Learning from the Publishing Trends of 2020

...and why it’s an amazing time to be an author

It’s an incredible time to be an author. It’s an amazing time to publish a book. Reading is up by 35% around the world. Quarantined people around the world have turned to books and audio for entertainment and enrichment. It’s really exciting to see that 2020 ended strongly for print, ebooks, and audiobooks across multiple categories. 

History of the Publishing Industry:

It’s hard to imagine that the most popular reading device, the iPhone, is just a little over a decade old. In 2007 Amazon launched their KDP platform and their Kindle reading devices. Even though the Kindle wasn’t the first ereader it was the easiest to load books on. By 2012 the industry was forever transformed and writers no longer had to go through a publisher to get their book out. You could bypass the gatekeepers and publish directly on Amazon with the same level of quality available to traditional publishers. 

Now, the options are numerous. 

Book Sales for 2020:

There has been a surge in ebook sales since the pandemic started. Last April, in my analysis of Amazon, I saw a surge in sales of children’s education books on the top 100 list. In summer 2020, as BLM protests took place around the country following the killing of George Floyd, the best selling books at the time focused on race and culture. Now we’re seeing strong sales for all things politics and government. News events drive book sales.

  • Print book sales grew 8.2 % in 2020

  • Ebook sales grew by over 15.2%, although I suspect this is much higher. It’s critical to note when reporting sales, a lot of self-published titles are not required to use ISBNs, so they never get counted in the official figures by the book-counting databases like NDP BookScan.

  • Audiobook sales are up by 17% and actually eclipsed ebook sales in 2020. People listen to audiobooks while they’re multitasking, performing house chores, gardening, or working on  ‘pandemic’ projects. 

Audiobooks and reading also provide alternative forms of entertainment to Netflix and Amazon Prime. At the end of the day, how many times can you rewatch Schitt’s Creek or Succession?

Indie Authors Earn More:

Indie and self-published authors earn more per sale than those who work exclusively with trade publishers.

The average traditionally published author gets 7.5% of their book’s cover price. If you have an agent, you lose 15% more on top of that. If you’re a first-time traditionally-published author, a typical advance is anywhere from $5000 to $10,000. 

It’s worth noting that only about 25-30% of traditionally-published authors earn out their advances. On the other hand, self-publishing platforms like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, iBooks, IngramSpark pay up to 70% royalties. 

Authors who have their own platforms selling directly from their websites or Instagram pages make about 96-97% in royalties.

Self-Published Books are Crushing It:

In 2016, 40% of the top 100 books on Amazon were self-published. When I went to Book Expo America in 2018, it was up to 60%. 

Generally, I am not pro- or anti-Amazon. But I am pro-author. I will always recommend publishing and distributing your books as widely as possible. Yes, publish your book on Amazon (it is the largest retailer), but also take it to every other retailer available to you. Amazon is a tool to help you publish and distribute your books. As an author, you should also be establishing your brand and building up your mailing list so that you can connect directly with potential readers. 

I work with both traditionally- and self-published authors in packaging and marketing their books. I found that when working with the self-published authors, it’s easier to experiment with new trends, tools, and technologies in order to help sell books. 

Best Selling Themes in 2020:

Want to know what books sold in 2020?

  • March/April saw a rise in children’s books and children’s educational books as a result of homeschooling and the pandemic. 2020 saw the growth of Instagram teachers who published worksheets and sold guides and tutorials through their social media pages directly to parents.

  • The Hungry Caterpillar had one of its best sales year in 2020. 

  • Race and anti-racism books performed well during the summer of 2020 and continue to hold strong. 

  • Books about presidents, former presidents, and politics are doing well. 

So, if you’re thinking of publishing a book, I’d recommend asking yourself the following questions to really see if you have an audience:

Which genre does your book fall into? Do you have the authority or experience to write the book?

I had an author come to me with an idea for a children’s book about manners. He had no children and was not a teacher. You can imagine how his book turned out.

Most people come to me and they say, “I want my book to appeal to a wide audience,” or “I want everyone to read my book.” However, if your book is about homeschooling young children in a pandemic, it will be easier to sell books and find your audience that way than if you just marketed it to everyone. If you’re solving a particular problem, even better! Non-fiction books that sell well are transformative and will change the readers’ lives some way. 

To sell books, you need to narrow down your niche or genre and keep the messaging simple. Think about the search terms someone would type into Google or Amazon to find your particular book. How did you decide to purchase your last book? The more defined your niche and genre, the easier it will be to publish, write, and market your book. 

Before the pandemic, I would tell authors to go to the bookstore and browse the aisles to see what’s selling and what’s being featured in their particular category. Now, I tell them to check the best sellers on Amazon.

Do readers care if a book is self-published or not? They usually can’t tell. BUT they will judge you on how many reviews your book has on Amazon, or how your cover looks, and how engaging your Amazon description page is. At the end of the day, most readers just want a great read. They want to be inspired and want to relate to the characters they read about. Buyers don’t purchase a book based on whether it is self-published or traditionally-published. 

Is it Worth It?

With the right story, hard work, and marketing, you will see the kind of sales that makes the entire process worthwhile.