How easy is it to publish a book?
The truth? It is hard. First, you have to have an idea of what to write about. Then, you proceed to write word by word, sentence by sentence, pages to pages, until you finish the entire manuscript. Next, you hire an editor to work with you (that is after you have revised it yourself and created a second draft). Afterward, you go through the publishing route you choose: traditional or self-publishing. But you’re not done yet! You still have to promote your book; getting the word out there. And when someone buys a copy of your book… that’s when you feel satisfied. Additional note to the process: you then would expect feedback and reviews, which can be both good or bad
Today I’m going to talk about traditional versus self-publishing. But I will offer you insights about the book publishing industry and trends as well. That is big. It’s a lot to discuss and there’s no right or wrong answer. Therefore, I kindly ask for you to read today’s blog post with an open mind.
Book Publishing Market Facts
Are books dead? There is free content everywhere on YouTube, Medium, Wattpad, and blogs. Do people stop reading books?
How many eBooks out there? Is it better to publish more paperbacks or eBooks?
How much will I make from publishing a book?
These questions, undoubtedly, are in your mind.
Let’s first understand how big the industry is.
Based on an infographic from Global English Editing in 2017, Book publishing market value is USD 151 Billion that outperforms film and entertainment (USD 133 Billion), magazines (USD 107 Billion), video games (USD 63 Billion), and music (USD 50 Billion) .
To give you an illustration, in the year 2017 about 35.7% of US book distribution is Hardback, 34.3% is Paperback, 5.6% Audiobook, and 17% are eBooks (the rest is others) . This equals to 675 million print book unit sales  in the US and 266 million eBooks sold in 2017 . Statista also mentions the age of eBook readers in the US: 34% are 18-29 years old, 31% are 30-49 years old, 20% are 50-64 years old, and 15% are 65+ years old .
If this makes sense, the book publishing industry has a great market value and is still dominated by hardback and paperback books. EBooks, in particular, are more popular with younger readers.
What about growth?
IBIS World offers a different perspective for the book publishing industry. The US Book publishing industry has USD 29.4 Billion in revenue in 2019 (reported in November 2019). They survive with offering four key products: textbooks (contributes 41.6% to the total revenue), professional, technical, and scholarly books (for example, nonfiction books. It contributes 26.4% to the total revenue), adult trade books (includes fiction or nonfiction general interest books. It contributes 18% to the industry sales), and children books (up to 18 years old. It contributes 7% to the industry revenue) .
And so… the key external drivers to the book publishing industry are the number of college students, per capita disposable income, e-commerce sales, and percentage of services conducted online . As IBIS World stated, the industry has been stagnant and tries to shift distribution from brick-and-mortar book stores to online. Textbooks are really the savior of the industry and we should expect publishers to go under restructuring (downsizing and reduce workforce). To be exact, the revenue has declined -16.62% from USD 34,876 in 2005 to USD 29,078 in 2018 .
Now, that’s not very encouraging. Not only the book publishers depend on textbooks, but they’re also not growing in terms of revenue.
Trends in the industry
Let’s shift to a more forward-looking perspective. What are the opportunities?
According to Blurb, a site for book printing, we should see more non-fiction, visual books, and hybrid digital-print contents in the self-publishing industry . Growth will increase in subscription-based publishing, such as Medium and Kinfolk.
Meanwhile, Jane Friedman author of The Business of Being a Writer wrote that history, sports, people, places, lifestyle topics will remain strong in the sales . Adult fiction books will have psychological suspense, nostalgia, and darker narratives to be in trend. Young Adult fiction books will have dystopian and horror, graphic novels, and creative nonfiction to be in trend.
What about the readers themselves? How are they behaving towards books?
There are readers out there: 72% (or seven in ten) American adults have read a book within a year based on a survey conducted by Pew Research Center in 2015 . Global citizens spend 6.5 hours reading books per week in contrast to 16.6 hours watching TV and 8.9 hours on computers or on the internet . In particular, India as a country spends 10.7 hours per week reading books (the longest time compared to other countries) and Japan spends 4.1 hours per week (the shortest time).
What does this data tell?
It means that people are still consuming information. There may be more avenues to read: social media, online publications, and more. But there’s still interest in sharing and reading stories.
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The Thorny Path: Traditional Publishing
Now, what are your options if you really want to publish a book?
First, you have the traditional publishing path. I call it The Thorny Path because you will struggle in crafting your work, you will battle yourself and your egos (read: ‘kill your darlings’ in editing your manuscript), you will work hard in approaching literary agents and the publishing houses.
In my opinion, what makes traditional publishing unique and interesting is the fact that you feel qualified as an author once you got a contract. Publishers and literary agents are very selective in choosing manuscripts: they think about how marketable the book is. They want to make sure they choose the right person and the right material to work on. And thus, being selected from hundreds of other applicants will send you a signal that you, indeed, have a talent in writing.
The Marketer Path: Self-Publishing
I myself is a self-published author. It is a lot of work and I want to openly say that I don’t do enough job to market the books to others.
Marketing is a keyword in self-publishing. The concept of self-publishing is doing everything (almost everything) by yourself. You are responsible to write the story, to edit the story (or pay someone to be an editor), to create the cover artwork (or pay someone to be the graphic designer), to make a layout for the printing (or use free online website like Reedsy), to buy the ISBN (ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number), to publish it (for example, through Lulu, Smashwords, Draft2Digital), to price it, to distribute it, and to promote it (like having an author website, Goodreads page, then market it on social media).
I honestly don’t make enough sales from my books. By that, I meant you can count the buyers with fingers. My first year for my first book couldn’t get any sales. It’s only a year after, when I self-published a second book, I managed to get around it. I sold the books to indie bookstores and thus, got more exposure to readers.
Lesson learned: even before you write your story, be aware that self-publishing requires an extensive amount of marketing. It’s not only about writing and printing books. It’s about reaching potential readers who might be interested in your self-published books.
What it means to be an author
Having said that, what do you think an author is?
This is a free discussion, of course. But in my opinion, an author is more than just a book writer. He or she is responsible:
What it means to be a responsible author
In the era of digitalization, I think becoming a responsible author is important.
As a fellow author, I recommend you to write your story. Go with whatever you’re comfortable with: traditional or self-publishing path. People are still reading books, though technology might change the way they read in the future. Final tips and thoughts: I recommend you to join a writing community to get inspiration and feedback. Check out “Scribophile”, “Writers Unite!” on Facebook, and local Meetups.
You should also join competitions. Clarissa Goenawan was one of the authors who debuted through a novel competition. She won Bath Novel Award in 2015 with Rainbirds. She is now represented by Pontas Agency and her second book “The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida” will be out in March 2020.
Extra note: I know I didn’t put revenue and cost between traditional and self-publishing. This is because I believe it’s a range. Depending on what you choose, the price will be different. For example, in self-publishing, you can hire a graphic designer for a book cover or use Canva to design it for FREE. Hence, revenue and cost depend on your choices.