I just finished teaching a week-long course in self-publishing for ministry. As I teach it every year, I watch for trends, and here’s what stuck out this year:
- The continuing rise of audio. As demand continues for audiobooks, it also gets ever easier to produce audio versions. Writer’s Digest says “Audiobooks are the fastest growing format in publishing.” By 2027, projected income is in the billions. Creating an audio version of your book means more listeners, from commuters back on the road to parents scrubbing floors needing free hands to the visually impaired. Podcasts are up; so are audio books.
- More iterations. We used to think of self-publishing in terms of either print-heavy e-books or stacks in the garage of print-heavy print books. Now we have gift books. Workbooks. Print-on-demand books. Books with black-and-white photos. Books with color photos. Audio books. And so many more…. And let’s not forget comic books and graphic novels. In fact, let’s talk about the latter.
A graphic novel is a narrative or collection of comic stories, often hand-drawn and separated into panels. Maus (Pulitzer and American Book award honors) and American-Born Chinese (National Book Award and Printz Award honors, plus a Disney+ series) are both excellent works that have helped take the graphic-novel genre mainstream—along with some help from Manga, once a niche genre. Newsy.com says the sub-genre of graphic novels saw a growth of 171 percent in 2021 compared to 2020, and that amounts to a little more than 24 million books sold last year. The self-publishing market has continued to expand to accommodate writers and visual artists who, in the past, had a tougher time publishing. Demand has driven invention.
- More data journalism. One of our speakers, Brandon Giella of Giella Media is an expert on data journalism. He showed us this holy-moly graphic on five megatrends in data journalism. Visual storytelling is hot. And it’ll reach boiling as we continue to shift away from words toward visuals. The graphs in this blog post tell stories at a glance. People love sidebars and graphs, narratives in visual form. Even a Bible study can include a graph—like the number of times the apostle Paul uses gunh to mean “wife” instead of “woman” (more often). I’d love to see a Bible study that includes a word cloud showing how often the word “love” shows up in Ephesians 5.
- Continually growing global reach. Here are the number of internet users in a sampling of five countries with large English-speaking populations:
- Australia, 21 million
- Canada, 33 million
- Kenya, 46 million
- USA, 288 million
- India, 749 million
Internet use means demand for downloadable information. E-books can go where it would take months to deliver a physical book, even if people could afford to order them. So e-book publishing companies increasingly pitch their international reach as a reason to publish with them.
- More library distribution. In a New Yorker article last September, “The Surprisingly Big Business of Library E-books,” author Daniel Gross said, “Increasingly, books are something that libraries do not own but borrow from the corporations that do.” Instead of selling e-books and audio books to libraries, publishers sell digital distribution rights to third-party venders like OverDrive, which sells lending rights to libraries. Often expiration dates accompany those rights, making e-books more expensive than print books for libraries. But that development is great for writers, because it gives our publishers more power over prices. That higher price tag has actually not discouraged libraries from buying, as they see such demand for e-books. According to Gross’s research, in 2020, the Denver Public Library increased its digital checkouts by more than sixty per cent, to 2.3 million, and spent about a third of its collections budget on digital content, up from 20 percent the previous year. Libraries now join an elite group when their “borrows” reach the benchmark of more than a million e-book downloads. What that means for my students: When considering which self-publishing companies to select, writers are more apt to look for distributors such as Overdrive on a list of publisher’s partners before committing. And often they find it.
At one time, people said e-books were dead. They also said that about print books. Want to self-publish a book? What are you waiting for?