It’s hard to believe we’re at the end of yet another year. Most of us are already looking forward to 2024 and making plans, goals, and resolutions for the next twelve months.
As we do that, though, it never hurts to look back at the year that was. Taking a moment to pause and think about what we did well, what we accomplished, and what we’d like to do differently is almost never a misstep.
Of course, every year is full of ups and downs, and it’s unlikely any of us had a “perfect” year. Some years are easier than others, and some years want to throw a whole hailstorm of events at us.
As an indie author, I always have lots of big plans at the outset of a calendar year. Unfortunately, life often gets in the way—especially since I have to work a day job to “sponsor” my publishing habit.
With that in mind, I’m reflecting on 2023 as I think about making realistic goals for 2024.
The Year That Was
It’s safe to say 2023 was one of those years that seemed to throw everything at me. Not everything was a catastrophe, but there was a lot going on.
After a pretty quiet winter spent planning a wedding, life kicked into high gear in early May. I got married on the seventh, and all that planning came to fruition. Two days later, we hopped a flight to Rome, where we spent our 10-day honeymoon.
When we returned, we both had a bad bout of COVID. Then, two weeks into June, our car was totalled.
Two days after that, we were on a road trip with a borrowed set of wheels. When we got home, I found out a long-term contract was ending.
From Mid-Year on
July was another roller coaster. All my other avenues of work dried up, leaving me effectively unemployed. That period lasted for about six weeks, which also saw us dealing with our insurance and getting a new set of wheels—complete with new car payments. And, in the middle of that, we also found out we were having a baby!
Morning sickness took me out nearer to the end of the month, and in mid-August, I started a new job. Both of those things kept me incredibly occupied until about mid-September. I finally settled into the job, and the morning sickness finally abated. Finances began to straighten around after my six-week period of unemployment, although things remain relatively rocky even now.
October saw my husband end his season early due to an injury, once again upending our schedules. We also started some small home renovations, which added to chaos and stress. But things began to quiet down somewhat after that, which meant I could finally put my head down and work.
Publishing in 2023
My publishing plans changed relatively quickly over the course of the year, and at the same time, they didn’t.
Since we were having the wedding in May, I didn’t want to commit to publishing much in the first half of the year. I knew the wedding would take up a lot of resources, so it was likely that books would be delayed and I’d need to cancel marketing plans due to financial strains.
The latter happened anyway, thanks to that six-week unemployment period in the summer. Rare Flower was supposed to launch with a lot more support than it did.
Amazon Publishing Gets Shakier in 2023
Nonetheless, it kicked off a string of publications from mid-September to early December.
I was actually supposed to publish something a bit sooner than that, though. My first publication for 2023 should have been in August. The On Pleasure Planet anthology was scheduled to launch on August 8.
But Amazon managed to “lose” the book, such that anyone who had preordered it didn’t get it on August 8th. Nor did they get it a couple weeks later.
Miraculously, Amazon did “find” the book and made it live—two months after the original publication date. Unfortunately, we had to take it down almost immediately after, to avoid TOS violations.
Three More 2023 Publications
The late launch of On the Pleasure Planet was actually kind of fortuitous for me. I had another alien romance launching just a week later, on October 17th.
After Evan and the Alpha, my next launch was Saved by the Selkie, the first in a new series. I was going to release it a little earlier in November than I did, but the cover designer I was working with ran into some personal and health issues, which meant she was away from her desk for an extended period.
It took a while, but it was well worth the wait: the cover for Saved by the Selkie is fantastic. More than that, the designer is doing well, which is more important than anything.
My final release of the year was Glacial Pace, a sequel of sorts to The Fox Returns. Fox appeared in the original Fated and Claimed anthology, which appeared in late 2021. When the organizers announced a second anthology, I knew I was in.
By the Numbers
I had five publications in four months in 2023, which is kind of a ridiculous pace. Three of those were novels, while two of them were short stories.
Rare Flower had been in the works for quite some time. It was originally supposed to come out in Fall 2022. Editor had come down with COVID, though, which severely limited her ability to work and delayed a lot of projects. Flower still needed a fair bit of work—after editing, I do at least one round of revisions and an edit, before typesetting and proofreading.
Part of Evan and the Alpha had appeared in 2022, in the Brute’s Bounty anthology. That meant Part One was pretty much ready to go. Part Two still had to make its way through editing and then through revisions, typesetting, and proofing. While it was easier because Part One was already polished, it still took time to get it ready for publication.
Saved by the Selkie was brand new: it was drafted in January and February 2023. It was one of those “angel” projects that just sails on through, however, which made it possible to get ready for November release.
The two shorts actually presented the most trouble. In both cases, I didn’t finish drafting them until relatively close to the submission date. Editor didn’t get very much time with them at all.
Still. Five publications for the year—and in four months—is nothing to thumb your nose at.
The State of Social Media
The end of 2022 brought a lot of upheaval in the social media space, when Elon Musk bought Twitter. Since that time, Twitter has undergone myriad policy changes, most of them with negative impacts for the community on the platform. As a result, many people have left the platform in successive waves.
There have been plenty of alternatives, which led to a sort of fracturing of the community. Some people joined Mastodon, a decentralized social media platform. Some migrated back to tumblr, although serious doubts about that platform remain after “NSFW-gate.” Others tried out newcomers Hive and Spoutible, although there have been serious misgivings about how either platform operates.
Facebook launched their own alternative, Threads, in mid-2023, with some initial success. Lots of people warned about overreaching data and privacy policies with that platform, however.
Finally, Bluesky Social remains a potential alternative. Created by some former Twitter engineers, Bluesky seemed like the bird app’s most likely successor. The platform remains in beta, in invite-only or wait-list format. As to be expected, there are plenty of kinks to be ironed out of the program. Bluesky hasn’t been without controversy either. Plenty of people have noted many of the same issues that existed on Twitter, such as harassment of minority groups, have migrated across platforms. That said, the current invite-only format seems to have limited bots for the moment.
Pick Your Platform Poison
Others have simply abandoned Twitter-sequence platforms, concentrating instead on Instagram, Facebook, or even TikTok. All of these platforms have their own inherent issues. The biggest challenge for indie authors like myself has been the fracturing of community. As users ditched Twitter/X, they went to disparate platforms, each with their own pros and cons. The result is that it’s harder to reach the audience that was on Twitter, as they seem to be spread across several platforms.
This means indie authors may try to be present on all platforms at once. It might also mean they simply choose a couple of platforms they like, which might meant they then disappear from the view of readers who aren’t on those particular platforms.
The long and short? Reaching your audience, finding your readers, and marketing your books got a helluva a lot harder in 2023.
As for me, I had some pretty grand plans and stepped up my social media game somewhat in 2023. I only joined one new platform, though: Bluesky. My goals in 2024 include continuing to expand platforms and my social media presence.
The Threat of AI in 2023
Social media fractures weren’t the only challenges to selling books in 2023. The market got a lot more crowded—and a lot more competitive—with the rise of AI.
This isn’t to say AI books are any good. In fact, they’re garbage, as most readers will attest. The problem is that the floodgates were opened, and Amazon, IngramSpark, and other platforms have been inundated.
Worse, the platforms were slow to respond. Backlogs at Amazon may be in part because of the sheer volume of AI crap trying to make its way into KU. In the middle of the summer, people noted the Kindle charts were dominated by AI books—all with strange titles, stranger summaries, and even stranger art.
Publishing Platforms Take Action: Too Little, Too Late?
Amazon finally took action in the fall, restricting the number of books users could publish in one day and asking authors to indicate if they’d used AI to generate any content in their books.
This might help stem the tide, but it’s not going to solve the issue, not by a long shot. The “does your book contain AI-generated content?” question might help Amazon boot AI-generated content (which can’t be copyrighted) from KU, but it depends on authors being honest—and many won’t be. Limiting people to three books per day might help lessen the queue on any given day, but AI scammers are still going to upload their books and publish them. It could also lead to people using multiple accounts to publish more AI content per day.
D2D introduced new restrictions on new accounts, leading to a more arduous registration and verification process. It’s speculated that this is likely to be a measure to limit fraudulent accounts hoping to flood the market with AI-generated content. IngramSpark also seems to be much slower to approve books, perhaps as a result of a backlogged queue or a more careful validation process.
Further Fragmentation among Indies
Most authors dismissed AI writing. There were, of course, some who embraced it. The fractious part of AI, though, has been the use of it to create covers, character art, and more.
Artists have spoken out time and again about how AI harms them, in much the same way it will harm authors. Yet many authors have embraced AI art to help promote their books. Many have even defended their use of it, rather than standing in solidarity with fellow artists.
This has caused some fragmentation in the author and reader communities. Some readers condemn and shun authors who opt to use AI art. Other readers defend their favorite authors. Even some publishers, such as Tor, have defended their use of AI.
In the late summer, the Book3 database was made publicly available to search, leading many authors to discover their work had been stolen by AI. Many authors groups, such as the Society of Authors and the Authors Guild, have condemned AI; some authors have sued; and many have written cease-and-desists to various AI models, such as OpenAI.
The fact remains that authors cannot complain about AI absorbing and recycling their work and then turn around and use AI for artwork. Yet it’s also come to light that it’s incredibly difficult to ensure we’re not using AI art: stock sites are flooded with it and not marking it or sorting it. “Deepfakes” are all around us, and it only looks like it’s going to get worse from here.
Challenges and Opportunities in 2024
This is the landscape as we enter 2024. It’s going to be even more challenging for indie authors than ever before. Yet there are also, I think, opportunities to be had. Kobo Plus opened up in the US in 2023, providing an alternative to Kindle Unlimited, which had been unchallenged in the marketplace for ages. Platforms are taking a stand against AI. Social media is fractured, but there are also more platforms than ever—which means there are places you may yet find your niche.
Underscoring all of this is that readers remain hungry for good stories well-told. More important than ever is the “humanity” factor, both in the production of those stories and the way we behave on social media. In some ways, the biggest opportunity for indie authors in 2024 is to learn simply to be human and to connect with readers, fans, and other authors in a real, human way.
At least, that’s the lesson I’m taking forward with me as we say “sayanora” to 2023 and leap forward into 2024.
See you all in January!