Jane Friedman has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry. Her expertise is in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the founder of the award-winning blog JaneFriedman.com and cofounder of the industry-leading newsletter The Hot Sheet with Porter Anderson.
We covered a ton of ground in this interview. We talked about the history of the publishing industry, as well as what traditional publishers and indie publishers can learn from one another. We also talked about how to be successful in today’s marketplace, and about how to market cross-genre books as an indie publisher.
Jane has always had a passion for reading and writing. She was editor of her middle school newspaper, and the trend continued through college. She got an internship with a publishing company in her junior year of college, and after she graduated, she was hired to work there full time.
She worked in the corporate publishing industry until 2010.
How the Publishing Industry Has Changed Over the Last 20 Years
The internet has transformed the publishing industry in the last 20 years. People go online to buy books and get information.
The fact that the internet has given customers a more direct line to the producers of the content they’re reading has shaken up the industry. Add to that social media and its power to magnify word-of-mouth, and the publishing landscape in the 21st century is drastically different from what it was even just a few decades ago.
Changes in the Nonfiction Marketplace from 2006 to 2010
When Jane started her career in publishing, book clubs were a big deal. The publishing company she worked at operated several of them. They used their book clubs as distribution channels, and to help build up buzz for their books.
By 2010, every single one of those book clubs had shut down. People weren’t using book clubs as a way to find new books anymore. Instead, they were using online communities and social media to figure out what books they should be buying next.
The Monthly Subscription Model Survives in the 21st Century
Even though fewer people are members of a Book-of-the-Month type of service, there are several clubs that bill you monthly for various goods.
- Shaving clubs where you get razors on a monthly basis
- Loot Crate, where you can get collectibles and merchandise on a monthly basis
- Clothing clubs that send you coordinated outfits on a regular basis
- Cooking clubs that send you pre-portioned ingredients and recipes
Book clubs associated with local bookstores are succeeding in this new world. Many people want to feel like they’re supporting their local community and these book clubs have really helped foster a connection between the community and the independent bookstores themselves.
Book clubs have also been successful in the children’s market because parents are always looking for new books for their children to read.
Although a few of these specialty book clubs still remain, there just isn’t the demand in the marketplace for these kinds of clubs anymore.
Kindle Unlimited vs. the Mass-Market Paperback
Kindle Unlimited is filling a need for avid readers. Twenty years ago, these readers would go to the library and/or used bookstores to buy tons of mass-market paperbacks.
Today, Kindle Unlimited allows eager readers to read as many books as they want for one low price.
Libraries Aren’t Just about Books Anymore
Libraries provide many services that aren’t related to books:
- Services for children
- Services for families
- Space for communities to get together
- Free Internet for their community
Often, you find the least privileged members of society relying on libraries for their needs. Libraries are just as relevant and important today as they’ve ever been, but their focus has shifted with the times.
The Future of Publishing
There has been a conflict between traditional publishers and indie publishers for many years, ever since the internet (and Amazon in particular) made it so much easier for authors to distribute their work directly to readers.
The truth is, both sides can learn from each other and it doesn’t make any sense to pit authors against each other.
Jane doesn’t think print books are going to die anytime soon. The type of book you should provide to your customer depends on the market you are in, and on what you’re trying to accomplish. There are times when a print book makes sense and there are times when an electronic version makes sense.
It’s not a matter of one being better than the other, it’s a matter of which version of your book best serves the customer.
What Traditional Publishers Can Learn from Indie Publishers
Indie authors can teach a lot of tricks to traditional publishers, who may be set in their ways after decades of doing it the same old way every time:
- Flexibility in how to promote new titles. Traditional publishing companies aren’t good at targeting specific groups of readers. They tend to use one approach to market every book they publish. In today’s world, that’s not a good idea (assuming it ever was).
- Flexibility in how they work with authors. Ideally, publishing companies should be teaching authors how to best help themselves. Many authors with traditional publishing contracts expect publishers to promote and sell their book for them. As we’ve seen before on the podcast, this almost never happens.
- Faster speed to market.
- Smarter pricing strategies (especially for first-time authors). Studies have shown that having a high price point for a first-time author is the surest way to kill sales.
- How to promote a new author who has no following in the marketplace.
What Indie Publishers Can Learn From Traditional Publishers
But indies, too, can learn from traditional presses—they have done things a certain way for years because, often, these systems work!
- Establish systems and and processes. Indie authors would benefit from systematizing the process of writing and producing a book so they’re not flailing after the writing is done.
- Improved production quality. Indie authors might benefit from adopting some standards in terms of editing and production of the finished manuscript.
First-time authors, in particular, should model success: find authors who are doing well and copy their approach.
CJ Lyons is an example of an author worth emulating. She has a systematized approach to publishing that would benefit many indie authors.
If you are a new author, study other successful authors in the genre. You should start by modeling their approach. You can customize your approach after you have launched a couple books and have some data to go by.
Some Parts of the Process Can’t Be Replicated
It takes time to build an audience. If you’re just publishing your first book, you can’t rely on social media to launch your book into the stratosphere overnight.
You can begin the process of building your social media platform with your first novel, but you have to allow time for it to grow before you can really look to your social media channels as a way to sell more books.
Patience and Persistence are the Keys to Success
Patience and persistence are the keys to success for new authors. These days, everyone is in a hurry to be successful. As a new indie author, no one is going to know who you are.
Repetition helps build your brand. The more books you publish, the more entry points you have for someone to find your body of work. With more ways for readers to discover you, the larger your audience grows.
Don’t compare your author journey to anyone else’s. Everyone is different. The only sure path to success is to continue to write and publish; don’t worry about results in the short term.
Authors often undercut their efforts by switching marketing tactics without giving their strategy time to be successful.
Jane didn’t see any positive results from her blogging for almost 18 months. If she had stopped before that point, she would never have realized her true potential.
Success comes from persistent effort over time. Indie authors often have unrealistic expectations about how quickly they should—or can—become a massive success.
Blogging in 2017
Blogging can be a powerful tool, especially for nonfiction authors. In order for blogging to be successful, though, you have to do it on a regular basis.
Often, people decide to start a blog as a promotional scheme. Those almost never work. When you only blog as a means to an end, you’re not going to do it long enough to get the results you want.
When you’re new to blogging, just like with anything, it can take a long time to build a significant audience. You have to be prepared to blog without the promise of any sort of tangible reward.
Writing a Blog vs. Writing a Book
Writing a blog is very different than writing a narrative book.
When writing a blog, you have to consider:
- Search engine optimization (SEO)
- Attention-grabbing headlines
- What types of posts people are likely to share
You also have to have a lot of quality writing to do well with a blog. And you have to package that writing in such a way that it will find its audience.
Many authors just don’t want to have to deal with that kind of marketing effort.
Blogging for Fiction Writers
If you are a fiction writer, blogging becomes much more difficult because you don’t have a clear set of subjects to blog about.
Still, there’s plenty you can write about. You can blog about:
- Your production process
- Your personal life as an author
- Subjects related to your fiction
- When you have a new book available
The problem with all of these approaches is without a fan base, none of them particularly matter. No one cares about your production process, your personal life, or when you have a new book available if you don’t have a fan base yet. Nobody knows who you are, so unless you’re blogging for yourself, there’s no real point.
The Literary Citizen Approach to Blogging
In this technique, the blogger champions the work of other creators in their space. So you blog about other people’s work and what you like about it.
This is a good approach for new authors—and for fiction authors who are building their platform—because it helps you build your network. So when you need to promote your own work, you have friends willing to help you.
Jane hasn’t found an approach to blogging that leads to fast results. Still, if you are persistent and consistent, blogging is a low-cost way to help develop your voice and find an audience.
Focus on long-term strategy and doing what you love. I’ve seen indie authors be successful on every social media platform. Whatever you do consistently over time is what gets the best results.
How to Find Your Marketing Strategy as a New Author
As a new author, you have to find new innovative ways to promote your work. For instance, you should seek out influencers in your marketplace and get them talking about your work.
There are other ways to bring attention to your work, though:
- Follow your passion. What have you always been interested in regardless of pressures you felt career-wise?
- If you can’t think of anything, ask your friends and family what they think you’re passionate about. Sometimes it helps to get a different perspective.
- Almost everybody has things in their lives that they’re drawn to: topics, mediums, styles of expression; search for those.
- Take a look at your habits. What do you already do on a daily basis that can be modified into a marketing activity?
- Take a look at the tools around you and find the ones you can use that don’t feel like work.
- Where can you add the most value for your audience? It’s probably where your passion is.
- Don’t just do something because “everyone else is doing it.” If that’s your only reason for engaging in an activity, you won’t have the energy it takes to sustain the long-term effort you need to be successful.
Today’s Publishing Landscape
There are a few things that authors should pay attention to in the publishing industry as of right now, in July 2017.
- Amazon keeps growing and shows no sign of slowing down or stopping.
- Kindle Unlimited is important to watch. Be aware of its growth and power.
- Keep updated on any subscription system that allows people to read without purchasing individual books.
- Pay attention to how Amazon markets the books they’re publishing under their imprints.
The Importance of Audiobooks in 2017
- Digital audiobooks are a growing market. Traditional publishers still have the most success with audiobooks because they have the budget to make an investment in producing them.
- Indie authors aren’t yet seeing the sales they need to make audiobooks profitable.
- The number of digital audiobooks being produced has increased 20% to 30% every year for the last three years. It’s not going to continue like this forever, but audiobooks aren’t slowing down anytime soon.
- It’s hard for indie authors to be successful with audiobooks. Jane thinks it’s because of the way algorithms work on Amazon and Audible.
- Books that sell well in paperback and electronic format seem to be easier to find on Audible. A new author is unlikely to have the sales needed to compete with more established and traditionally published authors.
The Best Way To Be Successful as a New Author in 2017
Find a targeted category of readers that is underserved. Focus on that niche. Write as many books as you can targeting the same audience.
It’s much easier to make a sale to someone who’s already bought from you.
How to Be Successful Selling Cross-Genre Books
Indie publishing makes it possible to do things that we couldn’t do otherwise. One of those things is to market cross-genre books.
The secret to marketing cross-genre books is to find books similar enough to yours that you can develop a reader profile from Amazon and Goodreads reviews.
You have to figure out what parts of your cross-genre book are going to appeal to your ideal reader. And then you need to develop a marketing plan based on that research.
If you can’t find a comparable novel, you want to try and find comparable entertainment. That might even be a video game or a TV show.
What you’re looking for is entertainment that has a defined dedicated community of fans.
You shouldn’t choose a wildly popular TV show like The Big Bang Theory or a blockbuster like Wonder Woman. Wildly popular movies and TV shows have too broad an audience for you to do effective market research. Instead, look for fan favorites that appeal to a specific audience.
You want to try to limit the scope of your marketing efforts. This gives you a better chance of being successful.
When defining your ideal audience, you want to start out as narrow as possible and then build out from there.
Links and Resources Mentioned in This Interview
https://janefriedman.com/ — Jane’s website, where you can find out everything she’s up to
http://hotsheetpub.com/ — Jane’s email newsletter for authors
Publishers Lunch by Michael Cader — An insider publishing newsletter with great insights about the entire industry
http://cjlyons.net/— CJ Lyons’s website. Go here, join her mailing list, and see what she’s doing to market her books. What can you do to emulate what she’s doing?