Self-Publishing Trends: A Look Back and Ahead

Thursday, January 30, 2020

I’m sitting here in my kitchen window on a January snowy day in New Mexico thinking about all the possibilities ahead in 2020. With this new year just dawning, it’s a perfect time to take inventory of what's happening in the world of self-publishing and book distribution for small publishers. Here’s a review of self-publishing trends in 2019 and what I see happening in 2020.

The Latest Buzz Word: Wide Distribution

Although I’ve been saying for years that self-publishers should strive to make their titles available as widely as possible, this sentiment caught on and became a common theme in blogs and at conferences this year.

We saw many indie authors who had been exclusive to Amazon turn up knocking at the IngramSpark door. Many reported that the Amazon sales they had enjoyed and relied upon for years were no longer in the bag. It’s now occurring to many that Amazon is an ever-evolving online retailer with constantly changing priorities, and books and authors may not be at the top of the list.

Accordingly, authors are prudently deciding not to put all of their eggs in that one basket. Thus, discussions about “going wide” sprang up in our author communities. To go wide means making your titles available so all bookstores, libraries, and readers can find them beyond a single channel partner (which IngramSpark does automatically when distribution is enabled). You should also go wide with making your books available in as many formats as you can afford (ebook, paperback, hardcover).

Diversity at the Forefront 

It's no secret that diversity in writing and publishing was a hot topic in 2019. One of our IngramSpark authors, Crystal Swain-Bates, uses her platform to speak about the importance of diversity in publishing—stressing how it affects children growing up when they don't see themselves represented in literature.


"By self-publishing, I was able to bring characters to life that were as dark or light brown as I wanted them to be, with full lips and noses, hairstyles like braids and afro puffs, and names like Makayla. It’s that kind of nuance that makes my work both unique and necessary, and why self-publishing was the best choice for me and for other underrepresented authors."

- Crystal Swain Bates, Author of Big Hair, Don't Care

In 2019, several high-profile books were recalled or canceled for publication because the author had not actually lived the life they were writing about. While the call for diverse books increases, the industry is facing the problem of who should be telling these stories.

Diversity in publishing has been discussed for years, but it's taken off through a movement that started as a Twitter hashtag by writer Corinne Duyvis in 2015. #OwnVoices has become a common term in author/reader discussions. At its core, #OwnVoices is about the author’s voice as an authentic one that identifies closely with a storyline, theme, and even characters who depict a marginalized experience.

If your writing depicts an authentic diverse experience, I encourage you to join the conversation through #OwnVoices. To learn more about how Duyvis recommends the usage of the #OwnVoices hashtag, go to

More Traditional Authors Turn to Self-Publishing

There are now essentially three distinct publishing options for authors to publish their work:

1) Self-published (author pays for everything and makes all decisions)

2) Traditional published (the publisher pays for everything and makes all decisions)

3) Hybrid published (author pays and works with a publisher in making decisions)

As authors have become more knowledgeable about the business of publishing, they are turning from the traditional model where the publisher owns their work and makes all the decisions to the control and expediency that self-publishing offers. Authors work with editors, designers, and marketers to bring professionally published books that are now outperforming traditionally published books.

Amazon Advertising Dominates

Years ago, Facebook was the way to go to advertise your book online. But over the past few years, our authors report that they're having more success through Amazon’s advertising platform. With Amazon advertising, you can reach your target audience by targeting products or keywords that are relevant to your book. Amazon advertising uses a "cost per click" model, meaning you only pay when someone clicks on your ad, and you control the amount that you'd like to bid for a click, as well as your maximum budget for the day.

Amazon has made updates to its advertising program in recent years and has moved up to the preferred way for authors to reach millions of readers. If you haven’t tried an Amazon ad campaign, you might want to give it a whirl. However, as more authors enter this advertising space, the cost to get your ad in front of readers will continue to rise. 

The Rise of the Instapoet

Poetry still tops bestseller lists. This is a trend that has been growing for the past few years, and I don’t see it stopping any time soon. Retailers are dusting off their poetry shelves to make room for a new crop of wildly popular poets and artists, who have primarily built a fan base through social media platforms such as Instagram. 

We have many successful IngramSpark authors who've built an online community to share their poetry.

Local Bookstores Continue to Persevere

The local bookstore is returning to your neighborhood! The American Bookseller Association reports a 40% increase in store openings in the past decade.

And not only are booksellers growing in numbers, but they are thriving in the communities they serve. Independent bookstores are very supportive of self-published authors if the work has the same quality as traditionally published books, and many have established educational and publishing programs that assist authors in bringing their books to market.

Mostly, I see these trends continuing through 2020. I also see our community of self-published authors leading the entire publishing industry with their innovative ways of connecting with readers. I’m having serious conversations with many of you about how we can help you sell more books directly to your readers. As we all start boarding the 2020 train, the IngramSpark team looks forward to escorting you on a smooth but adventurous ride that will give you the book of your dreams. 2020 is your year to make that happen.


Book Distribution Guide

Robin Cutler

As the Director of IngramSpark at Ingram Content Group, Robin is committed to helping independent publishers easily get their content into the hands of readers around the globe. To help make this happen, she leads the development of IngramSpark and continues to support and refine the platform to better serve independent publishers around the world. She is a leader in the independent publishing space, and when not developing new programs and services for IngramSpark, she can often be found sharing her expertise at industry events around the world.