Book Publishing, A Quick Look at the Industry

Publication2On April 24 I had the pleasure of sitting on the Publishing Panel at the Writers in the Mountains’ annual book festival held this year at the Union Grove Distillery in Arkville. I was joined that day by Leslie T. Sharpe, professor, author and editorial consultant; Anique Taylor, poet, painter and educator; and Lillian Browne, journalist. We all shared very different perspectives on publishing.

Here were some of my contributions to this conversation.

  1. General Considerations

Independent publishing or self-publishing, as it is now called, has always existed. Shortly after the invention of the printing press, artists and writers with entrepreneurial spirit learned to design and publish their own books. Digital technology has of course made things a lot easier. I highly recommend the essay “From Papyrus to Pixels” published by The Economist in 2014.

Self-published authors are those who set up accounts with various self-publishing platforms, and publish that way, and those who set up their own presses, and become their own publishers, the likes of Mark Twain and Virginia Wolf.

Earlier this spring I attended the Woodstock Writers Festival, co-sponsored by The New School. One author explained that publishing a book is ultimately a way to connect with readers, and self-publishing is one way to do so. But authors shouldn’t choose self-publishing as a way to avoid gatekeepers, because gatekeepers can really help make a manuscript better.

Four authors were asked about their route to publication, and all four of them had a different answer:

  • One of them met his publisher at a party in Woodstock.
  • Another one had a more methodical approach: she started by googling “how do you get a literary agent?” and then googling “how do you write a query letter?” Her manuscript was accepted on the first day she sent out query letters to six agents.
  • A third admitted that it had taken her a really long time to find an agent. She started by approaching friends, and friends of friends, and people she met at workshops. Her advice to writers was to look at books that were similar to theirs, and see who published them.
  • The fourth author said that he was lucky, because it took him six years to write the book, but sold it in forty-eight hours.

Ultimately, how you choose to publish a book depends on the complexity of the project, I would say, how resourceful you are, and how much time you have to commit to the project.

  1. Trends

My advice to writers has always been to remain constantly creative and curious, and look for new models in publishing, because the industry is changing rather rapidly. For instance, at the Woodstock Writers Festival last year I met someone who works for Diversion Books in New York City: Diversion takes a digital marketer approach to books – they use data analytics to assess book consumption, and enhance the commercial success of a book. What does that do to the literary value of a book, what does that do to poetry, and projects that don’t really fall into categories – these remain open questions.

A few trends I’d like to highlight:

  • Millenials watch YouTube more than television. They are the largest generation in the history of the country. The millennial market (18 – 34 year old) is estimated at 92 million people, and $200 billion worth of spending in the U.S. (source: Publishing Perspectives).
  • Digital audio books are becoming more and more popular, and more common in independent bookstores.
  • Also, we see more digital content in schools.
  • New apps, and new tools for writers are introduced every day – tools for writing, editing, organizing content, designing and publishing books. For instance, Amazon StoryWriter app automatically formats screenplays, so writers type without worrying about format. Moleskine introduced a Smart Writing Set that includes a smart pen and a notebook that instantly digitizes notes, including sketches – this comes in handy for illustrators.
  • Retailers are giving independent authors more space.
  1. Statistics

Smashwords 2016 Survey (conducted between March 2015 and February 2016) reveals that among Smashwords authors:

  • Fiction dominates (89.5% of Smashwords sales were fiction titles);
  • Offering books for free remains a powerful discovery tool – free books get about 41 times more downloads than books at any price, according to Smashwords;
  • Preorder is becoming more and more popular: 13.5% of new books released at Smashwords during the period under investigation were released as preorders, up from 9.8% in the year before;
  • Series books outsell standalones.

Read full article at

Also from Mark Coker at Smashwords:

  • Print books continue to dominate: print accounts for 70% of the market;
  • Independent authors control 15 – 20 % of the e-book market;
  • Kindle Unlimited model reconfigures the entire industry – readers get used with reading for free;
  • Libraries remain an area of growth and opportunity for independent authors.


The American Association of Publishers reported that:

  • When it comes to traditional publishers, e-book sales decreased 12% in 2015 compared to 2014.
  • After years of decline, physical retail stores saw an increase of 3.2% in revenue ($3.80 billion from $3.68 billion) and 4.1% in units (577 million from 554 million) in the trade category in 2014.
  • Online retail remained the top sales channel for customers in the trade category, selling 832 million units and providing $5.90 billion in revenue in 2014.

You can read more at   

© 2016 Simona David

End of Year in Publishing

Sophie McNeill from Penguin Random House summarized the five key trends in the book market in 2015, which reveal that:

books 2015

  • Print remains the most popular reading format with 63 percent of Americans reporting that they read a print book in the past year compared to 27 percent who reported they read an ebook in the past twelve months (data from the Pew Research Center).
  • Young adults are more likely than their elderly to have read a book in the past twelve months – McNeill points out that the range of successful movies based on young adult books may explain the age gap (which came as a surprise to me). Also, women are more likely to read books than men (the average woman reader reads fourteen books per year compared to nine books read by the average man reader).
  • In the first half of 2015 the trade book market when it comes to adult fiction, children’s and young adult literature, and religious presses was down 1.4% compared to the first half of 2014: $3 billion compared to $3.13. This statistic is from the American Association of Publishers, which only looks at traditional publishers, and does not include self-publishing. Children’s and young adult literature recorded the sharpest decline (12.3%).
  • According to the American Booksellers Association independent bookstores are coming back: according to the ABA the number of independent bookstores increased 20 percent from 2009 to 2014  (from 1,651 in 2009 to 2,094 in 2014).
  • 50 percent of Americans own a tablet or an ereader for reading digital content. It is expected that more and more Americans will shift from tablets to smartphones in the coming years. Read more about these findings here.

Mark Coker from Smashwords released his predictions for 2016, and these include:

  • Independent (in other words self-published) ebook authors will continue to gain market share at the expense of large publishers because indie titles are priced lower, and because indie authors move faster, and are creative when it comes to marketing and distributing their titles, among other reasons. According to Coker, “every year readers are spending more hours reading books from indie authors.” Also, according to Coker “more traditionally published authors will continue to experiment with self-publishing.”
  • Amazon Kindle Unlimited and KDP Select programs have trained readers to expect free ebook downloads, and this will have long-term ramifications not just for the self-published authors, but according to Coker for traditional publishers and traditionally published authors as well, and of course for the Amazon’s retail competitors.
  • According to Coker, the overall market for ebooks will shrink in terms of dollars, but will increase in terms of units.
  • Print won’t go away. Print books represent approximately 70 percent of the market today. Coker says that “for many readers, print is the gateway to digital.” He also writes about the importance of brick-and-mortar bookstores, and about Amazon’s plans to open a brick-and-mortar bookstore in Seattle.
  • Preorder usage will dramatically increase in 2016, according to Coker. Read full article here.

As mentioned in Coker’s article, Amazon did indeed open its first brick-and-mortar bookstore in Seattle back in November. The store, called Amazon Books, is located in University Village. Read article here. Amazon Books plans to use its huge database to stock its shelves; it will look at reviews from millions of readers, but also at staff-favorites, among other sources. Thomas De Monchaux wrote about Amazon Books for the New Yorker.

Amazon is not only the world’s largest bookseller, it’s also an important publisher. Launched in 2009, Amazon Publishing owns 14 imprints, and publishes both fiction and non-fiction books. Through AmazonCrossing, launched in 2010, the company publishes translated books. AmazonCrossing committed $10 million over the next five years to works in translation. Read more about Amazon Publishing here. Read more about AmazonCrossing in this article published by Alex Shephard in the New Republic.

Happy New Year, and Happy Publishing!

Simona David


News and Trends in Publishing

A quick overview of what’s new and trending in the publishing and content marketing industries.

  • First and foremost, news from Amazon: Amazon authors may have received news about changes in the European Union (EU) tax laws regarding the taxation of digital products (including e-books). The Value Added Tax (VAT) used to be applied based on the seller’s country, but beginning January 1st this year the VAT is being applied based on the buyer’s country. Kindle authors were asked to re-visit their pricing strategies, and make adjustments moving forward.


Also, Amazon had gradually expanded its Kindle Unlimited services to include countries like Spain and Italy (since November 2014), France and Brazil (since December), and Canada and Mexico (since February). Kindle Unlimited is a subscription service that allows customers to read as many book as they like and keep them as long as they want for a monthly subscription fee. This is different from being an Amazon Prime member: anyone can subscribe to Kindle Unlimited services for a $9.99 monthly fee.

Authors who have enrolled their e-books in KDP Select, and have made their titles available to the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library ought to know that all titles enrolled in KDP Select are automatically enrolled in Kindle Unlimited as well. Authors do get paid royalties once a customer has downloaded and read at least 10 percent of their books. But there are concerns that authors actually earn less, as a result of fierce competition from other titles (Kindle Unlimited currently has a library of over 750,000 titles). You can read more opinions about Kindle Unlimited here. To learn more about authors’ royalties, visit

  • Mark Coker from Smashwords listed his predictions for 2015, which, as expected, include the increase in digital reading and independent publishing, but also some unexpected considerations. I find particularly interesting Coker’s prediction that independent authors will in fact face increased competition from traditional publishers in 2015, and also the fact that Coker expects many more indie authors to just give up. Coker also thinks that major publishers will begin experimenting with free products in 2015, a strategy that has been far too common among indies. At the same time, Coker warns that freebies aren’t what they used to be, because there are so many free books already on the market. We’ll see what 2015 bears for both traditional and independent publishers.
  • Social media will continue to evolve and bring ever more changes to the way we’re doing business. The landscape is becoming so complex, that analysts recommend an increased specialization in this field. While integration across multiple platforms has been unavoidable for some time, 2015 is seen as the year brands can no longer avoid paying for ads on social media. Video sharing is rapidly spreading, and gaining more popularity. SlideShare is also becoming trendier, as it plans to introduce video sharing capabilities this year. As a novelty, Twitter and Facebook may introduce a “Buy” button so users can make purchases without leaving these platforms. According to trend analysts, in 2015 interactive brand personas will become ever more common. To read more about social media trends, visit


Specifically, when looking at content marketing trends, having a well-documented content strategy, using catchy headlines, and making content easy to share are at the top of the list. More suggestions and recommendations can be found here. For more marketing trends, go to

Have a great and productive year!

Independent or Traditional Publishing?

books modernAs more and more aspiring authors debate over traditional versus independent publishing, I am weighing in this debate by exploring the pluses and minuses of each option. Herein I will consider the relationship between author and publisher from a historical perspective, I will look at self-publishing from a business and marketing standpoint, I will share statistics and trends, and I will mull over the future of publishing.

Historical Perspective

Over the past five years or so we’ve talked extensively about self-publishing given tremendous opportunities created by digital technology, but self-publishing is not new. Shortly after the invention of the printing press in Germany in 1450, German painter Albrecht Durer self-published an illustrated book called The Apocalypse, as reported by Hyperallergic and other sources. As a side note, Durer’s godfather, Anton Koberger, one of Germany’s most successful publishers around that time, published The Nuremberg Chronicle in 1493 – that book is on display at Vassar College through December this year.

To resume, artists and writers with entrepreneurial spirit have always existed. In the 17th and 18th century Europe self-publishing was fairly common; self-publishers were using subscription models to hook new readers. But moving forward into the 19th century, the advent of newspapers and magazines changed again the way publishers were doing business, by enabling them to publish short book excerpts and popularize novel ideas. It’s worth mentioning the essay published in October this year by The Economist magazine From Papyrus to Pixels: The Digital Transformation Has Only Just Begun, a piece musing over the past and future of publishing from different perspectives.

Granted, the relationship between authors and publishers hasn’t always been a rosy one: in 1849, for instance, Thoreau had a hard time finding a publisher for A Week on the Concord and Merimack Rivers, as reported by Brain Pickings; eventually, he paid out of pocket to print 1,000 copies – only 300 would sell. In 1845 Edgar Allan Poe only made $20 for the publication of The Raven, despite the instant success of the poem. Meanwhile, in 1855 Walt Whitman decided to self-publish Leaves of Grass – Whitman only printed 800 copies, and although the sales weren’t great, the author wasn’t discouraged. Today, we’re looking at traditionally published authors like David Mamet, who is considering self-publishing, and also at successful self-published authors like Bella Andre, who sold millions of copies of her novels, and made The New York Times Bestseller List.

Self-Publishing Is a Business

Self-Publishing is a business. Writers who self-publish are also publishers, marketers, and business managers. Publishing a book is very much like a start-up – it involves everything from product development, the book, to knowing the technology that’s involved, resources that are available, project cost, market research, branding, distribution, sales, and taxes. Successful self-published authors understand the book market – they know what people read, and how they read, know who their competition is, know how to price their books, know how to promote and distribute; they can compare different publishing models, and make a profit. In sum, authors who self-publish are more than writers – they are also entrepreneurs.

Self-publishing and book marketing go hand in hand, because authors who self-publish have to market their books, and build name recognition. Therefore, in addition to being writers, authors today are also performers, communicators, and brands. In that sense, I’m quoting Helmut von Berg, a publishing expert, who said for Publishing Perspectives in January 2013 that: “publishing of the future is networked publishing.”Also Seth Godin, who just published a CD of his bestselling book Tribes, emphasizes the importance of having a tribe, when it comes to marketing and sales: “All those blogs and social networking sites are helping existing tribes get bigger and enabling new tribes to be born.”

Trends and Statistics

In 2013 there were a total of 458,564 self-published titles, an increase of 17% from 2012; broken down by format in 2013 self-publishers published 302,622 print books, an increase of 28.80%  compared to 2012, and 155,942 e-books, a decrease of 1.60% compared to 2012. The source is Bowker Market Research.

In 2013 self-publishers preferred print to digital, a remarkable finding, considering how much easier it is to self-publish digital rather than print content. The ratio print to digital was 60 – 40 in 2012; in 2013 that changed to 66 – 34 print to digital.

Also, another exciting trend, in October 2014 Frankfurt Book Fair, the world’s largest book festival, expanded its successful self-publishing German-language arena to include English-language books; the fair hosted this year a two-day intensive program dedicated to self-publishers, thus acknowledging the increased importance of independent publishing.

The Future of Publishing

In recent years we’ve seen a constant increase in self-published titles. But traditional publishers are no stranger to this market either: in 2008 HarperCollins created, a site dedicated to independent authors; in 2011 Penguin U.S. created a similar site called; in 2012 Penguin acquired Author Solutions, one of the biggest self-publishing conglomerates; also in 2012 Simon & Schuster partnered with Author Solutions to create Archway Publishing. Furthermore, in 2013 Bowker, the agency that issues ISNBs in the United States, in existence since 1868, created a site called, providing resources for authors contemplating independent publishing. In sum, traditional publishers appear not only to have been embraced self-publishing, but also to profit from it.

Pundits looking at traditional publishing models ponder over what changes the future might bring. And editors working in big publishing houses already moonlight as freelancers for independent projects. Meanwhile, Penguin UK is offering online writing courses, thus this major company becomes more than a publisher, and enters the realm of instruction and education. Other pundits wonder whether traditional publishers would unbundle their services, and thus offer authors just what they need, whether be editorial services, design, marketing or distribution.

In conclusion, should you self-publish or look for a publisher? The answer depends on a whole range of factors. It’s important to look at both options, and assess pluses and minuses. Ultimately the decision will depend on the goals and needs of each author, and the nature of each book project – some projects are more complex than others from an editorial, legal, or financial standpoint. Your choice.

© 2014 Simona David

Happy New Year & Happy Publishing

It’s been a great year in publishing, with more and more options for independent authors, and more and more opportunities for smart promotion.

In July two giants of the publishing world – Penguin and Random House – announced their merger, with ramifications yet to be seen by aspiring authors.

Meanwhile, independent publishing continues to improve: earlier this year Bowker launched to provide more resources to writers interested in self-publishing. CreateSpace, Lulu, and Smashwords, three of the largest self-publishing platforms, continued to refine and polish their offers: in September Lulu introduced new book templates, while Amazon introduced its MatchBook program; MatchBook program enables readers to purchase Kindle books at a discount rate after purchasing their print editions.

During the summer Smashwords introduced a Pre-Order Feature which allows authors to further engage in advance marketing, and increase the discoverability of their books.

In March Goodreads, a popular book recommendation site with over 20 million users, was acquired by Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer and bookseller.  Amazon has integrated Goodreads with its various Kindle models, and enhanced the social benefits of reading, sharing, spotting trends, and reviewing books online.

Authors and publishers continue to innovate and transform the industry: this fall Random House partnered with Pinterest to feature popular pins related to books, and thus help readers find new titles.

Surprisingly, in 2013 e-book sales stagnated, at about 30 percent of the market in terms of units and 15 percent in terms of dollars – that’s according to the Book Industry Study Group via Digital Book World.

All in all, it’s been an exciting time in publishing. Aspiring authors have more and more options to publish and market their titles, so that both writers and readers benefit.

Happy Publishing!

The Year in Publishing

It’s been a grand year in publishing. 

  • Amazon bought Goodreads
  • Yahoo bought Tumblr
  • Bowker created
  • Goodreads reached 20 million members in July
  • Penguin and Random merged
  • Smashwords introduced a Pre-Order Feature
  • Jeff Bezos bought The Washington Post
  • Amazon introduced MatchBook program
  • E-Books sales stagnated
  • The tablet market expanded
  • The first all digital library opened in Texas in September 

What have you noticed in publishing this year?