Happy New Year! I love January. I am filled with energy at the possibilities ahead and look forward to creating, learning and sharing along the way as we head into 2019!
In this article and podcast episode, I’ll look at some of the trends that I think will be important for authors in 2019 and then outline my own creative goals. I hope you will add your goals in the comments so we can keep each other accountable as the year progresses.
Trends for authors in 2019
(1) Audio and voice technology
I’ve been talking about this for a while, but things will really start to shift in 2019.
Audiobooks continue to be the fastest growing segment in publishing, and if you haven’t signed away your audiobook rights, then definitely consider exploiting them yourself. Options for working with professional narrators include ACX, as well as Findaway Voices and Author’s Republic.
Amazon’s Alexa will continue to expand into multiple devices, which means more people will be interacting with the internet and their content by voice. Google Home and Google Duplex are the other main voice technologies, with Siri on Apple devices like the Apple Watch.
This shift towards searching and buying through voice means that voice search and discoverability will become ever more important. Natural language transcripts of podcast interviews will help, as people speak differently than they write.
There’s also evidence that the voice search uses Google snippets so making sure you have short answers to commonly asked questions may maximise search on your author website.
I've been podcasting for 10 years and most of my books are already in audio format, but I am going much further and audio will be my major focus in 2019. I'll be interviewing experts on this topic on the podcast. I'll also be getting all my backlist into audio, starting another podcast around my fiction themes, and building my own ‘voice brand' by moving into more audiobook narration myself. I've been doing voice training in recent months and am looking forward to developing a new way of storytelling and sharing my words.
In terms of audiobook publishing, I will be moving out of exclusive ACX and into a wider model. I'm excited about the possibilities for Kobo Writing Life direct audio and also Findaway Voices access to Storytel, which seems to be the major company that is challenging Audible on the global audiobook scene.
(2) Indies will expand print market share
Indie authors have become expert at publishing and marketing ebooks, but as well as audiobooks above, 2019 will see further expansion into print.
KDP Print makes it easier to advertise print books on Amazon, Draft2Digital have expanded into print production, and IngramSpark makes it easier than ever for indies to reach bookstores, libraries, universities etc with print on demand products in paperback, Large Print, hardback and workbook editions.
This expansion into print product, the ability to advertise print books on Amazon through AMS with KDP Print, and the ever-increasing market share of print sales through online stores means that indies will start to take print market share from traditional publishers.
This will happen in specifically print-heavy niches like children's books (as discussed with children's author, Karen Inglis) as well as literary fiction, poetry and non-fiction. This is an exciting development as these genres have found it difficult to sell a lot in ebook formats, so the ability to advertise indie print books next to traditionally published bestsellers will mean they have a lot to gain in 2019 – if the authors embrace Amazon Advertising.
(3) A pay-to-play environment means more mid-list authors will drop away in indie and traditional publishing
As noted in my 2018 round-up yesterday, Amazon shifted their focus in 2018 to grow their advertising revenue and this means that it is now a pay-to-play environment, in the same way that Facebook shifted a few years back.
Indie authors will need to up-skill in marketing – either to use ads, or other means to get traffic to their books. Traditional publishers will need to do the same, and I think this change will start to trickle through to the ‘digital only’ imprints first and then the bigger traditional publishers who will see sales tail off if there is no marketing spend.
Anecdotally, as I have expanded my own AMS ads, I've only seen advertising from traditional publishers for the biggest authors and in a scatter-gun way where books appear for searches that have no relevance. If you consider how hard it is to advertise when you know your own inventory well, I can only imagine that traditional publishers will struggle to market their mid-list authors with Amazon Ads, reserving the major ad spend for big names and debuts, as they currently do with other forms of marketing.
(4) Futurist: 5G laying the foundation for 2020
Regular listeners to my podcast know that I love to keep up with the futurist angle, looking for the bigger trends that will impact us as creators over the next 5-10 years and the rise of 5G networks is such a shift.
5G is not just an incremental advance on 4G, it’s the step change that will enable a whole host of technologies that have been waiting for this to emerge. It’s 100-250x as fast as 4G with low-latency (or delay), so it will enable real-time interaction.
This will be the platform that enables self-driving cars, augmented and virtual reality for gaming, education and business, as well as AI and the Internet of Things.
I recommended AI Superpowers by Kai-fu Lee as one of my books of the year in yesterday's roundup post, and in that book, he talks about the next development of AI as being similar to electricity. In simple terms, adding AI to something that in the past, we added electricity to. 5G will enable this shift.
Remember, as William Gibson said, “the future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.” Some areas will see the implementation of 5G related technology faster than others, e.g. self-driving cars in China before the UK, but it's important to be aware that these changes are coming.
2020 will see 5G going mainstream, so 2019 is the year to prepare and be ready for the shift. I mention this as many authors still don’t even have mobile-optimised websites and mobile 5G promises to be 600x faster than the current 4G mobile phones. [Wired 5G Guide]
[If you need a mobile-optimized website theme, check out my author website tutorial here.]
Given all the futurist stuff I have been talking about for years, it feels like the foundations are being laid in 2019 for a leap forward in 2020.
Will I be doing my podcast and book launches in VR? Will I be taking you on an augmented reality walk about Southwark in London via your 5G mobile phone? Will we be selling our books from within curated virtual bookstores like the world of Ready Player One? Will there be AI driven translation so our books can be consumed in any language in any country? None of this will happen in 2019, but I want to be ready to take advantage of what is coming in the 2020s. Exciting times indeed!
Thoughts from Draft2Digital and Kobo Writing Life on what 2019 holds for authors
From Kevin Tumlinson at Draft2Digital:
From our perspective, we believe the big waves on the horizon include international sales and translations. We also think that authors, particularly US authors but generally all English-speaking authors, will start seeing the potential for foreign rights, as well as film and television rights.
In addition, in 2018 we started putting our chips on libraries and subscription services as a huge and lucrative growth area for self-published authors, and we believe that will see an uptick in 2019.
And finally, we think collaboration will be huge in 2019, with a greater number of authors working together to produce more and better work and to find and reach new readers. “Collaborative and cooperative” will become the buzzwords for 2019.
From Christine Munroe from Kobo Writing Life:
KWL direct audio uploading will be our first major platform update of 2019. We are still taking beta authors so anyone with audio files ready to go should email us at firstname.lastname@example.org I’m exceptionally excited to add to the growing number of options authors have for reaching audiobook fans around the world.
Additionally, we’re working on a big update to the KWL sales dashboard, taking into account user feedback we’ve been collecting over the past year.
Throughout 2018, we rolled out more updates than ever before, ranging from launching Walmart eBooks, partnering with Orange in France for audio, and growing Kobo Plus in the Netherlands, to fixing free download tracking, updating our payment history page and adding downloadable sales reports, opening Overdrive distribution to all users, refreshing categories for KWL authors (now over 2,000 to choose from), and increasing promo opportunities by over 15%. We have similarly lofty goals for 2019 and beyond, and we are extremely lucky and proud to be collaborating with so many incredible authors around the world.
My creative goals for 2019
(1) Be a better publisher. Make more of what I already have.
As per my audiobook and print trends above, I will be getting my backlist into Large Print and Hardback, as well as audiobook formats in order to have all books available in all formats.
They are mostly on all platforms but I have yet to maximise my sales at Google Play, which I only started with on PublishDrive mid-2018. I need to get some BookBub ads on those and take advantage of more opportunities with libraries through Kobo (Overdrive), Draft2Digital and IngramSpark.
We have built a database to track all the different formats, license periods and ISBNs etc. I have been managing it all on a spreadsheet, but it’s time to move up a level in terms of intellectual property management. Even with managing this small number of books, I have some sympathy for publishers managing thousands of books and trying to find them all, let alone update them and make the most of the backlist.
I’m also intending to ‘go wide’ with audio, so I am in the process of checking all my ACX contracts and looking at working with Findaway Voices as well as Kobo Writing Life for direct audio. We are still waiting to hear what Apple Books is planning, but essentially, there will be far more audio options in 2019 so it’s time to prepare …
(2) Write more books as J.F.Penn
I’m a writer so of course, I will be writing more books in 2019!
I’m intending to write 3 books under J.F.Penn – the next Mapwalker dark fantasy, a stand-alone horror novel set in the South Pacific, and an ARKANE thriller possibly set in Amsterdam, as well as some short stories.
Right now, I have so much bumping around in my head, I just need to settle on the next project and get writing!
(3) Continue serving the author community through The Creative Penn
This blog and the podcast will continue in 2019, so that’s a commitment to continue helping you on your author journey.
There is already content scheduled out to June, so I have lots to share and lots to learn along the way!
Some of the upcoming interviews will tackle lessons for 21st-century creatives, voice technology for authors, building a company of one, business models for writers, writing horror, writing heroes and villains, an insight into traditional publishing, a different take on book marketing, reaching readers with audio, and much more.
I won’t be writing any more non-fiction books this year, but as above, I’ll be turning what I do have into audiobooks and updating some of the older books, plus I will be doing some more mini-courses, starting with Productivity for Authors in the next month or so. You can find all my courses here.
(4) Content marketing for fiction
Over the last 10 years, I have built a multi-six-figure business based on content marketing – blogging and podcasting – around my non-fiction. In the next 10 years, I intend to do the same for my fiction.
I’ll be creating a destination site that does not include my author name around the themes of my fiction. It will bring in multiple streams of income as well as marketing my books – and those of other authors.
More on this in March when I intend to launch the new site and yes, a new podcast – I must be crazy! But see below around how I will carve out the time.
Although I have no plans to slow down on The Creative Penn as yet, I need to start building for my next 10-year goal. I’m really excited about this new site, which may spin off into a new business at some point. I’ll be sharing behind the scenes development within my Content Marketing for Fiction course.
(5) Focus on freedom. Outsourcing, batching and systems.
My number one value is freedom and it continues to shape my business as an independent author. I want to write books, travel and learn new things, and yes, I want to help more writers along the way.
But I didn’t achieve all my writing goals in 2018, and a lot of the reason why is increasing admin work and email. The unsexy side of running your own business!
There were periods in 2018 when I felt angry and frustrated at the amount of admin work, even as I resisted help with it because of my control freakish tendencies (a characteristic of indie authors!)
I have outsourced various tasks over the years and I have a great team of freelancers, but it’s time to take the next step. After talking to Yaro Starak in podcast episode 406, I've decided to outsource my business inbox.
It will be more about email triage, so if you write me a personal email, or if you are a Patron or a customer, I will still get it and respond personally. It’s more about dealing with the increasing amount of cold pitches, emails from people who haven’t even looked at the free material available on the website, and other admin tasks that really don't need my personal attention. This is inevitable as the website traffic continues to grow – it's over 700,000 uniques per month these days – and I have probably left it too long, so it is about time I tackled this.
By outsourcing that level of email, I will need to put some procedures in place so it’s forcing me to look at all the tasks I do that can be systematised. I finally have to write some standard operating procedures and although it’s more upfront admin, it will free up my time to create more.
I need to stop feeling like I have a day job again. This feels like the only way.
This focus on freedom also feeds into my decision to say no to all speaking opportunities in 2019 – and possibly ongoing. I will continue to do podcast interviews on other shows and this show and interact on social media etc, but I found speaking exhausting in 2018, and it’s time for new voices to emerge.
[The only exception may be if I travel to places I rarely visit and want to meet with the community locally, but those will be rare occasions.]
I managed some batching of tasks in 2018, but I need to make this even more streamlined. I need to use a calendar scheduler for podcast interviews, and also schedule more social media, as well as making sure I have creative time blocked out for the whole year in advance.
So this is a business admin task for 2019 with the aim of freeing up more time to create, travel and serve the author community in more scalable ways.
(6) The Healthy Writer and the travelling writer
I’m very happy with my yoga practice for functional movement, mental health and breathing space, but I need to up my cardio this year.
A few years ago, we cycled through south-west India and it was a fantastic, memorable trip, so we are doing another big cycle adventure, this time through Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam toward the end of 2019. This gives us time to train, so onwards with the spinning classes and weekend bike trips!
I also have more travel planned for book research purposes – and excitingly, no speaking events at all, so all my travel time is fiction-related, or family, or a combination of both.
Everything changes … and everything stays the same.
As I go through my goals for this coming year, it strikes me that every year, my goals are similar. I want to write and publish more of my own books; I want to travel, research and learn; I want to help more writers along the author journey; I want to continue living a life of creative freedom, which means I want to make good money with my writing.
These things remain true, which is great because it means I am doing the right things with my time. So the creative urge and the practice of writing stay the same regardless of the maelstrom of change around us.
But the changes come in the technology around publishing, marketing and making a living with our writing.
That's where we need to stay up to speed with developments as they arise, and that is not so much reflected in my annual goals, but in the weekly updates that I bring you through the podcast and the changes in my own processes over time.
I hope you will join me as we head into 2019. I'll be back every Monday with The Creative Penn Podcast where I share my journey, publishing updates, futurist insights, and interviews on writing, publishing, book marketing and making money writing. You can also stay up to speed by subscribing to the Author Blueprint here, which also gives you a bi-monthly newsletter.
OK, over to you! Let's keep each other accountable. Please add your thoughts on trends for authors in 2019 and also your creative goals for the year ahead in the comments.