What The Book Shortage Means for Indie and Self-Published Authors

BY HANNAH GUY • October 1, 2021

What The Book Shortage Means for Indie and Self-Published Authors

Over the last couple of weeks, publishers (especially smaller ones) and wholesalers have been warning that there could be shortages of books, especially high-demand titles, this coming holiday season.

“We are experiencing shipping delays from the majority of our vendors and do not see the problem being eliminated prior to the holiday season,” Cindy Raiton, president of sales at Bookazine, said recently. “We advise all accounts to allow extra lead time and to take advantage of stock availability knowing that reprints will be challenging.”

Media outlets are currently reporting that the issue is a combination of factors, many of which have been created or exacerbated by the pandemic: a shortage of delivery vehicles and drivers, issues at ports, increasingly higher costs to transport goods, and reduced paper availability as many printers shifted to supply boxes for retailers like Amazon. Smaller publishers will face greater challenges as they not only navigate shortages but also try to anticipate how many books they’ll need for the coming holiday season.

For consumers and readers, this means ordering your books well in advance and anticipating delays. (Buying gifts? Get your orders in before Thanksgiving, or even sooner.) But what does this mean for authors?

Heidi Waechtler, executive director of the Association of Book Publishers of British Columbia (Canada), told CBC news that “there’s a lot of uncertainty.” She points also to staffing shortages and suggests that the authors most likely to be affected are newer authors, who might not have the sales data behind them to ensure they’re included in promotions. “They have to look at upcoming authors and make some difficult decisions about which ones to prioritize. It might mean lost sales.”

Emerging authors or those whose books have been published by small presses may find their sales affected across North America, especially given that many industry insiders have suggested that the shortage won’t be limited to just the coming holiday season but continue well into 2022.

For indie and self-published authors, however, the situation might not be quite as grim. So how can you anticipate the coming shift with your own book marketing and promotions? By taking a deep breath, planning ahead, and being adaptable as the situation changes.

If you sell physical books…

  • Take to social media now to remind your followers to order their copies as early as possible.
  • Contact your printer(s) and ask how they are meeting this challenge and whether your books may be affected.
  • Use the coming weeks to plan for an e-book release. Create promotions and marketing to drive people to the digital edition, which will always be available regardless of paper shortages and supply chain interruptions.

If you sell e-books…

  • Ramp up your promotions. Make sure you have a carefully thought-out marketing plan heading into the holiday season. Offer extras, excerpts, and bundles at special prices to entice readers.
  • Consider putting your book on sale temporarily to generate buzz.
  • Offer your books as a great alternative to sold-out titles. Position yourself as a fresh new option that’s perfect for fans of one of those hard-to-find bestsellers or new releases.
  • Nudge your readers to start buying early, even if they’re purchasing e-books. Reminding your readers to anticipate problems helps not only your fans but also other authors, publishers, and bookworms across the world.

Circumstances are shifting more rapidly than most of us can keep track of, but indie and self-published authors have the unique ability to shift almost as quickly as the circumstances. Observe. Pivot. Adapt. This is the adage most of us are living by almost every day, thanks to the ongoing vicissitudes of the pandemic. Make a plan, but give yourself the room to shift strategies as necessary—both can make a huge difference as you navigate the choppy waters ahead.

This book shortage isn’t going to last forever, but you can seize the opportunity now to reimagine your publishing plans and reposition your books for success.

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