Monday, April 24, 2023

25 Years in INDIE Publishing, What's Changed?

This month, Foreword Reviews Magazine is celebrating twenty five years of discovering the best indie press books for a trade readership of booksellers and librarians. It’s been a slow, steady drive to profitability, and post-pandemic supply chain issues continue to challenge us. But the joy of our profession makes the struggle a labor of love that drives us each day to reach our next milestone birthday.

Thankfully, many things remain constant to make our jobs easy: reading is not going out of style; print books have not disappeared (as predicted), readers still love a good story. Plus, they now have options to get their fix in print, as an ebook, or as an audio edition depending on their preferences.

According to Bowker, a leading provider of information in the publishing industry, the number of self-published titles has grown significantly. In 2019, self-published authors produced over 1.68 million print and e-books in the United States, up from just over 200,000 titles in 2011. This represents over 700% growth in just eight years. It’s important to remember that independent publishing is a global phenomenon, and the numbers above only reflect the self-published titles produced in the United States. The total number of independently published books worldwide in 2022 is difficult to estimate, but it's likely to be in the millions.

We’ve experienced some significant industry changes in the last twenty five years. Here’s a quick list of those top of mind:

  1. The rise of self-publishing platforms. In the past few decades, the independent publishing industry has been revolutionized by the emergence of self-publishing platforms like Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing and IngramSpark. These platforms have made it easier than ever for independent authors to publish and distribute their books, without the need for a traditional publisher. This “democratization” has made publishing more accessible to a wider range of authors, regardless of their background or connections.
  2. Changes in book distribution. With the growth of e-books and online retailers like Amazon, the distribution channels for independent books have expanded significantly. Independent authors can now sell their books to readers all over the world, without the need for physical bookstores. The introduction of print-on-demand (POD) technology has also made it possible for independent authors to print their books as and when they are ordered, eliminating the need for large print runs and upfront costs.
  3. The role of social media and changes in book marketing. With the rise of social media and online marketing, independent authors now have a range of tools at their disposal to market their books. Social media has become an important tool for independent authors to promote their books and connect with readers. Authors can use social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to build their brand, connect with fans, and share news and updates about their work.
  4. Increased competition. While the democratization of publishing has made it easier for authors to publish their books, it has also led to increased competition. With so many books being published every day, it can be challenging for independent authors to get their books noticed. Authors need to find new and creative ways to stand out from the crowd and attract readers.
  5. Changes in reader behavior. The popularity of e-books has skyrocketed since 1998, with many readers preferring the convenience of reading books on their electronic devices. This has made it easier for independent authors to self-publish their books in digital formats, bypassing traditional publishers. The rise of e-books and online retailers has also changed the way readers discover and purchase books. Many readers now rely on online reviews and recommendations to guide their purchasing decisions, which has created new opportunities and challenges for independent authors.
  6. The growth of audiobooks. The audiobook market has grown significantly since 1998, with many readers preferring to listen to books rather than read them. This has made it easier for independent authors to reach a wider audience by producing their books in audio format. According to the Audio Publishers Association (APA), the audiobook industry has experienced significant growth over the past few years. They note that In 2020, the audiobook industry in the United States generated over $1.3 billion in revenue, up from $940 million in 2015. This represents a growth rate of over 37% in just five years. The number of audiobook titles produced has also increased significantly, with over 71,000 titles produced in 2020 alone.

All of this, IMHO, is good news for writers who are still opting to be their own publishers. The tools are freely available with the right research, and the industry is so good about sharing knowledge at in person and online conferences, membership organizations, and online mentorship. The most important suggestion I can make is to come to the table prepared in a professional manner: edit, package, and design your cover according to industry standards and brush up on your marketing skills if you are not familiar with the terms “social media.”


Victoria Champagne Sutherland


Foreword Reviews

Monday, April 10, 2023

Seven Cool Tricks for Beating Your Novel’s Maddening Middle

Holly Lisle

If you’re like most writers (including some of us who do this for a living) the first pages of your novel flew. The characters leapt to life, they did interesting, wonderful things, and you fell in love — with them, with the world, and with the adventure of following them as they came to life.

Driven by passion, excitement, and your gripping story idea, you got maybe a quarter of the way into your book… maaaaybe thirty percent…

And all of a sudden, things got squidgy. Iffish. Awkward.

Your characters started:

• Sitting around drinking coffee (or whiskey shots)
• Talking about the weather
• Arguing because you knew the story needed conflict (but BIG TIP — the Dreaded Conflict Argument isn’t it)

And the words stopped coming.

First, YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Most writers most of the time run out of Pure Adrenaline about a quarter to a third of the way into the book.

That’s the point where, for a lot of us, we realize that we have written a lot of words… and we still have another sixty to seventy-percent of this THING to get through before we’re done with the first draft.

NOTE: At the point where the writing stops being just pure fun and starts hinting that work is going to be required, the thing you’re working on also frequently stops being your beloved novel, it tends to get shoved aside (with some variation on the phrase “I’ll work on it later, when I figure out what happens next”) and metamorphoses into a ghost in your dreams, haunting you, demanding completion.


First, DO NOT shove the printout of the manuscript under the bed, promising you’ll get back to it when inspiration strikes.

WHY? Because if you’re not actively working on this project, workable, usable inspiration won’t strike. You figure out what happens next by working on the story, by thinking through what you already have, and by figuring out how you can use what you have to make more story.

Second, DO NOT go back through what you already have and start “fixing” words and sentences, moving paragraphs around, and replacing good SHORT words and phrases with painful long ones — like changing “chatty” to “loquacious” or “angry” to “utterly and unforgivingly furious”. Using longer words, and using ten words when one would do, this is called PADDING.

A lot of early-career writers tried padding. (Ask me how I know…)

The thinking here goes, “Surely using longer words will make me look like a smarter, better writer to editors looking to buy my work. It worked on term papers, after all.”

Painful truth? Your final term paper was the last time padding ever worked. Six-syllable words and precious phrasing just make reading what you’ve written a painful chore, and commercial editors who get hit with the Long Words Stunt in the first paragraph are not likely to read the second.

Editors can smell padding the way flies can smell horse sh- manure.

See? Horse shit would have been perfect. Meanwhile, horse manure is pretentious.

Here’s STEP ONE:

Your raw words — the ones before you do any revision at all — are going to be your most honest words. They’re the words that came from you when you were right IN the story with your characters, where you were watching your plot unfold, where your creativity was flowing, and your imagination was going full steam. Your first words hold the real voices of your characters… and they hold your real voice.

Your real voice is what you use when talking to friends, hanging out in coffee shops, or paddling a kayak down a wild river (including both the WHEEEE!!! and the Oh, SHIT! moments).

Your real voice — you being yourself — is comfortable and warm and engaging.

You being someone who’s trying to prove how many words you know and how smart you are — however… That version of you is the one who gets Editor-read-the-first-sentence-and-fled rejections.

Again… this is the voice of experience. An early rejection I still remember, word for word, is “You write very well, but nothing happens.”

The instant you stop writing the story to start piddling with fancier words and “fixing” what you already have, you’ve lost. You’re now busy killing the best part of your story’s feel

— its integrity and its freshness.

INSTEAD, commit this one sentence to memory:

You have a secret, and I will find it and USE it.

At the point where you stall, you pick one of your characters, and you say this to that character.

“You have a secret, Bob Bland… And I will find it. And USE it.”

And your character Bob shudders, and a little ice runs down his spine.

STEP TWO: Do a tiny biography of one character.

Bob Bland is a used car salesman, has a sweet wife and three small kids at home, and is considering finding a second job just to get the family a little ahead on bills, and he has a hobby — he fly-fishes.

Right there, he’s a small-town lower-middle-class Everyman, and you want to read a novel (or even a short story) about him just about as much as you want to pick cat hair out of the carpet with a pair of tweezers.

STEP THREE: Brainstorm the elements of the secret.

Bob Bland has a secret… and it’s a doozy. You don’t know what it is yet (and neither do I) but let’s find out.

You can give your character a Positive Secret. You can give your character a Negative Secret.

You can give your character one of each… and if you go with a superpower, you need a negative secret to balance the positive one — otherwise you end up writing Mary Sue fiction. (https://

But let’s not go with a superpower. Those change the nature of the fiction you’re writing.

Let’s go with a Mundane Mortal secret, and let’s brainstorm possibilities:


• Family-related
• Work-related
• PIHO (play-interest-hobby-obsession) -related


• Tied to the past
• Tied to the present
• Tied to the future


• Positive
• Negative
• Neutral

Pick one from each category.

Random poke of the finger on each of the three categories gives me:

• PIHO-related
• Tied to the past
• Positive



Bob Bland has always liked to go fly fishing, likes to tie flies (to make his own fishing lures using bare fishhooks and feathers and string and a little bit of clear nail polish to hold everything together), and he likes to walk the stream behind and uphill from the house where he lives with his family. Aside from the six-bucks-per-year local fishing license, this is a practically free hobby that also lets him put fresh food on the table.

TIED TO THE PAST: So while he’s working his way down the stream and toward home to an undercut he likes — one that occasionally yields up a bass (a kind of fish) or two — he spots something shiny in the stream.

He has his hip waders on, so he wades into the water, and reaches down, and finds…

BRAINSTORM HERE: What does he find

• A gold doubloon
• An ancient artifact that shimmers when touched
• A hand wearing a big diamond ring (but JUST the hand)

And on that third one, my brain goes WHEEEEEE!!! Cold, bloated, severed hand in the river wearing a BIG diamond (that nevertheless was not kept by the person severing the hand).


So the first and most obvious question is this: Why would someone cut off a hand that has a huge, glittering, magnificent diamond set in a gorgeous gold ring (this thing just keeps getting more awesome in my mind as I imagine it)… and then THROW THE HAND AND RING AWAY?

And my brain horrifies me with the answer.

The owner of the hand cut his or her own hand off…

To get rid of the ring.

And there’s the thing that starts to fuel the middle of the story.

What in the world is wrong with that ring?

If you don’t get something great from the first question you ask, ask more questions.

These are all going to be Who-What-When-Where-Why-How questions. If your question doesn’t start with one of those words, re-write it until it does. And then work down your list answering questions. You may need to write multiple answers for each question until you clear the obvious stuff out of the way.

The obvious answer in my WHO question above was “Some criminal cut off the hand.” That answer is too easy. You have a bad guy after a fancy ring. It’s what bad guys do, so there’s simply not much story there.

Something that would make a person cut off his or her own hand, though? THAT’S something worth writing about.

At the point where your brain says, “Oh, there it is!

That’s the thing that makes me need to find out what happens next,” you move on to Step Six.


And we’re back to Who. What. When. Where. Why. How.

• Who made the ring?
• What does it do for the wearer?
• What does it do TO the wearer?
• What does it do to anyone near the wearer?
• Why was it made?
• And so on…

I’m not going to build out the answers to those questions, because I’m in the middle of writing Book Three in a five-book series right now, and I do not need another project… and this thing is starting to try to finagle its way into a world that does not need it. So, we’ll move on…

Write your questions down, and start answering them, listening for your Right-Brain (Muse) to throw weird and interesting answers at you. And when you have some good answers, go to STEP SEVEN.

STEP SEVEN: (The single most effective and evil* piece of advertising in the world.)


Every time you get stuck on your story, just go back through these steps until you’ve written yourself to the end.*Why is “Wash. Rinse. Repeat.” not product instructions, but actually advertising? Because it causes you to go through shampoo twice as fast. If the stuff is any good at all, it works on the first wash. It’s not evil advice in writing simply because you need more than one thing to happen in your story.

So now… go kick ass on your middle. You can do this.

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

IWSG Posting Day Has Arrived With A Side of Scam Alert!

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time - and return comments. This group is all about connecting! Be sure to link to this page and display the badge in your post. 

And please be sure your avatar links back to your blog! Otherwise, when you leave a comment, people can't find you to comment back.

First a few items to pass along:

Don't forget that WEP's next challenge is this month.

Life is Beautiful Post April 19 to 21.

Enter the April challenge here.


Tonja Drecker passed this one along and wanted to get the word out on a nasty writer scam going around.

Scams are nothing new, and as a writer, there are certain things, which set off the alarm signal. This last week, though, I ran across one, which caught me by surprise. I’ve since learned that it's been around for several years and hits job boards as well as the usual social media outlets. I ran across it on Twitter, and while I didn’t fall victim to it, I was shocked at how much time the scammers put into it.

I received a DM from an account I’ve been following for several months, claiming that they needed some help with something and asked if I was willing and comfortable with writing clean kidlit stories. The account had around 3,500 followers (over 150 writers which I follow myself), did regular posts with book news and religious quotes, and didn’t seem off in any way. After a little back and forth, they claimed that they were contracted by a large company (a real company, who was not involved in the scam) to find remote writers for a project. It was a permanent position with a monthly salary of $4000. Wary but curious, I agreed to an interview on Skype, which was scheduled three days later.

The first alarm bells sounded when the gentleman, who was to interview me, insisted that it be done per chat…claiming the printed form was important to  assist in the company's decision. During the chat, the logo of the supposed contracting company was present. The interview was very normal and came with the usual questions but did get odd when it was my turn to ask for information. The gentleman’s answers were vague, and the conditions, while nothing over-the-top, sounded too good to be true. The interview lasted over 30 minutes, and at the end, he claimed I appeared to be what the company was looking for. A second interview was scheduled with the supposed hiring company's manager for the next day.

This interview also came as a chat only. While starting out with the usual questions, the ‘you’re hired’ popped up fast. Claiming that they needed me to start as soon as possible, they requested personal information, supposedly to speed up the paperwork process. While I didn’t let it get this far, I’ve since learned that it would include everything from address, birth date, bank information, credit card, and even SSN. 

Before reporting this to anyone, I did contact the real company, whose name was used by the scammers. They were extremely kind and helpful, and confirmed that the individuals did not work for them nor were they hiring writers at the time. The account has since been reported to Twitter, but that, obviously, won’t stop the scam.

Now let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

The awesome co-hosts for the April 5 posting of the IWSG are Jemima PettNancy Gideon, and Natalie Aguirre!

Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say. 

Remember, the question is optional!

April 5 question - Do you remember writing your first book? What were your thoughts about a career path on writing? Where are you now and how is it working out for you? If you're at the start of the journey, what are your goals?

I remember indeed. Doing it between work, maybe sneakily while at work, and other life stuff. I admit I cringe a bit at the first one now as I know far more. Career path though? Ha! Knew not to give up the 9-5 in order to avoid the cardboard box. 100+ books in and still a going. Enjoy doing it so I do. Nothing more. Nothing less.

How's your career path? Any writer scams that you have come across lately? Have you heard of this one? Are you joining WEP's challenge this month?