The Publishing Landscape BSW019 190101

Today’s episode airs on New Years Day, 2019.

I’ll be talking about the publishing world, as I see it, as we enter a new year.

I realize for many of you this information is not new, but for others it is, so bear with me.

The publishing world functions as a big monopoly game. The writer leaves home with her freshly polished manuscript under her arm—her head and heart filled with hope. As she meanders through the streets, she discovers many publishing options, but the roll of the dice is not always kind.

The object of the game is connecting her story with an audience that will appreciate it, but that’s not as easy as it sounds. There are more opportunities out there than ever before, but the question is, which one is best for her stories.

Forget Monopoly. It’s a crap shoot.

There are three main publishing choices:

  • Traditional Publishing
  • Small Presses
  • And/or Self-Publishing

Each option has advantages and disadvantages.

Traditional Publishing

Traditional Publishing, sometimes called Legacy Publishing, is dominated by “The Big Five.”. That’s right, just five.

  • Penguin Random House
  • Simon Schuster
  • Harper Collins
  • MacMillan
  • Hachette

Once upon a time, there were more publishers, but the bigger ones ate the little ones until we are left with the “Big Five.” Each of them owns many imprints. If you check in my show notes, you will find a link to a fascinating diagram that details which imprints are held by each of them.

To get a contract for your book with one of “the five,” you need an agent who will “shop” your book around the editors that represent the big publishers.

When you get a contract, your story will go through several edits and be given a cover. The process can take a year and a half or longer. These books are featured in brick and mortar bookstores.

What are the advantages of being published by one of the Big Five?

  • You get an advance when you sign your contract.
  • You don’t have to pay for your editing or cover design.
  • You can proudly say that you are published by one of the big guys.

What are the disadvantages?

  • You only make between 5 to 15 % on gross royalties and 25% on ebooks.
  • You have little say over the title or cover of your book, and its distribution.
  • It takes a long time to get your book to the market.

Small Presses

The definition of a small press is a publisher with annual sales below a certain level. In the U.S. that level is fifty million dollars.

The advantage of a small press is they have more flexible contract terms, and the author can negotiate a higher percentage of the royalties.

…the disadvantages? The editors and cover designers are assigned by the press.

Self-Publishing or Indie Publishing

There are many ways to self-publish. I prefer to call it “Indie Publishing,” by the way, because it’s all about independence. The writer is the author, publisher, and entrepreneur.

The advantages of “going Indie” are:

  • You retain all your publishing rights.
  • On ebooks, you make 70 % of the royalties unless you price your book below $2.99.
  • You have control over how much you make on print books by adjusting the price.
  • You have full control over the title, editing, cover design, marketing, and distribution.


The disadvantage: All parts of the writing and publishing of your book rests on your shoulders.

The Changing Landscape

As 2018 comes to a close, the world of publishing is changing at breath-taking speed. I’ve noticed five pivotal changes of late:

  1. Imprints which belong to the Big Five are folding into each other, as publishers fight to survive.
  2. Amazon nixed also-boughts, forcing writers to pay for exposure on their sales pages, a model which is called, “pay to play.” Facebook went to this model two years ago.
  3. Amazon appears to be moving towards a more geo-centric model, where books are managed more within countries. It makes sense regarding taxes, but the US market continues to be the strongest, so it’s rather confusing at the moment.
  4. As it becomes easier and easier to publish, a growing tsunami of books is flooding the market, creating a situation where there is more supply than demand, and it is increasingly difficult to get a book noticed.
  5. Audiobooks and podcast serials are becoming more popular, taking some of the market away from print.

The Good News

No matter how much the publishing landscape changes there is one absolute constant: We need good stories. It’s part of our cultural DNA. From the time of the caveman, stories have been handed down. Storytelling will never disappear. The world needs more storytellers. The world needs you.

Will Things Slow Down?

No. That’s not the way things work when you’re in the middle of a technological revolution. Change is the constant. I’ll borrow from Joanna Penn’s (from her Dec. 3rd podcast) timeline:


2007 – Kindle books opened in the U.S.

2009 – KDP launched internationally

Kobo and Nook started up

2010 – Apple launched iBooks

2013 – ACX launched, which allowed writers to create their own audiobooks

2014 – Patreon began, which allows creators to get paid by their patrons

2015 – Facebook went to a Pay to Play model, so that all of us who had spent hours and cash developing a massive list of followers could no longer reach them unless we paid FB money

2018 – Amazon rocks the world with changes, which are somewhat unclear at this point. It appears they have gone to a Pay to Play model and are developing a more geo-centric model.

All of these changes have made it difficult for mid-list writers to make a living by indie publishing alone. The terms, “content marketing” and “multiple streams of income” have become buzzwords.

Each of these events I listed monumentally changed our lives as authors and readers.

At the end of November, Mark Dawson said, “There has been more change in the book industry in the last six weeks, that there was in the last six years.” (Webinar)

We need to embrace change.

Who am I to give advice? No one. I’m like you, a writer in the trenches watching it all happen.  What I can do is tell you my plan for 2019, even though we all know where plans sometimes lead.

My 3 goals for 2019 are to keep:

  • informed about the events that affect the industry,
  • learning to improve my writing craft and marketing skills
  • talking with my fellow writers, because I believe that when we share our ideas and experiences, we all grow stronger

Getting more specific: I plan to launch my book, Podcasting for Authors, in February and the first two stories in Cassi Black Mysteries, my new paranormal cozy mystery series, in the spring. I also plan to build my podcast.

What are your goals? I’d love to hear from you.


The Big Five Link:

Joanna Penn (The Creative Penn Podcast, Dec. 3, 2018)

2 comments on The Publishing Landscape BSW019 190101

  1. Excellent post, Jo-Ann. I had no idea about the low royalties from the Big Five Publishers. I suppose they sell a lot more books than small publishers or Indie publishers and in the end make more than if they were with the others.

    My goals this year, to get the 5th Kay Driscoll Mystery published in Spring. Then I’ll take a short break and will come back and begin the work on the second Irina Curtius Mystery… Manhattan 2. This will take me through 2019 and most likely 2020. There will be a lot of research for this project.

    Another goal, to savor being an author again. To think once more that I/we am/are doing something big, something huge, something important. And I want to dream about Manhattan 2, think in the shower, in church, on walks, etc. and be passionate about the art.

    1. admin says:

      Hi Susan,
      Thank you for your kinds words. They are most appreciated. I love how positive and supportive a voice you are in our writing community.
      What you say about relishing in the creative process touches me deeply. Whenever I find myself caught up in the politics of publishing I remember just that, the wonderful feeling of creating a story. There’s nothing like it.
      I’m looking forward to reading your new mysteries.
      Happy New Years,

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