Welcome back to our Tuesday segment, where we’ll be revisiting some of our most popular posts from the last few years.  What’s stayed the same?  And what’s changed?  We’ll be updating you on the facts, and taking a new (and hopefully refreshing) angle on a few timeless classics of Self Publishing Advisor.

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[ Originally posted: January 30th, 2009 ]

That was the subject line of a recent email sent to me by my good friend and author currently writing and teaching writing at the University of Massachusetts.

I had yet to see the New York Times article he was referencing. Despite our professional inclinations, email conversations between Mr. Anderson and I generally involve topics like beer, music, or YouTube videos.

I was interested in what brought Mr. Anderson’s attention away from his highbrow academia to the world of self-publishing. His email read only one line – something like ‘looks like you’re in for a raise…’ followed by the link to Wednesday’s Times article, “Self-Publisher’s Flourish as Writers Pay the Tab.”

Good news for self-publishing authors…

The Article opens stating that booksellers, hobbled by the current economic situation, are struggling to lure readers. And with traditional publishers and brick and mortar retailers exercising cutbacks and layoffs, readers are still finding their way to books. And the fact that they are suggests that one aspect of the industry is, according to the Times, “…actually flourishing.”

Of course the article discusses some of those alleged downsides of self-publishing (there are some less attractive options out there), but concludes with a quote from Louise Barker, publisher of the traditional house, Pocket Books, “Self-Publishing is no longer a dirty word.”

Ms. Barker’s Pocket Books recently contracted Lisa Genova, an author profiled on this blog previously. Despite the suggestions from many industry professionals, including her agent, that self-publishing would destroy her chances at success, Genova’s book, Still Alice, saw considerable independent success prior to being picked up by Pocket Books on a 6 figure contract.

Barker goes on to comment that publishers now trawl for new material by looking at reader’s comments online about self-published books.

Self-publishing is truly changing the way we write, read, and retail books. That is good news for authors.

Have fun. Keep writing.

– by Karl Schroeder

Is self-publishing “truly” changing the way we write, read, and retail books?  Or is something else?  Truth be told, Karl’s post made a lot of sense in the context of 2009 … and not so much in 2016.  After all, seven years and innumerable things have happened–the world is a fundamentally different place, and the technologies we use to engage with that world are equally different.  Two examples illustrate this fact perfectly:

Consider the Rise & Plateau of the Espresso Book Machine

There’s no greater way to mark the passage of time than to recount the stories of empires risen and gone, their vast empires now ruins eaten away by time and the elements.  That’s perhaps a bit dramatic when we’re talking about emerging technologies on a seven-year span, but sometimes it kind of feels like it!  And there’s no better illustration of the emergence of new technologies in the publishing world–the self-publishing world–than the Espresso Book Machine, a fabulous little engine of progress that allows authors to print physical copies of their books on demand while taking no more time than–you guessed it–drinking an espresso.  Their fast, their effective, they’re a great addition to college libraries like the University of Arizona–in short, there aren’t a lot of downsides.

espresso book machine

But the Espresso Book Machine hasn’t revolutionized self-publishing.  Or rather, it hasn’t revolutionized the industry and then stayed a centerpoint of the process.  Like so many new and wonderful things, it serves as a symbol of what’s possible for authors and readers alike–but is too clunky, too expensive to install, and too massive a physical object, to be widely adopted.  In many ways, the evolution and miniaturization of hardware and the constant improvements to open-source software have outpaced any one technology’s relevance.  And so the Espresso Book Machine–while still worth the expense and space issues to some institutions–is not likely to ever see as much interest again as when it premiered.  Unless, of course, its manufacturers determine how to create 3D printers that can print physical books in the comfort of the average person’s home.

Consider, Too, the Rise & Fall of the Dedicated E-Reader

You know this story–we’ve been covering it here at Self-Publishing Advisor from the beginning, when e-readers were game-changers, bringing transportability and easy storage to entire libraries of books, putting the power of the internet in the hands of tech-savvy readers.  Like the Espresso Book Machine, e-readers changed what we thought possible for books and self-publishing.  You didn’t need to publish a physical book at all!  You could collect hundred or even thousands of titles and take them all with you wherever you went!  You could get rid of those bookshelves at last but still be a big reader!  You could make literacy fun and accessible to kids!  You could cure the income disparity anywhere by handing out free tablets!

William Lynch, Chief Executive Officer of Barnes & Noble, holds up the new Nook Tablet at the Union Square Barnes & Noble in New York

The problem, if you want to call it that, is that technologies necessarily age.  Even the really, really good ones–the ones that change the face of self-publishing.  So e-readers filled a gap in peoples’ technology and literary needs for a while, but then they didn’t anymore because smartphones leveled up the playing field once again.  Over the course of five years, e-readers went from “the next hot thing” to “old news, man.”

In short, yes, self-publishing changes things.  But the technologies we associate most closely with self-publishing–these “great leaps forward” in our ability to reach new readers–may actually be the consequence of technology evolving.  Many of the things we thought would fix our deepest problems–the stigma of not being traditionally published, the gap in marketing power between self-published and traditionally published authors–remain largely untouched.  We have to face the fact that, despite our best attempts, self-publishing authors are not, by and large, “raking it in.”  Sometimes, like Lisa Genova or Andy Weir, we find success–and are stolen away into the traditional publishing matrix.  Luckily, we have staunch self-publishing advocates like Hugh Howey at our backs these days, and other authors who may dabble in traditional publishing but whose hearts remain firmly in the indie camp.

We have come a long way, but it wasn’t entirely our own work that got us here–it was the work of countless engineers and technicians, innovating technologies that may or may not serve us in the future.  Self-publishing authors still remain at a disadvantage, and still must seize upon emerging technologies–remaking them or at least adapting them to fit our own needs.

What Will the Next Big Step Forward Be?

Thanks for reading.  If you have any other ideas, I’d love to hear them.  Drop me a line in the comments section below and I’ll respond as quickly as I can.  ♠


KellyABOUT 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, kellyschuknecht.com.

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