Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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May 4, 2020

Indie Publishing in the Time of Covid

by Justine Bylo

When New Jersey went into lockdown on March 21st, I foolishly thought that I would get infinite amounts of writing done. During the day, I am the author acquisitions manager at IngramSpark and by night I like to write humorous personal non-fiction and romance novels. In my mind, I thought that the pandemic would give me a small reprieve from business as usual that included a very busy travel schedule.

I didn’t expect that business as usual would take on a whole new meaning.

As the publishing world began to screech to a halt with independent bookstores closing, publishers furloughing staff, Amazon focusing on essential items, and other printing plants closing, all of a sudden Ingram and IngramSpark felt the burden, more than ever, to uphold our commitment to the publishing industry to keep it all humming. Needless to say, the writing really hasn’t happened.

The Publishing Lessons of Covid

I am privileged to work with self-published authors all day. I have always been awestruck by their ingenuity and resilience. In the past six weeks those qualities have quadrupled, because the indie publishing world is uniquely suited to adapt to abrupt changes.

My clients have taught me several valuable publishing lessons recently that I would like to share.

#1- Authors Have More Power Than Ever

I keep finding myself saying, “The author has more power than ever!” Before the pandemic hit, I still found this to be resoundingly true. Now, in the time of Covid, I believe that the shift in power has become even more apparent.

When I first started at IngramSpark, self-publishing was still the “red-headed stepchild” of the publishing industry. In the years that followed, self-publishing started to become a legitimate route to getting published. I believe that the pandemic has shifted the landscape even more.

While large businesses were slowed down or forced to close, indie authors kept plugging away. In fact, they took the opportunity to grow their burgeoning businesses. Being nimble is a hidden superpower of the indie author.

When this all shakes out, no one can predict what the publishing landscape will look like. Sadly, there will likely be some casualties when it comes to publishing businesses. This will allow indie authors with small publishing enterprises to emerge as serious players in the game.

#2- Direct to Reader Sales are the Future

Early on in the pandemic, both indie authors and publishers saw the benefit in direct-to-reader sales. Larger retailers became overtaxed with the influx of orders and shipping has been taking longer than the two days Amazon has spoiled us to expect. Why not sell directly to your fans?

There are plenty of great ways to sell directly to readers.

  • Shopify and other services can plug into your social media.
  • Ingram has a great direct to consumer tool called Aer.io that is very easy to use.
  • There has been a lot of buzz around Bookshop.org, an online bookshop run by the American Booksellers Association.

Why the buzz about Bookshop.org?

10% of all proceeds from Bookshop.org sales are put in a pot and given to independent bookstores. With those stores closed now, this is a wonderful way to support your indie bookstore. They have raised $1.1 million dollars already! The real perk about Bookshop.org is that you can set up your own affiliate shop.

Early adoption of these tools has given indie authors and publishers personal relationships with their readerships and a whole new sales vertical to explore. That brings me to #3…

#3- Direct Engagement with Readers is Powerful

Selling directly to readers is the perfect way for indie authors and publisher to engage directly with their readers and create personal, lasting relationships with them. These relationships create super fans which in turn create an army of evangelists for their books.

Authors and publishers have also found that direct sales are an opportunity to capture valuable information about your reader like their email address. If a reader opts to give their email address, this provides the huge bonus opportunity for long term engagement in the form of email blasts and personal, targeted communication.

The more an author engages with their fans, the more lifelong readers they will capture.

#4- Reading is Becoming Interactive

More than ever, during this pandemic many forms of entertainment are vying for our time. Are we going to listen to music? Are we going to Netflix and chill? Are we going to read a book? Our options are actually limitless.

The lines between the different forms of media are starting to blur. The invention of Wattpad made reading interactive, but other apps and blogs have immersed fans in their content and built communities that bring readers beyond the pages.

When these boundaries begin to cross, magic happens. It’s a multimedia experience that can capture new readers and current ones alike. It also a whole new way to be active in content. Many indie authors have seen the benefit in the new technology and taken advantage of it- especially now. 

Final Thoughts

None of us know for certain how this will all end. For all we know, things will go back to business as usual and I’ll finally get to finish my book. But for the time being, it seems as if the world is a bit topsy-turvy and indie authors and publishers alike should take advantage of that. Out of chaos comes invention and change. Why not change it in your favor?

What do you think publishing in general, particularly indie publishing, will be like after the pandemic? Are you taking steps to bring your book direct to market?

* * * * * *

About Justine

Justine Bylo manages the author acquisition program at IngramSpark. She works with authors and independent publishers to expand their flourishing literary platforms through smart sales and marketing strategies.

Justine has worked with Ingram Content Group for 7 years. During her tenure, she’s launched several author focused programs, been the host of the IngramSpark podcast, Go Publish Yourself, helped get print books into Rwanda for a literacy initiative, and even taught many co-workers to love romance novels.

Justine started her career in the unlikely place of television. She was a writing intern for The Colbert Report, where her snappy one-liners landed her jokes on the air. She later worked in reality TV development and production at Oxygen and Bravo before making the leap to publishing. Justine was a graduate of NYU Tisch in Dramatic Writing. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and their Corvette and continues to work on her own novels during her free time. 

16 comments on “Indie Publishing in the Time of Covid”

  1. This is a fresh, timely post on the publishing industry and what we might expect as far as changes in the future. Thank you. We need more insights such as this in order to prepare for the future.

    1. Hi All! Thank you for taking the time to read my post! I'm so happy you are finding it insightful! And yes, I'll go write that book!

  2. In the time of unknowns in publishing, this really helps provide guidance and some great resources. Thank you Justine!

    1. I'm so happy this was helpful! I promise I'll go work on my book now!

  3. My favorite line here is: "Out of chaos comes invention and change." I believe this to be true. I'll take a look at Bookshop.org. Wonderful post, Justine.

  4. Thanks so much for posting with us, Justine! I just approved some comments so you might want to take a pass from the top.

    Insights like this are so valuable right now. This post will set many of our reader's minds at ease.

  5. Thanks, Justine. The industry has gone through so many changes in the last decade or two, but the changes really seems to be accelerating now. I think this current situation is going to change the landscape forever. I personally have seen many people who have been holdouts turning to digital media like e-books due to the lack of ability to get out to book stores and libraries. I really hope the independent book stores can weather this, so they'll be there for us indie authors to work with when this is all over.

    1. I hope so too! Indie authors and indie bookstores are a match made in heaven!

        1. Hi there! Bookshop.org luckily has the entire Ingram catalog including all IngramSpark books!

  6. Thank you for this at a time when my confidence and hope of ever getting a book to the public is at an all time low. I live in South Africa, and it all seems so much harder from here. I have one book on Kindle - I can't get paid unless I have enough sales to warrant a cheque. Getting a book printed is easy, until your friends want to buy it. Shipping costs by Amazon to South Africa are prohibitive, so I ended up getting copies printed here. As you know the costs are less the more you print. I have a lot of books still taking up space in the bottom of a cupboard.
    But you have given me fresh hope, and I will have a "cogitate and explore" session!

  7. Hi, Justine! It was a delight to meet you at Cal Dreamin' and wonderful to see you guest posting here. Great takeaways from the current climate, and I'm glad you mentioned Bookshop. I've had that site flagged for a while, but I'd yet to do anything with it. I will certainly check it out. Thanks for sharing your wisdom!

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