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indieLAB: The Rise of Self-Publishing 3.0

What is Self-Publishing 3.0? Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) founder Orna Ross explains the shift from the earliest iterations of self-publishing to today's landscape with Self-Publishing 3.0.

What is Self-Publishing 3.0? Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) founder Orna Ross explains the shift from the earliest iterations of self-publishing to today's landscape with Self-Publishing 3.0.

We are in the midst of a revolutionary shift in publishing—an era in which independent authors can work with greater agency than ever before. It is also an era in which writers must position themselves as brands and equip themselves with the business savvy to succeed beyond the parameters of traditional publishing.

This new landscape—opportunities, challenges and all—was borne of a three-part wave of industry changes starting more than two decades ago. It was this new landscape that led to the formation of organizations such as the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), which I founded to encourage ethics and excellence in author-publishing after a 20-year career in publishing and media as a journalist, author and even literary agent.

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This new column, indieLAB, and the ones to follow will address self-publishing opportunities for authors and dispel some of the many myths about this pathway to publication.

Looking Back: 1.0 to 3.0

The first crack in the closed publishing system, which required expensive presses and bookstore distribution, came in the 1990s with the digital tech that allowed print-on-demand (POD). This was Self-Publishing 1.0and a few pioneering authors jumped aboard.

In 2008 Amazon released a technological trio: a digital ereader and app, the Kindle; a digital publishing platform, Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP); and a new payment process to authors that offered commission on sales instead of the traditional royalties and advances. As Amazon also owned the largest online bookstore in the world, these three together were revolutionary, and heralded Self-Publishing 2.0. Audiobook and print publishing became possible, and other services soon followed: Apple iBooks, Nook, Kobo, IngramSpark, Wattpad and many more.

None of these platforms invested in the publishing process, but neither did they license publishing rights. The author, not the platform, became the publisher.

 Enter today!

Enter today!

It became clear to authors that publishing need not require somebody decide your book warrants investment. Publishing simply consists of seven processes that must be done right in order to publish well: editorial, design, production, distribution, marketing, promotion and rights licensing. “I can do that!” hundreds of thousands of authors cried as they leapt into creating own digital files; hiring editors, designers and marketers; and selling directly to their readers, through their own websites and other partners.

Now self-publishing is thriving. According to Bowker, the company that registers ISBN numbers in the U.S., the number of ISBNs assigned to self-published titles has grown 156 percent since 2012, and in 2018 it passed 1 million for the first time. Even these incredible figures don’t fully represent the size of the market, as some authors publish without registering for ISBNs.

What all this adds up to is not just more self-published books, but more authors earning a living from writing. For example, at ALLi, 7 percent of our membership is in the “Authorpreneur” category, which means they sold more than 50,000 books in two years, or business equivalent. And it’s not just about outliers. It is possible for a book to earn over $100,000 annually without ever appearing on a bestseller list.

This has led to a great increase in author confidence so that today, we are experiencing Self-Publishing 3.0Authors are moving from being content providers for large corporations—either trade publishers like Penguin Random House or self-publishing services like Amazon—to being creative entrepreneurs, running successful and sustainable digital businesses.

The Indie Mindset

None of this is to suggest that self-publishing is an easy option. Being “discoverable” in an ocean of books, some of which are sub-standard; finding your readers, building a brand; growing a business—all of these are challenging. But they are creative challenges, very different to the dispiriting rounds of rejection that were the only pathway for most authors in the past.

What distinguishes the indie author is a state of mind: being the creative director of our books, but also of our author businesses. With the vast number of distribution, marketing and publicity options open to us, we can reach a truly global readership as never before.

This entrepreneurial attitude is remaking author-publishing again, as new technologies emerge. Artificial intelligence, virtual reality, voice search, blockchain: All of these seem set to shake up the book business even further. I look forward to bringing you more in-depth insights about these, and other aspects of self-publishing, over the ensuing months.

Whatever changes come along, one thing will remain constant: Only those authors who have developed the indie mindset—an empowered, creative attitude that says, “I can do that!”—are well placed to take advantage of the opportunities.

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