From the Archives: “Quality and Control in Self-Publishing”

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: November 14th, 2008 ]

A very informative article was recently published outlining one author’s success self-publishing over traditional publishing, most notably in terms of higher net royalties on book sales. In fact, the case study recorded significantly higher royalties on a lower quantity of book sales along that self-publishing route.

The book pricing advantages of self publishing is no stranger to this blog, nor the increasingly successful population of authors who follow that path. But this particular article also mentioned that writers should never have to pay for publishing upfront.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen authors who have been pulled in by that concept, but end up publishing an often poorly produced book sold back to them at highly marked-up costs. (Publishers are businesses and need to make money, after all.) So that model really only puts poorly produced books right back in the hands of authors, not readers.

The successful alternative does involve upfront publishing fees, which opens a direct contract between authors and publishers including quality, professional production on books that are competitively sold in the marketplace, where readers buy books. Make sure your self-publishing choice includes those things like cover design, interior formatting, and full distribution. Also, as I’ve mentioned before – and the significance here is worth the redundancy – make sure your publisher offers pricing flexibility (control) and 100% royalties on book sales.

I hope that helps. Have fun and keep writing…

– by Karl Schroeder

Well, Karl’s not wrong. He wasn’t wrong all the way back in 2008–nine years ago!–and he’s not wrong now. (Of course, this will come as no surprise to those of you who have read some of his backlist posts for Self Publishing Advisor.) Quality is determined by many independent and interrelated factors, and one of the most important of those factors is control. Control of the artistic process, the publishing process, and the distribution process too. Lose your access to influence any of these three steps, and you’re at risk of spending money you didn’t anticipate on processes over which you have very limited control.

quality infographic

I love this infographic from Empathy Lab, because even though they specialize in e-commerce and responsive web design–subjects only tangentially relevant to our interests–they have spent years putting together quality infographics representing ways in which to both qualify and quantify their systems and products. Here, they’ve created an infographic by which any business might measure quality, based on a flexible framework which incorporates everything from inputs, outputs, values, and employees.

While this may not be the most finely-tuned visual for self-publishing, specifically, many of the principles here helpfully capture the spirit of what Karl first wrote in 2008: You must first decide what your priorities are, and how quality is both a product of and a shaping influence upon, what you do. Only then can you decide how much money to invest, and where to invest it, in the self-publishing process. A hint: For most of us, it’s going to be some sort of up-front cost which gives us access to premium publishing services and full royalties, full creative control, and full authority on what happens to our books–because this is your brand, after all.

Take a moment to let Karl’s words sink in, and spend a little time with Empathy Labs’ infographic. See if you can sketch out some thoughts on how your own book and publishing experience is coming together–and let us know how that’s going! We’d love to hear from you and be a resource for you.

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.  ♠


Kelly

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, kellyschuknecht.com.

From the Archives: “Self-publishing – Authors become the Gatekeepers”

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: September 29th, 2009 ]

In a recent blog post, literary agent Nathan Bransford wrote of on-demand printing and distribution:

“No warehouses, no catalogs, no print runs. Online vendors, as we’ve seen, will sell anything. In this scenario, does the Author of the Future, especially one with a built-in audience, really need a publisher? Well… yes. Maybe.”

Bransford goes on to argue in favor of the author/publisher relationship, stating that the role of the publisher lies in the dirty work – copy editing, cover design, distribution, marketing, etc. We know that writing and publishing is often the easy part – the real execution comes in getting books effectively into the marketplace. That is where real self-publishing options stand out. Be prepared to pay for the services you and your publishing consultant determine best suited for your goals. In the long-run, you’ll thank your self. And so will the readers who have the privilege of enjoying your work.

Bransford: “But publishers would have to be extremely author-friendly — they would be providing a service, not relying on their traditional role as gatekeepers and distributors. Publishers won’t be able to rely, as they have traditionally, on the fact that authors need them in order to reach their audience, just as authors won’t be able to rely on publishers losing money on most of the books they publish.”

Keep your eyes and ears open. Self-publishing is on the way.

– by Karl Schroeder

Gatekeeping.  If you’ve spent much time around the literature of either traditional publishing or self-publishing, you’ll have heard the term “gatekeeping”–and often.  This is because it’s a big deal, regulating and potentially even censoring the works that others read for work and pleasure.

Publisher’s Weekly came to the phenomenon’s defense back in 2014 (“In Praise of Editors, Agents, and Every Other Gatekeeper in Publishing“), Self-Publishing Review called for it to stop just this last month (“Indie Author Gatekeeping Has To Stop“), while Porter Anderson of Thought Catalog and Hugh Howey of The Wayfinder both claim that self-publishing authors and companies alike have introduced new forms of gatekeeping to replace the old (“In Self-Publishing, The Gatekeepers Are Dead. Long Live The Gatekeepers!” and “Gatekeepers for Indie Publishing,” respectively).

And that’s just to list a few of the many, many, many hundreds of articles, blog posts, and other opinion as well as peer-reviewed pieces out there on the subject.  The furor over gatekeeping has far from died down since Karl first wrote his blog piece in 2009, some seven years ago.  If anything, the ferocity of debate has only been heightened by time, although some of the vim and vigor can no doubt be attributed to living during a politically charged time (on all issues, not just presidential) in which language has become a polarizing weapon (if it wasn’t already such before).  But there are other considerations too: the world of publishing, and the dynamic relationships between print and digital, traditional and hybrid and indie publishing, not to mention readers and authors via social media, has crossed a rubicon.

Several rubicons.

So, much has changed … except our ongoing concerns over what constitutes “rightful” or “allowable” control over what gets published and how, and who exerts that control.

Consider the fact that you, a self-publishing author, have a role to play in this drama.  You choose to publish, to believe your story is worth putting out there into the world, come what may.  (It is.)  You choose to hold your self-publishing company and awards panels and yes, even your readers, to a high standard of ethical behavior.  You fight for equal rights to publish, especially those who didn’t come to the table with the same resources or privileges as you.

Consider the fact that you, a reader, have an equally important role to play.  We’ve written in the distant past about controlling the market by controlling how and where you spend your hard-earned cash … and this is just a quick reminder that the market isn’t defined solely by top-down control from gatekeepers, or even by bottom-up grassroots gatekeeping.  It’s not really defined at all, but rather exists somewhere in the hazy tension between these two forces.

Karl’s 2009 post was accurate–to a point.  Self-publishing authors do control what they pursue publishing, at least.  But editors, publishers, and self-publishing companies exercise their right to reject or embrace those authors’ manuscripts, another obvious and visible kind of control.  And last but not least, readers control which authors (and publishers, and self-publishing companies) get a cut of their paychecks.  It’s a complicated relationship, and it’s not likely to streamline itself soon.

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.

From the Archives: “Self-Publishing – A Growing Industry”

Welcome back to our new 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 11th, 2010 ]

Did you know that over 40% of all book sales in the United States last year took place online, through e-retailers like Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com? More and more people are becoming comfortable with (and even accustomed to) shopping online. What’s more, consumers are more likely to purchase lesser-known and self-published books, according to Inc. Magazine.

What does this mean for the self-published author? With the convenience of on demand-printing and full-service self-publishing options: Good things. Selling books online is more cost-effective than selling through a typical bookstore, and that means more money in your pocket. Again, make sure your publisher lets you set your own retail price, royalty, and discount to take maximum advantage of shifting consumer trends.

Just something to keep in mind as you write and investigate the publishing options best in-line with your goals.

Have fun and keep writing!

by Karl Schroeder

sales growth

Almost six years on from Karl’s original post, we now have the benefit of hindsight to apply to many of his predictions–and fortunately for all of us who happen to be involved in the self-publishing industry, most of them came true!  According to Statista.com, “some 41 percent of global internet users having purchased products online in 2013”–and the numbers have continued to climb steadily from there.  And in respect to total e-commerce sales, a separate Statista article shows that Chinese retail giant Alibaba had a massive 23.7% market reach (outright) in 2015, but that Amazon and its affiliated sites together had an aggregate market penetration of 39.6% (the affiliates earned 22%, and Amazon proper 17.6%).

Many companies might struggle to find their niche in a market so overrun by big business, but smaller, more nimble organizations (including hybrid and self-publishing firm Outskirts Press) have shown they’re more than capable of keeping their footing.  Outskirts, which ranked in Inc. Magazine‘s top 500 or 5000 for four years in a row starting in 2009, continues to ensure that its authors make waves in the Amazon bestseller listings–and get their books onto actual physical bookshelves, as well.

And Outskirts Press is just one company among many who are succeeding at delivering on the promises of self-publishing as laid forth by Karl in his article: convenience in on demand-printing and full-service self-publishing options, cost-effective marketing, and more money in authors’ pockets, not to mention control over retail price, royalties, and discounts.  Inc. Magazine and others have come forward to bolster our knowledge and understanding of the inner workings of the publishing and self-publishing business, with articles like “How to Self-Publish Your Book” (2011), “How to Self-Publish a Business Bestseller” (2012), and “Publisher’s Note: Celebrating the Power of Partnership” (2015) underscoring new ways to adapt in an ever-shifting landscape of opportunities and challenges.

Some things have changed since 2010: Barnes & Noble seems to be stuck in a slow and gradual decline, print books seem to be on the rebound after Hachette and the other Big Five traditional publishing houses won their battle in the Amazon price-fixing war, and so on.  But other things haven’t changed: self-publishing is succeeding where traditional publishing continues to fail–in providing vital and necessary services and support to authors whose books are too daring, too interesting, and too precious to fall through the cracks.

What does this all mean, though?  It means, as Karl’s article so eloquently stated, that self-publishing remains a “Growing Industry.”

 

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.

From the Archives: “7 Reasons to Self-Publish, From the Top…”

Welcome back to our new 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: November 19th, 2009 ]

I’ve helped savvy authors transition their books away from traditional publishing houses, newly publishing authors make informed decisions to pursue other options, and even had personal experience publishing under my own traditional contract. Here are the top 7 or so reasons to re-consider holding out for that traditional contract and self-publish today…

7 – Traditional publishers lose money on over 85% of the books they publish, so they only accept 2% of those that are submitted.

6 – Traditional publishers typically accept manuscripts only from established authors who have already demonstrated a proven platform.

5 – Authors lose all control of their content during the editing process with a Traditional Publisher.

4 – Authors must still invest an enormous amount of time, energy, and money promoting a traditionally-published book.

3- Traditional Publishing: Authors typically receive 5-10% royalty on the wholesale price of the book, and from that have to give 15-25% to their agent. Do the math.

2 – The majority of books published by Traditional publishers go out of print within 3 years. Many books that are stocked on book shelves remain stocked for as little as five weeks before being returned, unsold, to the publisher.

1- Traditional publishers acquire all rights to your book and keep them, even when the book goes out of print or the publisher goes out of business!

– Karl Schroeder

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manuscripts

If you happened to read Karl’s original post six years ago and if you happened also to keep up with current affairs in the self-publishing and traditional publishing industries, you’ll know that very little–if anything–has changed.  Many authors turn to indie, hybrid, and self-publishing platforms because they’re driven away from the Big Five, either by the industry professionals themselves (i.e. outright rejections of book proposals) or by ideological differences and a desire to remain at the helm of their own publishing experiences.  This is what I call “white space thinking,” in which the predominant motivation is to define our choices by what they are not (“I am not going to publish traditionally because of x, y, or z”) or by what they want to steer clear of (“I don’t want to align myself with x, y, or z trend I see at Hachette, or HarperCollins, or some other Big Five publisher”).  What’s left outside of the margins, in the so-called “white space,” can be loosely described as “independent” publishing.

You don’t have to be running from traditional publishing to choose an alternate method, however.  There are a lot of reasons to run to self-publishing, without reference to the ills and crimes of a more traditional path.  While the reasons Karl states above remain accurate and true, I’d like to thicken out his list with a few additions that illustrate how positivity can actually be one of the foundational motivating factors for indie authors today.  And so, without any further ado, here are my additional 7 reasons to self-publish:

  1. You get to create your own timeline, from start to finish.  Your book might take two months, or two years, or two decades, but it will ultimately turn out true to your vision if you get to define your own benchmarks, deadlines, and so on.
  2. The process is simple, and not even  “simpler than….”  It’s just plain streamlined, start to finish, because you are your own middleman, and you are a marketing, design, and decision-making committee of one.  There will always be some fine print to wade through, but on the whole it’s not uncommon to panic at the sheer ease with which you can click your way into self-publication.
  3. The time is right.  There’s a whole slew of options to choose from in terms of indie, hybrid, and self-publishing platforms–and they’re all pretty good, and they’re all continually pushing themselves to do better, since the competition between developers and software designers is fierce.  We’ve crossed a kind of rubicon when it comes to forward momentum in the industry: companies have all the motivation they need to keep improving the user experience.  Self-publishing has gained the luster of a successful niche market, and is rapidly leaving stigma behind in the dust, while commercially successful self-published books rake in the film options and substantial net profits.  You can now make a name for yourself as an indie author!
  4. You can actually break new ground.  Without the checks and balances that tie up any big industry or company, you can quite literally strike out into uncharted waters and be at the forefront of a conversation, putting out timely book after timely book that reaches people where they’re at, while this or that specific issue is at the peak of popular interest.  You can write a book that future readers will call “prescient,” simply because you’re on the cutting edge, predicting and creating new paradigms–and perhaps even new genres!
  5. You can revise your book on the fly, at will.  You created this book, you own all of the rights to it, and you can re-release it if something about it strikes you as needing a little more work later on down the line.  This falls in line with other matters of creative control, as you get to call the shots on every detail that you want to … and you can offload the minutiae to a hybrid publishing company to free up your valuable time to do more of what you really love.  Which is, of course, writing.
  6. You can write responsively, because you have at your disposal some of the finest analytics tools ever designed for authors.  You can watch, in real time, what readers respond to–and tweak your writing process to deliver more of the same, or, alternatively, to make an unexpected turn and give them something they never knew that they wanted, something that isn’t pandering to popular acclaim.  You see everything, and you can make decisions in response to reader interactions that no one in the history of publishing–of any kind, period–has been able to make before!
  7. You’re a believer.  You don’t just own the rights to your self-published book, you own the vision for its totality, from the first splash of ink to the last burst of pixels.  You don’t need a team to tell you what’s what or how good a writer you are; you already know.  You already know that you have something to say that others need to hear, or see, but above all encounter.  And with that kind of conviction, you can cut through all the white noise and baffling criticisms and bureaucracy and simply do what you were born to do: write your book, and publish it on your own terms.  You believe in yourself and your book, and I do to.  All of us here at Self Publishing Advisor do!  ♠
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.

From the Archives: “Statistics Suggest Good News for the Self-Publishing Author”

Welcome back to our new 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: December 17th, 2008 ]

Bowker, the global leader in bibliographic information management, recently released 2007 book publishing statistics compiled from its Books In Print database. Based on figures from U.S. publishers, Bowker is projecting that U.S. title output  last year increased slightly from 2006 to almost 300,000 books. That’s over a quarter of a million books published in one year alone.

Here’s another interesting statistic, while traditional book publishing was basically flat last year, there was a staggering rise in the reported number of on-demand and short-run books to 134,773, pushing the grand total for projected 2007 U.S. book output to 411,422 books. In fact, Bowker has planned to separate this particular output from its traditional reporting and has begun tracking the On Demand industry segment separately.

What does this mean for you? To begin, your book may not stock in every bookstore. Or any bookstore. And it’s entirely possible that you may not want it to.

As a self-publishing author, these statistics undoubtedly suggest your sales opportunities will continue to grow and become more profitable. Sales are shifting from offline to online. More and more people are becoming comfortable with (and even accustomed to) shopping online. Selling books online is more cost-effective than selling through a typical bookstore, and that means more money in your pocket. It’s no coincidence that Amazon’s book sales numbers mirror the same increases on an annual bases. That’s good news.

It’s been said before on this blog, make sure your self-publishing choice lets you set your own retail price, royalty, and discount to take maximum advantage of shifting consumer trends.

Something to keep in mind as you wrap up your writing and begin the publishing process.

Have fun and keep writing.

– Karl Schroeder

Well, it should come as a surprise to no one that Bowker has updated its data sets since we first wrote this blog back in 2008–and the news is, unsurprisingly, mixed but mostly positive when it comes to the world of indie and self-published authors!  The newest report, which covers industry data for precisely the years that have elapsed since our original post (2008-2013), shows that the market for ebooks as well as self-published books has mostly stabilized.

Bowker Report

Here’s what’s changed: while overall, the growth of print and ebook sales has proven to be exponential (436.53% in five years––not bad!), the rate has slowed to a still-impressive 16.56% between 2012 and 2013.  There’s no reason to believe that this should be interpreted as a “slow-down” rather than a natural stabilization, as the Bowker report breaks down the percentage of increase or decrease by indie, hybrid, or self-publishing company.  The fact that some companies are proving to be breakout successes (Smashwords and Blurb, for example) while others have seen steady growth, others slight decline, simply goes to show that the self-publishing market has responded to increased pressures by diversifying and steadying.  Says Bowker Director of Identifier Services, Beat Barblan, self-publishing is “evolving from a frantic, wild-west style space to a more serious business.”  There’s also the lovely little fact that, in 2013, there were as many self-published works (458,564 to be precise!) as there were total titles published in 2007 (including those published by traditional means).

Ebook sales continue to account for the majority of percentage increase in terms of sales over the last five years, which may provide some guidance as you move forward in selecting your self-publisher.  Whatever avenue or company you choose, take a good long look at both the Bowker report and your own personal desires when it comes to sales margins and profits.  You get to call the shots, so make sure they’re on target with the most up-to-date information.  And the verdict is in: the statistics still suggest good news for you, the self-publishing author! 

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.