Navigating Industry Changes

Taking notes

In 1971, Michael S. Hart launched Project Gutenberg and digitized the U.S. Declaration of Independence--the world's first ebook.  That same year, the first Borders bookstores also opened for business.

Forty years later, Amazon reported that Kindle ebooks had surpassed their paperback sales--and that the margin between the two formats is increasing.  After an unsuccessful effort to find a buyer, Borders will be liquidating and closing their remaining stores by September of this year.

Watching the trends and changes that are happening right now, I feel a mixture of both sadness and excitement.  I grew up with an affection for physical books and bookstores, but I'm equally comfortable with reading an ebook on a reader--even my phone.  The cheaper cost and convenience of buying even paperback books online makes logical sense to me, but the human interaction and atmosphere of a physical building is pleasant.  It makes me wonder if the future is going to mean smaller retail bookstores (for the intended purpose of just letting people browse) with checkout coming down to scanning the bar code of the book with our own devices.  We're not too far from that already.

So what does all of this mean for authors?

Though it may vary with other authors, I make about the same amount of money from an ebook sale as I do a paperback--the difference being I'm able to sell the ebook for a lot less due to no printing costs.  If you've never looked into ebook publication and how it works, both Amazon and Barnes & Noble have very straightforward websites about their requirements.  In my particular case, 90% of my book sales are now ebooks--it was 50% in 2009.

This does not mean however that once you publish a book you just sit and wait for the money to roll in.  Whether you're traditionally or self-published, a basic knowledge in marketing is important.  A book that I found helpful in that area is the newer edition of Guerrilla Marketing for Writers--I accidentally left a copy of this book on a plane and liked it enough to buy another one.

Free online samples or downloads of your work can also help sales.  It's really the equivalent of letting someone browse your book in a physical store.  I realize that can be a little scary and counter-intuitive at first--especially with the amount of work that goes into writing a novel--but it can be a good long-term strategy for gaining exposure.

From a personal financial standpoint, becoming debt-free (something my husband and I are in the middle of doing) can put you in the position of being able to travel and take larger opportunities without worrying about it crashing your household expenses.  Dave Ramsey and Dan Miller's books have been very influential on me in that area.  More recently, I've read Jon Acuff's book Quitter that gives a lot of realistic tips about transitioning from a traditional job to a dream career.  This takes time, but it's worth it if you're pursuing something you love to do.

In short, it's vital to be in a constant state of learning and take proactive actions toward your dream.  It makes weathering changes a lot less scary and allows you to see opportunities that reactive people can't--simply because they're distracted by fear.  I hope this helps you, and I encourage you to start independently learning more.  I'm going to do my best to share what has helped me and try to point in good directions to start.