Profiles in Publishing is a continuing investigation into the brave new world of publishing at JS Media Blog by Judy Sandra. PIP will be a series of articles and interviews about methods and movers, reporting on who is exploring, who is inhabiting and who is succeeding in the new publishing landscape.
We live in a whole new publishing world. I released my independently published book The Metal Girl (JSM Books) last month. Naturally, I sent an announcement to a personal mailing list. The first sale that I know about is a new acquaintance who excitedly emailed me, “I just bought your book on Kindle!”
Sale #1 = Kindle. I was more stunned that the first sale was on a Kindle, than I was that there was a sale. What to think.
This post began as an email to a writer/publishing industry colleague about an article we both read concerning the current state of the publishing industry and included several observations about self-publishing. From the writer’s point of view, the argument rested on, what seemed to me, the not so accurate conclusion that the ultimate “prize” of self-publishing is to land a book contract by a traditional publishing house. Really?
To be fair, this may be the goal for some. But it’s not mine. Why on earth would I want to sign such a bad contract, based on every outdated business model there is and extremely exploitive and non-remunerative to the owner/holder of the intellectual property? The author.
One wonders how many of those who say they want a book contract have actually read one. I have. I spent 23 years living in New York City, working in and around the publishing/media/arts business and have a number of writer and traditionally published author friends.
Let’s leave celebrities and huge commercial blockbusters out of the mix. Publishers didn’t market or promote the average author much in the past and now they do less than ever. Secondly, I’m a literary author, and major publishers abandoned us go a long time ago.
I published my book myself. I am now going to use my own language, because I find the phrase “self-published” cumbersome at best and mis-directed. I am going to call it “independent publishing”, or, if you like, “indie publishing”. As I’m also an indie musician and have been working with independent filmmakers, this feels about right. I’m an indie.
I created JSM Books as an imprint, so I am the “publisher” and am using Outskirts Press as my printer/distributor. They are a hybrid company and act like a real sales/distribution company. I have an ISBN number and barcode, I’m listed in Books in Print, books are available to the trade through Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and I’m POD on Amazon.com worldwide and Barnes & Noble.com. Through Outskirts I have the option to be represented in Frankfurt and other book fairs, if I want.
My great advantage, of course, is that I’m also a professional
brand strategist/marketer/promoter and had a client last year, who was the author of a non-fiction book about filmmaking. So I am probably one of the best people to promote my book that I know. I have the savvy of both old school and new media promotion.
About that experience, let me count the ways that my client’s major traditional publisher did not spend any money on marketing. The author had a huge platform to stand on, an enormous mailing list, was well known within her field, yet they would not give us any money to launch the book. Nada. And we asked. Not a penny, not a cupcake. They sent one large poster stuck to poster board. I set up the book signing/launch, begged the indie book store manager to order 50 books instead of the 25 she wanted to order, and we had an almost sellout event–sold 40 books in three hours.
I won’t say anything untoward about the in-house publicist who was assigned to the book, because I think she did a very good job, was great with the client and helpful and generous to me, but she had ten other books to promote and, again, no marketing budget. I got most of the high profile press for the client, and wrote all of her promotional materials. She paid for this out of her own pocket. Because of her established reputation, the good press (it’s an excellent book) and her speaking opportunities, which she created for herself, the book is now a bestseller in the film category on Amazon.com.
Fresh out of this experience, I had a miraculous encounter with my second novel. You can read the whole account here, but the short version is that the original manuscript was discovered by a wonderful reader, who loved the book and found me on Facebook, which encouraged me to publish it myself. At this point, there are so many reasons why I don’t want a contract that it’s hard to categorize them but let me start with eight big reasons, that have to do with bookstores, readers and buying habits.
1. Bookstores don’t matter.
I hear the chorus of people defending indie bookstores now, and I love them too, but this is not where the bulk of book buying happens. It’s just a fact. People are going to bookstores less and less and buying online more and more. I don’t know why this news item got little play in the U.S. but fact is, Borders went out of business in the UK. Read The Guardian story here:
2. Critics don’t matter. Bloggers and readers do.
Step away from the Manhattan island. Outside of that little crowd of
incestuous literary criticism (come on, you know what I’m talking about), these days people care less and less about critics. In fact, many newspapers and publications have let go of their book review sections and book reviewers. Indeed, there was a comment on a Galleycat post the other day by a Goodreads reader that said, “I don’t read reviews. I only buy and read what my friends post on Goodreads”. Huh. So, I joined Goodreads and wrote to another reader/reviewer. This woman, a librarian in Illinois, is now reading and reviewing my book.
I have connected with a professional, more mainstream and new media kind of person who has also agreed to review my book. I was surfing the blogs and discovered her. I now follow her on Twitter. Bloggers do matter, a lot these days. Like the Goodreads member, readers seem more interested in not just professional bloggers but average book reading bloggers, their peers and such.
The Internet has democratized culture, for better or worse, and sometimes I think for much better. Certainly there are more voices with a global reach. Most people gather their information online, and to them–a website, is a website is a website.
3. U.S. book publishers are local, and I’m connected to the world.
Ever hear of social networking, say, Facebook? My Facebook page, just from my professional acquaintances, is rather international, from South Africa to Ramallah to Brazil. My novel’s Facebook Fan Page, for some odd reason, has been attracting young people from the Middle East and Eastern Europe. We live in a global culture now, not just an “American” culture. It was very fun to tell my UK Facebookers that the book is available on Amazon.co.uk.
4. Stop cutting down the trees.
POD, electronic formats and selective wholesaling of books is more ecological. The paper industry is a huge polluter. Does anyone NEED a hardback book?
5. Yes, they are reading on their mobiles and e-readers.
In spite of all the controversy, I’ve noticed that people who actually have a Kindle tend to like them. Nook is finally here, and the iPad will be bought. I have to tell you, my next door neighbor (a 40-year-old TV producer) is addicted to his iPhone and loves his Stanza, which lets him download books for free. He was annoyed when I said he would have to buy the e-version of my book. The Stanza has a very handy function of allowing you to enlarge the font size for easier reading. He gave me a demonstration, he went on for ten minutes.
6. The new companies, services and inventions are coming.
Do media people have amnesia? Do they think this or that device is the last one. There will be new companies, new inventions, new ways to do things. That’s life. Twitter didn’t exist 2 years ago, now it does, now I find it useful. The company I used for my book, Outskirts Press, is one of the fastest growing companies in the U.S. They are a huge success, and that means more companies like them will pop up and/or others will evolve from them. There is an army of editorial freelancers–editors, copywriters, graphic designers. Popping up everywhere are new media book promoters, marketers, tools and so on. One of the reasons I’m writing this series is to discover what’s next. Life is change. This is a good thing.
7. The terms “vanity publishing” and “self-publishing” are so last century.
See above, even the term “self-publishing” is awkward and meaningless. Give it up already. Call it indie publishing and leave it at that. No one cares who published the book these days. When I tell people recently that “my book is out”. Their eyes light up; they’re so excited for me. “Great!” They say. “Well, I published it myself,” I say honestly enough. “Great, that’s even better!” No questions asked. They don’t care. “What’s it about?” is the only question. Is it good? Do I want to read it? There’s fan page on Facebook…
8. Indie publishing is now a choice, not to be dismissed with snarky condescension.
I’m an indie musician, and no one snarks about that. I am connected to
Mediabistro in Los Angeles, and lately have been talking to writers about
their book projects. A lot of them are just going for the indie publishing
route. They’re professionals, they have a platform, and they don’t have to
wait for anyone to get their book out. Why should they?
OK, that’s a start. There is more to this, but it begins to cross over
into the whole communications climate at this point. My main argument is that we communicate differently, we consume differently, and we have a different and more active relationship to culture. We live in a global culture and multi-platform artistic/cultural universe. The idea of a “book industry” is, in itself, rather dated.
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