Friday, June 27, 2014

more thoughts on independent publishing platforms for books

Several earlier posts discussed independent self-publishing platforms (ISP) for both e-books and printed books.  My experience with Amazon in producing a Kindle edition and a print edition of a YA novel (the print edition with CreateSpace, an Amazon-owned company) was a very satisfying experience, and did not cost me anything.  Special support services (formatting, editing, cover design)were available for a fee, but are not necessary for most authors with average skills.

However, after creating and making the book available through an ISP company, the role of marketing the book seems to be left more or less to the author.  A wide gamut of on-line vendors, like Amazon Books, Google Books, Barnes & Noble, and others, can be selected to list the book and collect an agreed royalty amount on any sales; however, there may be very little effort by those vendors to find and direct readers to the book.  This had been one of the valuable services provided by traditional publishing companies.  Besides being gatekeepers of which books can be published, the traditional companies would generally send out copies of the finished book to their lists of nationwide book reviewers and media columnists to help generate an awareness and demand for the book.  They might also arrange book tours (one has to smile to think of them trying to get J. D. Salinger to do a book tour).  To some extent, the ISP author can do some of this work by searching  for independent or organizational reviewers on the Internet, and providing them with the necessary digital or print copies of the book.  Some reviews might be provided free, and others by prestigious organizations can cost up to a couple of hundred dollars.  The author has better prospects to enlist a reviewer if the book is newly published or has been published within the last two or three months.  Consequently, one can see from all this that it would be most effective if the ISP author had some sort of plan, and/or arrangements made, before he ever clicks on the 'publish' button with the ISP.

Some of the positives and drawbacks of the ISP option for an author are illustrated in an interview with author John Edgar Wideman, reported by Sejal Shah in The Writer's Chronicle of May/Summer 2014.  Wideman has a son, Danny, who worked for an ISP, named Lulu, and decided to publish a book titled Briefs with them.
Briefs was an experiment.  It got all the reviews you could want, under the circumstances.  And also because Danny worked there I got a lot of services that if you self-published in Lulu, you'd have to pay for.  For example, the expensive business of sending books to reviewers.  My self-published electronic book was treated a bit like the old way that my hard copy books had been.  A publicity service sent books to the media and tried to get me interviews.  A publicity person promoted and followed the book's progress.  Books were made available in conventional hard copy format, so that was cheating in a way.  The results don't tell a lot about self-publishing or electronic publishing per se.  My conclusion after the whole thing was that even with the extras I got, a self-publishing venture was premature.  It still is premature, for a person of my status, used to having a certain kind of attention.  You're taking a real leap of faith and financially, you're giving up, in my case, what might be a substantial advance. 
Not being on bookstore shelves killed Briefs.  Someone browsing in that nice bookstore ...is not going to see Briefs.  A bookstore has to pay for copies of Briefs, and then they own the copies, can't return them.  The other thing is the Times refused to review Briefs, because it was self-published ...They did run a story about the manner in which Briefs was published, but it was not a review.  Almost all the articles about the book were not reviews; they were general interest pieces about the publishing industry.  That meant no reviews of the book, and at the same time no one was going to trip over the book in a bookstore.  So why would anyone buy it?  Where would they find it?  As far as merchandising strategy, Briefs fell into very predictable cracks.  I was disappointed, but I'd do it again.  I liked the adventure; I liked working with Danny; and I learned a hell of a lot.
 As might be concluded from the foregoing discussions and interview excerpt, ISP is a works in progress.  There are pluses and minuses in it for most authors, but the business model of the traditional publisher has contemporary issues that need to be addressed, also.  One thinks of the music recording industry, which had a business model that served them handsomely for many years and did well for a relatively small number of artists, too.  However, the internet opened up possibilities for many more artists that had been shut out by the traditional gatekeepers' system,  and brought with it upheavals to the business model that are still ongoing.  Now, the book publishing model's turn may have come.
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