In the indie ebook world, the genre is king.
According to a 2017 Author Earnings report, over 70% of all genre fiction consumer purchases — the “overwhelming majority” — are now in ebook format. Of these ebooks, most independently published ones have a larger market share than traditionally published ones when broken down into genres: Self-published romance, mystery, horror, science fiction and fantasy all sell better from indie authors or Kindle imprints than they do from traditional publishers.
According to the numbers, genre fiction has taken over in the self-publishing community. Mark Coker, founder and CEO of ebook distributor Smashwords, has some insight as to why.
“The bestselling indie titles are genre fiction,” Coker says. “Genre fiction is ideally suited to screen reading because it’s straight narrative and easily reflowable.” By his reckoning, a first wave of commercial success for independent books can be pegged to the “reverted-rights out-of-print romance titles” that debuted as ebooks in 2009 or 2010 and proved the model could succeed. “In addition to romance, we had several authors who broke out in those early days with fantasy and sci-fi as well,” he adds.
Genres Are The New Gatekeepers
The audience’s interests were once reliant on traditional publishing and its editors, who determined who was published and how large a print run any given edition would see. Under this model, the publishers were the gatekeepers. But with the physical limitations of print books erased by the internet, the only remaining bottleneck is the sheer number of ebooks that readers care to consume. With this model, anyone who can help the readers pick their next book — reviewers and algorithms alike — are the gatekeepers.
And when the readers decide what book to queue up in their Kindles next, they often turn to a genre they know they love. Genres are literally classifications of settings, tropes, and stylistic tics, all of which are perfect benchmarks that let a reader know what to expect.
How Self-Published Writers Benefit
Coker holds that audience’s genre interests have to some extent replaced the gatekeepers of traditional publishing, and further notes that self-published writers seem to agree.
“Since writers are in direct and personal contact with their readers,” Coker says, “they’re more likely to be writing to the market without having to rely on gatekeepers whose opinions are usually lagging the market. Gatekeepers can also over-generalize because agents and publishers tend to talk about what’s hot now, or what publishers are publishing or buying now.
“Yet with indies, their readers are telling the writer want they want from that individual writer now, which means indie authors can be more responsive.”