The Rise of Indie Authors and How This Helps Publishing

Despite being an introvert, I love public speaking, especially when I get to share the positivity I genuinely feel about publishing and being a writer in these amazing times.

On March 8, I was one of the keynote speakers at the Publishing Innovation conference and spoke on ‘The Rise of Indie Authors and How This Helps Publishing” (more info below).


I also stayed for the two debates that followed as well as a diametrically opposed keynote to mine where the speaker basically said the internet would destroy everything creative, Amazon was annihilating everything and publishing and authors were doomed. I don’t believe that and don’t want to repeat it on this blog, so you can go find doom & gloom elsewhere if you want it :) But I have included some of the positive key points from other speakers below.

The Rise of Indie Authors and How This Helps Publishing

You can view or download my slides here => PublishingInnovationJoannaPenn

I acknowledged the ‘tsunami of crap’ that people expect with self-publishing and pointed out that we don’t really see it. It sinks into the depths of Amazon with rankings of hundreds of thousands. Customers are now the gatekeepers with book reviews and stars being the way Amazon shuffles content.

I then went into the difference between self-publishing and independent publishing, pointing out that most of us use professional editors and cover designers, acknowledging that publishing is a collaborative activity if it is to be a quality product.

I outlined the positives of being an indie that make it worthwhile:

  • 35% or 70% royalty, payment by check/ bank transfer 60 days later
  • Reconcilable reporting to the sales figures we can see daily on the back end (vs the late and enigmatic royalty statements traditional publishers provide)
  • Transparency in reporting which enables agile marketing and response as well as tracking of results in real time
  • Direct relationships with readers and the ability to respond to them with sales
  • Experimentation in genres with readers as gatekeepers
  • Speed of publishing, instant changes and speed of income
  • Global sales in an increasing ebook market

I also outlined my sales figures to 2 March 2012 – 33,734 books. 75% sold to the US, 25% UK. 99% ebooks. Bestseller on Action Adventure and Religious Fiction lists.

Finally, I outlined how indie authors could benefit traditional publishing in terms of new models, a form of slush pile and working in collaboration/ hybrid models.

Pan Macmillan MD on why indies take traditional deals

I was impressed by Anthony Forbes Watson, MD of Pan Macmillan. He spoke coherently and without vitriol on self publishing. It is important to remember that there are some very smart, passionate people in publishing, and that traditional publishing is still a very attractive prospect to many.

Here are some of his points, my notes only so not verbatim.

  • Amanda Hocking & Kerry Wilkinson (UK indie author) both accepted traditional deals because (a) they didn’t want to be publishers (b) they didn’t understand how they became successful and were worried they would disappear just as fast unless they solidified their careers with a trad deal (c) publishers develop the author as a brand over time (d) global distribution in print as well as ebook (e) protection from piracy (f) publishers can make ‘pretty stuff’ (quality print product) (g) books can be sold at a higher price. This represents the value add that a publisher can provide.

***Update: As per comment below, Kerry Wilkinson has responded that these are not the reasons he went with traditional publishing. I shall endeavor to find out more***

  • Publishers will survive if they generate emotion in an author’s work that touches an audience. [I thought this was more the author’s job in terms of writing something that touches an audience.]
  • The model used to be that the grad students sifted through the slush pile. They didn’t have the experience to choose great books. This is how Harry Potter got missed. But this has been changed now so more experienced people look at new authors.
  • Publishing and self-publishing can be a symbiotic relationship, so indie can act as a form of slush pile. It can also show publishers the way to experiment with digital and other models.
  • We are finding the things that don’t work and we’re trying to fix them, albeit slowly. The slush pile didn’t work but now we are fixing that. Pricing is being experimented with. There is some alchemy in getting a reader to pay more than £5 for an ebook. The bookshop is also not working right now, so we need to fix that.
  • No one knows how these breakout books work. The magic happens but we can’t recreate it. It’s about listening for an echo when we pitch books. Self-publishing is almost the chance to listen for an echo.
  • The object quality of print books is still important. Only 20% of sales are ebooks right now and publishers still do print better.
  • The challenge is to verticalise the business and get the right book to the right audience.

In general, this was a positive conference with some great people. I know my glass is always half full but I genuinely believe there is a great future for publishing of all kinds as well as for authors who treat this as a business and connect with their readers.

What are your thoughts about how indie authors relate to traditional publishing these days? Please do leave a comment below.

I am available for speaking on all things writing, digital publishing and marketing. More information here about my live events as well as testimonials from happy customers. Please do contact me if you need a speaker, either live or via Skype.



This is a reprint from Joanna Penn‘s The Creative Penn.