Top Challenges for Today’s Authors and Publishers

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The rise of eBooks and audiobooks, combined with this year’s Covid-19 pandemic, has forced authors, booksellers, and publishers to recognize that they need to embrace modern solutions to continue connecting with readers. According to the New York Times, the global book publishing industry has taken major hits this year due to the closure of bookstores and public libraries, as well as events such as book festivals, book signings, author meet-and-greets, and all kinds of other literary experiences. 


Missing out on these in-person events has taken a significant toll on everyone within the industry, but they still have to address several other challenges in order to stay relevant in the digital age. As succinctly explained in an article on, “Publishers using traditional tools cannot survive the digital disruption.” Here are the other top difficulties facing the book industry this year:

1. Readers’ habits have changed.

When there’s a wealth of information available at our fingertips 24/7, people don’t necessarily need a physical copy of a book to learn more about a certain topic. Blog posts, documentaries, articles, and even games are used by people who are eager to increase their knowledge but lack the time to devote themselves to reading a single book. Furthermore, although the majority of readers still prefer physical copies, audiobook sales have been steadily increasing among older adults and college graduates.  


Interestingly, although individual consumers are buying more books, sustaining their engagement is a daunting challenge. To test this phenomenon, ask yourself the following questions: 


  • How many books did you buy last year?  
  • How many books did you finish?  
  • Most importantly, how many books had a significant impact in your life?  


Books are great for introducing an audience to an author’s work, but they’re not great at keeping people engaged, nor are they the best way for an author to inspire their readers to develop sustainable, positive habits.


Some authors address this by creating online courses, workshops, or an impressive variety of content, but this is both expensive for the author to produce and difficult for the readers to reliably find and purchase.  


The competition for an audience’s attention is at an all-time high in the digital age, so authors and publishers need to get creative to stand out from the crowd. Online book clubs, live Q&A sessions, interactive book clubs, or virtual workshops can be excellent ways to strengthen the connections between an author and their audience. 

2. Authors must do the bulk of book marketing.

As book publishers have tried to stay afloat in such an unpredictable and slow-moving industry, authors have been required to market their books on their own. For new authors, this can be especially difficult, as they don’t have an established audience or a recognizable online presence. If you intend on writing a book at any point in the future, start building your platform now.  Pick two platforms you can be most consistent with, ideally Email & a social media platform (LinkedIn, IG, etc.). Check out Email Marketing Rules for a glimpse on how to do that, or sign-up for our newsletter at the bottom of this page to stay updated on our new course launching at the end of this year called “Six-Figure Book Proposal” with our partners Writeway.


For a new book to gain attention in an overcrowded marketplace, writers need to successfully identify their target audience, consider what their readers would value the most from their work, and identify the best platform to appeal to this audience. This amount of market research and strategizing can be overwhelming, even for a well-seasoned author! 


Authors who had been counting on live events this year to boost their income or increase awareness of their new books have instead turned to platforms like Zoom, Crowdcast, and Instagram Live to connect with readers. For example, art critic and author Jerry Saltz had planned to launch his new book, How to Be An Artist, at the Strand in New York back in March. Instead, he hosted a livestream through the bookstore’s Instagram account, which has over 225,000 followers. While it may not be as interactive as an in-person conversation, Saltz was able to reach a much larger audience than he would have been able to talk to at the original event. Additionally, using social media is far less expensive than going on a real book tour to market a book!

3. The market is oversaturated with choices.

No matter what kind of genre an author specializes in, they will have to compete for shelf space and attention among thousands, or even millions, of other titles. “Each book is competing with more than thirteen million other books available for sale,” explains Steven Piersanti, the president of Berrett-Koehler Publishers. “Investing the same amount today to market a book as was invested a few years ago will yield a far smaller sales return today.” Piersanti goes on to give these other bleak statistics:

  • An average nonfiction book in the US sells fewer than 250 copies each year.
  • Most nonfiction books sell fewer than 2,000 copies throughout their lifetimes.
  • The chances of a book being stocked in an average bookstore fall below 1%.
  • An average book typically generates just $50,000 to $150,000 in sales.

Nonfiction authors also struggle to narrow down their target audience when marketing their books, as there is no general audience for the majority of nonfiction books. The interests of the public may shift suddenly towards certain topics, such as politics or epidemiology, but these changes are fleeting and difficult to predict. One exercise our team engages in is extensive hero profiling (a process exemplified in these two simple spreadsheets), a research strategy for identifying and connecting with a book’s target audience. The best way for nonfiction titles to gain traction is for authors to team up with a relevant influencer for marketing purposes and consider launching a virtual book club to attract more curious readers.

4. Content marketing is an essential part of any marketing campaign.

Authors and publishers need to recognize that not everyone will prefer a blog post to a video, or vice versa. Experimenting with creating content—such as articles, a FAQ page, social media polls, live streams, or promo videos—can make the difference between someone scrolling past your post or following your profile. Since social media users are so easily distracted, mixing up your content marketing strategy can stand out to your current followers and help get them excited about an upcoming event or book release. Additionally, providing opportunities for your readers to interact with you through live videos or polls will create unique, personalized experiences that your fans will treasure. 

5. The book publishing industry is constantly changing.

Thin profit margins, serious competition, the emergence of new technologies, and other changes have been hitting the industry hard over the past decade. Since 2009, people have questioned the very future of libraries, bookstores, and physical copies of books as audiobooks and eBooks were quickly embraced by the public. However, despite these concerns, the print market in the US has increased 12% since 2013, especially for adult nonfiction titles and YA fiction books. Libraries have adapted to let patrons borrow eBooks and other digital materials. Independent bookstores continue to be well-loved establishments in their communities. With these statistics in mind, publishers need to move away from only looking at unit sales to determine the success of a book. Instead, they should begin establishing more long-term, recurrent sources of revenue. 

In summary, the key to success in an ever-changing marketplace is the ability to be adaptable. Embracing the power of social media marketing, collaborating with relevant online influencers, and personally connecting with your audience can make a huge difference when it comes to establishing your brand and making a name for yourself as an author. hiitide can help you increase your success by formulating a unique, in-depth virtual book club designed specifically with your audience in mind. You can benefit from a consistent source of income, a completely done-for-you book club model, and a highly focused team dedicated to creating valuable lessons from your content. See how easy it is to get started by scheduling your free discovery call today!


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