As a self-published monkey, I’ve been following the recent tossings and turnings of the industry with great interest. Back when I launched my book in 2010 (which is something like the Neolithic period with regard to self-publishing) things were pretty cut and dried. If you had a good manuscript, a publisher bought it and turned it into a book. Publishing something yourself seemed to indicate that your book wasn’t ‘good enough’ and that you were taking the easy way out.
Things have changed. Publishers, scrambling to make sense of a new landscape, seem hesitant to take risks on new books. Self-publishing has lost its stigma, thanks to some great authors putting out some more-than-good-enough books. (Self-published titles accounted for more of the year's best-selling eBooks than either Hyperion's or Harper Collins, and for the first time ever, a New York Times book critic put a self-published title on her best-of-2012 list.) And while the do-it-yourself route still has significant road blocks, there are technologies and services rushing to knock them down. Consider some of these new products and developments, and how they may affect self-publishing (click to Tweet!)…and by extent, the entire publishing industry.
Software: One of biggest hurdles to successful self-publishing has been marketing – how do you get your book in front of buyers. Booklamp, which calls itself the Pandora of books, and Booksai, a program that uses Artificial Intelligence to recommend books similar to ones a reader likes, could open up that playing field. Booklamp’s engine isn't influenced by advertising budgets or popularity biases. Likewise, Booksai analyzes only a book's content, ignoring sales rank and purchase history. These recommendation engines provide great opportunities for self-published projects, which often don’t have the sales numbers to get recommended on Amazon or other large bookseller websites.
Self-Publishing Forums: Now that self-publishing has been around a few years, the trials and errors made by early authors can be avoided…provided you know about them. That’s the beauty of self-publishing forums. You’ll find everything from pros and cons on the various self-publishing platforms to information on how to format your manuscript to recommendations for professional editors. Self-publishing is a lonely road and these forums can help independent author/publishers feel less alone. For a list of recommended forums, see this great post at The Book Designer.
Big Six (er, Five) Self-Publishing Arms: Even the traditional publishers are starting to get in on the action. Simon & Shuster’s Archway and Author Solutions (owned by Penguin…House) offer varying levels of publishing packages to suit each individual author’s needs. I haven’t studied these in too much depth, but from my narrow perspective, they seem to take the “self” out of self-publishing and replace it with authors paying big bucks to a company to publish their work. Um...I think there used to be a term for that....varity press? vanishy? vanipy?
Mergers: With the Random House/Penguin merger a done deal and rumors of a Harper Collins/S&S mashup flying around, the traditional publishing jungle is starting to look a lot different…and a lot smaller. How self-publishing fits into that jungle remains to be seen, but it certainly does seem like there’s a lot more room on the battlefield.
So this is all great news for self-publishers.
…before you go bananas and publish every last word you’ve ever written, keep in mind that publishing your own book is a tremendous responsibility and, even with these new developments, a LOT of work! I tapped two of our fairy God-Mentors, EmmaDryden and Harold Underdown, to give us their thoughts on self-publishing and what it takes to do it well. Read these brilliant words of wisdom with care before heading down that do-it-yourself path.EMMA DRYDEN:
One issue I see happening is that because the technical aspects of self publishing are SO easy— in other words, it's easier than ever to get something up on the web for all to see—too many authors are doing so without thought and without following what to my mind are necessary best practices in the way of editing, design, and marketing, at the very least. To self publish well, one must think and act like a publisher, but most authors don't have any idea what that means, and it takes time and practice to find out. My concern is that someone's name is on a book- and that should mean the same thing as someone's reputation being attached to that book, so if a book is sloppy, unprofessional, and poorly executed, this will reflect on that author. So I feel it's essential for someone who is self-publishing to take care with the process, not rush, and be clear as to what the goals are by self-publishing. To self-publish something meant to be shared by friends and family is one thing; to self-publish with the expectation of being reviewed and to sell books, that's something entirely different. An author needs to think this through clearly and professionally, in my opinion.
A pitfall: I see a lot of writers (not folks who just want to get a book out—writers who see themselves as building a career as writers) who choose self-publishing as a shortcut. They see how much work it is to find an agent, then find a publisher, and they see that there are no guarantees that they will get published that way. Even if they find a publisher, they may then work with the publisher for years. So self-publishing looks like less work. You can get published faster and more dependably. The problem is that to self-publish successfully, as Emma notes, you have to do the things that publishers do. And those things are a lot of work. The experience of Amanda Hocking is a case in point—she self-published very successfully but, as she said at the time, this required so much work that she signed with St. Martin's so she could concentrate on writing. And there are no guarantees, even with all that work, that someone will succeed in self-publishing. A brief summary of what's involved in publishing is in this article: http://www.underdown.org/publisher-expertise.htm
Emma and Harold raise very important issues. The website Harold lists gives a rundown of all the jobs you'll be taking on as a self-publisher. It's clear that, to do a good job publishing your own book, you need either lots of skills and/or a lot of money to pay people to do the jobs you can't. And keep in mind Emma's point about your book being 'out there.' It won't go away if, three years down the road, you realize it's not that good. Trust me--that happens.
The bottom line...self-publishing may be easier than ever, but doing it right will never be easy.
Here's a big bunch of bananas for our guests, the amazing Emma and most excellent Harold! You guys are welcome in the Turbo Monkey Tree anytime!
Emma D Dryden is the founder of the children’s book editorial and publishing consulting firm, drydenbks, through which she provides editorial and consultancy support to authors, illustrators, agents, foreign and domestic publishers, and eBook and app publishers. An editor and publishing for over twenty-five years, Emma has edited hundreds of books for children and young readers, and has worked at Viking, Random House, and as VP, Publisher of Atheneum and Margaret K. McElderry Books, imprints of Simon& Schuster. She is on the SCBWI Board of Advisors and she totally rocked as a mentor for the Nevada SCBWI Mentorship program, where she inspired Turbo Monkeys Kristen and Marilyn.
Harold Underdown is best known for his wonderful children’s writing, illustrating and publishing website, The PurpleCrayon, and for his indispensible book, The Complete Idiot's Guide toPublishing Children's Books, now in its third edition. He provides editorial and publishing consulting services through PC Editorial Services and does workshops and retreats via Kids Book Revisions. Previously, he served as Vice President and Editorial Director at ipicturebooks and prior to that, was editorial director of the Charlesbridge trade program. He has also worked at Orchard Books and Macmillan. Turbo Monkey Sarah was the lucky monkey who benefitted from Harold’s awesome advice and mad editing skills during the 2010-2011 Nevada Mentorship Program.