Jane Friedman has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in business strategy for authors and publishers. She’s the editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential industry newsletter for authors, and has previously worked for F+W Media and the Virginia Quarterly Review. In 2019, Jane was awarded Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World. She joins us to chat about the industry and her book, “The Business of Being a Writer.”
Jane Friedman has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in business strategy for authors and publishers. She’s the editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential industry newsletter for authors, and has previously worked for F+W Media and the Virginia Quarterly Review. In 2019, Jane was awarded Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World.
Jane’s newest book is The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press); Publishers Weekly said that it is “destined to become a staple reference book for writers and those interested in publishing careers.” Also, in collaboration with The Authors Guild, she wrote The Authors Guild Guide to Self-Publishing.
Jane sits at the intersection of several communities, which gives her a 360-degree view of the changes now shaping writing and publishing. People working inside the industry see her as an expert in digital and self-publishing, while independent authors see her as a traditional publishing figure.
We’ll get to chat with Jane about her unique and authoritative perspective of the overall writing and publishing industry.
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Mark Lefebvre 00:01
Hello, and welcome to Draft2Digital Spotlight. This is Mark Leslie Lefevbre, and I am honored to have with me, in the virtual studio, Jane Friedman. Jane, welcome.
Jane Friedman 00:12
Hello, everyone. Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Mark Lefebvre 00:15
I wanted to start off, just to give people an idea of your background in the publishing and writing industry.
Jane Friedman 00:24
Well, I started off working in traditional publishing right out of college, so I have not had a break from the industry in more than 20 years. So I stayed at the same publisher, this was based in Cincinnati, for 12 years. I moved into university teaching for a while. And then I went back into literary publishing. And then I went full time freelance in 2014. So, that’s a very short history of where I’ve been.
Mark Lefebvre 00:54
Wow. And I want to talk about one of your books, one of the most recent books, I think it may be your most recent book, The Business of Being a Writer. I found that it was important because your approach is inclusive of traditional publishing and indie publishing. So when did that come out? And tell us a little bit about what this contains.
Jane Friedman 01:21
So the book came out in 2018. It was the result of so many conferences and events, hearing writers say, I didn’t realize I couldn’t make a living off book sales alone. Or, I thought that book advances or royalties, like once I got myfirst Book deal, I’d be set. Now, granted, this attitude is a little more prevalent, I think, in the literary MFA writing community, which the book is primarily for. And a lot of people going into debt, for example, for MFA degrees and such. But, you know, in indie publishing too, I think there’s this expectation that, you know, you get your first book out, or even your first two or three books out, and, you know, the money or the sales will start rolling in. And it just doesn’t happen that way. So the book takes a very long-term career-building approach, and [inaudible] and doing organic platform-building activities. I talk about lead generation. So it’s not looking at the book as the end-all, be-all. It’s looking at all of the different ways that you build a career over time.
Mark Lefebvre 02:34
Would it be fair to say that there’s that one to five percent of authors, the … let’s say the JK Rowlings, the James Pattersons of the world, that in the indie community, it’s a parallel, right? There are a very small percentage that are killing it and making millions. And then there’s the rest of us, big giant midlist, right?
Jane Friedman 02:56
Yes, that … in every field, you know, there’s the top percentage of successful people that we’re all kind of, we’re all shooting for that. We want to emulate, you know, the people who are able to make a living doing, presumably what they love, or what, you know, they set out to accomplish. But it takes time. I think more than ever, fortunately … like, if I compare today to when I first entered publishing in the late 1990s, I think it’s true that today it’s more possible than ever to make a living just through writing, in my opinion. Whether that’s self-publishing or a mix of other things. I think today’s market rewards people who are very prolific and productive, which is another burden as well. Blessing and burden. But, you know, it’s not just about “write it and they will come.” There are a lot of other elements, of course that that go into the mix, which I’m sure we’re going to touch on in the next half hour or so.
Mark Lefebvre 03:56
Well, for sure. I mean, you were part of the industry when that tipping point into ebooks happened, right? You were there before, during and after. Do you feel that we’re at a different tipping point right now, with potentially digital? With what’s going on in the world?
Jane Friedman 04:15
Well, right … this particular moment in time is a very unusual time. And I think we’re seeing some of the weaknesses, particularly on the traditional publishing side more than anything. I think we’re seeing how the indie bookstore resurgence, as it’s been popularly called, maybe isn’t as strong as we thought. I mean, there’s a lot of weaknesses in that system. Traditional publishers have been really relying on print, preserving print, deemphasizing digital. And of course, that’s, those chickens are now coming home to roost. So there’s, it’s a strange time to watch some of the effects. I mean, it’s such a long, if you take the long perspective on this, it’s, you know, when the ebook prices went up for traditional publishers, and I think that was around 2014 or 2015. You know, just looking at how that has now unfolded to where we’re at now, I do expect there to be some significant changes in the year or two ahead. But of course, it’s very early. It’s very early to say what’s going to happen. But as far as like a tipping point for self-publishing authors and what’s happening on digital on that side, I mean, I feel like it’s, there’s a little bit more of a settling effect. It’s not the so-called Gold Rush era of, you know, 2012 is what they typically say was the Gold Rush, if there ever was one. So yeah, it does feel like we’re entering the more mature phase. And obviously there are more challenges today with the way that Amazon is making it tougher to be visible unless you’re advertising or doing other things.
Mark Lefebvre 05:55
So one of the things that we’ve noticed at Draft2Digital, especially, I mean, the library market was growing already. It was on an upward momentum. Audiobooks, digital audiobooks, were growing in a significant way. And the last two weeks of March, library sales, I mean, they just went … in Canada, we would use the term hockey stick. But they did that that hockey stick curve where they just shot up. And that hasn’t even included the promo that Overdrive is doing with Draft2Digital titles to libraries for the cost per checkout model. I can’t even wait to see what that’s gonna be. It almost felt to me that, I mean, you know, here in Waterloo, Ontario, and In Toronto, and major cities around the world, North America, libraries are closed, you can’t actually go and get the book. So, you know, I’ve always had a Kobo here in Canada. So I’ve had my library account connected to that. But I also downloaded the Libby app, so I can now get access to, right through the library, audiobooks. Have you seen those sorts of trends from the other side of the industry, as well?
Jane Friedman 07:08
I haven’t seen any specific figures yet on libraries since March. I’m sure that there’s going to be a lot of information coming out soon. But definitely within the last couple years, you can see that there’s a lot more attention and focus, from publishers and authors alike, on the potential and the growth of the library digital market. And you’ve got subscription services like Hoopla and some others, especially in Europe, like Storytel, where it’s a different model than the Audible model. It’s more of like a Kindle Unlimited consumption sort of model. And so that offers a lot of opportunities for all sorts of publishers and authors. I think there’s concern, though. And, you know, to some extent, rightly so, especially from traditional publishers, that those models aren’t very favorable for the economic model, especially traditional publishing models. So like, for instance, earlier this year, Penguin Random House pulled all of their titles out of Storytel, which is based in Sweden, does a lot of distribution to audiobook markets in Europe. And so, you know, Storytel pays based on a consumption model. It’s not fixed. And so you can see, they also pulled out of Scribd, if I’m not mistaken. So you can see that the publishers are just kind of, they see audiobooks now as one of the small kind of growth assurances they’ve had in a long time. And they’re trying to protect that as much as they can. But so I just see very, it’s so hard sometimes to talk about these changes because there are very different attitudes about these changes depending on whether you’re looking at it from like a big five New York perspective or the independent author. I just an item in my newsletter, The Hot Sheet, looking at some of the audiobook market potential, and you just see so many more distribution and retail outlets opening up, you see more promotion and discount opportunities, like through BookBub’s chirp. And so there’s more interest now in going wide on the audiobook market than ever before, rather than being exclusive with Audible. And of course, now that Audible is just, or ACX rather, has decided not to pay royalties on promo codes—I hope I’m not going too far into the weeds—it warrants even more kind of reflection about, well, why are we exclusive to Amazon? Would we be making more if we went wide?
Mark Lefebvre 09:38
Okay, yeah. That has been a hot button issue, especially just in the last couple of weeks when that was announced. I put up hotsheetpub.com, as well. So let’s talk a little bit about this. This is a weekly newsletter, a gathering of … ? Talk about what Hot Sheet Pub is, and why it’s valuable for writers.
Jane Friedman 09:57
It comes out every two weeks, email only, and it’s a newsletter I started in 2015 with journalist Porter Anderson. I’m flying solo now on the newsletter, with occasional contributors. And so, it does two things: it rounds up the most important publishing industry headlines for authors, regardless of how they publish. And then it also does deep dives every issue on specialized topics. Right now, since Coronavirus is really obviously affecting every single facet of the industry, a lot of the issue is focused on looking at, how is it affecting sales right now? How are publishers affected? How’s the supply chain affected? But usually, you know, not so much of the issue is taken up with of-the-moment news. It’s more about long-term effects on authors’ careers.
Mark Lefebvre 10:52
Okay, so, one of the industry things that’s come out in the last week is, Book Expo America has decided not to try to put it off till later in the year, but to actually just think about 2021. London Book Fair was cancelled pretty much at the last minute. How has that affected … Because I mean, I know when I was a bookseller, it would be May when I would be looking at what titles I was going to be buying for the fall. That’s why I went to those types of fairs. How is that changing the operations then?
Jane Friedman 11:28
I think for me, it still remains to be seen what might happen. And some of these fairs, like the Children’s Book Fair in Bologna, they’re trying to do more of a virtual-style market event. So I think we’ll probably see some of those types of things happening, as whether that’s Read—which does Book Expo and London Book Fair—or some other organization trying to do something to fill in the gap. I did, Publishers’ Marketplace, which is the traditional publishing news source, and they aggregate deals that have been made in traditional publishing, rights deals as well as new deals. And I did a count of deals in the month of March from looking at 2019 versus 2020. And it was virtually the same. I mean, it was a little bit lower this year, but not meaningfully lower. But I’ll be really curious to see what those numbers look like for April.
Mark Lefebvre 12:27
Yeah, yeah. I’m curious to see what those are, too. I’m also curious when I think about, so whether an author is traditionally published or self-published, that a book launch is … Well, obviously a book launch in a traditional sense is significantly more impacted. I was talking to Kevin J. Anderson the other day, and he has a paperback release coming up with Tor. And they’ve decided to push that off until the fall. I think it was supposed to be a June release. What are the kinds of things that you’ve seen authors doing with having to having to change it into a remote sort of activity?
Jane Friedman 13:09
Yeah, this is tough. It’s tough for several different reasons. One, adult fiction sales, across the board, were already looking soft. They’ve been soft for the past five years, at least on the traditional side. Who knows what might be happening on the self-publishing side that’s contributing to that softness. Maybe it’s being, those sales are migrating elsewhere. But generally, you know, when you have an event like this, it tends to depress fiction sales. Although we’re hearing a lot about how people are now, they have all this time at home. But they’re not necessarily reading books.They’re playing games. There was a recent retail report from the New York Times showing that, I think one of the biggest beneficiaries of what’s happening are video game companies and streaming services. And ebooks was, they were there. They were at the very bottom, small percentage increase. So I give all that context just to say that, even if you pivot, which you have to do even if you pivot with your marketing and promotion, it’s a very difficult environment in which to pitch fiction, especially fiction by an author if the person doesn’t already know who the author is. So during difficult times, we tend to go towards things that are familiar, that are comforting, that might provide us an escape. For instance, I’m rewatching the Outlander. So it’s like, you go to these things that just provide some semblance of normalcy, I think. That’s my psychoanalysis. So I would say that now’s a really good time for authors to be looking at established fan bases, to be marketing and promoting to people who have already bought in. If you do have a new release coming out, I think you should still continue, frankly. I don’t know what good it does to delay, because who knows? Well, first, who knows what the fall will look like, and it’s also election season. So it’s like there’s nowhere to run in terms of moving the publication date, in my mind. So I think, especially for independent authors, I think it makes more sense to continue with whatever plans you had, but you may be looking at a remarketing campaign somewhere along the way, and looking at getting some of those sales back, perhaps when the book after this, the next one releases, you know. For traditionally published authors, we’re seeing just an outpouring of virtual events and support from lots of different organizations, you know. Everything from Lit Hub, which is kind of one of the major literary news sites, to Poets & Writers. You know, there’s Quarantine Book Club. I mean, we could go on all day about these different events that are happening. But the big question is, how much do they really move the needle for an author in terms of actual sales? So it’s, again, it remains to be seen, but definitely the latest bookscan figures, and this is just print, so we can’t look at the digital market. It shows that new releases for adult novels are like way, way down. And I think it’s just something where publishers and authors alike are going to have to revisit those titles at a more advantageous time.
Mark Lefebvre 16:25
Right, right. Now, I mean, it’s, at least a stat that I’ve heard kicked around over the years is that often, fiction sales do go down in an election year. And so not only do we have an election year, a pretty contentious, another pretty contentious election year. But we also have a pandemic, a global pandemic, which, you know, well, I mean, in our experience publishing has not happened. Because I wasn’t around during the Spanish Flu era. But this is a significant change. I mean, the book industry, the Great Depression affected the book industry, right? Like, that’s where returns came from, as I understand it.
Jane Friedman 17:05
That’s correct. Yeah. And we had to stick with returns until the current day. Everyone wonders, why do we still do that? It’s like, you just, it’s hard to go back.
Mark Lefebvre 17:15
It was a temporary measure to support bookstores who were struggling at the time. And so publishers took all the risk.
Jane Friedman 17:23
Yeah, and you’ve already, I’m already seeing calls from people in the industry for big publishers to have debt forgiveness for bookstores, to ease up on the terms. I mean, there’s going to have to be industry wide support, especially from big publishers, if they want to see the indie bookstore community continue past this.
Mark Lefebvre 17:44
So almost like cooperation and collaboration, which, I mean, in my experience, has been, authors have always been very collaborative. Sometimes contracts would restrict you from being too collaborative with … But I know in the indie author community, often if an author has been successful or finds something that works, they’re typically willing to share it. The thought of, the rising tide floats all boats. You know, we’re not in competition with one another, we’re in competition with video games and Netflix and stuff like that. So do you see, that that’s probably a necessity in this in this pivot, is that maybe there’s more collaborations happening in the publishing, between bookstores and publishers and, like, retailers, authors, etc.?
Jane Friedman 18:29
Oh, one hopes so. Because I don’t see how you can get out of this like every man for himself. There has to be a lot of collective effort.
Mark Lefebvre 18:41
Okay. What have you seen … I mean, I’ve seen some indications of people wanting to support small businesses, local businesses. And, I mean, I’ve made a concerted effort to, you know, try to order my books from Wordsworth Books here in Waterloo, Ontario, as opposed to the easy thing to do, which would be go to this big river place online, and trying to think about those communities. Because I mean, maybe because I had to pay rent in a downtown location before, I know it’s not cheap, especially when you have no more walk-in traffic. Are there other things that you’ve seen that people are doing that sort of gives you maybe faith, that you know what we’ll get through this, this publishing industry?
Jane Friedman 19:24
Yeah, there are definitely bright spots. So there was a, just fortuitously, there was a new online retail site launched in January before all of this unfolded called Bookshop. It’s from the same people who do Lit Hub. And their intention was to, as the founder put it, snatch a crumb from the giant’s mouth. Amazon. All they wanted was 1% of Amazon’s sales, and in their mind, that will sustain the independent bookstore community. Well, in very short order, they have achieved the level of sales they thought they would only get to in three to four years.
Mark Lefebvre 20:03
Wow. Because of COVID-19?
Jane Friedman 20:05
Exactly. So, you know, their profits go directly … not all of the profits, I mean, they need to earn enough to sustain the operation of the site. But a good portion of the profits go directly to independent bookstores, so a lot of people have been making their purchases through that site. There’s also an audiobook retailer, Libro.fm. So if you go to libro.fm, you can buy audiobooks in a way that benefits your local bookstore. James Patterson just made a donation of half a million to independent bookstores. Of course, he’s been giving to independent independent bookstores for years. And so he’s just kind of adding more onto that pile, and trying to persuade others to do the same. He’s partnered with Reese Witherspoon, who runs a very popular book club, in order to get more donations to support the community. There’s also the book industry charity group, it’s called Bink, that is doing grants to booksellers in need. So, you know … and of course, some stores are just launching their own fundraising campaigns. City Lights bookstore in San Francisco, a beloved institution, has already raised, I think, close to half a million dollars in order to sustain themselves through whatever is going to happen next. So yeah, there are bright spots, but not everyone’s going to survive. Certainly anyone who was already weakened prior to all of this, they’re in the most unstable, weak position obviously.
Mark Lefebvre 21:38
Now, the book industry itself, I’ve always felt that maybe it was only 20% to 30% ebook reading adoption in general, which would kind of explain why the major publishers were heavily invested in in the print business, because that was the majority of their sales.I’m imagining now that that’s probably going to shift to a little bit of a higher percentage. I don’t think print’s ever gonna go away 100%, however, you have to put people together, shipping to physical locations, etc. So that is probably going to be a change we’re going to see.
Jane Friedman 22:17
Yeah, I think there is going to be a change. And another bright spot for me, which, I was so happy to see this because I hope it sends a message to traditional publishers. This might be hoping for the impossible.But Open Road Media, which has the backlist ebook publisher,founded by my doppelganger in publishing, the other Jane Friedman, not the same person.So Open Road Media was … they have thousands of titles, mainly genre fiction, that they market and it’s all direct to consumer marketing. It’s all done online. It’s very forward-thinking, very innovative. They also have a marketing program called Ignition, where they help market their publishers’ ebooks. And so in any event, they just announced that their ebook sales are up 50%. And, you know, obviously, we know why. And it’s like, well, I wonder if traditional publishers are seeing something similar. If they’re not, they ought to be, but they might not, you know, have the tools. They might not have the insights or the expertise of Open Road Media in order to pivot. I think they’ve been catching up, like I don’t think they’re in the dark ages, or anything, but their pricing has always beenthe problem. Like the, it’s so hard to market and promote a $12 to $15 ebook. Maybe if it’s a James Patterson e book, maybe someone really wants that and they’re gonna pay, or they might get it from the library if they’re willing to wait. But imagine a new release novelistin this sort of environment where people are being asked to pay even $10 for the ebook. What a horrible disadvantage for that author. I think those are the people that I feel worst for. And I hope that there’s some change coming out of this, especially for them.
Mark Lefebvre 24:17
So it almost sounds … I know from having looked at stats in the UK that a lot of UK publishers were already experimenting with lower priced ebooks and being a little bit more adept. I look at Hachette had purchased Bookouture and Bookouture, you know, with people from traditional publishing, who had behaved like indie authors. You know, adept flexible publishing at low prices. Now, even though has shed acquired them, they still behave like a savvy indie. Are you seeing potentially that American publishers are probably gonna start adopting similar strategies?
Jane Friedman 24:59
I mean, I do see them definitely doing the BookBub sort of promotions and deals. Certainly publishers have cottoned on to discounting first in a series, especially when a new book is about to release in that series. So they’re engaging in some of those best practices, but I don’t always see a lot of flexibility generally on the pricing, especially given what the demand for that author might be.So what was it … Oh, I wanted to, you brought up Bookouture. Just last week they announced a new nonfiction imprint, and I just found that so fascinating.
Mark Lefebvre 25:37
Jane Friedman 25:38
Yeah, nonfiction. And I thought, wow, that … I don’t know, it just feels like a bellwether to me of … nonfiction is doingbetter than fiction, right now especially. It’s been doing better for the last several years. And so I think that’s just another indication of where people are getting their stories from. It’s not necessarily novels, or it’s not only novels. There’s a lot of pressure on the people writing fiction.
Mark Lefebvre 26:04
So from a writer’s perspective, and I’d like to couch this as regardless of how the author is published, whether they have a traditional publishing deal, whether they’re self-publishing, or whether, in my mind, they’re better off doing both.What are some strategies that are probablygoing to be useful for writers to consider in the next, let’s say, six to 12 months?
Jane Friedman 26:34
I spoke to a range of marketing experts that I really trust and respect about how to change one’s marketing position or outlook for this year, as long as this crisis might unfold, and there was a lot of focus on long term investments, basically, and a back to basics mentality. So that would mean things like investing more time in your author website, if you’ve been ignoring it. Or if you’ve neglected your email newsletter, haven’t been consistent, or just haven’t given it the time of day, maybe now’s a good time to get back to that. If, whatever you’ve been doing on social, if it hasn’t been consistent, take another look. Are there things that you can do that are creative and engaging for your existing fan base? It’s gonna differ by author but, you know, think about Netflix watch parties or trivia nights or other things that are just that are fun. You know, nobody really wants to hear a sob story about, I need you to buy my book right now. Everyone is, you know, of course really concerned about what their livelihood is going to be looking like. But you have to, I think, take a more long-term approach and not panic. So that’s the message that I’m hearing, and it certainly mirrors what I’ve been doing. I’ve been using the extra time I have at home, since I’m not going to conferences, to do all those things that I just haven’t made time for. The Stephen Covey, what is it, the quadrant that’s very important but not urgent? You know, all the stuff that gets ignored because you’re too busy keeping up with the urgent tasks. So that’s what I would encourage authors to do, and try not to race faster on the hamster wheel. Use the time to reflect on what’s, long term priorities.
Mark Lefebvre 28:40
It’s funny, before we went live, you and I were chatting and we both agreed that we had seen way too much of the insides of airports and hotel rooms. And I guess we got our wish, because we had several trips canceled.I found it challenging, as a writer … I find my time, my attention span is a little bit more limited than normal. And I’m already very squirrelly, in my approach to shiny objects. As a writer yourself, I know you’re still doing the nonfiction business of publishing and writing the newsletter. Are you doing other writing projects, like book or other projects during this time?
Jane Friedman 29:21
More or less no. The Hot Sheet newsletter takes up most of my writing time. And, you know, my dirty secret is that I don’t like writing books. They are so time-intensive. They take so much focus. They’re very draining for me. I would much rather be writing short pieces, looking at what’s happening. Exactly what The Hot Sheet is doing, essentially. I am doing more online education, more webinars of which you’re going to be one of my webinar guests coming up.
Mark Lefebvre 29:58
Yes, I’m honored to be part of that. Thank you.
Jane Friedman 30:00
And I find that really satisfying, because it’s giving, I feel like it’s giving people an affordable way to stay up to date on some really important business topics. So like, you’re going to be talking about how to, you know, build better reader engagement and also make money off short fiction, which is something that I ordinarily dismiss. Short fiction. Like, I’ve found it so hard to tell people, yeah, you can make money off those short stories. Sure, sure. But you do. And so, I think that’s something really valuable that people can focus on right now. Maybe writing, or for the future. It gives one hope. Like, there is a way to make this work.
Mark Lefebvre 30:41
Well, I think I’m taking some advice from what you’re saying, I’m always taking advice from what you’re saying. But when you say that, you know, working on those shorter projects, working on those articles, as opposed to the giant project of a book, you get the satisfaction of a complete piece of information or a complete story. And you get to see it, and then you get to see the reaction and the benefit. And then you can, it kind of feeds itself. So, especially if writers are potentially struggling, maybe that’s an alternative. Because it’s definitely not necessarily as easy to sell something to an anthology that was dependent upon print book sales, but maybe, well, any book, I’ve always said, does not have to be 300 pages bound between two pieces of cloth. It can be as short or as long as you want. So long-form journalism, when I worked for Kobo in 2014, 2015, two of the best-selling indie published titles were long-form journalism, 6,000-word articles, because the newspaper magazine had to cut it down to 1,000 to make way for ad space. But the writer retained digital rights, so they were able to, once the article went live, do a full version. So I think there may even be opportunities that you just revealed for nonfiction authors.
Jane Friedman 32:07
Yeah. Now, I’ll just mention quickly, there are two areas that I’ve seen both fiction writers and journalists take advantage of: Patreon and Substack. So, both are I would say more email reliant. Substack is in fact an email newsletter delivery system, basically, where you have free and paid tiers. And then I’ve seen such innovative use of Patreon by writers of all genres. And some take it very seriously, and are able to earn serious money. I know one literarynovelist who earns, I think, upwards of $30,000 a year based on donations.And some do it as a way to just maybe, you know, give fans a treat or an exclusive or early access, and make a little bit of money off of what they would already ordinarily be doing.
Mark Lefebvre 32:58
Okay, cool. Awesome. Thank you. So we’re going to start to take some of the questions. So I’m going to pop up one from Alexis here. And Alexis asks, “How easy is it for authors to put books into the ever-expanding indie market? What do you feel is the biggest difference between the authors that never gain visibility, and authors who find a way to carve a place for themselves?”
Jane Friedman 33:22
There’s so many variables here, but I think that one thing that differentiates authors who eventually succeed is their understanding of their genre or subgenre or their readership. So they just have a really finely honed sense of their place in the genre spectrum, the particular niche that they’re serving, and what that reader is kind of looking for in terms of the package, when they’re first looking at that Amazon page. A lot of authors fail on this. And it’s not necessarily their fault, it’s just a lack of experience. So it’s that combination of title, cover, marketing description, and price plays into it as well. And so nailing that is really key. And I think, even if you do nail it, some authors find that, well, this series I feel like I got everything right, but it just didn’t take off. Like, there’s something about the premise that didn’t resonate at this time and in this place. But for this other series, it did, and it consistently sells even when I’m not paying attention to it. So I don’t want to chalk this up to like luck, or you have no control, or any of that. But I find that authors who are sticking with it and in the game longer and willing to be patient usually will find the thing that works for them. I’ll never forget hearing Bella Andre speak about her success story, which mirrors a lot of success stories. And in fact, where, you know, she reached book five or book six, and that’s finally when things started to gel. I think many people give up before they reach that point where it all comes together.
Mark Lefebvre 35:07
And I know, historically, in traditional publishing, a publisher would sign an author knowing that they would not start making money until at least three or four books into the series. I mean, that seemed to change, where they had to make their money right away, or they dropped them. But now that seems to be, I still see so many parallels between traditional publishing and indie publishing, because that seems to be the case, too, right? Like, don’t start marketing until you’ve got a few books in that series or a few books out, right?
Jane Friedman 35:36
Yeah, yeah, I think it also helps if you’re just very consistent with the branding and messaging outside of the series itself. So I already talked about the website and email newsletter and social. And sometimes people are just very scattered or piecemeal, or they haven’t done any housekeeping and they haven’t kind of looked back and realized that maybe they have mixed messages, or maybe they’re just not, they’re not indicating to readers, “Hey, I have something that matches what you want.” People can be really bad about describing themselves. You can feel like maybe you’re being too earnest or it’s too salesy, or you know, there’s so many ways that we get conflicted about talking about ourselves. And I guess my cat has some opinions about that too.
Mark Lefebvre 36:24
I kept the cats out of the room.I’m gonna throw up this, this is kind of related, is, M. A. Dalrymple says, “Any advice on the tone book promotions should take during the pandemic that might be different from the tone taken during normal times? How do you avoid seeming to be taking advantage of the fact that people are homebound?” So you’re not just jumping on the bandwagon to sell them fearful things?
Jane Friedman 36:51
Right. Well, I mean, some of this might depend on the sort of books that you’re trying to offer. Certainly in some of the nonfiction categories, you may have something that could be really helpful to people right now. And so you frame it that way.I think it also helps if something is available at a promotion or at some sort of discount, given that people might not have the funds available that they used to. But I think you don’t necessarily have to put, you don’t have to apologize, you know, for mentioning that this book is out. I think you want to keep the same kind of author personality that you’ve always had and just include, you know, acknowledge what a strange time it is to be announcing this or whatever it is that you’re saying, but nonetheless, you know, this is your life’s work and you’re trying to make the best of it.
Mark Lefebvre 37:48
Excellent. Thank you. I’ll just pop this up as well. Of course there are many many fans of The Hot Sheet out there, and that’s hotsheetpub.com. Let me see, there is, Guy? My apologies, I’m gonna go with “Guy” because I’m in Canada and I speak partially French. “I will soon be launching my first book in 4 formats: ebook, paperback, hardcover, audiobook. Any advice on the order in launching them?” So I know in traditional publishing, there’sthe staging, hardcover, and then a year later the paperback comes out. What sort of advice would you offer in that case?
Jane Friedman 38:27
For independent authors, I don’t think the staging makes much sense. I think it’s better to go out with as many formats as you’re able to invest in. Audio, I would save for last, or for later, depending on … I mean, there are a lot of variables here, as far as, are you doing it yourself? Are you gonna have to pay a professional narrator? Probably. And so you may want to wait for that audiobook investment until another year, or until you have a little bit more of a foundation underneath you. But if you have the money to invest now, great. I don’t think it’s harmful. You just have to wait longer for that payoff. Hardcover I usually consider optional, because if it’s going to be done through print on demand, that means it’s going to carry a fairly high price point. And it’s pretty rare, unless you have some really diehard fans, it’s rare to get people to take you up on that. Although you may want it just for your own shelf, or for friends and family, you might want to have that hardcover, and sure, that’s not a problem. But I think in terms of the most important formats to launch with for your readers, paperback and ebook for sure at the same time.
Mark Lefebvre 39:34
Okay, thank you very much. Can we talk a little bit about audiobooks, as sort of a followup to that?Because, I mean, the creation of audiobooks has never been easier before, right? We have ACX and Findaway Voices as two of the places that a lot of people know about for audiobook distribution and creation.But you did offer some sound advice, because I know I still haven’t made my money back on the very first audiobook I did. I’ve made all my money back on all the short ones I’ve done, but not the full length ones. Is that a trend that we’re seeing? That it is growing, but it’s not necessarily as economical because the costs are higher, almost like translations?
Jane Friedman 40:16
Exactly. It’s very similar to what you see with translations. I think audiobooks is a bit of an easier investment to make, because I think the market is growing.And, you know, often it depends on how you’re selling it, but it can sometimes carry a higher price than what a translation might carry.So yeah, the trend, let’s see … For traditional publishers, audiobooks generally represent about 10% of the overall picture. So if you apply that, I don’t know that indie authors can necessarily apply the exact same percentage. And it does vary a lot by genre. But if you look at, okay, if I am making $100 off my ebooks every month, that might equate to $10 for audiobooks every month, if you want to take the 10% as a rule of thumb. So, there are some genres where audiobooks are going to be a much higher percentage perhaps. I see that more often inthe categories where you might have more male readers. I don’t know why it is, but podcasts and audio tend to have a higher male consumption rate.So that might be a consideration if you’re working in one of those categories.
Mark Lefebvre 41:38
Okay, cool. Excellent, thank you. Appreciate that. And let me see, we’re gonna go with more. Ronnie is asking, “What is your opinion regarding print book dimensions for genre fiction?” So like, you know, 6 x 9, 5 ½ x 8 ½, etc.
Jane Friedman 41:54
Yeah, I like 5 ½ x 8 ½ or 6 x 9. Those are kind of tried and true.
Mark Lefebvre 42:00
Okay, and there’s no real, I guess, no difference for genre I guess.
Jane Friedman 42:06
I don’t think so. I think … I mean, unless you were trying to do a mass market paperback. But I do not recommend doing that.
Mark Lefebvre 42:13
So why wouldn’t you recommend that?
Jane Friedman 42:15
Mass markets, I mean, to me that came up … That format evolved for very particular mass market retail situations which don’t really apply anymore. People buy ebooks instead. That’s why the mass market has just gone way down. It’s been plummeting for, gosh, more than 10 years now. And it’s not going to recover. It’s just gone over to ebooks.
Mark Lefebvre 42:42
So the actual mass market of today, then, is ebooks are the mass market, right? Mass produced, mass sold, mass consumed.
Jane Friedman 42:49
Mark Lefebvre 42:50
I have to pop up, I did get. So I got “Guy” right. Thanks, Guy, for acknowledging that.And he says, “Thanks, Jane, for the answer. Looked at the genre memoir and the sales of hardcover and paperback are the same.” Okay, so, whoops, that’s interesting. So are there, we’ve only got a couple minutes left. I was wondering, were there questions that you were hoping that we would talk about, or areas that you were saying, I really would love to talk about this one thing?
Jane Friedman 43:21
Um … I don’t think so. No.
Mark Lefebvre 43:27
Or did we, as Jamie said, every time Jamie had a question, we answered it. So there you go. So Jane, thank you so much for covering such an amazing spectrum of questions and topics that we were actually gauging what people were thinking and wanting to ask. So I just want to remind people that they can find out more about you at janefriedman.com, or to stay in touch with all of the changes that are going on in the publishing industry, for both traditional publishing and indie publishing, The Hot Sheet comes out every two weeks? Excellent. And Jane, thank you for the work that you do helping to educate, inform, and entertain us. And wishing you all the best.
Jane Friedman 44:15
Thank you, Mark.