Self-Publishing: Future Prerequisite

Until recently, if you were self-published virtually any agent or book editor worth her salt didn’t want to hear about it. Many of them would want nothing to do with you at all, as if your self-published status might rub their own cachet off or something. But given the tenor and content of the sessions at this year’s Writers Digest Business of Getting Published Conference, I predict it won’t be long before agents and editors will routinely respond to queries by asking what you’ve self-published, and how it’s doing. That’s right, and you heard it here first:

I predict that within 5 years, self-publishing will no longer be an option, but a prerequisite for unknown, aspiring authors hoping to land a mainstream publishing deal. It’s the logical, inevitable next step in author platform.

At the conference, the prevailing message was that authors, both aspiring and already published, need to be getting themselves and their work out there in front of the reading public at every opportunity. And guess what? If you’re blogging or making your writing available for download in ebook or podcast formats you’re already self-publishing. As for those who aren’t doing these things for fear of intellectual property theft, in numerous sessions attendees were reminded of Tim O’Reilly’s now legendary quote: that for anyone trying to build an audience, “Obscurity is a greater threat than piracy.”

Seth Harwood and Scott Sigler, both of whom broke through to mainstream success after building an audience for their podcasts, advised conference attendees that the best way to get publishers to sit up and take notice is to demonstrate your ability to build an audience and move your material on your own. Social media guru Chris Brogan said the easiest way to get a book deal is not to need one—because you’ve already established your own platform and have your own audience—, and proposed that rather than follow established roads, aspiring authors should go where there are no roads and create their own. Writers Digest Publisher and Editorial Director Jane Friedman reminded us that here in the 21st century there are no longer any rules in publishing, and reiterated the notion that for aspiring authors, platform comes before the book deal. Be The Media author David Mathison hammered away at the importance of connecting with your readership directly. Booksquare’s Kassia Krozser urged authors to push out into every available channel to enable readers to find them, and as for The Writer Mama Christina Katz, the title of her most recent book is Get Known Before The Book Deal (’nuff said!).

So, how do you intend to enable readers to find you, or build an audience, or connect with readers directly, or get known before the book deal if you’re not publishing or podcasting any of your work? You can’t just tell your site or blog visitors your writing is great, they should trust you on that, and then expect to hold their interest with what amounts to a lengthy series of hang-in-there-I-swear-when-the-book-comes-out-you’ll-love-it messages.

As we all already know, a manuscript’s content is only one piece—an increasingly small piece, unfortunately—of the decision-making puzzle when it comes to convincing a publisher to make an offer. When the editors, marketing wonks and other decision makers get together to consider which manuscripts to acquire, Risk is the name of the elephant in the room and mitigating risk is the key to a sale. When you approach an agent or editor with a quality manuscript, you may convince them you can write but you’re doing nothing to reduce their fears about the eventual book’s performance in the marketplace. If you can approach those same people with a book that’s already in the marketplace and already has a fan base, you’ve already answered the question of how the book will perform post-publication. You’ve reduced their antacid intake by half and given them some very good reasons to invest in you and your book.

Don’t let anyone tell you self-publishing is a desperation move. It’s a power move.

April L. Hamilton is an author, and the founder and Editor in Chief of Publetariat. This is a cross-posting from her Indie Author Blog.

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