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In a recent blog post, we broke down the latest data on independent publishing from the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), a non-profit premier membership association for self-publishing authors. It provided the facts and figures that many indie authors may never have encountered before and touched on why it is so difficult to collect such data. In an interview with ALLi campaigns manager Melissa Addey, we ask the lingering questions you might still have following the last article and try to unravel a bit further this mysterious segment of the publishing industry . . .
Hi Melissa. Could you tell us a bit about yourself and what your role as campaigns manager for ALLi entails?
My role is to work on ALLi’s ongoing campaigns. These are:
Open up to Indie Authors: making sure indie authors are always welcomed (e.g. by award-givers) and also taken care of if they sit within other writing organisations. We have an organisation membership offer, which means genre-based, local or national writing associations can avail of ALLi’s expertise in self-publishing, for the benefit of their authors. It’s a really easy way for them to access high-value knowledge and experience for their members, opening up their publishing options.
Ethical Self-publishing: making sure that authors are treated ethically (e.g. not scammed or choosing poor-quality services). We offer a huge amount of paid and free advice, as well as things like our services directory, which contains vetted services for everything from editors to cover designers. We also encourage authors to be ethical in how they treat their readers, the companies and people they hire, and in their use of AI and other advanced technologies.
Self-publishing for All: helping to make self-publishing more accessible to more writers. Contrary to common belief, not everyone who wants to self-publish can do so. The most common barriers are mental, physical and financial. We’re currently in the middle of an audit of our own accessibility – we’re not perfect but we want to work on this – and raising issues around things that many writers will recognise, such as overwhelm or creative burn-out. This is something many neurotypical authors have experienced and is worse for the neurodivergent authors who may get exhausted by all the other expectations of self-publishing and end up with no energy to write! We are about to release a brief guide on how to self-publish for free, so that we take away some of that financial barrier but still guide people to good resources and how to best spend whatever money they do have available. And other sociological, financial, educational and other factors also fall under this campaign.
Self-publishing 3.0: A campaign to raise the average income for authors and poets through good publishing business skills and practice. This campaign is at the heart of a lot of ALLi’s work: we have a vast knowledge base around developing successful publishing businesses. Authors need to understand what it means when they create intellectual property (IP) and then think about how they can best manage and exploit their copyrights. The Creator Economy – authors selling directly to readers and finding multiple ways of connecting and selling, e.g. Kickstarter and Patreon. And it’s also about understanding that your creative works have a long life after you’re gone, so estate planning is essential.
So much to do! Because there are four campaigns I tend to cycle through them, but of course they all interlink. For example, if we make self-publishing more accessible to an author who needs better access, then they stand a better chance of making an income, which ties into Self-publishing 3.0, and so on. I like to think of them as cogs, so if any one of them moves, it moves the others.
Do explore our site – there are lots of good resources there already and many more to come!
Why is it so notoriously difficult to gather data surrounding self-publishing?
There isn’t enough clear data and much of the data we have is skewed. Firstly, ‘self-published’ can cover everyone from a person who created a single book for their family to authors who have built seven-figure publishing businesses. ALLi’s ‘Authorpreneur’ membership makes up 8 per cent of our total membership, but again members of a particular association may be self-selecting towards those writers who are indie authors running successful publishing businesses. Some self-published writers who are highly successful on Amazon or their own websites don’t use ISBNs, which means they are not included in the Bowker or Nielsen data streams. Many authors use ‘imprint’ names so if a book is well published it’s not obvious that it was done by the author and not a small third-party publisher. The industry’s focus on Amazon leads them to think that this platform is the only place where self-published authors are to be found . . . and generalities are assumed from what’s happening there. As the creator economy takes hold, and more and more authors are selling direct or via platforms like Kickstarter and Patreon, the data becomes even more fragmented. The only person who really knows how many books have been sold by an individual author-publisher is the author.
What are ALLi hoping to do about the shortage of data going forward?
We’re working with some great partners on what we’re calling The Big Indie Author Data Drop: Alli, Draft2Digital, K-lytics and Written Word Media. We all want to see better data in our part of the publishing industry and we all have something very interesting to bring to the table, so we are working together to bring out an annual, collaborative piece of data which will gather and analyse some really good data which the whole indie industry will benefit from. We’ll be asking the authors themselves as part of that, because they have access to data we simply can’t get from elsewhere. We hope the first one will be ready next April. Watch this space!
The data collected shows that indie authors rank equally to traditionally published authors for quality of reviews, so why does the stigma associated with self-publishing still persist? Or is this evidence it no longer exists among readers?
The data from K-lytics in 2022 showed that readers were rating traditional and self-published titles the same out of 5 stars . . . and that was fascinating. I don’t really think readers notice, most of the time. Do you know who published the last book you read? I don’t, and I work in the industry! I think only the old guard of the traditional publishing industry cares and continues to push for it to be seen as important, dominating the channels of communication. Why do women’s magazines only showcase traditionally published books? Why don’t we hear more in the news media about things like LJ Ross being the UK’s second bestselling series OF ALL TIME (outranking Harry Potter!), which Amazon announced this year? You simply cannot tell me you’re showcasing the best of books if you haven’t included self-published ones because, according to K-lytics’ data, it means you haven’t even looked at 39 per cent of what’s out there. That’s kind of embarrassing. Looks like readers are both up to date and open-minded!
In what ways have indie authors become a part of the creator economy, and what are the benefits of this approach instead of trying to mimic traditionally published authors?
The development of the creator economy is so interesting. See the link above, which has detailed insights from our director Orna Ross earlier this year and is very much worth reading. People want to be closer to the source of the creativity; they don’t want to buy from a faceless corporation. The element of this movement which really works for indie authors is that they are often quite close to their readers: they target smaller niches, they have websites and mailing lists (some traditional authors have neither!), they manage their own advertising so they see up-to-date analysis of what’s going on and who their target readers are. If your readers really love you, they will not only buy your books but be your greatest marketing tool. I have readers who will actually tag their friends in my adverts when they see them, putting in a recommendation . . . I cannot buy that, that’s because we have a creative relationship binding us together!
Self-published authors such as Joseph Alexander, Elana Johnson and Andy Weir have built successful careers from their work. What advice would you offer to indie authors looking to do the same?
Firstly, understand that an indie author is generally building a business, not a career. Creative careers are built by being picked up by curators and gatekeepers and having a breakout moment (like Andy); creative businesses are built by appealing to customers and are developed step by step (like Elana) and some authors build other products and services around their books (like Joseph). It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and while you can learn about and work on business building, you can’t engineer a breakout. Success generally takes a lot of books and a business mindset, a commitment to doing things professionally, and valuing the reader.
Take the time to educate yourself. ALLi has a vast knowledge base that you can search through (https://selfpublishingadvice.org). Find the ways that work for you, don’t be afraid to tweak things until they fit your circumstances. For example, for greatest return on investment, we recommend hiring an editor, a cover designer, etc. – i.e., putting together a ‘team’. But for a neurodivergent author this may use too much creative energy and they might be better off finding a ‘done for you’ package provider. Another example: I use one of the most premium guides to paid advertising and it’s really useful, but I had to switch to videos rather than static images because my target audience vastly preferred that. So you have to find good-quality advice but then be proactive in how you use it.
Do the work. No one said it was easy, but it can be very enjoyable. Yes, even the business side can be creatively fulfilling. Connect with your readers – they are the other half of your creative output. Forget about the so-called ‘divide’ between traditional publishing and self-publishing. It is really irrelevant to you and your readers. At every moment, there is a wide array of publishing options available to you. Choose what’s right for you and your creative work and use multiple options together, or different things at different times or for different books. It’s your business; do it your way.
And build in longevity. Think about having a ‘process bible’ so that someone else could understand how you do things and pick up from you if needed. Think about your literary estate. Above all, think about your own physical and mental wellbeing because that will mean greater success in the future.
What independent publishing trends and data do you predict will arise over the rest of the year and into 2023?
- Understanding and managing rights better
- Better data which we hope to contribute to
- Creator economy, as mentioned above
Authors making things work for their own situation, not just copying others without adapting knowledge and information to their own circumstances.
Authors recognising the long-term nature of the endeavour. I worked with entrepreneurs for years; I met over 500 of them and they’d say, ‘I haven’t had a holiday for fifteen years’ and I’d think, are you crazy? But recently my husband said, ‘When are your holidays, exactly? Can you tell me?’ and I couldn’t. It’s hard when you love what you do, you want to do everything and do it all the time, but you can’t push yourself to the brink because it’s really hard to come back from. Find ways of working that support your creative self and you’ll fly!
ALLi has a great book on understanding publishing rights. Our bookshop can be found at: https://selfpublishingadvice.org/bookshop/
Members can download all our guidebooks for free from their membership log-in page and have access to two books on managing literary estates.