State of the Publishing Situation 2020-2022

Sometimes I’m in the mood to look at spreadsheets, and then make charts. I was curious about how my books did during a specific window of time, and chose data for 2020, 2021, and 2022. I focused on mainly what I got from Amazon and Smashwords/Draft2Digital, although I’m also on Google Play, Gumroad, Findaway Voices, Snack, and I also sell direct through this page on my site.

What it looks like:

From 2020 to 2022, readers in 37 countries purchased/downloaded/acquired my books. (!) I have 2 titles set to perma-free on many non-Amazon channels and I noticed how it helped give me a presence in countries I wouldn’t have expected. I should explain what I mean by an “unexpected country”: Just that I know no one who lives there, so the purchase or download would have come from someone who isn’t a friend or family member. I’m Pinoy so I still think a friend or family member is the first purchase in any foreign city even though data will tell me that’s not the case (also because I don’t ask friends and family to purchase my books just “to support” anymore).

Map above made with

All my books are “wide” ie not exclusive to Amazon, and this is what that decision looks like, 2020 to 2022, for all downloads paid and free:

What that contribution from Smashwords/Draft2Digital looks like when broken down by channel:

Not surprised by Scribd’s recent performance, although it’s small compared to say Amazon. Still, it’s the most reasonably priced subscription service for Philippine residents (less than $3 monthly vs $9.99 for Kindle Unlimited) and it’s mainly why I went wide when I did. Also for all the advice that Kindle Unlimited is better, it really is different when you’re a Filipino author and your books are about Filipino characters, set in the Philippines. But for some lucky moments, usually the KU audience doesn’t go for books like mine, and the decision to go wide was for accessibility to the readers who are supposed to feel seen and represented by what I write. If they’re not on KU (or they’re reading something else there) then my books don’t have to be there.

So what do I think of the situation? My best year out of the three years I looked into was 2021, when I released two new titles. 2022, when I released no new work at all, performed the worst in comparison. It wasn’t terrible by the way for a year of relying entirely on backlist, and it tells me that if I want to boost my 2023 I should…release a new book. I will!

I’ve also gone back to expanding my presence in print in the Philippines, distributing print editions via Komiket and exploring two small retail spaces in Quezon City and San Juan City. It requires more work to move print books and I’m making the time and also choosing partners who can do some of the work with me. But goodness, Philippine publishing…all the work and sales of print is just a fraction of what we can all make in a day, a week, a month if we all just helped each other and did not fear digital.

Maybe they think it’s competition? Working with print makes people think of books in terms of print runs, and the space they take up on a shelf, in a store limited by square meters. Authors are made to feel bad about things they don’t have to feel bad about: like say how quickly a print run sells out, or about the space an unsold book takes up on a bookstore shelf or warehouse. Maybe they think for every print book on a shelf then there’s less space for other books by authors who write the same genre, or in the same language, or for the same audience.

It’s so wrong, and I hope authors realize that this (outdated) publishing view holds you back the most. The publisher is held back too, because they could be making so much more, but maybe another successful author makes up for it and they can proceed as usual because “the bottom line” is still good.

Pinoy authors! Here’s a tip! In a more international and open retail space, when I do well, you (if our books are at all similar in any way) do well too. And even if you don’t know me (or like me even lol) you can benefit from the readership that I create. Ideally you put your work out there so it finds its readers, which may be an entirely different group of people from the ones who read me, but then the ones who may be into my work find me through you.

This is what a creative community does. Try not to get stuck in a publishing situation where you do not participate in a community, where you are just a product to be sold, and you are made accountable for shortcomings that result from an inefficient system they insist on using and not improving.

OK! I should go work on my 2023 release now.

My How I Publish lecture slides and script (updated for 2022) can be purchased on Gumroad.


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About Mina

Mina V. Esguerra writes and publishes romance novels. She founded #RomanceClass, a community of Filipino authors of romance in English.
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