Self-Publishing & Merchandising : Book Cover and Jacket Design

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So here’s the thing: you’ve written a book.  Now you have to sell it.  But you’re going to self-publish, and you’re just self-conscious enough to do a little field research, so you drop on by your local indie bookstore, and you start thumbing through covers to see what you like and what you don’t like … and you start noticing a pattern.  The self-published books on the shelf are, for one thing, pretty thin on the ground, and they’re also often less … attractive.  What’s going on here?  And how can you prevent your own book cover and jacket from fading into the background?  Here are five tips to designing a standout, quality book cover or jacket.

[ Right now, I’m just going to deal with the outside of your book––and I’ll save the design components of the inside for next week. ]

1. Design with an awareness of genre.

Some of your greatest assets––and, potentially, stumbling blocks––as a book designer are the legacies of bygone books and the expectations of current readers.  Designing a book specifically to fit in may not be the wisest move––it may remain undiscovered by blending in too well––but there are enormous benefits to paying attention to the visual brand of your book’s genre.  Just think about it!  We know in a flash––in less than a tenth of a second––and with great accuracy whether A, B, and C are all of a set in those popular web-based IQ tests.  We will absolutely know if a book “fits” with its shelf-mates in the bookstore, because we can pause and linger and physically pick up the books involved.

Bold and blocky typefaced titles that occupy almost the whole of a book cover scream crime fiction; slim and minimal sans-serif fonts speak of literary nonfiction; distressing alludes to zombies and post apocalyptic literature; and a hand-lettered style hints at popular romance or young adult novels.  (John Green, I’m looking at you.)  There are, of course, a great many exceptions across all genres, but the clues are there: aside from title fonts and their size and placement, every genre has a long legacy of embedded symbols, imagery, and dynamic organization.  Silhouettes, guns, and blood splashes are easy to place in the crime genre, but do you notice the color balance in a Nora Roberts book cover?  How about the placement of carefully curated quotes on a nonfiction book, above or below the title?  Or the fact that nature guides will often crowd out the author’s name altogether in favor of a full-page still shot of a bluejay, or a slice of Sydney Harbour?  Before you settle, browse the aisles––and the Kindle store.  If you’re going to depart from your genre’s expectations, then do so knowingly, with every keystroke.  You may be setting your book up to stand out, but you may also be removing it from the visual radar of every reader who’s looking for a book in your genre.

2. Design with an awareness of spatial dimensions.

No, I don’t mean the astral plane, or the multiverse.  I mean you should examine the balance between text and image, busy and clean, light and dark.  Often a book cover will look radically different at different dimensions––say, as a physical book and as a thumbnail on the Kindle store––and seemingly small design choices can make your book look either extraordinary or extraordinarily terrible when the size of the image changes.  Keeping your book cover design free of unnecessary clutter––shapes and colors and forms that you don’t need to convey important information––is essential.  I can guarantee you that the titles leaping out at you as you’re scrolling through Amazon are the ones keeping their design simple enough––and uncluttered enough––that they appear beautiful, even as a tiny, 60 x 90 pixel thumbnail.  Again, browsing what’s out there is your best guide to designing a great book cover yourself.

3. Design with an awareness of industry requirements.

By this I mean, particularly, to watch your back cover.  You need to display your book’s EAN barcode somewhere on the cover, preferably without squashing or crowding the design.  You’ll need to include an author photo and biographical snippet (“John Doe works as a marine biologist at Eckard College.  He lives in Tampa with thirty mollusks and one delightful parakeet”).  You should also include the book’s genre or category, a readable price, and contact information.  The category may prove problematic, if your book is indeed cross-genre, but keep in mind this isn’t about smashing your book into a preconceived category, but about making your book findable for your readers.  If you’ve ever heard of a keyword search, your book’s category performs many of the same functions.

4. Keep it legal.

“Don’t steal other people’s artwork” sounds a bit strong, but this is essentially what you’re doing if you utilize an image on your book cover or jacket that you don’t have permissions for.  As you design your book, you absolutely must ensure you use only your own images, images you obtain by payment or permission, or images under the Creative Commons license.  Creative Commons can become complicated to work out after the fact, if you just pluck something off of a Google image search, but there are many fine websites out there that are dedicated to providing nothing but Creative Commons photographs.  Take a look at Stock.xchang (now FreeImages.com), Wikimedia Commons, Free Pixels, Fotolia, Image Base, Abstract Influence, and Flickr’s Creative Commons page (easy to find by clicking “Learn More” on their website).  Basically, there’s no excuse for taking someone else’s image if it’s not on a Creative Commons license … there are so many legitimate options to choose from!  (And if you really want, well, that image, then you should go to the necessary lengths to ensure you have the artist’s permission anyway, right?)

5. Make it yours.

One of the most commonly-heard questions in the self-published community is: “Should I pay someone else to design my cover, if it’s really so much work?”  Ultimately, the answer is up to you.  Will it significantly improve your quality of life by reducing the stress of learning new technologies and softwares and managing a writer’s life on top of all of that?  Possibly.  Never underestimate the power of a professionally-designed cover, especially in a world saturated with marginally acceptable self-published covers. 

On the other hand, will releasing the design process into someone else’s hands also take creative control out of your own hands?  Often, yes, it will.  Always remember where you draw your line in the sand––at which point you’re comfortable surrendering the artistic direction of your book.  If you want or need a designer, that’s great!  Just make sure to do a little research, and to make sure you choose someone who chooses you back––and chooses to get on board with your vision for your book.  That way, no matter who is out there shaping your visual brand, you can be confident that it will reflect … you!

[ NOTE: If you’re looking for the first blog in this post, a general overview of merchandising for self-published authors, you’ll want to look here.  If you’re interested in reading up on extras and special editions, take a look at my second post in this series. ]

I’m realistic, or I like to think I am.  This topic is bigger than just me and my own thoughts.  I’d like to open the floor to you, dear reader.  If you have any thoughts to share on the topic of merchandising, or questions you’d like answered, send them my way via the comments box below!  I want to hear from you, and I love nothing more than a good excuse to do a little research if I don’t know something off of the top of my head.  Jump on in!

ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog athttp://kellyschuknecht.com.

Self-Publishing & Merchandising : Extras & Special Editions

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Last week, I launched a new blog series on the ins and outs of merchandising with a quick definition.  (“Simply put, merchandising is any and all practices and methods which boost product sales in a retail environment.”)  And definitions are great and all, but we’re here to talk shop.  To get under the skin of merchandising, to inhabit the world of successful merchandisers, we have to tackle each and every aspect of the process–in depth.  This week, we’ll be taking a closer look at two of these aspects: “extras,” and special edition releases of your books.

What are “extras”?

“Extras” are anything you send out into the world related to your work that is not (quite) your book.  Or at least, it’s not your book as most people know it.  They’re the fiddly bits, the sweeteners, the “guess what I got this week?” element of book marketing.  The no-frills approach to book sales is to put your book, and only your book, into the hands of your ideal readers.  But we all know the process is more complicated than that, if we want to make profitable sales.

Identifying our ideal readers is one complicated conglomerate of issues unto itself, and connecting the dots between book and reader yet another (seemingly) hopeless tangle, and transforming the market so that more readers become ideal readers is … well, you get the picture.  The creation, distribution, and controlled availability of “extras” is one highly effective way to unpick some of these knots.  Why?  Because they make your ideal readers feel privileged and affirmed in their good taste, while also serving as a siren call to new readers–a declaration that you, the author, are willing to go the extra mile to bring others alongside you, into the world of your book.  And I’m not just talking about fictional worlds, here: every good book is a world unto itself, a universe even, that enwraps its readers in a shared sense of wonder, urgency, or belief.

“Extras” come in every possible form we can imagine, and sometimes figuring out what “extras” suit our books and our needs best is the larger task.  But simply identifying them can be a challenge, too, so here is a short list of some of the more effective extras that leap to my mind:

  • creating swag, like bookmarks or postcards or tee-shirts, etc, to give away or raffle off at book readings and signings;
  • putting together a regular newsletter, physical or digital, to distribute to eager readers;
  • orchestrating giveaways, scavenger hunts, and other participatory contests to boost interest;
  • offering limited-offer “buy a physical book and unlock free digital content” sorts of specials;
  • publishing select chapters online for free, using interactive services such as WattPad; and
  • hosting quizzes, ask-and-answer sessions, or other author-centric material online using social media networks such as Tumblr.

(This is just to name a few.)  As you can see, many of these “extras” fall into two loose categories: the physical fiddly bits, and the digital fiddly bits.  It’s worth noting that, while focusing our talents into bundles that seem all of a kind–say, pairing a digital “extra” with an ebook release, or a physical “extra” with a physical book launch–may be an effective use of our time, it may not be the sole best way to boost our sales.  Many readers who are highly engaged on social media will treasure a physical book or a physical “extra,” while many readers who hold fast to their physical libraries are ready and willing to branch out and experiment, if they’re invested in you, the author, and your vision of your world.  Strategic cross-fertilization may be the best approach, so make sure you’re providing “extras” on both sides of the digital/physical divide–if possible.

Oh, right, I mentioned special editions too.

That’s right–I haven’t forgotten.  The reason I save this second aspect of merchandising for after my discussion of “extras” is simple: many of the same rules apply.  We’ve written about releasing special editions, whether ebook editions or other kinds of editions as a kind of promotional venture, before.  We’ve even written about releasing special editions for holidays and for Kindles, respectively.  The simple distillation of all of these prior posts might be to say: “The more editions we put out there, the more accessible our books, the more people who will hear of our books, and the more books we will sell.”  The parallels between special editions and “extras” are fairly clear–just substitute “extras” for “editions.”

The key to successful merchandising for the self-published author is to make our readers feel special!  We can make this happen with strategic bundles of “extras,” or by releasing new editions of previously published books.  Both of these merchandising methods are built upon creating and distributing new access points to our works.  Generating special offers that are limited in some way–in respect to time or quantity–whether on swag or giveaways or special editions–heightens the competitive edge to what we’re offering, and makes our books a topic of conversation.  We want to balance ubiquity of our works–making it is available to as many people as possible–with an urgency to acquire it in certain incarnations or circumstances.

Next week, I’ll be examining merchandising through book and jacket design.  I’d like to open the floor to you, dear reader.  If you have any thoughts to share on the topic of merchandising, or questions you’d like answered, send them my way via the comments box below!  I want to hear from you, and I love nothing more than a good excuse to do a little research if I don’t know something off of the top of my head.  Jump on in!

ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog at http://kellyschuknecht.com.

On Self-Publishing and Merchandising

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You are a self-published author.  Fantastic!  And you’re a self-published author looking to boost your book sales through strategic self-promotion, and by diving into the ofttimes terrifying world of … merchandising.  You’ve written your book, which everyone told you was the hardest part of the whole writing-and-publishing process, and you’ve plugged it into a self-publishing engine like Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, or BookSurge, or Xlibris, or Outskirts Press, or any one of a dozen other self- or hybrid publishing websites.  But what comes next?  For most writers, it’s not automatic instant success.  For most writers, what comes next involves a lot of hard work, and finesse.  Because for most writers, what comes next will involve merchandising.

So what is merchandising?

Simply put, merchandising is any and all practices and methods which boost product sales in a retail environment.  Once you get used to thinking of and treating your book as a retail product–which is harder than it may seem, in personal experience–the process of selling and marketing your book becomes infinitely easier.  Why is this?  Since books are more than just a piece of wood pulp and ink–because books are ideas and stories and occasionally, magnificent works of art–we understandably think about them as these things, these intangible things.  And it can seem, well, rather low-brow to treat an idea the same way that I treat a sandal or a bottle of shampoo.  Low-brow, and possibly even vulgar.  But the fact of the matter is, we want our books to sell, not just to sit all neat and pretty on our own private bookshelves awaiting discovery after we pass on.  We want–no, need–our books to sell for all sorts of reasons: the dissemination of ideas, the collection of profits, and so on.  We need to sell our books, and merchandising helps sell books.

Unfortunately, self-published authors often find themselves daunted by the notion of self-promotion via merchandising.  Authors who survive the knuckle-bruising process of traditional publication have an entire company to help them navigate merchandising, if not take it on entirely.  Self-published authors face the same fears, the same doubts, the same tangle of fine print–only, without the clout and muscle and well-fleshed-out personnel of a publishing firm at their back.  And it’s virtually impossible to know where to begin.  Do you begin with mugs and notepads and tee shirts?  Do you begin with book design or haggling with local retailers?  You may not have a publishing firm’s PR department on hand, but you do have us.  (Not to mention, your legions of fans.)  You have us, your loyal digital cheer squad and sounding board for ideas.  We’re here to help.

Over the coming weeks, I’m going to unwind a few key strategies for merchandising success, specifically in regards to self-published authors seeking entry into the world of merchandising that the privileged traditionally-published author never has to think twice about.  A few of these strategies will include:

  1. Extras & special edition releases
  2. Book & jacket design
  3. Blurbs, reviews, and blog reviews
  4. Dealing with Amazon, CreateSpace, and others
  5. (And yes, we’ll deal with mugs and notepads and tee shirts, too.)

Suffice it to say, this is a big topic.  Epically, profoundly, unmentionably big.  (Which is exactly why we’re here, reading this blog, isn’t it?)  It will take us a while to step through all of the angles, so plan on checking this space every Wednesday morning as we dive in!

I’m realistic, or I like to think I am.  This topic is bigger than just me and my own thoughts.  I’d like to open the floor to you, dear reader.  If you have any thoughts to share on the topic of merchandising, or questions you’d like answered, send them my way via the comments box below!  I want to hear from you, and I love nothing more than a good excuse to do a little research if I don’t know something off of the top of my head.  Jump on in!

ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog at http://kellyschuknecht.com.

Diversity & Self-Publishing (summary edition)

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Over the last few weeks, I’ve been digging into the particulars of diversity and how it is, or is not, or could be better represented in the publishing industry–that is, in both traditional publishing and in self-publishing.  But you’re here reading this blog, which means you’re either a self-published author, or interested in self-publishing, and that means the stakes are higher in this matter, that you have an incredibly unique place in the argument.  I’ve already written a little bit about how the track record for self-publishing is somewhat more diverse than it is in traditional publishing, and why.  Authors and readers like you have already brought about change.  You are the change.

That’s right, you are the change.  (This bears repeating, I think.)  Without you and your investment in bringing about a better, more diverse world of words, we would not have authors like the aforementioned CJ Lyons, Orna Ross, Lara Nance, HM Ward, Kailin Gow, Margarita Matos, Abdul Qayum Safi, Lozetta Hayden, Manuela Pentagelo, Tejas Desai, Aleysha Proctor, Mary Sisney, Liz Castro, Nadeem Aslam, Johnny Townsend, and Qasim Rashi.  We would not have created a niche market that has blossomed into a fully-fledged mainstream market, and we would not have opened the doors in traditional publishing by exerting pressure from the indie sector … without you.

So how does this relate to self-promotion?  Well, that’s a good question.  There’s all manner of potential ways in which we could layer further exploitation and abuse on minorities and under-represented groups by trying to turn diversity into a promotional gimmick.  You definitely don’t want to find yourself on the other side of the gimmick line, dear readers.  No buts, howevers, or addendums allowed.  The connection between diversity in self-publishing and a solid foundation for self-promotion is this: honesty.  Yes, honesty.  In your marketing, as in all other things related to your book(s), you should and must be honest.  Are you an author of diverse heritage, or identity?  Awesome.  Get that out there.  Are you an author who comes from outside the “diversity sector” but who wants to uphold the vision, beliefs, and self-realization of those who do?  Awesome.  Get that out there.

Author Beth Revis, who self-published her latest Young Adult novel (The Body Electric) writes eloquently on the role and nature of such allies in the world of words.  “Representation is important,” she writes.  “At its most basic level it says: I see you. And in this world of bright lights and hollow dreams, of statistics and caricatures that turn people invisible, that is important.”  Read the rest of Revis’s blog, and you’ll see that there is a place for the ally–even though it is vital we recognize that saying we support something isn’t the same as actually making it possible.  It’s equally vital that we not put ourselves up on pedestals as allies, when we’re often not the ones who have borne or are bearing the brunt of marginalization.

Perhaps the best thing we can do, both as self-published authors and as authors working on self-promotion, is to make room in our lives and works for the conversation about diversity.  It’s really taken off on certain platforms (most notably, the social networking websites, such as Tumblr and Twitter), but it hasn’t yet reached critical mass.  The more we make ourselves at home with diversity as a topic, the more footholds diversity has to make visible the invisible.

If you’re looking for my earlier posts on diversity & self-publishing, see:

And check back next week on Wednesday as I launch a new series on the merits of merchandising for self-published authors interested in self-promotion!

ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog at http://kellyschuknecht.com.

Diversity & Self-Publishing (ep. 3)

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Week before last, I began to examine the ongoing conversation centering on diversity in self-publishing that has sprung up over the last couple of years, and only risen in importance and visibility since then.  Last week, I addressed two questions:

  1. What’s the track record of diversity in publishing? (and)
  2. What about within self-publishing, specifically?

This week, I want to address two more questions.  The first, as you’ll see, follows on immediately from number two, above:

Are there differences between the track records of traditional publishing and self-publishing in regards to diversity, and why or why not?

As MediaShift’s correspondent Miral Sattar notes in her excellent article for PBS, diversity has always had a little bit more of a foothold in the world of self-publishing than it has elsewhere.  In large part, this can be traced back to the blue-collar, anti-establishmentarian streak that gave rise to the self-publishing industry in the first place.  Wanting to place profits in the hand of an individual author as opposed to a company or a collective?  When it comes to books, that’s a radical idea.  Wanting control over the entire authorial, publishing, and marketing process?  That, too, falls outside the established framework provided by traditional publishing.  All of this independent thinking and hungering after self-realization has led to an environment that fosters rebels and self-starters and free-thinkers and otherwise marginalized peoples.  That includes, of course, people of diverse origins, pursuits, and identities.

In her article, Sattar mentions a whole host of self-published authors, including CJ Lyons, Orna Ross, Lara Nance, HM Ward, Kailin Gow, Margarita Matos, Abdul Qayum Safi, Lozetta Hayden, Manuela Pentagelo, Tejas Desai, and Aleysha Proctor.  And these are just a very few of a very great many self-published authors currently putting their books out there.  There are others: Mary Sisney, Liz Castro, Nadeem Aslam, Johnny Townsend, Qasim Rashid, and so, so many more.  The fact is, if you want to publish something that the mainstream publishing industry isn’t prepared to market, and which isn’t angling to be a blockbuster seller, then the generous spirit of the self-publishing world is always waiting.  We live in a day and age, thankfully, when the self-published book is no longer synonymous with “I’m selling this out of the trunk of my car” (although that may still be the case), and with a whole host of resources out there, from internet forums to hybrid publishing firms, the self-publishing author can count on sending a high-quality–if radically counter-cultural–product out there into the world.

Why does diverse representation in literature and the industry matter?  Why should we authors and readers and (self-)publishers care?

This fourth question is, in some ways, a much harder one to answer.  As with many things in life, it might seem easy to fall back on a rote answer (you either do or you don’t), or to fall into the trap of trying to heavy-handedly preach readers into one perspective or another (because I said so!).  The fact of the matter is, caring about something as radically life-changing as diversity and representation is more than just a private act, but it’s also something you can’t just tell people to do.

When someone leans in over the dinner table and asks me why they should care about diversity–as has happened fairly often this last year–I fall back on a whole retinue of explanations: the statistics about social stratification and advancement or regression, the ethical and moral ground upon which we build healthy and just societies, and the anecdotes of people I know who have found themselves on the wrong side of the line when it comes to representation.  And of all of these arguments, the most effective one is, appropriately enough, one that requires a little imagination.

Imagine you are a child, any child who doesn’t look like a descendant of a hundred Caucasian family trees, who maybe doesn’t tip the scale quite to quite the same number as any of a thousand Disney Channel stars, who maybe comes from a faith background or an ethnic background that isn’t mainstream Christianity or undecided, who maybe has physical or emotional disabilities, who maybe identifies as something other than cisgendered or “straight” or is questioning their identity, who maybe comes from a dysfunctional family or society.  Imagine you have any one of these attributes, or a whole heady cocktail of them, and ask yourself this question: Have you seen yourself in a popular book lately?  How about on TV or in a movie–as the main character?  Have you seen yourself anywhere but in the bathroom mirror and have you seen yourself compassionately rendered there?

I remember the first time I found myself in a book, the first time I encountered a character who looked and felt and acted and believed like me.  It was absolutely, entirely, 100% life-changing.

Why should we care about diversity in publishing and self-publishing?  Because we want our children to grow up knowing that they don’t have to live in the shadows.  That they are lovable and loved.  That they don’t need to bleach their skin or get rid of their accent or faith or private struggles in order to be a whole human being.

Explaining to a child who has never seen a familiar face or life story told on television or in books or in music why they’ve never seen that story is absolutely heartbreaking, not to mention difficult.  One hopes that we don’t have to end that conversation with “…and it looks like it’s going to stay that way for a while.”  One hopes we can end that conversation with: “But see?  We’ve made progress, and here is a whole host of stories to get you started.”  Others have put together powerful arguments why diversity in publishing (of any kind) is important, too, so I think there’s a lot of hope we’ll see change within our lifetimes.

These thoughts barely scratch the surface of these questions, much less the conversation as a whole.   As I continue pondering how to go about touching on the other questions I posed two weeks ago, please drop me a line in the comments section below with your own thoughts or suggestions!  And of course, check back next week as we explore still more of this complicated tangle!

ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog at http://kellyschuknecht.com.

Diversity & Self-Publishing (ep. 2)

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Last week, I launched a series of questions addressing the nature and role of diversity in publishing, specifically within the self-publishing industry.  Before I return to those questions, a quick proviso: there’s been a lot of mud-slinging on both (or all?) sides of this debate, which can be both wild and wonderful (and occasionally, deeply problematic for all of us involved in getting words out of our heads and dispersed into the world).  But we’re not here to sling mud at anyone.  We’re here to ask questions and, hopefully, to listen.

Some of the mud-slinging can be interesting to read, or in some cases, listen to: just last month, NPR and Intelligence Squared U.S. hosted a debate over Amazon’s incredibly complex role in the whole mess of traditional versus self-publishing paradigms.  As I sat listening to the podcast this last week, I found myself both shocked and perfectly unsurprised at the ferocity of the debate––shocked, because we’re not used to our literary spokespeople literally shouting each other down on the debate floor, and unsurprised because, well, we’re talking about books and reading and literacy and therefore something both deeply, intensely personal, and also universal.  The debates over diversity in publishing are proving equally impassioned, and rightfully so.  Which brings me to last week’s first question:

What’s the track record of diversity in publishing?

It’s not a good one, particularly if we’re talking about publishing in the Western tradition, what with it being so interwoven the various other Institutions (with a capital “I”) that shape and influence society.  Which is not to say I advocate treating publishing artificially as if it has been cut away from every other element of life––not at all.  I do advocate paying close attention to how the social, political, and cultural institutions interact.  Hashtags like #WeNeedDiverseBooks have evolved beyond mere declarations of personal unhappiness to creating safe spaces for ongoing discussion about these complexities, and the data being mined is revealing.

Take the University of Wisconsin’s article on “Children’s Books by and about People of Color Published in the United States,” which shows that of the 2,500 children’s (trade) books published in the United States in 1985, only 18 were written by African Americans.  When you consider the demographics of the United States, wherein African Americans represent 13.1% of the population, that number should have been a lot higher.  Closer to 325 books.  Progress has been made, along all sorts of vectors, but of the 5,000 trade children’s books published in 2014, the CCBC reports that only 84 were written by African Americans and 180 were written about African Americans.  The percentages of other minority groups––ethnic, religious, gender, and others––show similar levels of underrepresentation.  Right now, a debate is raging over the representation of mental and physical well-being, and the current ways in which the publishing institution reinforces ableism and neuro-normativity.  Young Adult (or “YA”) literature has proven to be a particularly rich medium for addressing these growing concerns.

What about within self-publishing, specifically?

I’m so glad you asked!  Self-publishing (and all of its hybrid forms) has proven to be another haven for the marginalized author and all sorts of minorities––both in terms of authors and readers.  Because one point of the publishing triangle has been erased––or at least drastically altered––there has always been more room for the nonconformist, the outcast, and the malcontent within the welcoming arms of the self-publishing industry than there has been elsewhere.  Without fear of expulsion, ostracization, or censorship, the self-published author can write what needs to be written, and publish what needs to be heard!  The welcoming legacy of self-publishing is one I’ve examined before––in fact, many of the Late Great authors I’ve written about over the last few weeks either found themselves unwelcome within, or otherwise distanced from, traditional publishing.

I don’t have any numbers for you about diversity in self-publishing.  It’s practically impossible to collate the data, given the diverse forms and outlets and types of self-publication out there.  Many self-published works aren’t catalogued the way traditionally published books are, and so the data set just isn’t there.  But as Daniel José Older writes so beautifully in his BuzzFeed article (“Diversity is Not Enough: Race, Power, Publishing”), “it’s not just a question of characters of color, [and] it’s not a numbers game. It’s about voice, about narrative flow. […]  We see diverse futures, laden with the tangled past of oppression and we re-envision models of empowerment and survival. But only a few of us make it through. There is a filter and the filter is white culture.”  Suffice it to say, it seems as though the self-publishing industry has provided a platform for diverse voices to be heard, and diverse readers to be reached.  There are ways to change the institution from the inside, but in the meantime, authors can count on finding at least a modicum of representation within the self-publishing industry.

These thoughts barely scratch the surface of these questions, much less the conversation as a whole.   As I ponder how to go about touching on the other questions posed in last week’s blog post, please drop me a line in the comments section below with your own thoughts or suggestions!  And of course, check back next week as we explore still more of this complicated tangle!

 

ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog at http://kellyschuknecht.com.

What do you need to know about diversity in self-publishing?

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The matter of diversity in the book industry, particularly in the arena of traditional publishing, has been discussed by many fine people in many fine articles.  (You’ll find a few of them here, here, and here.)  But what about self-publishing?   I’m not going to lie: even with a somewhat narrower gaze, there’s still a lot to take in––and a lot of opinions to consider, agendas to juggle, and complications to navigate.  But this is February––and therefore, this is officially Black History Month.  It is a month where we pay our respects to the pioneers of the Civil Rights Movement (or movements), and pay close(r) attention to the justices and injustices enacted within the United States.*  It is right and good that we turn that same lens on the self-publishing industry that we know and love.

But how do we even begin this conversation?  First, we have to start asking the right questions.  Mine are by no means going to be the only ones worth hearing, or worth answering.  Which is why right now––right now––I’d like to open the floor (or rather, the comments box) to you, our dear readers.  Pose a question, or two, or three, connected to this issue of diversity in self-publishing, and I will pull together a few voices that (hopefully) speak to them.

Here are a few questions to get us started:

  1. Broad brush strokes: What’s the track record of diversity in publishing?
  2. What about within self-publishing, specifically?
  3. Are there differences, and why or why not?
  4. Why does diverse representation in literature and the industry matter?  Why should we authors and readers and (self-)publishers care?
  5. What could healthy diversity actually look like?
  6. Who benefits from diverse representation, and who benefits from a lack thereof?
  7. Can we make it happen?
  8. Should we make it happen?
  9. How can we better foster a self-publishing community that welcomes diverse authors and readers?

And because we normally dedicate our Wednesday posts on this blog to strategies for self-promotion, I think it’s fair to ask:

  • In what ways can diversity be both a selling point and a barrier to new readers discovering our work?  And how can we take advantage of the former while overcoming the latter?

Maybe we can answer all of these questions quickly and easily, but my gut instinct is that easy isn’t a word we can throw around when it comes to fair representation of any kind.  But this, too, is fitting: Black History Month started as a single week (the second week of February) and has happily spread to take up more of our year, and also, more of our hearts and minds.  Maybe one day we will be able to say with perfect sincerity and disingenuity that every week, and every month, and every year is packed with conversations in which diverse voices are heard.

*  It is worth noting that the USA is not the only nation to celebrate Black History Month––it is officially recognized in both the United Kingdom (UK) and in Canada, and is celebrated unofficially in many other nations and communities.

If you have any comments, reflections, or suggestions, I’d love to hear them.  Drop me a line in the comments box, and watch this space on Wednesdays in 2015!

ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog at http://kellyschuknecht.com.

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