend to focus on book sales as the endgame of the publishing process, each of your books actually represents several sets of rights and each should be licensed separately and selectively.
Recommendation: Ensure that any license you offer refers to a specific format (e.g. print only), within a specific territory (e.g. USA only) and for a specific term (e.g. five years). The aim is to limit licenses to publishers and other rights buyers who have the wherewithal and a plan to exploit those rights.
Indie authors are not alone as we learn and build and grow our author businesses. We have each other. Traditionally published authors may have to compete for agents, publishing deals, prizes, co-op and shelf space but self-publishers have nothing to fear from co-operation. By working together for each other, we learn faster, and respond and adapt to change more nimbly.
Author collaboration can be in writing or in publishing and takes many forms, from the informal mentoring and advising each other in Facebook forums to doing newsletter swaps.
Recommendation: Learn as much as you can about authors in your genre, niche and micro-niche and collaborate with them to mutual benefit. If you haven’t already joined an authors’ organisation, do so for collaborative and other benefits.
The Self-Publishing 3.0 Mindset
Becoming a successful self-publisher is not something that happens to you when you are “chosen” by a somebody else. It’s something you make happen yourself, by committing time and effort and making it a priority.
You have to master three big skills: writing craft, publishing craft, and business craft. All three are learned by doing. Recognising that and understanding how to improve your craft in these three areas is not possible unless you adopt a certain mindset.
Depending on how much we resist the changes happening in publishing, we may have to change the way we’ve thought about things for years and make adjustments to fundamental beliefs in order to adopt a self-publishing 3.0 mindset.
So what does a Self-Publishing 3.0 Mindset look like?
Growth Over Fixed Mindset
The priority of those with a growth mindset, as defined by Professor Carol Dweck and her team at Columbia University, is learning to do better. Those with a fixed mindset, by contrast, are more concerned with how they are judged by others.
Growth mindset is a predictor of success in today’s publishing environments. The fixed mindset says something like “I’m too ignorant… too old… too undereducated… too busy”. The growth mindset says but “Okay, I don’t know, I’m old, I never studied this in collage and I’m busy, but I can learn. I’m going to give to the time and attention needed.”
If you’re not already operating from a growth mindset (and we all have fixed and fixated spots), it’s not as simple as just deciding to change. “You don’t get a growth mindset by proclamation,” says Dweck. “You move toward it by taking a journey.”
When we commit to a growth mindset in our publishing business, we don’t see failure (like a lack of sales) as a dead end. We see it as a learning opportunity so we can improve.
Abundance Over Scarcity Mindset
Part of the great shift in publishing in recent years is a shift from a scarcity model (a few books curated by publishers and sold through bookshops) towards an abundance model (any author who wants to can make and distribute a book).
In an abundance model, excess and redundancy are not causes for concern. This is, after all, how nature, the fundamental model for all creativity, works. An oak tree throws a lot of acorns to get one baby oak.
Those who have an abundance mindset can welcome the unprecedented wave of literary expression that self-publishing is facilitating. Can focus on their personal choices within a medley of opportunity. Can accept that creativity is never orderly and neat but colorful and chaotic and kaleidoscopic. Can trust that with the right actions they can bring readers to their work.
This abundance mindset is necessary to enjoy today’s publishing environment.
Productivity Over Perfection Mindset
Perfectionism is necessary to some degree in a writing and publishing business. Getting the words, the cover, the books descriptions, the marketing campaign just right is important. The bar is high in good publishing and perfectionism motivates us to perform at a professional level and deliver our best work. But it can also cause unnecessary anxiety and slow us down.
We can worry that if we let go, it will hurt our performance and standing and so cling to perfectionism even when it’s counterproductive. We can use perfectionism to cover up for fear of failure and impostor syndrome.
“I went for years not finishing anything. Because, of course, when you finish something you can be judged… I had poems which were re-written so many times… It was just a way of avoiding sending them out.” –Erica Jong
The productivity mindset knows that perfection is actually a mirage. Our view of it constantly shifting and changing and in the end not really there. Even if we ever reached a point where we crafted our “perfect creation”, as time passes, our perspective shifts and what seemed perfect, no longer seems so.
You can spend an extra three days, or three months, or three years making a book perfect, but does that improve the impact for the reader? Production over perfectionism. Establish your process, the number of rounds you do between draft and done, and stick to it.
Longterm Over Short-term Mindset
Writing books is a long-term endeavour. It takes time to write well, to publish well, to establish a well-oiled author business. You don’t hit the ground running, you build slowly over time. Book by book. Reader by reader. Asset by asset.
A lot of indie authors follow the herd. Somebody comes up with the latest way to game the system, or hack to sell books fast and it sometimes feels like the whole community pivots. But adopting short-term tactics without considering what you want to build long-term is a huge mistake.
We employ hacks, strategies or tactics only if they align with our longterm goals and we always consider the long term pros and cons of any activity we implement.
Self-Publishing 3.0 Campaign
The Self-Publishing 3.0 era launched in 2018 with an Alliance of Independent Authors campaign to educate authors, and the literary and publishing community, about the changed nature of authorship and the potential of self-publishing to provide a sustainable income for all qualifying authors (see below).
The core principle of the campaign is non-exclusivity and its intentions are four-fold:
• to alert authors to the full implications of digital publishing and creative business—which go way beyond the much-discussed “choice” between self-publishing versus an exclusive contract with a single trade publisher.
• to advise creative industry professionals, decision-makers, and literacy and cultural organizations across six key English-speaking territories (Australia and New Zealand, Canada and Commonwealth, EU, South Africa, United Kingdom and United States of America) on the needs of the independent authors, particularly in relation to publishing and business skills.
• to educate readers on how to best support their favourite indie authors.
• to encourage indie authors to embrace the opportunities of going wide, publishing direct, selectively licensing rights and collaborating with other authors.
It’s our hope that in adopting the Self-Publishing 3.0 framework, you will experience the shifts—in mindset, motivation, and money—that truly independent author-publishing can bring.
ALLi has a campaign guide to the Self-Publishing 3.0 Campaign. ALLi Members can download a printable edition in the Member Zone. Non-members can purchase a copy from our Self-Publishing Advice Centre Bookstore.
Orna Ross is a novelist, poet and Director of the Alliance of Independent Authors. www.allianceindependentauthors.org