One bout of backyard Shakespeare and the beginning of a new job later, I finally return–and this time I’m going to prepare the rest of the paper now and just stagger the releases of the rest, so I won’t have a chance to forget again.
Chapter 2: Literature Review
Faced with the prospect of publishing a book, an author must choose whether to seek out a traditional press, or to self-publish. Self-publishing started small, with a reputation of low quality, but now as author and entrepreneur Guy Kawasaki said in a Forbes interview:
The self-publishing world has eradicated the filters and barriers that the traditional publishing world represented (where editors – typically male — made the judgments about content and worthiness). In the old days, the imprint of the publisher was a proxy for quality – if you were accepted by the publisher, you passed the test. Now the proxy for quality is how your book fares in terms of reviews and ratings on Amazon, and sales. Customers vote on the book’s quality or on their need to expose themselves to your material by clicking to purchase, or not clicking.
An author entering this user-oriented market should do so with an understanding of the options presented, and be willing to research and market as well as write. The focus is now on the product, and thus it must be quality work no matter how it was published. This work would also protect them from scams, which have inevitably crept into this often-confusing situation. Ultimately, whatever decision an author makes, it should be an informed one, so that he or she can write a book to be proud of.
The History of Self-Publishing
The self-publishing industry became worthy of notice in the writing world only recently, and its rise was rapid, in no small part thanks to the development of eBooks. In 2012, Bowker reported that “the number of self-published books produced annually in the U.S. has nearly tripled, growing 287 percent since 2006, and now tallies more than 235,000 print and ‘e’ titles” (Bowker 2012). In the next year, there was another increase of 59% (Bowker 2013). Self-published books were not only sold, but became bestsellers, even though the increase in books meant an increase in competition. Publishing houses began to see the potential of this new market. It was far safer to offer a contract (and advance) to an author with an established fanbase and marketing ability, than to risk their assets on brand-new writers. However the self-publishing industry retained some issues. Amazon’s increase in power has recently led it to use leverage on other publishers like Macmillan (Stone), Hachette Book Group and Bonner Media Group (Yu) to win disputes, and a number of bookstores like Barnes & Nobles will not sell the books of their competitor. Overall the profitability, quality and respectability of self-published works has risen, affecting the entire market.
Process and Factors of Self-Publishing
There are any number of guides on the internet for the eager self-publisher-to-be. The first step is, just like in traditional publishing, to write a quality book and have it professionally edited. However, because the author is also the publisher and marketer, those jobs come into play much more quickly. As Kimberly Grabas of Your Writing Platform says,
The best time to design and implement your marketing plan of action is before you even start writing your book. It takes time to build relationships, learn your readers’ wants and needs and develop a base of rabid fans that clamor for more.
Grow your readership as you write your book, and when it’s time to launch your baby, you’ll already have an invested and eager audience waiting. (Grabas)
Once the book has been formatted and prepared, it can be published and sold right away. Even the length of time it takes to publish a book can vary, purely depending on the wishes of the author or the frequently brief requirements of the publishing platform.
Self-publishing is not a way to escape benchmarks for good writing, though it can be abused in this way. It is not easy. As author Dave Bricker points out, “this path offers control over both creative aspects of the work and business strategy. Authors who wish to produce literary art that’s unfettered by the demands of popular genres, and authors who have ready access to niche audiences may find opportunities in smaller-scale publishing that large publishers won’t” (Bricker). Overall, self-publishing’s primary advantages are speed and flexibility, putting the production of the book in the hands of the author, for better or for worse.
Process and Factors of Traditional Publishing
Traditional publishing’s methods are not entirely dissimilar. An author must still build a platform, the sooner the better, along with writing a quality book. However, instead of paying a company to publish a book, the author sends a manuscript to a publishing house, sometimes with an agent to smooth the way. If the publisher thinks it is worth the cost, the author receives a cash advance, and agrees to a contract, giving up part of the royalties and rights. At this point, the publisher’s team of designers, artists, blurb writers, distributors and marketers take on the project. They are ideally experts in their fields, as the writer is expected to be one in his or her own, and use this knowledge to create the best book they can. As traditionally published author Nathan Bransford explains on his blog, “The book really truly benefits from the input of your publisher. You trust that they know what they’re doing. [. . .] those rules about publishers having ultimate say exist for the reason. They’re fronting the investment to produce the book, and it prevents books from being held up by arguments and disagreements. But you do give up some control with traditional publishing” (Bransford). The process of assembling a book and selling it takes anywhere between nine months to two years. Ultimately, the goal is to produce a book that shines in every way, and sells well because of it.
A traditional publisher will pay the author, rather than the author paying a company, to publish a book. The advance must eventually be paid off, ideally from the percentage of royalties the author receives from the book’s sales. According to a 2013 study conducted by Prof. Dana Beth Weinberg, “These aggregated category [of authors making $100,000 or more] represents 1.8% of self-published authors, 8.8% of traditionally published authors, and 13.2% of hybrid authors” (Weinberg), so in terms of profit, traditional publishing still seems to be a better route than undiluted self-publishing. Of course, simply getting a publisher to accept a book can be an arduous process. Plentiful are stories of future bestsellers and classics that were rejected dozens of times—Harry Potter is a recent example. The process of querying, rejection, revision and querying again can help a book improve, but it can also be very discouraging, and a desperate author is more likely to fall prey to a publishing scam.
A subcategory of traditional publishing is the small press. It retains the team aspect and form larger presses use, but is typically more personal and sometimes uneven, as most new, small businesses are. As author and poet CSE Cooney describes:
Small presses [. . .] are great fun, but usually only run by one or two people, who have pretty full lives of their own. Publishing books in a small press is not their only, or even their major, source of income. Communication can get hairy, especially in this age of social platforms, when one expects immediate responses. Deadlines aren’t always met on time, or ever. Promises get broken. On the other hand, other small presses perform quickly, are enthusiastic and helpful, and one’s relationship with them grows into a kind of long-distance friendship, which is really cool (Cooney).
Subsidy and Vanity Presses
Vanity publishers are the most infamous exploiters of would-be authors. In the past, self-publishing was conflated with this route, since both have to be paid for by the author, rather than vice versa. As self-publishing has become a more common option, exploitative prices and deceptive practices are easier to spot. With the lines blurring between the two main options, these presses pose as something in-between, perhaps an independent publisher or a subsidy service, charging exorbitant prices for books they have no interest in selling. As author and investigative journalist Patricia Nell Warren warns a young author, “If you follow the money, you can always identify a vanity press. How? It contracts with you to own your book rights, yet it requires you the author to pay all the costs of publication. Yet it does as little as possible for your book, so you will seldom, if ever, see a return on your investment” (Warren). Unfortunately, this is not the only shape abusive presses can take. Some of the more famous publishers, upon entering the POD industry, have chosen to exploit the market rather than provide the services they promise. Author Solutions, purchased by Penguin, is facing a lawsuit for its abusive practices (Strauss), and it is the umbrella company for other “Big Five” connections, like Xlibris, WestBow Press or Balboa Press. The publishing world can be a dangerous place for the ignorant.
In conclusion, there are no right or wrong answers when it comes to choosing a method of publishing, so long as it is not a scam. One method may result in more money, or more recognition, but as science fiction novelist Glenda Larke said, “Success is not measured in money or awards or other people’s admiration or envy. It is measured by how happy you are. The most successful people are those who love what they do” (Larke). A book to be proud of is a great thing, and each author must decide for him- or herself what will shape that book. But in order to make that decision, authors must be active, aware and diligent in understanding how the industry operates, and may change in coming years.
Bransford, Nathan. “Traditional Publishing, Self-Publishing, and Control.” NathanBrandsford.com. n. pag. 16 May 2011. Web. 30 May 2014.
Bricker, Dave. “Self-Publishing & Vanity Publishing: Confuse Them and Pay the Price.” TheWorld’sGreatestBook.com. Essential Absurdities Press. n. pag. 4 February 2013. Web. 31 May 2014.
Caprino, Kathy. “Considering Self-Publishing? Don’t Bother, Unless You Follow Guy Kawasaki’s Advice.” Forbes.com. n. pag. 21 January 2013. Web. 27 May 2014.
Cooney, CSE. Email Interview. 22 July 2014.
Grabas, Kimberley. “71 Ways to Promote and Market Your Book.” YourWriterPlatform.com. n. pag. 1 Aug. 2013. Web. 29 May 2014.
Larke, Glenda. “What makes a successful writer?” S F Novelists. n. pag. 31 August 2009. Web. 29 May 2014.
“Self-Publishing Movement Continues Strong Growth in U.S., Says Bowker.” Bowker. ProQuest. n. pag. 9 October 2013. Web. 30 May 2014.
“Self-Publishing Sees Triple-Digit Growth in Just Five Years, Says Bowker®.” Bowker. ProQuest. n. pag. 24 October, 2012. Web. 30 May 2014.
Strauss, Victoria. “Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against Author Solutions Inc.” Writers Beware. Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. n. pag. 2 May 2013. Web. 30 May 2014.
Warren, Patricia Nell. “Secrets of Vanity Presses.” Wildcat International. n. pag. August 2007. Web. 30 May 2014.
Weinberg, Dana Beth. “Self-Publishing Debate: A Social Scientist Separates Fact from Fiction.” DigitalBookWorld.com. n. pag. 4 December 2013. Web. 30 May 2014.