The Future of Book Publishing

Before writing my first book I reached out to a number of authors to get their take on the process, what worked for them, and any advice they could offer.

One seasoned author offered a healthy dose of reality. Here’s the gist of it:

  • Use stuff you’ve written about in the past. There’s no reason to be too clever and come up with something new.
  • Don’t go into this thinking you’re going to make a lot of money. When you consider how much time it takes, most authors make less than minimum wage.
  • You better really like the topic you’re writing about because creating a book is not easy.
  • Don’t assume you’re special because you’re going to have a book published.

This last one is the piece that stuck with me the most. I love the book Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t by Steven Pressfield because it makes you realize the importance of putting out quality information, stories, or ideas.

In a roundabout way, Pressfield was also literally describing much of the publishing industry.

Data on book sales are notoriously hard to find but here are some stats and figures I’ve seen, read about or heard over the years:

  • If you sell 20,000 to 25,000 books that would be seen by most publishers as a phenomenal number.
  • If you could sell 10,000 to 15,000 that would be enough to have the publisher come back to you for a second book.
  • The average non-fiction book sells less than 250 copies a year and less than 3,000 copies over its lifetime.
  • In a study of 1,000 business books released in 2009, just 62 of them sold more than 5,000 copies.
  • 950,000 of the 1.2 million books tracked by Nielsen Bookscan sold fewer than 99 copies in 2004. Just 25,000 out of 1.2 million sold more than 5,000 books. The average book sold about 500 copies.

In other words, most books don’t sell very many copies. This trend will likely continue. It’s estimated there were 1.7 million self-published books in 2018 alone. There’s just not enough demand to meet all of this supply.

The ability to self-publish is a wonderful development for people who enjoy the writing process but not so great for those who are looking to become the next JK Rowling. Your odds of success as an author are basically as good as someone off the street trying to tackle Derrick Henry.

For some reason, these numbers didn’t stop me from writing another book.

Michael and I discussed the future of the publishing industry on our podcast this week (along with the back story behind why I wrote it and what it’s all about):

For anyone who is considering writing a book, there are pros and cons involved with both traditional publishing and self-publishing.

Traditional publishing gives you the built-in infrastructure of editors, designers, formatting, experience, and offers credibility on platforms such as Amazon. But it’s also a slow process and you’re pretty much on your own when it comes to marketing the book.

I finished Don’t Fall For It in July and spent the next 6 months in a back-and-forth with my publisher on editing, design decisions, and waiting for it to be released. You also don’t have any control over pricing and the publisher typically gets a bigger cut of the payout for taking the risk of creating the book.

Self-publishing gives you more flexibility to do exactly what you want and it’s a more efficient process in that once your final draft is ready you press a button and the book goes live. You get to set the price and get a bigger piece of the payout.

But you’re also on your own when it comes to editing, formatting and cover design. These tasks can be farmed out but you have to know where to find quality help. Self-published books look pretty nice but not as nice as a hardcover if you think the aesthetics matter.

In my five short years of dealing with the publishing world I’ve seen a lot of changes already. I’ve gone through 4 or 5 different points of contact in terms of people leaving or being let go from my publisher. From everything I’ve been told, Amazon basically runs the show even though the publishers are providing the books.

I expect Amazon to continue its dominance and gain an even stronger foothold in the years ahead as more people decide to go the self-publishing route.

As I said in the video, the big names will still likely have a publisher behind them to take some of the risks of a dud off the table by accepting a large advance. But I would guess smaller and even slightly above average authors (in terms of sales) will opt for the self-publish route in the future.

Or Amazon will simply cut out the middleman and make an even bigger push into the publisher’s role themselves. They have all the data so why wouldn’t they just take this over?

The growth of podcasting and the introduction of better wearable technology will also have a say in this matter as more people demand audiobooks or stories that would have been books in the past in podcast form.

Malcolm Gladwell told Bill Simmons when his new book came out last year the audio version initially outsold the hardcover and digital copies because he made it more like a podcast.

I love the idea of a podcast/book hybrid and will likely explore this medium in the future.

Going through the book writing process on three occasions has given me an inside look at how the publishing industry operates.

Based on this experience and the changes to the publishing world in recent years, I would be shocked if this industry doesn’t look a whole lot different by the time the next decade begins.

Further Reading:
How to Self-Publish a Book
10 Things I Learned Writing a Book

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