indie authors and the digital publishing revolution

I’ve been thinking about e-books recently and the digital publishing revolution. The market is picking up so fast this year that it’s dizzying after the slow pace of the rise in ebook sales over the past five years.

Back in 2005, I started writing original fiction, and I was e-published with a now defunct publisher. Five years ago, we were apparently poised on the brink of the digital publishing revolution. We waited, but it didn’t happen. E-book sales were good if you had the readers or wrote the right sort of story, but it was nothing compared with now, and distribution was poor. Not many sites dealt with e-books. Readers mainly had the choice of the publisher’s website, Fictionwise, Diesel or Mobipocket.

E-publishers came and went, indie authors started to sprout up more and more, and the big distribution companies still argued about e-book formats and their e-readers, and publishers argued whether e-books were worth it at all. DRM debates were commonplace.

I became an independent author in 2006. Back then, we were labelled more commonly as self-published, and we were often outcast for it. Independent authors four years ago weren’t welcome at a lot of review sites, or on distribution channels. Myself and another author grouped up, and we formed Alinar Publishing with some author friends who were also looking to go indie. We believed that we could get our books edited just as well as the e-publishers were managing, could make covers that were just as good, and could sell more copies by ourselves, reaching a larger audience. It was true. We have had our ups and downs but we’ve managed to source editors, cover artists, and have built ourselves readerships. We even got ourselves distributed on Fictionwise. Back then, Fictionwise was everything. It was the best place to sell e-books, and it still contributes heavily to my book sales and market reach.

When Amazon opened its doors to indies and publishers alike, things moved swiftly and the digital revolution truly began. Smashwords joined in, bringing us a wider reach by allowing us to sell books on places like Kobo, Sony, and Barnes & Noble. Other places sat up and took notice. The indie revolution was well underway.

At least, it was if you were in the US.

Unfortunately, authors and publishers outside the US weren’t able to participate in the Kindle programme until earlier this year. The moment I could, I distributed a selection of my books on Kindle and Smashwords. Results were good once my pen names got off the ground in those two places, and they’re only getting better. E-books are going strong and even outselling hardbacks on Amazon.

iBookstore joined the Smashwords ranks, and Diesel, another large online ebook seller, has signed up too. I’m yet to see good results on iBookstore. For all the shouting about it, sales haven’t been amazing there, or at Barnes & Noble. Amazon is still the best place to be at the moment, with second place going to Fictionwise, and third to Kobo.

I haven’t been very active in promotion or marketing over the past year, so I’m yet to truly corner the market for paranormal romance books or science fiction romances. My focus on writing has taken me out of the game and I am only just starting to work on improving my platform and reach on the social networks that play such an important part in an authors marketing these days. Heck, I only signed up to Facebook in July and didn’t really start using it fully until August!

I think that digital publishing will grow, and that e-book sales will rise, but at the same time we face a bigger dilemma than lack of distribution now. Ease of distribution has led to many more writers deciding to self-publish. Unfortunately, with the good come the bad, and the terrible. Poorly edited stories are rife, as are books that are blatantly first drafts that haven’t even had a read through, or novels written by authors who have never studied the craft of plots, dialogue or creating characters that are more than one dimensional (or carbon copies of their favourite character in their favourite author’s novel). We’re all allowed our starter stories, but even those were edited.

Independent authors continue to struggle against the stigma attached to being self-published because of this reason alone. While we’ve been accepted at more review sites and blogs, and readers are giving us a chance to prove our worth, there’s still a lot of people and places out there who wouldn’t touch us with a barge pole. It’s something that we have to put up with for now and hope that in time the authors who give it their all and care about the product they’re producing will be noticed for what they’re worth. Hey, maybe if we’re lucky the bad writers will realise that those low sales and consistently poor ratings they get mean they should hit the drawing board and read some books on how to write, as well as a lot of novels, if they’re serious about being an author.

Another side effect of this rise in indie authors and indie publishing are those wanting to take advantage of our desire to reach a wider audience. Publishers Weekly recently announced that it would look at independently published novels and even review some if we paid a ridiculous sum of money. Of course, if they do feature or review you, you’ll be in a separate section away from the real books, as though you’re something that needs to be contained or you’ll contaminate the proper authors and their releases. There are distribution sites that want to charge you a similar sum for the pleasure of selling your e-books on their site, but they’ll still take a cut of your royalties too, and you have to make all the book formats. Why would an indie author pay to be distributed by a site when we can do it for free at so many places now? I just don’t understand that one.

I think there are still many hurdles to jump or fences to break down, but we’ll get there in the end, and I think that we’re here to stay now. Indie e-book authors were on shaky ground for years but it’s beginning to feel pretty solid beneath my feet. The future is bright for those who do things right and produce something good (and edited to the best of their capabilities/funding), and with 2011 pitched as the year e-books outsell paperbacks on Amazon, I can’t wait to see what it holds for independent authors!

About Felicity Heaton

I'm a NEW YORK TIMES and USA TODAY best-selling author writing passionate paranormal romance books as Felicity Heaton and F E Heaton. In my books I create detailed worlds, twisting plots, mind-blowing action, intense emotion and heart-stopping romances with leading men that vary from dark deadly vampires to sexy shape-shifters and wicked werewolves, to sinful angels and hot demons! If you're a fan of paranormal romance authors Lara Adrian, Larissa Ione, Kresley Cole, J R Ward, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Gena Showalter and Christine Feehan then you will love my books too.

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