How to Market Your Book on Facebook

Facebook

Immediately after you’ve published your book, it’s time to get into marketing. Here’s what you need to understand in order to jumpstart your book marketing campaign on Facebook.

  1. You need a fan page – NOT a personal page.

Personal pages and fan pages function very differently. A fan page offers a one-way relationship between you and the fan; fans see your updates, but you don’t see theirs. A person only needs to click “like” to immediately become your fan. With a personal page, a potential fan has to send you a friend request, which is an intimidating barrier for people who don’t actually know you. Even more importantly, personal pages have a friend limit and only fan pages give you data on how fans are interacting with your posts.

  1. Any given Facebook post will only reach a small percent of your fans.

Fans are people who clicked “like” on your page, but they will not automatically see your updates.

Facebook has become so popular that it had to develop an algorithm to prioritize the flood of posts available for a person’s news feed each day. Say, for example, that one of your fans is a fan of 100 other pages and has 400 personal friends. All of those pages and friends represent hundreds of possible messages going to that person’s news feed. Only a few of those messages will be shown. Your new fan may actually never hear from you again, depending on whether or not you understand number 3…

  1. Likes, comments and shares mean almost everything on Facebook.

Facebook chooses what to show and in what order based on which friends and/or pages a person engaged with in the past. “Engaged with” means the person clicked, liked, shared or commented on a post.

If a fan doesn’t take one of those actions on your posts regularly, the algorithm will decide they aren’t really a fan, and that person will rarely, if ever, see your content again. You could have 10,000 fans but literally be talking to a near-empty room if Facebook is methodically removing your posts from their feeds due to lack of engagement. That means you should write every post in a way that facilitates likes, comments, or shares.

  1. Small tactics can make a big difference in driving “click engagement.”

Here are some tips for encouraging clicks:

  • Experiment with post timing. The average post is only shown in feeds for about 3 hours. If most of your fans are on Facebook in the evening but you always post in the morning, they’ll never see you.
  • Be concise. Studies have shown that posts between 100 and 250 characters (less than 3 lines of text) receive about 60% more likes, comments, and shares than posts greater than 250 characters.
  • Use different types of posts. Some fans click mostly on links, others engage mostly with questions, and some click mostly on photos. To maximize the number of fans who engage with you, use a variety of post types.
  1. Your cover photo is premium real estate to market your book.

You have 851 x 315 pixels worth of space to market your book. Use this space to show off an image of your book. You can also promote a tour or giveaway here.

  1. Connect Facebook with promotional apps.

Use Facebook to successfully host a book giveaway with apps like WooboxRafflecopter, or Shortstack on your Facebook page. Be sure to advertise it on your cover photo space. Or use a video app to create a book video to post on your Facebook Page (or purchase a book video trailer).  Show your readers the author behind the writing. People connect with those they can relate to and adding a video of your book will increase interest. Plus, Facebook’s autoplay video feature will entice users to pay attention.

  1. Link Facebook with a way to purchase your book.

Be sure to link to your online shop (whether that’s on your publisher’s site, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or your own website). Dedicate a button on the dash below your cover photo for “Shop.”  This will be more successful if you regularly post positive book reviews on Facebook. Reviews are among the best ways to get more eyes on your book. Not only can you get in front of the reviewer, but the reviewer may also recommend your book to others. Don’t expect people to automatically review your book. Actively ask for reviews on your Facebook page.

  1. Use the “Promote” feature.

Under each of your Facebook posts, there is a button that says “Promote.” For a relatively small amount of money, you can get more of your fans to see specific posts. The cost depends on your particular fan base, but typically runs around $5 per thousand people you want to reach. You can also promote your post so friends of your fans will see it. Paid promotion is a great tool for getting important posts in front of as many people as possible. It’s also a great way to get back into the feeds of people you’ve lost due to lack of engagement in the past; if a person engages with a paid post, they’ll be more likely to see your future unpaid posts. Paid posts give you a chance to win fans back!

  1. Be consistent and generous.

The key to engagement is consistent posts that your fans consider valuable. Try to post daily. From time to time, post an image of your book and an offer they can’t refuse, such as free chapter of your new book. The most important thing is to grab people and bring them onto your page. Make sure you use the word “free” in your posts. You want to offer them something to reward for them visiting your page.


brent sampson
In 2002, Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Semi-Finalist Brent Sampson founded Outskirts Press, a custom book publishing solution that provides a cost-effective, fast, and powerful way to help authors publish, distribute, and market their books worldwide while leaving 100% of the rights and 100% of the profits with the author. Outskirts Press was incorporated in Colorado in October, 2003.
In his capacity as the Chief Executive Officer and Chief Marketing Officer, Brent is an expert in the field of book publishing and book marketing. He is also the author of several books on both subjects, including the bestseller Sell Your Book on Amazon, which debuted at #29 on Amazon’s bestseller list.

In Your Corner: Nixing the Social Media

I know, I know, who cuts social media marketing in the modern era?

Well, consider the question. It is entirely possible in the age of social media saturation that many people are at or past a tipping point into social media exhaustion. After all, we’ve been exploiting the digital sphere in every possible way we can imagine ever since it was invented, practically speaking, and people are growing weary of quite a few “overdone” mainstream marketing moves, including holiday sales. Consider REI’s “opt outside” program, a push-back and against Black Friday insanity.

(Incidentally, this is nothing new. The Puritans banned Christmas/Yuletide carols back in 1600s, claiming that to sing them was a political act and an embrace of a “‘popish’ and wasteful tradition […] with no biblical justification” and we all know how far, literally, they were willing to go to enact their beliefs … so, you know, there’s nothing new under the sun.)

Back to book marketing. One of the very good reasons why some authors are pulling away from social media is that they’re over-extended. That is, they’re trying to do too much with too little (time, energy, money) and need to refocus on areas where they see good traction and meaningful engagement. Spending lots of time on maintaining a Twitter account with a following of 25 is a waste if one has truly tried all of the tips and tricks of the trade, particularly if one has, say, a robust following on Facebook.

Growing up, my father always told me time is money. He wasn’t wrong.

time is money

As author and blogger Delilah Dawson writes on WhimsyDark:

We are glutted with information, and yet our answer to “How do I get people to buy my book?” is social media marketing, which is basically throwing more information out into the void.

She’s got a point, too. More information isn’t always what’s needed; meaning and value are what’s needed, and most appreciated, by readers and book-buyers today. Just tweeting or blogging is not enough … each tweet and blog post must provide something the reader can’t get anywhere else, and which adds in some measurable or immeasurable way, to the book-buyer’s life.

Otherwise it’s just white noise. And as Nancy Peacock writes, there are a lot of small ways in which social media can eat away at our happiness and our productivity as authors:

Something was going on in my brain and I knew it. I knew I was in trouble because I could not focus on the book I was trying to write. There’s always self doubt with writing, but this was different. This was more than the question of whether or not I’d be up to the task. I couldn’t concentrate long enough to even enter the flow. My mind was fractured and splintered, my spirit in constant agitation. I felt like I was failing at everything.

I think we’ve all been there, and we may even be there more often than ever now that our computers have become hubs for all manner of distractions, including (as Peacock details later in her piece) social media in all of its forms.

Srinivas Rao, in an excellent piece for The Mission, writes that quitting social media can actually improve quite a few aspects of the author’s life in addition to providing more meaningful content. Says Rao, the benefits include “less anxiety and more happiness,” “presence,” “increased focus,” and “improved productivity.” I don’t know about you, but this month those benefits are sounding preeeetty fantastic.

So, this November, take a moment to consider the possibility of nixing social media. If your immediate knee-jerk reaction is “but I have such great followers!” and it feels like shutting down something vital and important to your creative recharge process, then maybe this isn’t a move you need to make. But if your response is more along the lines of “well, I don’t see much engagement there anyway” or “I probably won’t miss it” … then maybe it’s time to take a step back from marketing your book on social media, or at the very least refocus your efforts on platforms where you have a good toehold.

I know this isn’t a terribly popular sentiment, especially to the companies (like Twitter and Facebook) who monetize your access to social media and turn a profit off of the free content you’re posting on them, but not everyone needs to use every tool in the toolbox. It’s always, always about picking the right tool for the job. Let the other tools wait for authors who will find them better suited to their work, and focus on being “you” and the “best you” possible, in branding as well as other efforts. And as always, we’re here to help support you in your decision!

You are not alone. ♣︎


Elizabeth

ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Outskirts Press. The Sales and Marketing departments are composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

In Your Corner: Use Facebook to Promote Your Book!

Facebook

It’s not exactly breaking news anymore when we say “Facebook can help you sell books and create a platform!” to our readers here on the blog, since we’ve written about it before and maybe even a brace, a thicket, a luxuration of times—but it can never be said frequently enough, in my opinion.

Facebook can help you sell books and create a platform!

There, whew. We can all go home now.

Or can we?

There are hundreds upon thousands of resources out there specifying how and when to take advantage of Facebook, but the greater challenge is deciding which of those multitudes is actually useful for you, isn’t it? Being “findable” (there’s a five-dollar word for you!) doesn’t mean much if the platform isn’t providing you with something sustainable and enriching on your own terms.

Here are my top five recommendations for putting Facebook to work:

  1. Build a fanbase. Facebook is great as a bulletin board space, but its real power is in mobilizing large groups of people who all share a passionate interest in something, and you won’t mobilize anyone if you yourself aren’t on your page, engaging with readers, reviewers, and more generally, fans—on a regular and sustainable basis! Make it worth their while, too: upload “behind the scenes” videos and create events, use QR codes to direct traffic to your page and paper-bomb your town with it, guerrilla-style! Once you have a large fanbase, you’ll be able to do pretty much everything else that you want as well.
  2. Use your Facebook account to link with other websites. Whether it’s your email signature or those wonderful “log in using Facebook!” ancillary websites, which allow you to create and link your Facebook account in order to streamline the login process, interlinkage is a useful stratagem on many fronts. It gets your name and face out there, yes, but it also makes it extremely easy for fans to follow your movements around the internet—from Twitter to Instagram to Goodreads to Ko-Fi to Kickstarter and more! That way, even though you’re making use of all of these websites’ useful and peculiar features, you’re working with one central account.
  3. Go elsewhere. By this, I mean: use your Facebook account to interact with other authors, on their turf. Facebook is about community, and no community thrives when it’s one-sided, so don’t expect everyone to come to your page without first having something to offer on theirs! You can do a little market research while you’re at it, too, and steal ideas from authors whose pages reflect the kind of presence you yourself want to establish. You can share specific posts that you enjoyed on your own timeline, which also builds that community spirit.
  4. Keep it visual. You’ve probably heard the word “clickbait” floating around on the interwebs, but if you haven’t, the term refers to material which takes full advantage of social media users’ predilection for clicking on links which have immediate visual appeal—usually a catchy image or an equally catchy, brief, and possibly controversial headline. You don’t need to dip into the controversy side of things, but you too have a good reason to pay attention to this particular market trend, and to pay attention to the psychology behind it! Facebook users are equally as visual as those on Instagram and Pinterest, so don’t skimp on posting images to your account and your timeline. Photos bring in clicks and views more than anything else! It doesn’t just have to be images of your book, of course, although some of my favorite accounts carry out a kind of “book scavenger hunt” or “book road trip” activity, where the author takes pictures of their books in interesting locations—or ask readers to take pictures and then share those pictures to your timeline as well!
  5. Make a meal of Facebook Insights. This is the Facebook equivalent of Google Analytics, since even without a paid account, Facebook keeps detailed track of what users are looking at your page and when, how long they spend, what they interact with, and more! It’s profoundly useful, for example, to know when your “peak viewing” period is—when the highest percentage of people access your page every day—and post new material right then, for them to enjoy. It’s also useful to know, for example, that your readers really do prefer your images over your text posts—and by a factor of … well, it will vary from person to person! Once you know your fans’ habits, it may be time to explore paying for a Facebook ad … or you may not need one, depending on the circumstances!

However you choose to use Facebook, you’re not wrong. But there may be a few things you can tweak in order to do even better, as I am learning every day.

You are not alone. ♣︎


Elizabeth

ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 18 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Manager of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, pre-production specialists, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

An Indie Author’s Social Media Primer | Summary Edition

Well, it’s been quite a project, this social media primer of ours!  I hope it’s proven as useful to you, our readers, as it has been enjoyable for me to write!  I thought I’d take a couple of minutes to take a lingering glance in the rear-view mirror, and write a bit of a retrospective on what it means to carry out a social media marketing campaign–and how a primer fits in.

We’re here,” I wrote in that initial blog post, first and foremost, to talk about how to market your self-published book.”  And therein lies both the value and danger of social media as a marketing tool.  If you really are using social media effectively, as a natural and organic extension of your existing work and personality, then you’ll most definitely benefit, and your book sales will most definitely benefit as well.  If you approach social media as an all-purpose tool and the only tool you need in your toolbox–or if you present yourself falsely, inauthentically, or otherwise find yourself at odds with your fans–or if you bite off more than you can chew–or if you find yourself slipping into social media as just another time-waster–then you’re missing the point of being an author on social media.  These are the pitfalls, or at least a few of them, and they should not be taken lightly or underestimated.

social media

Here’s the trick to being a self-published author on social media:  You must always remember that you are, first and foremost, a writer.  And as we’ve said before here on Self Publishing Advisor, the absolute best decision you can ever make in marketing your book is to write another book.  If social media helps you spread the word, and helps you keep writing, then it has a place in your campaign.  If it distracts you, or distresses you, or eats into time you would otherwise spend writing, then you should revisit the expression “effective marketing.”  There is, however, a great deal of value to trying something new, especially when you hit a roadblock.  It is my hope that, by providing a primer guide to each of the major (and some of the minor) social media platforms, I may take some of the guesswork and fear out of launching yourself into the world of social media.  Maybe, just maybe, you’ll be able to bypass some of the misery and second-guessing and mistakes that I myself have made over the years–and find a new home, a new community, and an engaged readership in some unexplored corner of our digital universe.

The List:

  1. First Thoughts
  2. Twitter
  3. Tumblr
  4. Instagram
  5. Snapchat
  6. YouTube
  7. Pinterest
  8. Goodreads
  9. Etsy
  10. LinkedIn
  11. Flickr
  12. Facebook

Thank you for helping me build this Social Media Primer!  If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or contributions, please use the comment field below or drop us a line at selfpublishingadvice@gmail.com.  And remember to check back each Wednesday for your weekly dose of marketing musings. ♠

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.

An Indie Author’s Social Media Primer | Facebook

It should come as no surprise that we’re going to take a quick look at Facebook as we work our way down the list of social media platforms the digitally-savvy indie or self-published author should consider using when launching a comprehensive self-promotion campaign.  And it probably is similarly unsurprising that we’ve looked at Facebook beforeseveral timesso many times–and that we’re just one blog among many to have done so.

Facebook

There are, in fact, so many resources out there about how indie authors can make use of Facebook, that the greater challenge is not in finding information–in contrast to, say, my posts about Etsy and Snapchat and so on–but in discerning which information is actually useful!  To that end, I’ve compiled and curated some of the better (and more well-maintained, that is, up-to-date) resources below for your easy review, as opposed to listing our own “best practices.”  My hope is that you’ll find all the appropriate details you might need at your disposal in order to navigate the intricacies of the complex proposition that is Facebook.

Debunking the Great Facebook Myth: “It’s just one giant moving target–there’s no point to trying to master anything about Facebook, because it’s just going to change again in a few months!”

While Facebook’s developers are constantly tweaking the algorithms and codes and format of things (it’s true, we must admit), the website itself remains fairly stable in a number of ways.  First of all, the fact remains true that Facebook is where the people are–the people, the relationships, the possible connections, and the real market for your books.  Consider this infographic, courtesy of Rebekah Radice:

Social-Media-Active-Users

The people are staying put, and sticking by Facebook, despite the not-uncommon doomsday forecasts to the contrary.  But that’s not the only aspect of Facebook that is stable: the features may alter a bit in form and function, but the concept of what you’re using those features for remains the same.  I’ve written a great deal throughout this series of primers about social media marketing targeting certain specific pillars of the online experience: findability, adaptability, usability, and authenticity.  If any of these four aspects is missing from an author’s social media presence, they’re bound to suffer.  If, however, you are conscientious in maximizing your Facebook presence, as these resources should help you to do, then you’re practically guaranteed to grow your reading audience.

Top 5 Best Resources:

1. “The Power of Facebook for Authors” by David Henry Sterry over at The Author Online.

2. “30 Ways to Build Your Fanbase with Facebook” by the folks over at Duolit.

3. “My Experiments with Facebook Ads” by Rami Ungar over at Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors.

4. “Facebook Ads: Should Indie Authors Buy Them?” by Joel Friedlander over at The Book Designer.

5. “7 Essential Elements for an Author’s Facebook Page” by Antonella Iannarino over at the David Black Agency’s official blog.

And a bonus additional resource:

The tag archive for “Facebook” over at ALLi‘s “How-to For Authors” blog.

Please keep us posted of your own successes as you experiment with new platforms.  You’re our most inspiring innovators, and the internet is your laboratory.  We can’t wait to see what you do!  And make sure to check back next week, as I wrap up this social media primer with the all-important summary edition!

If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or contributions, please use the comment field below or drop us a line at selfpublishingadvice@gmail.com.  And remember to check back each Wednesday for your weekly dose of social media know-how. ♠

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.

Diversity & Self-Publishing (ep. 3)

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!

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.

Diversity & Self-Publishing (ep. 2)

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!

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.