Indie Pub Eras

Wild West

The world of indie publishing is a dynamic market that has undergone dramatic change in a remarkably short time. To better understand this rapidly evolving industry, it behooves us to take a look back at the stages of indie pub's development.


Before Amazon's introduction of the Kindle eReader, traditional publishing was the only viable option in the modern book industry. Back then--only a decade ago--self-publishing meant paying out of pocket to have copies of your book printed up. Usually the author's friends and family members would purchase a few copies out of pity. The rest of the print run would languish in cardboard boxes in the garage.

The Gold Rush

Everything changed with the release of the Kindle in 2007. The first model of Amazon's proprietary eReader sold out almost immediately. Kindle owners were so desperate to fill up their shiny new devices with eBooks, they would buy raw, unedited Word docs, no questions asked. This was the ground floor of KDP, and many authors who got in early made a killing with minimal effort.

The Wild West

The easy money of the Gold Rush days became more elusive over the next few years as the Kindle's novelty wore off and readers got more discerning about their eBook purchases. A large influx of authors led to fierce competition and exacerbated the perennial problem of discoverability.

Savvy authors of KDP's Wild West era developed a strategy of digital bookshelf building to get their brands noticed. This approach involved producing well-written and professionally edited eBooks with eye-catching covers. Greater attention was paid to marketing techniques long used in tradpub such as tantalizing back cover blurbs and product descriptions. Successful authors experimented with pricing to find each book's sweet spot.

What defined the Wild West era of KDP was the widespread belief that success relied on luck. Having a quality book with a good cover was viewed as necessary groundwork for big sales, but actually having a hit title was regarded as a black swan event. All of the top sellers held that pure chance had the final say in which books killed and which bombed. No one really understood how Amazon's algorithm worked, so authors were encouraged to release as many books as possible since each new title was seen as a lottery ticket--another chance to spin the wheel of fate.

Then, within the last six months, everything changed.

The Mature Market

The dawn of a new indie publishing era can be traced to the launch of a single book: Legionnaire (Galaxy's Edge Book 1) by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole. It was Jason and Nick who finally discovered what countless KDP authors had missed since the Kindle's release. They figured out how to beat Amazon's sales algorithm.

According to Nick and Jason there is no luck involved. Successfully selling on KDP is not an unpredictable black swan event. Gold Rush authors ignored the algorithm. Wild West authors tried to fight it. Nick and Jason have learned to beat Amazon's algorithm by teaching it to work for them. And Galaxy's Edge proves their model works. Every book in the series has hit #1 in its category upon release.

The Galaxy's Edge formula is still largely a trade secret, but the authors have revealed that it involves carefully choosing the right genre categories, having the right number of reviews posted to a book's Amazon page at launch, cross-marketing with the right authors, and getting the right sales instead of blindly grasping for the most sales.

Following these and other steps trains Amazon's algorithm to recommend your book to the customers who are most likely to buy it. This method sounds too simple to be real, but many breakthroughs are. Amazon themselves seem to concur since they rewarded Nick and Jason's success by making Galaxy's Edge the Kindle Daily Deal for Cyber Monday.

With the development of this method, indie publishing--which is synonymous with KDP for all intents and purposes--has reached maturity. Contra the Big Five New York publishers, self-publishing is not a fad or a fluke. It is a fully developed industry with its own rules that are now coming to be clearly understood.

Not only is indie not going anywhere, its rise to dominance in the Wild West days will only consolidated now that the market has matured.

The 'Big Five' publishers don't have the nerve for this type of book anymore.


  1. Also in the strategy that Nick Cole advances: Releasing a new book, in a series every 1-3 months. So another argument for Pulp Speed

    1. Excellent point. Releasing new content regularly and as frequently as you can manage is essential.

  2. Don't forget the advent of Sci-Fi Bridge at the same time as Galaxy's Edge. From a reader's PoV, that mega-mailing list has made it easier to keep track with authors. I've yet to be disappointment by a new author suggested by their list.

    1. That's honestly the first I've heard of it. Thanks for the tip!

  3. Your description of the Pre-Kindle era would better fit that of before the internet. Authors have been writing and publishing books online since the internet first began. Some put their books up for free with an option to donate, and others sold them through Paypal. Larry Correia originally self published Monster Hunter International, and he says that it sold quite well at the time.

    Kindle did make things a whole lot easier, but we must be careful not to memory hole what came before. Keep in mind that Amazon had been trying to sell ebook readers since the late 90s. The ebook market existed even back then, even if it wasn't as large.

    1. While everything you say here is true, in fairness to Brian the raw scale of Kindle's early success turned it into a difference of kind, not just of degree.

    2. Yes, that's fair. I don't wish to downplay how much of an impact the Kindle had on the market.

    3. No worries. I intentionally glossed over the early years to focus on the Kindle era.

      Dan is right that there were some pre-KDP indie successes. One of the main reasons Joe Konrath got big was because he gave away pdfs of Origin through his web site.

      Russell and I are on the same wavelength, here. Even Larry's early success selling MHI to members of his gun forum pales in comparison to even the earliest KDP best sellers like Amanda Hocking and Hugh Howey--or Larry's sales through Baen.

  4. Just going to be a jerk and remind people that the big publishers have really been around for only about a hundred years. And even in the early 20th C, more books were published by small companies and authors than large companies. It was the creation of large printing machinery that partly enabled the big corporate publisher, as it was out of the range of the small printer.

    But, as a measure of the last 2-3 decades, this is a rather solid summary.

    1. Right. That's why I specified "the _modern_ book industry" ;)

      Poe was self-published. Many 19th century bookstores had their own presses and did a brisk trade in POD. All that's old is new again.

    2. And that's how the bookstores particularlt the independents will survive. I'm utterly surprised that none of them have clued in on this tidbit. it's as if they've completely forgotten their original social role: providing the community with cultural production as well as selling books.
      If Amazon, Kobo and the other epublishers were truly diabolical, they'd team up with bookstore and make it even eaiser for people to publish, buy,share and download ebooks.
      We really don't need the big 5 per se and their exploitative corporate culture

  5. Hi all:

    Here's an interesting bit of news by Amazon

    So Amazon is creating an imprint that'll revive short fiction and nonfiction. Hmmmm and where are the Big 5 on this trend?