The Core Challenge of Author-Driven Publishing

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[av_heading heading=’The Core Challenge of Author-Driven Publishing’ tag=’h3′ style=’blockquote modern-quote modern-centered’ size=” subheading_active=” subheading_size=’15’ padding=’10’ color=” custom_font=”][/av_heading]

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Every business has a core challenge: some big obstacle that needs to be overcome in order for the business to succeed.

The big thing that you need to remember (and the thing that trips up many authors) is that author-driven publishing encompasses two different businesses: writing and publishing. As we already noted, traditional publishers focus on just the publishing (development, production, packaging, marketing, distribution) and “partner” with pure authors to source the content.

In the author-driven publishing model, both disciplines are under one roof. And as CEO of your author-driven publishing company, you have to either be good at both writing and publishing or you need to bring in someone to handle to part of the business that you shy away from.

How Books Get Bought

Going forward, when we say ‘books,’ we’re talking about ebooks, and specifically Amazon ebooks. Why? About 2/3rds of all books (paper and ebook) sold in the U.S. are sold by Amazon. And, on average, author-driven publishers get about 75-85% of their total revenue from Amazon (vs. Apple’s iBooks, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and the other smaller retailers). Frequent readers often choose to buy ebooks because they are more affordable (with the exception of ebooks from traditional publishers—which are frequently priced higher than paperbacks). For these reasons, we’re focusing on how people buy ebooks on Amazon. But most of these observations apply to other retailers and formats as well.

Imagine a book customer named Madeline who wants to get a new book. Will she just go to Amazon and choose a random novel to read? Of course not. She will start looking at books within her preferred genre. This is the beginning of her book selection process, a process which is all about narrowing down her options.

Let’s let that sink in for a second, because it’s extremely important for you to understand.

The book buying process is about narrowing down options.

And when you think of how many Kindle ebooks are available on Amazon (over 2.4 million fiction titles as of this writing), you realize book buyers are overwhelmed by an abundance of choices.


So Madeline narrows it down. What is she in the mood to read? A mystery? (100,440 to choose from)  A romance? (335,192 to choose from) What about something more specific—like a gothic romance? That narrows it down to just 1,387 to choose from. But that’s still a lot to choose from. Imagine going to a shoe store and trying on over a thousand pairs of shoes.

Mysteries, romances, and gothic romances are all genres. In the publishing business, genres are simply categories of books which have certain elements in common. Originally, genres were used by libraries and bookstores to arrange their inventory so customers could easily find what they were looking for. If you browse on Amazon, you will see that online bookstores still have virtual shelves and they still categorize books by genre.

In keeping with our shoe store analogy, sometimes customers come in looking for dress shoes; other times they are looking for sneakers, or even sandals. It’s the same deal with books.


For your book to appear on Amazon’s virtual shelves, it needs to be available for sale by Amazon. And the same goes for other retailers like Apple, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble. This is where distribution comes in. In business terminology, distribution is the process of making a product or service available for purchase by consumers—either directly or through wholesalers or retailers. In the days of traditional publishing, publishers would have to strike agreements with retailers about which of the publisher’s books the retailer would carry. Thanks to Amazon’s KDP platform, anyone can distribute their books through the retailer who sells 2/3rds of the books purchased in the USA. And by distributing through the other online retailers (either directly or through wholesalers like Smashwords or Draft2Digital) you can reach virtually everyone who buys a book online. You can even distribute a print-on-demand book through Amazon via their subsidiary CreateSpace.

Part of preparing your book for sale on a retail site involves the creation of metadata, which helps an online retailer catalog your book in its database and display it in appropriate search results.

If you are not familiar with the term ‘metadata,’ just think of it as data that describes other data. When you upload your book to Amazon, you upload a data file. As part of the book set-up process you fill in form which provide these metadata elements:

  • Book Title and Subtitle
  • Edition Number
  • Publisher
  • Description
  • Book Contributors (Author, Editor, etc.)
  • Book Categories
  • Age Range
  • US Grade Range
  • Search Keywords
  • Cover Image

All these metadata elements (and others) are used to help Madeline find your book. But how does she actually choose your book over the other 1,386 gothic romances listed for sale on Amazon?


These three are often grouped together, but “packaging” and “pricing” are sometimes lumped under marketing. But they are all related.

Packaging is your book’s cover. And people certainly do judge a book by its cover. Madeline glances through the thumbnail-sized cover images in Amazon’s list of gothic romances. Anything that doesn’t look like a proper gothic romance gets skipped. And anything that doesn’t look professional also gets skipped. Remember, it’s all about narrowing down.

Marketing actually has two aspects. There’s external marketing (like Facebook ads or a Shelfbuzz listing) that can bring Madeline to Amazon to look for your specific book. But there’s also point-of-purchase marketing which is aimed at converting a browser into a buyer. In other words, once your book’s cover catches Madeline’s attention, the book description, blurbs, and reviews help her to decide whether or not to click that BUY button.

Pricing is the final factor in Madeline’s decision-making process. In 2014, Amazon (who is privy to more data about ebook sales than anyone else) shared this factoid: compared to a $15 ebook, a $10 ebook will result in 74% more sales and 16% more revenue. Yet, traditional publishers have pushed ebook prices higher and higher (in an attempt to protect sales of paperbacks and hardcovers). This has allowed author-driven publishers to use price as a competitive advantage. As bestselling author John Locke says, “When famous authors sell at $9.95 and my books are at 99¢, I no longer have to prove my books are as good as theirs. They have to prove their books are ten times better than mine!”

So now you have some background knowledge about how basic business principles apply to the author-driven publishing model.

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