Where Do We Go From Here?

2014 was a watershed year for the book biz. It was the year self-publishing finally stopped being about the outliers and was recognized by media outlets and the general public as a viable enterprise for thousands of writers. It was the year one major publisher renewed its fight with Amazon over the price of ebooks. And it was the year subscription models exploded onto the scene. A lot to look back on, and not an easy place to see where we go next. But I have a few bad ideas that will most likely be dead wrong. First, a long-winded retrospective.

The Year of AuthorEarnings.com

For me, the year 2014 began with an email from someone who created a software spider that could crawl and aggregate data on hundreds of thousands of Amazon ebooks. The end result of that email was AuthorEarnings.com, which revealed the startling fact that self-published authors were making as much as a cohort every single day as all the Big 5 authors combined. By the end of 2014, quarterly looks at this data showed that self-published authors had overtaken the Big 5 authors.

Not that it was a competition, but it showed that the success of self-publishing was more than a handful of lucky saps like me. The real story of self-publishing (as many of us have been saying for years) is the ability for people with a small and loyal readership to make a career with their craft without being a household name.

I don’t know how much AuthorEarnings.com contributed to this, but 2014 ended up being the year the stigma of self-publishing died. Prior to last January, you had people deriding self-publishing as the last resort of those rejected by agents and publishers. You had indie authors likened to third-rate cattle by some publishing executives. There were calls by other publishing executives to segregate ebooks on retail outlets based on the method of publication. And traditionally published authors not keen on the sudden increase in competition moaned about the flood of content while publishers who priced their digital books higher than their paperbacks agonized over the devaluing of literature.

Much of that dissipated this past year. What had been a sprinkling of anecdotes piled up into real data. Authors like Brenna Aubrey turned down lucrative publishing contracts and out-earned those offers within months of self-publishing. And a steady flow of unknown authors with no publishing history or established following climbed to the top of their categories and had success out of the gate based primarily on the strength of their storytelling.

The problem with this turn of events — if it can be thought of as a problem — is the idea that anyone could have this level of success. One thing not mentioned enough in 2014 is that making a career with writing requires working your tail off and a heaping dose of luck. I don’t think we give either of these facets enough credit. The people I see doing well with their writing are working incredible hours, often on top of their day jobs at first, and it isn’t reasonable to expect everyone to have the fortitude to do this for year after year until they develop a following.

Similarly, we don’t give the element of chance enough credit for those who do break out. Great books go ignored every single day. There’s nothing anyone can say to make that better for the authors who are watching their works not grab hold. Write more is the best advice, but it’s also the hardest to hear.

The Year of Hachette

2014 was the year the first of the major publishers was able to resume its squabble with Amazon over the price of ebooks. Hachette drew the short straw, and by the time they realized that ebook prices needed to come down, they’d already dug their trench and had little way to call a truce and save face. It took deals with other publishers and the looming holidays to end what was an ugly battle that caused needless harm.

While Hachette was fighting for expensive ebooks, other publishers were learning from self-published works and really competing with indies for the first time. Bestselling frontlist titles were discounted down to $4.99 and even lower and crowded indies off bestseller charts as a result. Backlist titles were given special promotions and pricing, allowing them to compete with publishers’ own frontlist works. Entire genres were discovered through self-publishing and embraced by major publishers. BookBub and other promotional tools were co-opted.

This made things more difficult for indie authors in some ways, but also legitimized the group and their decisions in other ways. We tend to forget that getting a BookBub slot was never a done deal. And lower prices from major publishers has helped indie titles blend in, which can be a great thing. With a nice cover and decent blurb an indie book is now, more than ever before, indistinguishable from any other work. The biggest difference between a $4.99 self-published title and a $4.99 ebook from Random House is that the author of the former gets 70% while the author of the latter gets 15%. The reader is none the wiser.

The Year of Subscriptions

2014 was the year subscription reading services finally gained attention. Two major publishers dabbled with Scribd and Oyster, with a third publisher recently announcing it would participate as well. Many of us have wondered how these companies make money, as they pay full tilt for every book read but charge less than $10 a month to their subscribers. The answer is some combination of gym membership and a steady inflow of venture capital. Scribd reports that the average subscriber reads just one book a month. So the plan here is to make money off people who forgot they joined a thing until they see a charge on their credit card sometime down the road and work up the energy to cancel.

If people do end up using subscriptions in a way that makes them cost-effective for the reader, it’ll either mean these companies will lose money or the payments to publishers and authors will have to go down. Just this week, news of another round of funding for Scribd.com comes in. $22 million more in venture capital raised. This, and a combination of low usage from subscribers, should keep them viable for quite some time without doing to authors what music subscription services have done to other artists, which is to severely reduce their pay.

Amazon was a relatively late entry into this sector, but of course when they move the ground trembles. Kindle Unlimited launched in 2014, and few programs have been so contentious. Those who are doing well by the program are doing it mostly quietly (though plenty have raised their hand and said KU has been great for them). More attention has been paid to those who have seen their income go down since the launch of KU. I blogged about KU several times, but the post that seems most apt is this one. It compares the disruptive force of subscription services to the disruptive force of self-publishing as a whole. Those who made out with the latter are now complaining about being disrupted themselves. Meanwhile, a new crop of authors are having success and using tools to gain market share. Personally, I applaud this, even as I have pointed out ways that I think KU can be improved for the reader.

One thing to understand about Amazon (and few seem to get how crucial this is) is that the customer comes first. This works to the advantage of indie authors, as Amazon has been thrilled to open its site to all comers. The freedom to publish alongside major New York houses comes from Amazon’s desire to provide as vast a selection as possible to its readers. The curation process has been democratized and crowdsourced. All books are welcome, and customers are the way by which they are discovered and promoted. We’ve already lost sight of how revolutionary customer reviews were as a leveling force. We take these things for granted now.

The same attitude that leveled the playing field for indies and allowed us to participate guides Amazon’s foray into subscription services. They are going to tinker, balancing the needs of the bottom line, publishers, authors, and readers. But the last of these comes first, make no mistake. I’ll have more to say about the effect this has on authors below.

The Year of Taking Things for Granted

2014 began with very little perceived legitimacy for the self-published author, and it ended with major media outlets shouting with glee over the consternation self-published authors are expressing over Amazon due to KU. To me, this is the great story of 2014. Two years ago, I couldn’t get anyone in the publishing world to listen or believe me when I relayed the stories I was hearing from the trenches, stories about unknown authors making thousands of dollars a month (and many making quite a bit more than that).

I spoke with reporters from Publishers Weekly, The Washington Post, the New York Times, The Economist, NPR, and dozens of regional papers and magazines, and they only wanted to write about the outliers. No one wanted to do the heavy lifting of investigating the larger and more interesting story of a publishing landscape that was now open to anyone with the dream of being a writer and the willingness to put in the hard work.

A year later, the viability of indie publishing is taken for granted, but in strange ways. Media outlets like the New York Times have covered the rise of YouTube stars, self-produced musicians, Netflix originals, and the sharing and crowdsourced economy, but practically never report on the disruption in publishing. In fact, the Times’ Sunday Book Review stopped printing the ebook bestseller list right as that list was being peppered with self-published titles. The first news we get about indie publishing is the outcry from indies over KU. So we’ve arrived just in time to bolster existing agendas. I call that progress. Maybe we’re being used, but it takes being recognized to be used. That’s something.

The viability of self-publishing has been dangerous in other ways. For me, the importance of getting this story out (and the motivation behind AuthorEarnings.com) has been to make sure writers understand their options. We aren’t going to pressure publishers to pay higher royalty rates and offer fairer contracts by pleading with them (and we have yet to see any organized attempt from writers’ groups to effect these changes).

The way things will change will be from individual authors making the choices that make the most sense to them, whatever that choice is. Which is why striking down untruths and zombie memes is so important. Self-publishing, now more than ever, is the best way for the vast majority of writers to launch their writing careers, even if their goal is to end up with a major publisher. Understanding this and acting on it will pressure publishers to step up their game, which I believe they’ll do.

So how has the viability of self-publishing become dangerous? The expectations of those who had early success and those just starting out run the risk of becoming unreasonable. Very few people make a living in any kind of entertainment sector, and even if they do, it’s rarely for long. I remember hoping I’d have one or two solid months with the kind of sales I saw in early 2012. I’ve maintained that feeling for the last three years, forever waiting for the other shoe to drop. This will be the last month I have meaningful income from publishing. I’ve said that for 36 months in a row. I’m delighted to be wrong every time, but it won’t last forever. Eventually, I’ll get it right. And I won’t agonize over the return to reality.

For centuries, the impermanence of success in the entertainment industry has been learned by each generation. It’s not an enjoyable lesson. Superstar athletes assume every year will be better than the previous, that they’ll never lose a step, they’ll always be in demand, until a top draft pick is eating up their minutes on the court. Every year, another entertainer can’t understand why album sales or theater tickets weren’t as strong as the year before. Much is blamed for this. Critics are blamed, management is blamed, agents are blamed, the gods are blamed.

The fickle nature of the market is rarely given its due. It’s this fickle nature that gave each of us a chance. It’ll be that fickle nature that takes it all away. Enjoy it while it lasts. Remember that you once did this simply because you loved it. Remember that there was a time when no matter how good you felt you were, there was no place for you to even offer your wares. We have to appreciate every moment we have, every opportunity given, and cherish these things even as we expect more and demand more.

There’s a fine balance there between appreciation and subjugation. To be appreciative doesn’t mean to give up or to become complacent, it simply requires that we remember how far we’ve come and how fast. Self-published authors are complaining that Amazon is offering unlimited reading on the best ereader devices ever built on the best online marketplace ever devised and paying more for each borrow than a traditionally published author makes on every paperback they sell at Barnes & Noble, and many are outraged.

That’s awesome. It shows how far we’ve come, how much that seemed impossible five years ago is now taken for granted, and how far we hope to go in the future. But while we’re fighting for more progress, let’s not lose sight of the years that have passed and where we started. And if you see people losing hope, remember that we are a storytelling animal. We will always want to tell stories, and there will always be billions of people willing to pay to have great stories told to them. Nothing will change that. There will always be a viable market for this trade. It’s just that our opportunities for making a living at this will never be chiseled in stone. We will come and go. I not only expect this, I celebrate it.

Happy New Year. Tell awesome stories.





54 responses to “Where Do We Go From Here?”

  1. “Self-published authors are complaining that Amazon is offering unlimited reading on the best ereader devices ever built on the best online marketplace ever devised and paying more for each borrow than a traditionally published author makes on every paperback they well at Barnes & Noble, and many are outraged.”

    We’ve come a long way, innit?

  2. Great summary of the year, Hugh.

    I think people are slowly coming to the realisation that author’s *choose* to self-publish. The old stigma was based on the idea that people only self-publish after suffering great rejection. Now, we’re increasingly seeing self-publishing become the ‘go-to’ option for many of us. Websites such as Author Earnings, and the great work of indie-trailblazers, have helped a lot in busting the old myths.

    For me personally, 2014 was the year I started self-publishing. I’m one of those full-time-working types who writes in the shadows (my alarm is set for 5am!). Regardless, I published the first two novels in a trilogy, one (novella length) part of a serial, and two short stories (in anthologies). This year I’ll match or surpass that output.

    While I haven’t had any great successes yet, I wasn’t expecting them. The great availability of data, analyses, and opinions have allowed me to me to focus on what matters at this stage of my career — working hard, developing my body of work, connecting with readers and other writers, and writing what I love.

    Best of luck in 2015, Hugh.

    1. Fantastic first year, man. Trumps my first year in publishing. Keep it up and best going forward.

    2. Now, we’re increasingly seeing self-publishing become the ‘go-to’ option for many of us.

      Exactly. I’m one of those writers who went straight to the indie world. Like you, I’m still developing a body of work, and I’m having incredible fun at it.

      1. Add me to that list. I’ve never queried an agent and the only editor I sent it to was the one I hired to edit my manuscript. I’m just a tiny baby author (first book just came out a few weeks ago), but I’m on a roll and not looking back. Indie publishing opened up a whole new world for me and it still kind of blows my mind that I’m doing what I love. I owe a lot to all the indie trailblazers, data collectors and sharers (sure, that’s a word), and others who have made the search for information so much easier. I was able to look at the various paths to publication and make an informed decision, and that’s huge.

        1. There’s also my group, which is authors who had contracts and offers on their next books, but went indie anyway. It really is a choice for more and more authors. I’ve heard from several sources that the quantity and quality of submissions to agents and publishers has gone down.

          1. This is apparently the raw data DBW collected in their 2015 survey, which we know is pretty much junk due to the nonscientific self-selected collection method. But even so, it seems to reflect a significant shift toward widespread writer preference for self-publishing over traditional:


            Check out the response breakdown for Question 6:
            “How do you want to publish [your next] book?”

            14.4% – I only want to publish my book with a traditional publisher
            26.5% – I would prefer to publish my book with a traditional publisher, but I may consider self-publishing
            8.1% – I have no preference for traditional publishing or self-publishing
            27.0% – I would prefer to self-publish my book, but I may consider traditional publishing
            23.9% – I only want to self-publish my book

            If I recall, last year they concluded that “Writers prefer traditional publishing, but only slightly.”

            I wonder how they are going to spin this…? ;)

          2. Their sampling isn’t great, and the questions showed a complete lack of understanding of today’s market (asking about most recent release rather than the year’s body of work), but their numbers are closer to reality this year, judging by these results.

  3. They are going to tinker, balancing the needs of the bottom line, publishers, authors, and readers. But the last of these comes first, make no mistake. I’ll have more to say about the effect this has on authors below.

    Agree. I expect KU to be the first of many new ways consumers can get books. Each new avenue will incrementally increase the level of benefit to consumers, and increase Amazon’s cash flow. (Cash flow is more important for Amazon than profit.)

    None of these new avenues will benefit all authors. Some will benefit one subset, some will harm another. Authors will not have the luxury of using all the avenues they want. But all authors will have the opportunity to use some subset of avenues to their own benefit. Choosing the subset will be the challenge.

    There are also two huge players in the game who can also dream up new avenues and programs. Google and Apple are just as able as Amazon to implement something new, offer benefits in exchange for exclusivity, etc.

    The good times have arrived. In January 2016, we will find out what they were in January 2015.

    1. Very agreed, Terrence. I think a big part of stragegizing as an indie author from now forward is going to be looking at niche, channel, and audience, and then directing your work to the best path or planning work for the path that gives you the best shot.

  4. The market is definitely maturing. That’s fantastic for all of us. A more mature ebook market will only draw more and more people into ereading, well beyond the false 30% plateau. That means the book publishing industry overall will become more profitable in both net sales (more customers) and profit per unit (ebooks versus pbooks.) Champaign! Bubbles!

    I don’t worry at all that things are stagnating. The internet itself hasn’t managed to stagnate, so I don’t see why this facet of ecommerce is about to.

    1. That 30% figure is adorable. I just want to pinch its cheeks. :)

      For trade fiction, we are probably around 65% – 75% ebook right now in terms of units sold. Major publishers are past 50% for trade fiction, and they are less than half the trade fiction market. Much of the rest of the market is indie, which is closer to 95% digital, really driving that average up.

      I see publishing news outlets consistently misrepresent the ebook saturation level. Can’t tell if it’s ignorance or wishful thinking, but the cool thing about reality is that it keeps doing its thing, oblivious to the wishes and observations of man.

      1. Eh, I’d say it’s lazy journalism mixed with wishful thinking. Even the mainstream outlets that cover this kind of stuff are trying to prop up their paper formats. Birds of a feather get shot together. :D

        The 30% plateau was always a big chuckle for me, too. I mean, kids these days read digital text natively, and pbooks are the exception.

  5. Perhaps 2015 becomes the year where the focus shifts to what readers want, rather than what writers and publishers want.

    As a reader, what do I want:

    1) The ability to “rent” an e-book in the same fashion I check out books from the library. Amazon Prime’s $10/month program is a step in this direction, but given that its offerings are limited, it still is a work in progress. I would greatly prefer “renting” a book for $1 per two weeks, rather than buying it for $5-10, since once I finish reading it, it just becomes clutter.

    2) The ability to lend an e-book to anyone, anytime, without restriction, as I can do with a physical book.

    3) Amazon’s thumbnails to indicate item length, so that you can tell whether something is a full-length novel, a novella, a short-story, or a serial without clicking through. My browsing on Amazon has been severely curtailed by my fatigue at clicking on cheap serials/short stories when I’m looking for novels.

    1. Amen. One of my most-viewed blog posts is entitled: “It’s the Reader, Stupid.” This should always be our focus. And it’s sad to see major publishers avoid Kindle Unlimited, where they could make a lot of money and serve their readers and their authors very well, simply because they want to limit Amazon’s market share. It’s not just that these CEOs are acting like idiots. They know they are acting like idiots, and they are doing it anyway. It’s what happens when anger drives decisions rather than reason.

      Really love your #3.

    2. #1 It’s limited because authors aren’t seeing the kind of payout they want. This could change for the better or worse, though. If the book renting idea really catches on, and if authors can replace their lost sales income with rentals, then the selection will just get better and better.

      #2 I agree with the sentiment completely, but I’d hope for a few reasonable restrictions. Digital “sharing” is a whole different beast. :)

      #3 I’d love this. I’d love a filter option, too, that would let me eliminate certain lengths from my search or the lists.

  6. Loved your 2014 wrap up and so glad you keep the publishing industry’s Big Picture in front of us. I started last year (two novels published so far with more in the pipeline) and wondered if maybe the wave had crested. But your message was full of hope, so I’m just gonna keep telling stories and be ready to ride the next big one. Have a great 2015!

  7. “3) Amazon’s thumbnails to indicate item length, so that you can tell whether something is a full-length novel, a novella, a short-story, or a serial without clicking through.”

    Yes, this!

    Not to mention that, with the word count and computing an ecustomer’s reading speed, Amazon can tell a buyer/renter/borrower how many hours of entertainment to expect from a book.

    1. Or display horizontal bars indicating the relative lengths of the last five books the consumer bought, plus a bar for the target book.

    2. That’s true, but that also steps into the “you’re watching and thinking about me to a creepy degree” territory for a lot of people. :)

  8. Phyllis Humphrey Avatar
    Phyllis Humphrey

    When is the next Author Earnings Report coming out?

  9. I have no idea how much of an impact AuthorEarnings.com made. Readers and writers made these market-share numbers what they are. We didn’t. :)

    But in 11 months, the AuthorEarnings site saw:

    * 185,000 unique visitors
    * 260,000 web sessions
    * 400,000 page views
    * many thousands of authors from all walks of publishing — newbies and Big-Five-published New York Times bestselling veterans alike — signing up for AuthorEarnings email alerts.

    So while we didn’t make the story what it is, I think we might have helped dispel some of the fog surrounding it… :)

    1. It was invaluable, Data Guy. You called it fog, I’ll call it a cloud of BS. There was a lot of nonsense and lies being passed off as truth. Writers of all stripes were using those false memes and figures to make career decisions. You won’t ever feel the true impact of what you did, because it was small (and big) gains in thousands of homes all across the world. So rather than downplaying it, might as well claim that you saved literary culture. Everyone else is claiming it. :D

      I can say personally that I got a lot of encouragement from the numbers. People who were supposed to be in the know said that ebooks were stuck at 30% of the market. I knew it wasn’t true, but I had no idea where it really was, or what the rate of growth was. You guys showed me that it’s still booming (such as things go) and that there’s a lot of space for me to carve out a good living.

      Thank you, Data Guy!

      1. I’m with you. For me, seeing that data for the first time was the day I knew I wasn’t crazy and seeing what I wanted to see. To have hard numbers that completely matched what I’d gleaned from the trenches was revelatory.

        1. Oh, I remember that first night looking over the figures. It was a good 2-3 days of bounce in my step. “Shocking in a good way” isn’t something I feel often enough.

  10. You’re one of the very few who can/will write on this subject without bias. That makes you an important part of this history. Keep it up for all of us, please.

  11. I’ve been waiting to read your 2014 wrap-up! Very useful perspective, and wise counsel. Thanks to both you and Data Guy for lots of things, but especially AuthorEarnings, which has really rocked the writing world.

    You’re right about gobbling up the progress and then taking it for granted. I spend almost TWENTY years in the trenches coming this close to getting traditionally published. As soon as I opened my eyes to indie publishing, all the barriers fell down, and I was being read within a matter of weeks. It’s been four years now and I’ve produced quite a bit… had a grand time and made some good money. I even have fans!

    The truth is that most of us would write (and did write) for love rather than money. The money is just the icing on the cake. So it’s good to be reminded of how far we’ve come.

    Sending you a hug, Hugh. Huggers gonna hug! And writers gonna write.

    1. Thanks, Patrice. Congrats on all your success. Hope the new year is awesome to you.

  12. […] subscription services have done to other artists, which is to severely reduce their pay.” Where Do We Go From Here?(5 jan […]

  13. 1) Subscription services are going to diminish returns for all authors. It devalues books. Period.

    2) Self-published books are near impossible to get reviewed because of stigma.

    3) Self-published books are seen as the Randy Quaid of the publishing world and in many cases, rightly so because the quality, still, of the vast majority of self pubbed books is complete and utter crap.

    1. 1) Before subscriptions, authors were giddy about their 5 “free days” and how many copies they were able to give away, which led to greater sales. We shared the secrets of “perma-free,” a system and term we made up, because free books led to greater earnings. Now you have a visibility boost that pays $1.40 per borrow, which is more than Hachette authors make when I buy their book at a bookstore, and literature is being devalued? Not following.

      2) My books have tens of thousands of reviews from the only people who matter: The readers. Professional reviews don’t move the needle anymore. This has been true for at least five years. I saw this as a bookstore manager. Front page of the New York Times Book Review? Nothing. Nada. No significant increase in demand.

      Readers drive book sales. Reviewers don’t. So who cares?

      3) The vast majority of traditionally published books would displease the vast majority of most readers. Go into a bookstore, close your eyes, spin around three times, and then grope your way forward and seize the first book you grab. Go home and try to finish it. I wish you the best of luck. Chances are you will absolutely hate that book.

      The reason indies have had enormous success is because of the paucity of supply of books for each reader. Tastes vary. As a bookseller, I watched every day as voracious readers came into the store, stood in front of the small section of shelves where they most enjoyed to read, and were dismayed that there was nothing there for them.

      Publishers and agents got sick of urban fantasy, so they said the genre was “played out.” It may have been to them, but readers wanted more. They still want vampires, werewolves, hunky billionaires, spaceships, sleuths, etc. Publishers refuse to supply those titles in the quantity needed. Indies have been happy to oblige. Indies now earn more than their Big 5 counterparts in digital book royalties. The readers have spoken, and they disagree with you.

      1. The problem is getting noticed. Reviews get you noticed. Not talking about Amazon reviews but elsewhere.

        1. Smart Debut Author Avatar
          Smart Debut Author

          The problem is indeed in getting noticed. But you’re wrong about which reviews matter. Old-school critic reviews in old-media outlets may get you noticed by publishing-industry employees and bookstores, but who cares about that? Those reviews don’t lead to purchases by significant numbers of real book-buying readers. The dark side of the old-media Force only has power over weaker minds, Agent Vader.

          Consumer reviews, word-of mouth recommendations (in person and on social media), and web-retailer recommendation algorithms are what truly sells books nowadays.

          Come join us in the 21sth century. We welcome you.

          1. You nailed it. Vader is presenting outdated information. Reviews in major outlets do not lead to sales. Customer reviews do.

            Also, the bigger mistake Vader makes in his/her points is that there are those who are in this for the vanity, and those who are in this to make a living. The former cares about bookstore placement, even as the majority of books are sold online. And even though online stores stock you forever where physical stores might give you a 6 month window.

            Vanity writers also care about the imprimatur of a publishing house, and are willing to give up 5X earnings and restrictive contracts for that feeling of having “made it.” Vanity writers also love to see major media outlets praise their work.

            There’s nothing wrong with writing for vanity. It’s a valid reason for pursuing artistic expression. No one path is inherently better than the other. But following the vanity route and expecting to earn a living is a bad idea. Just as going the business route and expecting the praise of a NYT critic or endcap placement in a major chain is a bad idea.

            Each writer has to decide if they are in this so they can work at home in their pajamas or in this to teach creative writing and publish on the side. Far from making a judgement, I often dream of donning a turtleneck and teaching creative writing for a living. I might do it one day, now that I no longer need to worry about money.

    2. AgentVader: (Wondering if you are the same one as the second Agent Vader, spelled with a space? We indies notice these inconsistent spellings… and correct them.)

      There is no stigma. Further, there is a certain cachet associated with self-publishing. Indies are seen as being on the cutting edge of an exciting new frontier — forward-thinking and tech-savvy.

      And I would suggest that those who are creative (while sometimes initially reluctant to get into the “business” side of things) are most willing to take risks. Particularly if they see the financial rewards of those risks. The very individuals who spend hours, weeks, and months of their lives putting pen to paper and fingertips to keyboard in a voluntary attempt to create something that will entertain, know the value of their time and talent, and demand to be reimbursed for that effort. Only writers know what it takes to write, to open your heart and your veins and put it out there.

      People have been telling stories forever. Once again they can deliver them directly to their audience. It’s the middlemen who were the anomaly.

      We are the music-makers,
      And we are the dreamers of dreams,
      Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
      And sitting by desolate streams;
      World-losers and world-forsakers,
      On whom the pale moon gleams:
      Yet we are the movers and shakers
      Of the world for ever, it seems.

    3. 1) So what? Those who can handle it will prosper. Those who can’t won’t

      2) So what? Those who can handle it will prosper. Those who can’t won’t.

      3) So what? Those who can handle it will prosper. Those who can’t won’t.

      God Bless those who persevere, for they inspire the rest.

  14. Holy cow! Even France’s “vieille garde” Le Figaro (mainstream media) is speaking about US indies and Kindle Unlimited! http://www.lefigaro.fr/medias/2015/01/06/20004-20150106ARTFIG00002-kindle-unlimited-les-auteurs-dechantent.php

  15. Thanks, Hugh, for a great and comprehensive wrap-up of where we’ve come to and where we’re headed. And happy new year!

  16. 2014 was also the year I first self-published. I wrote my first novel at eighteen-years-old and tried to get it published the traditional way. This was 1997, back when the internet was barely a glimmer and people used to get those 30 day free trial CDs for AOL in the mail.

    That first book wasn’t really very good (though I didn’t know that at the time) and I continued writing. Being a teenager is great in some ways. It gives you that “I don’t give a damn” attitude that pushes you on no matter what anyone says. I wrote eight more novels and the rejection letters started piling up. At this point I was older and the self-doubt began to creep in. Why was I getting rejected over and over again? Were my query letters bad? Was I writing in a subject matter that was deemed unpopular? Was my writing just that bad?

    Of course, it was my fear that the latter was the real reason. The monsters of self-loathing were circling around me.

    I discovered Amazon’s self-publishing platform quite by accident while doing an internet search about writing one day. I decided to take what I felt was my strongest novel to date and publish it. I had no dreams of making millions of dollars; I simply wanted to know if my writing was good enough. Wanted to see if someone who I had never met could read my book and like it.

    Well I’m not an outlier; I didn’t make a million dollars. Yet. I am pleased to day that I’ve made into the five-figures with my writing this year, and while I’m not James Joyce, I think that my writing is good enough to compete.

    That’s one great thing that self-publishing does. It allows dreams to come true. For that, if nothing else, it is one of the good things in this world. And I am grateful.

  17. Hi Hugh!
    When we ran into each other at BEA, you asked me to let you know what I decided to do with my novel. Well, after a few months of very polite rejections from agents, I’ve just about decided to make the leap and go indie – and it’s largely thanks to the clear eyed reporting you’ve been doing all along. I figure if HBO wants me, they can probably find me! So thanks for doing what you do. I’m going to go publish my book!

  18. Good stuff, as always. I’ve been trad published, and the last contract I saw was so much worse than the first from the same publisher–not on money but on everything else–that it’s crazy. Trad pub contracts are becoming more and more like Hollywood studio contracts. Having seen both, I feel certain the pub consulted studio attys in preparing their current agreement. Some of the same language is creeping in–making the latest contracts a model of everything any sane author wants to avoid. And they fight every change tooth and nail. (Derivative works? Dream on!) I can no longer see any possible circumstance in which signing one of these is preferable to self-publishing.

    Many thanks for your shining example–and the hard data to light the path.

  19. […] Hugh Howey on “Where do we go from here?” Howey, probably the most famous indie author success story, is more upbeat than Rusch here, though he reminds us that no entertainer can expect to succeed forever. https://hughhowey.com/where-do-we-go-from-here/ […]

  20. Entitlement.

    It’s what happens when someone gives you something, then later on decides to change it or take it away entirely. For years we’ve snickered and groaned at Big Publishing’s sense of entitlement as the market has made its shift to digital. Now, as the market begins to mature (i.e. shift again), many indies are feeling the pinch of entitlement and reacting the same way BP did when pixels began to trump paper.

    Pot, meet Kettle.

    Hugh, your attitude is perfect, but a difficult one to adopt, as we witness constantly by people’s reactions to changes in their lives. I’ve been fortunate enough to earn a living working from home doing graphic design for over fifteen years. During that time, I started to write as well, but haven’t yet found my path to monetary success. Now, those times seem to be coming to an end and I’m looking for more conventional work. I will miss the old days, but life is forcing change upon me and I must adapt or perish as the saying goes.

  21. Ha. This statement is funny and ironic:

    “Vanity writers also care about the imprimatur of a publishing house, and are willing to give up 5X earnings and restrictive contracts for that feeling of having “made it.” Vanity writers also love to see major media outlets praise their work.”

    Back in the day (get off my lawn!), people who self-published were considered part of the vanity press because they published themselves.

  22. Thanks for this detailed summary, Hugh! With inspiration from you and other indie authors, I self-pubbed my first book a few months ago. There has been a learning curve for sure, and insane amounts of effort spent creating a high-quality product, but ultimately I’m grateful that artists like us now have the tools to connect directly with readers. The tricky thing, I’m finding, is how quickly the landscape seems to be shifting, in only a few months. But that’s why self-publishing is so great. I can pivot rapidly to deal with changing discovery methods and platforms, and that’s exciting. I’m confident that with sustained effort, I can grow this and continue putting smiles on people’s faces. Hats off to *everyone* who has had a part in making the indie revolution happen. You are all amazeballs!

  23. […] his retrospective, hybrid author and indie superstar Hugh Howey called 2014 the “the year the stigma of […]

  24. […] commenter on a recent blog post of Hugh Howey’s linked to his own survey responses, which at the time gave a preliminary breakdown of others’ […]

  25. […] commenter on a recent blog post of Hugh Howey’s linked to his own survey responses, which at the time gave a preliminary breakdown of others’ […]

  26. […] Where Do We Go From Here? | Hugh Howey […]

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