Book Publishing: Are You Keeping Up? – Part 1

by | Mar 14, 2019

By Lee Foster

Book publishing best practices are evolving quickly around us. For each of us, the challenge is: How clearly are we seeing the big trends? And then: Are we making the practical adjustments to position ourselves successfully?

I’ve been thinking about these issues as I work on the 2019 update of my book on publishing, An Author’s Perspective on Independent Publishing: Why Self-Publishing May Be Your Best Option.

The book chapters are a manageable 10 aspects of modern book publishing. Here is a main trend and some key practical adjustments to keep in mind for each chapter.

1. How Traditional Publishing Worked (and Sometimes Still Works)

The shocking news today is the continuing deterioration of many of the landmark traditional publishers of books, magazines, and newspapers.

One of those in decline here in California is Sunset Publishing, which was the gold standard for dependable book contracts. I did a work-for-hire how-to book for Sunset long ago, and all went well, so I am not affected now. But a colleague today is owed $5,000 and is unsure of his prospects. Sunset’s utter collapse is public knowledge and would shock the founders, Mel and Bill Lane.

The practical reaction is to review your relationships, if you have any, with traditional publishers and see how things are going. Keep your relationships positive and see what is advantageous to you. For example, I had a successful travel book Northern California History Weekends with publisher Globe Pequot.

We worked well together and the book sold for 15 years. When they said last year that they would soon print a new 1,000 copies, I asked if they would just return all publishing rights to me. They said, “OK.” Soon I will have updated all the chapters and come out with a new self-published edition, as a print book, ebook, and website book.

If you have done any books with traditional publishers, what rights back might you secure, if you ask?

2. Why Independent Publishing─Also Known as Self-Publishing─Arose

One aspect of good news in modern publishing is that self-publishing continues to evolve as a practical path to success.

As Amazon appears to sell maybe 60% of all print books and maybe 80% of all ebooks (please correct my data if you know better), the independent publisher gets an ever-more-level playing field in the search for an audience. Moreover, Ingram, which can service all bookstores with printed books, continues to evolve as a welcoming home for the self-publisher.

One practical reaction to consider is to look around in your region and try to find a self-publishing group that supports your dreams. Collectively, we can learn a lot from colleagues as we strive for better covers, more inviting interior layouts, and more adroit editing.

The national organization IBPA lists regional affiliates, maybe one in your area. In the San Francisco region, I benefit from the monthly meeting of BAIPA. Joel Friedlander has been a leader in this local org.

Many examples of inspiring self-pub success can be seen at our monthly meetings. For example, I’ve watched for a couple of years as Steven Kessler, a psychology self-help author, reports on his progress. There are a hundred aspects of his story, some of which apply to me and to you. Steven announced last month that he had sold 10,000 copies of his book. Good things can happen.

3. Why Independent Publishing May Be Your Most Viable Option Now and in the Future

The “control factor” in indie publishing becomes more appealing to me every year as I think back on my “traditional publishing” ventures and our changing times.

For example, the Globe Pequot people who did my Northern California History Weekends (mentioned above) wanted a print book only. They had no interest in an ebook. As the ebook era arose, I gently encouraged them to pursue this new form. They said no. There was nothing I could do. The entire content was locked up in a print book and could not be exploited in any other way.

But now, with the book content back under my control, I can create not only the print book, but also an ebook. I can, and am, developing the 52 chapters in the book as website articles, making this a “website book.”

Think about your book dreams. What is the max that you could achieve in terms of forms?

  • Print book?
  • Plus ebook?
  • Possibly also a “website book”?
  • What about an audiobook of your book?
  • What about licensing of your content?
  • What about translation of your book into Chinese, the most widely read and spoken language on our planet?

Control over your destiny is a positive, the first step to success.

4. Your Print-on-Demand Book

Advancing print-on-demand technology (POD) has changed everything, and has spurred on the self-publishing movement. Color interiors at an affordable price could be the next breakthrough.

Because of print on demand, I don’t need huge capital to develop my books, as long as I stay with black-and-white only. Because of capital requirements for offset printing, we formerly needed traditional publishers.

The economics of self-publishing are favorable.

With print-on-demand, I don’t have to ship. My partners, Amazon and Ingram, take care of that.

The practical task at hand is to keep track of the evolving details in the two major print-on-demand worlds:

Joel Friedlander has a new step-by-step product on the details of the new Kindle Direct scene.

One vulnerability for authors is that the print-on-demand supplier can raise its per-page cost, as Ingram did recently. You might need to change your book price to keep it reasonably profitable.

Keep track of where the players continue to expand their global POD manufacturing network. Amazon and Ingram can now POD print in England and Australia.

It’s thrilling to know that foreigners can get your book tomorrow in those distant locations. Someone can order your POD book in London and get it tomorrow. No expensive overseas shipping is needed.

Self-publishing authors benefit immensely as this revolution proceeds.

5. Your Ebook Distribution

It is always helpful to remind ourselves of roughly the distribution of sales for what we ordinarily call “books.”

It appears to be about:

  • 70% print
  • 17% ebooks
  • 6% audiobooks

Rather than debate what format your book should be, just give the consumer every format that is appropriate for your book.

Start with the print book and the ebook. Possibly you have experienced, as I have, satisfied ebook consumers with poor eyesight who say, “Thank goodness for ebooks. I can make the type size as big as I want.”

Managing the best plan for ebooks for yourself is an ongoing challenge. I generally recommend now that you go with Amazon Kindle directly for Amazon and then with Smashwords for everyone else.

Keep the layout simple and “flowing” so the consumer can increase the type size and change the font, as they might wish, even on their phone readers.

One big issue with Amazon is whether you will go with them exclusively or not. Exclusivity is required to allow you to benefit from their KENP (Kindle Edition Normalized Pages) income for subscription reads. I don’t like exclusivity for myself, but your best path may differ. I’ve seen many exclusivity requirements ultimately damage the content creator in the stock photo marketing world, for example.

In conclusion, please share with us your success or disappointment as you observe the book publishing scene evolve quickly.

What’s happening with you, for better and for worse, as you struggle to keep up?

Watch for Part 2 of this discussion in about five weeks.

Photo: BigStockPhoto. Amazon links contain affiliate code.

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Kathryn M. Heckstall

    I am writing a book and am wondering if you have any suggestions for me.

    • Lee Foster

      Dear Kathryn,

      My book/ebook on publishing provides most of my answers to publishing questions.

      What is your area of concern? If you have a quick question, I will answer it here.

      I provide consulting at a per-hour fee for more involved guidance.

      You can reach me here or at my direct email [email protected].

      Thanks, and wishing you all the best in your publishing efforts.


  2. Jemima Pett

    Thanks for this. Always good to know how someone who has tried both traditional and indie publishing feels about it. I’m with you on KDP for Amazon and Smashwords for everything else. I also have POD through a different source which distributes via Ingram. I must check out Ingram direct, though, it sounds interesting.
    And then there’s audiobooks… must work on this!

    • Lee Foster

      Thanks Jemima. You’ve got the right attitude. Keep experimenting and see what works best. We’ll pool our knowledges. For example, all of us working with Ingram POD direct recently got an email that they are raising their POD prices to us 3% on April 1. How will this affect author success, whether direct vs working with another POD vendor supplying them?

      Ingram wrote me:

      Dear Publisher,

      Effective April 1, 2019, Lightning Source will apply a 3% increase in print pricing for all trim sizes, print formats, color, paper, and binding types. This increase will affect printing in the United States, United Kingdom, and Europe and is the direct result of a significant increase in print and manufacturing costs within the print industry as a whole.

  3. Lynette Hedrick

    Thank you Lee for an excellent article.
    I am currently in discussions with Ingram Spark towards uploading my first Title. IS says they do not Drop Ship Paperbacks for Amazon, but they send all Amazon orders back to Amazon and Amazon delivers to their customers. So IS must send daily bulk boxes of books to Amazon where they are unpacked and then put in individual envelopes to their Customers? This conflicts with comments on other sites where Authors/Publishers are saying that Amazon Drop Ships direct to Retailer Customers?? Anybody know how this works in real life?

    • Lee Foster

      I’ve watched conflict between Ingram and Amazon for the last five years. The conflict has expressed itself in various ways. Consequently, my advice is to POD your book directly with Amazon for its retail customers and POD your book directly with Ingram for its bookstore customers.

      • Lynette Hedrick

        Thanks Lee. We have given up any thought of a 55% Wholesale Discount so we are positioned for Paperback sales to the brick mortar bookstores. So we are after the Online Retailers only (Amazon, Apple, B&N, etc). Also, some poor author reported that with his 55% Discount at Ingram – Amazon was buying at Ingram because it was then less cost for Amazon than their own 60% Royalty deal with authors. So to blend Amazon/Ingram we are thinking of proceeding with a 35% Wholesale Discount with Ingram so Amazon will do our printing in-house – and opt-out of the Amazon Expanded Distribution – pick up global non-Amazon distribution through Ingram. With Online Retailers only, we don’t see any need to Wholesale at 40% Discount, and still thinking about maybe 30% Wholesale at Ingram. We don’t want to leave the deal so thin for Ingram that we are not getting results with their global Distribution. Your thoughts?

        • Lee Foster

          Thanks Lynette. All these precise details are interesting to read. I don’t have the intimate expertise to guide you on some of these nuances. I have just the standard agreements and discounts with Amazon and Ingram for POD, and Amazon direct for all ebooks to their Amazon market, then Smashwords direct for ebooks for all other ebook markets. I ask anyone reading this thread to speak up if you have experience on these careful details.

  4. michael n. marcus

    Thanks for an excellent update and summary.

    My first book was published by Doubleday in 1976. My second book was published by a smaller company about ten years later. I did not like the books or the income. I was also offered a publishing contract from another company. It tried to cheat me.

    In reaction to those unpleasant experiences, I formed Silver Sands Books in 2008, intending to publish just one book. I liked operating my own publishing company because of the independence, speed and income, and have since published dozens of books.

    I’m not saying I would turn down a contract from a traditional publisher, but it would have to be an amazing deal</b from a company I could trust completely. Since that is unlikely, I plan to continue publishing my own books.

    • Lee Foster

      Thanks you Michael. Your story is an inspiration to all who read it. When you took charge of your publishing, good things happened.

  5. Angel R. Halstead

    Being a preschool teacher for 4 years I made books for my magnificence. They have been very usefull and everybody continues telling me I ought to get them published. How do i go about doing that?
    thank you in advance for all you assist:)

    • Lee Foster

      Thank you Angel. I am not sure what magnificence means. Perhaps you can describe your projects more fully and I or others can step in with suggestions.

  6. Ernie Zelinski

    You ask, “What’s happening with you, for better and for worse, as you struggle to keep up?”

    Lately I posted on Facebook that I am celebrating because the POD (print on demand) edition of my “The Joy of Being Retired” has now sold 50 copies on Amazon. It took almost two months. My celebrating this may sound weird coming from an author whose other books (mainly self-published) have sold a total of over 1,000,000 copies. Fact is, it’s much harder to market a book today than it was back in 2004 when I brought out “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free” which has now sold over 375,000 copies. One of the reasons is that Amazon has changed its Algorithm and methods of operation. Publishers and authors now must purchase Sponsored Ads to be featured on the book pages of other publishers and self-published authors. I have tried that strategy with unimpressive results.

    But I am up to the task of getting “The Joy of Being Retired” rocking and rolling with impressive sales. There are better methods. The first thing that I thought of was sending copies to retirement and financial writers who may “love” the book and write about it. But my creative mind immediately kicked into gear and said that I should also send copies to those retirement and financial writers who may “hate” the book and write about it. That’s exactly what I am in the process of doing. I am sending anywhere between 200 and 500 copies to those retirement and financial writers who may either “love” the book or “hate” the book. As I have said to all my friends many times before, “See, there’s no off-switch on this Genius Machine.”

    Incidentally, I also brought out an offset print edition of “The Joy of Being Retired” (with another ISBN) so that can have the copies printed for $2 a copy and so that I can afford to give away at least 1,000 copies for promotion. I sold 400 copies of the offset print edition to two financial advisors who will give the book to their clients. Also, if Barnes and Noble and other bookstores happen to order it from my US distributor, as they do thousands of my “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”, I will make a lot more money.

    • Lee Foster

      Dear Ernie,

      Thanks for your wise comments. You have exactly the creative survivalist attitude that we all need to emulate.

      The first step in dealing with Amazon (and I would add Google) is to understand the ballgame and how the rules keep changing. The second step is to shape our responses individually and possible collectively through legal and regulatory action. The goal is how fair and just is the presentation of the product in an organic search environment, an ideal that must be enforced even within a monopoly dominance. The idea that we need to buy ads on Amazon to have our books appear in a consumer’s organic search: is that just? In the EU, you may be aware, Google has been fined heavily for skewing its organic search results towards its advertisers.

      One practical question: When sending out review copies, have you weighed the merit of sending physical books (at a cost) vs attached PDFs (at zero-dollar cost)?

      When Ernie, the self-pub author who has sold a million books, speaks up, we will be all ears.

      Lee Foster

      • Ernie Zelinski


        Yes, I have considered sending the PDFs of my books that I am promoting. I just think that the print edition, particularly for non-fiction, works a lot better.

        With the right product or service, the more you give away, the more you can end up selling. I have now spent approximately $50,000 giving away over 13,000 copies of my books. But let me not dwell on my own case because I have one that is much better. Quite a few years ago, Marlo Morgan self-published a book called “Mutant Message Down Under.” Three years later, Morgan had sold 270,000
        copies. This is a remarkable figure for any self-published book, but the most extraordinary fact was Morgan had given away over 90,000 copies of her book in those three years. She donated the copies to prisons, women’s shelters, and other institutions.

        Giving away almost one hundred copies each day for three
        years straight is not something even major publishers would consider, but it paid off for Morgan. Her impressive sales were a result of the word-of-mouth advertising generated from the copies she gave away. Better still, when the book finally came to the attention of HarperCollins, the publisher paid Morgan a $1.7 million advance to take over publication of “Mutant Message Down

        Just recently I read an article about some author who intends to give away 50,000 copies of his book. That made me envious because I would like to try that someday. It’s not a money thing for me; it’s that I am way too lazy to attempt something like that.

        • Lee Foster

          Thank you Ernie. That story is inspirational.



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