Most writers know someone who has done well financially by self-publishing. Maybe you have a friend who has mastered the Kindle business model and racked up thousands of sales after giving their book away free for a few days. Or you may have purchased a limited edition flashy tabletop book directly from a photojournalist. Once you’ve completed your novel, will you try to become a traditional published writer or jump into the self-published numbers? The Minnesota Book Publishers Roundtable invited a panel of experts to their meeting this week to explore how self-publishing is impacting business. Cevin Bryerman, VP and Publisher of Publishers Weekly, Tom Kerber, Chief Publishing Executive of Beaver’s Pond and Jenny Martin, librarian for Duncanville ISD, each represented parts of the books and readers continuum.
Self-publishing has become a new revenue line for many businesses within the publishing industry. While it costs nothing to publish on Amazon’s Kindle platform, most self-published writers do spend money in the process. Not everyone is comfortable using Kindle’s content loading program. Many need someone to design a cover. More should have their book copy edited. And there are places where reviews can be purchased. Finally, if the author wants printed copies, those must be purchased.
If a printed book is the goal, there are publishers like Beaver Pond Press which calls itself the first and only “mentoring press.” BPP defines themselves as a hybrid publishing model closing the gap between self-publishing and royalty publishing. BPP won’t print just anything. They take time to review a manuscript and draft a plan for making the work ready for press. Of course the writer pays for all the services—story editing, line editing, design, proof reading, cover design and such. Their products are handsome and costly. Kerber said most of their customers don’t expect to recover costs or make money. Their writers are deeply committed to having a high quality book to sell to a public as small as family or an audience as large as they can personally create. In Minnesota, Beaver Pond Press has helped a number of authors earn awards.
Promotion is a difficult challenge for every writer, but for the self-published a number of critical routes are blocked. Many publications won’t review self-published books, publicists prefer to work with publishers, large bookstores won’t stock books not available through a distributor, and public libraries usually won’t include these titles in their collection. According to Martin, most public libraries follow American Library Association protocol in building their collections which typically relies on reviews in publications such as Kirkus Review, ALA Booklist, Library Journal, the New York Times and Publishers Weekly or direct information from publishers. It makes perfect sense that librarians rely on these resources, unless you are self-published or even published by a small publisher.
Kirkus Review and Publishers Weekly have responded to the flood of self-published works by offering writers the opportunity to pay for a review in separate versions of their publications. For $150 to $425, they guarantee a professional review. These reviews are written to the same critical level used in their primary publication and could be great or awful. In the search for new talent, agents and publishing houses do read these indie versions as well as keeping an eye on Kindle self-published books with strong performance and high review scores.
The music recording world went through digital revolution and nothing has been the same. Big talent makes money, not from recording, but from appearances and tours and selling branded stuff. Indie bands produce music in someone’s spare bedroom and post their creations online. The market has split into slivers of genre to satisfy an international audience.
Hard to know where publishing will settle. While the market opens there are businesses hungry to tap into writers’ desire to publish. What is right for you centers on your definition of success. Some writers are big names in the Kindle world with no recognition outside electronic readers. Theyhave probably achieved their definition of success and smile each month when a royalty pay hits the bank. With plenty of Kindle forums and opportunities or exposure, writers can build a nice professional world in the ebook setting.
Self-published titles sell less than 100 books which says there are many reasons why writers make this decision. Maybe one hundred copies of a book about pioneer women in architecture for a select professional society fulfills one writer’s goal. Or hundreds of books stored in the basement for selling at antique conventions and from the back of the room at special events satisfies another writer.
Your definition of success influences what is appropriate to invest to transform your manuscript into a book. Not every e-book formats nicely into a printed edition which might push you toward a book designer. Covers help sell books so if that is your goal, a graphic artist’s time might be a good investment. If your breakthrough novel is 300,000 words and you hope to attract an agent or traditional publisher to bring your baby from the e-book world into bookstores, hire a story editor then a copy editor or a content consultant. You can spend a thousand dollars carefully and help position your work. You can spend thousands to have your book printed. You can invest more than the price of a new car to have boxes of beautiful hardcover books produced. There are vendors ready to provide whatever services you want to buy. If you want to market that book, do be sure to hold funds in reserve. There are folks willing to provide services to help you with that side of the business as well which is a whole different subject.
The bottom line is knowing what you want to achieve as a writer then purchasing services if that is appropriate. You could spend thousands for a cover design or a few hundred. Editing could cost you thousands or hundreds. Google Adwords is clogged with companies wanting to help self-published writers, but a stronger resource might be a local book publishers association or literary organization.
The publishing ocean is plenty big for lots of players. Just know how far you want to wade into the waters and come to the beach with the right equipment. Even a day at the beach should have some pre-planning.