In Your Corner: Growing Your Market With Elbow Grease

Over the last several weeks of this summer, I’ve written about the difficulties of both making a fresh start when getting started and having to re-start your marketing plan when something goes south. Both of those involve a lot of work, it’s true, but this week it’s worth reminding everyone (including myself) that the work is worth it.

I wrote recently about my gardens being stripped accidentally. Well, after having a mini-meltdown and lapsing into total self-loathing and disappointment for a few days, I decided to take a couple of baby steps. I did a soil pH test one day, laid down some fresh soil the next. Ordered a couple of packets of wildflowers and bush beans the day after that. Took handfuls and spread them out the following weekend.

Now, things are starting to come up. It may not be the garden I first envisioned, and it may never again look like the original, but it’s still something. And it still makes me happy. It brings me joy.

Just like writing, and marketing, when I see the first signs of success.

gardening

The elbow grease needs to be there. It’s never going to be the easiest thing, marketing. But it also doesn’t have to be the hardest thing you do each day. Line it up after your fifteen minutes of foreign language learning each day (Duolingo is brilliant, isn’t it?), your half-hour walk, and your afternoon smoothie. Making marketing just another part of your routine, something that has a little bit of structure but not so much it interferes with the rest of your day, is critical to it remaining a long-term part of your life.

I should know. I’ve been to the marketing (and the gardening!) doldrums this summer with you. I know what it looks like. And I’m here to remind you: it’s not the end. It’s never the end. It’s just another part of your life, and you get to make it fit with the rest of who you are and what you do. And in the end, you’re going to sell some books simply because you were willing to show up for a few minutes each day and remind the world that you have a brilliant new book out there in the world, and it’s ready to be read.

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: Growing Your Market in Barren Soil

So here’s a story. Last winter, I spent weeks reading up on ways to make my yard and garden more butterfly friendly, bee friendly, and bird friendly. I checked out a pile of books from the local public library on how to combine these ideas with square-foot gardening, and put in some raised beds. I spent time at a local nursery, and picked the brains of both the nursery staff and my neighbors, who’ve been gardening in this alpine valley for generations. I talked with the local conservation nonprofit, collected native seeds, and come spring, put everything in the ground. I stopped mowing my lawn so often (and so short) and started caring more about soil composition, moisture, and pH levels. Basically, I took the time to care properly about a thing I should have been carrying more about anyway.

Then, one day, I came home from work to find that my homeowner’s well-intentioned handyman had “weeded” my wildflowers, pulled up my soil-fixing plants, stripped the beds, and basically reduced my various riotous little garden spots to bare earth. And then he sprayed them so that nothing would come back up. Sad, right?

For the record, I don’t blame the handyman. He had only the best of intentions, and there’s little visual difference between a healthy butterfly friendly, bee friendly, and bird friendly garden … and a wilderness. He simply didn’t know that it was intentional, and that I was happy with the chaos.

But here’s where things get real for those of us who self-publish: often, our setbacks often feel like they reduce our emotional landscape to scorched earth (or in this case, thoroughly sprayed earth). It can even seem like we’re starting from scratch, or worse. And it can feel like it’s not worth the energy, the sheer elbow grease, required to restart the garden mid-season.

So how do we get past that hump? How do we get to a point where it feels like we’re past the worst, where the garden is already back on its feet enough for us to see progress again?

As with last week’s post about kicking the summer slow-down, it’s all about breaking it down into littler, manageable chunks. If you need to treat the comeback like a fresh start, then that’s what you need to do. But even better than a fresh start is a re-start which builds upon the groundwork you’ve already laid. You don’t have to go full-throttle the moment you get back into the game; it’s totally okay to just dip your toe in at first. Remember how last week I recommended fifteen-minute chunks of social media time a day to get started? That tip applies to re-starts as well as fresh starts.

The difference between a fresh start and a re-start is, of course, how difficult it feels. It’s even in the terminology, isn’t it? A “fresh start” sounds positive and upbeat, a joyous celebration of something new. A “re-start” sounds a little beat up around the edges. And that may be an accurate reflection of how you feel, when push comes to shove. That means that your first job, even before you start re-establishing structure and launching plans, is breaking through the negative mindset which comes from facing down a rough patch.

My advice? Take time for you, and your craft. If you’re anything like the authors I’ve met, you probably spend your summer splitting your time between scrambling to make sure everyone else is having a good time (summer schedules are insane!) and trying to get some much-needed “you” time. If you have any time left to spare, it’s probably spent trying to cram in some writing time. If your summer is anything like my summer, it all feels extremely disorganized and messy, and like you’re doomed to fail at everything simply because you can’t get it all done.

Well, I’m here to talk you down from that mentality, just as much as I’m here to talk myself down from it. You CAN succeed, and you can start by succeeding at loving yourself, and seeing yourself as the triumph you are. Maybe once you see how great you are, you’ll see that great things can happen even on the most stripped-bare soil.

Only then will you have the conviction to pull out a new batch of seedlings.

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.

 

Marketing BASICS : Call Your Own Shots

Last week, I tackled a fairly unpleasant reality when I itemized a few reasons why paying for a little advice isn’t such a bad idea––why it is, in fact, a fantastic idea––but I wanted to follow that lengthy tidbit up with an equally lengthy reminder that the whole reason self-publishing is worth exploring is the fact that it allows us––the authors––to call the shots when it comes to our own work.  And there’s no getting around the fact that free things are wonderful, just as there’s also no denying the reality that sometimes it’s best to do a few things really well and bring others alongside who can do the rest instead of doing everything decently and nothing exceptionally well (or worse, doing everything poorly).

Paying a little out of pocket doesn’t negate the value of an author’s hard work, and it certainly doesn’t erode our creative control, but rather reinforces it; when we foot the bill, graphic designers, copyeditors, and other paid publishing consultants become our employees, and our vision becomes their mission.


Welcome back to my series on marketing B.A.S.I.C.S.!  This is the fifth in a series of blog posts where I tackle the fundamentals of marketing in hopes of making things a little more manageable for you, the self-publishing author.  Four weeks ago I launched the series with this introductory post, followed by:

This week, as you might have guessed, we’re taking a look at:

  • C. Calling Your Own Shots

applause applause applause we live for the applause plause

There is, of course, an upside and a downside to being your own boss.  The upside is, as previously mentioned, you’re in control at every step of the process (that you want to be).  The product of your labors will turn out exactly the way you want and pay for it to do.  Your masterpiece, made your way by the people of your choosing.  Perfection.

The downside is: Bosses abide by deadlines, just like everyone else.  Better still, they set their own deadlines.  This is quite a leap to make, if you’ve never been self-employed or self-directed before––but it’s not the end of the world!  As Tom Wood of Killer Nashville Magazine writes, “self-imposed deadlines might be the hardest of all—precisely because only three people will push you to complete the book: Me, myself and I.”  Says Wood, “It’s not easy to find the time to write in a day full of work, chores, raising a family or whatever.”

Maybe deadlines aren’t actually a downside.  Some people thrive at the challenge of creating their own internal structure and abiding by it!  I don’t hate deadlines, even after the requisite years of working under the thumb of many such requirements, but I do hate falling behind and I have a tendency to fall into cycles of unproductive self-loathing when I do so.  It’s not hard for me to finish projects if nothing else (Wood’s “whatever”) interrupts me … but it’s really hard to re-hone and focus my attention if (or when) it does.  My main problem is I forget to write things down, and if it’s not on paper … well, it doesn’t happen.  Period.

The best investment I ever made was in a large––I mean, large––calendar planner, broken out into days on top of the usual weeks and months.  It doesn’t exactly solve all of my problems for me, and it doesn’t magically give me the motivation to do things I didn’t want to do in the first place, but it reminds me of the bare minimum.  And some days, we can all take pride in doing the bare minimum since even that is an insurmountable difficulty in a busy life and a busy world.  On days when I do more than what I write in my calendar … well, let’s just say that I’m not above keeping a chocolate stash in my desk drawer to celebrate.

Whether it’s buying a planner or tracking down an accountability partner, take some time to figure out your best fit when it comes to setting––and keeping––deadlines.  We may or may not like ’em, but we definitely can’t avoid living among them.  In the wild moors of self-publishing, singing with the echoes of a dream-laden wind, we call the shots.  Every.  Single. One.


Thank you for reading!  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 from one indie, hybrid, and self-published author to another. ♠

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.

In Your Corner : On Marketing

 

importance of marketing

Marketing, for the self-publishing author, is a many-headed hydra and prompts endless questions and dilemmas.  Major publishing houses have plenty of time and money to throw into marketing (although they would argue otherwise), particularly in comparison to you or me and any other self-publishing author out there.  They hire people whose entire careers revolve around taking care of the marketing process for their A-list authors, an enviable prospect because all we really want to do is write more books, right?  And yet, instead, we have both the blessing and the burden of running our own publicity campaigns.

Sometimes, I wake to a new day packed full with plans and routines to balance against each other, and I wonder:

  1. Aren’t we always told that the hardest part of writing a book is writing the first paragraph?  (Whoever says such things has clearly never attempted to tackle the tricky beast of self-promotion.)
  2. Are there ideas I can steal from others about how to be more effective, so that I have more time to spend on what I actually love?  (Which is, of course, writing.)
  3. Who gave the world permission to make me wake up to an empty coffee pot?

In all seriousness, though: the way we approach marketing, as self-publishing authors, matters.  Because it’s not optional.  It’s not something we can get away without doing.  We won’t sell books, and we won’t make room in our lives for the next book, either, if we don’t give some of our time over to marketing.

As Gareth Howard over at Infinity Publishing puts it: “Would you bake a delicious cake and not even eat it?  Would you revise for important exams and not bother sitting them?  Would you book an exotic vacation only to stay at home, wasting that precious deposit?”  The answer is, of course, no.  No, you wouldn’t want to waste the precious time and energy you’ve invested in crafting a beautiful manuscript–you want it to be read.  You want your ideas to reach your readers!  And sadly, we still haven’t figured out a way to guarantee authors that their books will just magically sell once they’re published.  There’s still a vital legwork and elbow-grease component to the whole thing.

You do, thankfully, have an advantage over the enormous publishing houses with their big budgets and their paid professionals: You can make it personal.  You can lend the marketing process a human touch, and you can take advantage of the most effective means of self-promotion known to humankind: your existing social network.  You can also pick the things you do well, and reach out for professional help (with a shout-out to my day job) only when you really need it.  The key is, of course, being prepared to work and work hard to achieve your marketing goals.

Others here on the SPA blog have written about marketing before, and have presented a number of ideas on how we can all be more effective at self-promotion as self-publishing authors.  This holiday season, however, I’d like to issue a specific challenge to you (and myself!): Let’s figure out the next workable, manageable, and sustainable step that we can use to bolster our existing strategies.  It’s no good if we have lofty goals that we never reach, so let’s be specific even while we’re also being optimistic.  I bet you my best unsharpened pencil that we can do better in 2016!

There is, of course, a danger in all of this:

Once we acknowledge just how important marketing is, the process has a tendency to take over our lives and erode away all semblance of spare time we might have.  Fortunately, there are a whole host of resources out there for you–to get you started, and to help you along once you’re already partway down the path.  And of course, I’m here for you too–and the SPA email as well as comments section is always open to lend you a listening ear.

You’re not alone. ♣︎

ElizabethABOUT 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.

From the Archives: “Using Listmania to Promote your Self-Published Book”

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: August 22nd, 2008 ]

If your self published book is available on Amazon.com, there are a lot of ways to promote it.  Since Amazon sales should account for a large percentage of your overall book sales, this site is a good place to concentrate a lot of your efforts.

I’m going to tell you about creating a “listmania” list on Amazon. Have you ever noticed when you browse for something on Amazon, there are lists that are related to that subject that are mentioning other books and/or products?

By strategically listing products on your lists, (including YOURS of course), you can start to generate more traffic to your book listing.

Here’s how YOU can create just such a list:

Sign up for an Amazon Author Connect account if you don’t have one yet. Or sign-in to your current account.

Click on your personal “store” on the top tabs. Then select “Your Profile” from the sub-menu.

You will see lots of things you can personalize, including your bio and your online photograph.

But scroll down and you will see a section called “Listmania!” And this is where you create a listmania list.

Creating a Listmania List is a good way to increase exposure for your book.

Obviously, you want to ensure that your book is on your list.

But the real trick to a successful Listmania list depends upon the OTHER books you put on your list, the ones written by other people.

There are two ways to go about it.

1 – Adding books to your list that are applicable to your subject. The idea behind this concept is easy — if someone reads your list because they were browsing a similar book, they’ll be more apt to buy YOUR book because they’re interested in the subject.

2 – On the other hand, you can add very popular books to your list, since more people may have a chance of seeing it, even if fewer of them will be interested in your book.

I recommend creating multiple lists and trying different tactics to see which is more successful. Amazon lets you track the number of times your list was viewed. Use these numbers to create better lists in the future.

If you have more specific questions about creating a listmania list, the Amazon FAQ will help you.

Amazon Listmania

So here’s the thing: Listmania doesn’t really exist anymore!  Back in 2013, Amazon ceased offering support and guidance on using the Listmania interface, and it was entirely dismantled and rendered unusable over the months following.  (Adrienne Dupree over at Leave The Corporate World Behind even wrote a lovely little lament to mark its final passing.)  And this fact means that, on the one hand, we have to throw the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to our original post … but on the other hand, this presents the perfect opportunity to present you with new and fresh ways of utilizing Amazon for your self-promoting and self-marketing ends (as a self-publishing author).

First, we need to break down exactly what Listmania offered the average author.  Essentially, this featured compiled lists–and this makes sense, given its name–but it was not to be confused with Amazon’s wish lists, gift lists, and registries, or even Goodreads’ Listopia lists (which still exist).  These lists were designed to focus a reader’s attention on products that were similar or in some way related to products that a customer had already been viewing. By strategically listing popular products on your lists, including your own book, you were–in theory–able to generate more traffic to your book listing when people viewed your Listmania lists.  This brings us full circle to that one key word I’ve been lobbing around a lot lately: findability.  An Amazon Listmania list was supposed to render you and your book more findable, but to many people it remained just another one of the giant retailer’s many algorithmic mysteries.

And yet … findability remains important.  There simply are better ways of going about it!

Here are my top 3 recommendations for filling that gaping hole in your heart once occupied by Amazon Listmania:

  1. Start a Pinterest page.  Not just any Pinterest page, mind.  (And I’ve written about Pinterest recently in depth, so I won’t make like a broken record and repeat myself too much here.)  Whip up a Pinterest page (or “pin” to a “board”) where you collect together other books along with other somehow related objects that your ideal reader might want to purchase.  For example, someone who reads Hugh Howey’s Wool might want to pick up some tickets to tour the Titan Missile Museum outside of Tucson, or perhaps some Wool-inspired art prints.
  2. Create a public Amazon Wishlist.  This is easy to do, and it serves much the same function as a Listmania list–only, you’ll have to do a touch more legwork to advertise the list’s existence, since these wishlists aren’t necessarily designed to be searchable.  For more information, hop on over to the Amazon how-to page for wishlists, and peruse at your leisure.  Each wishlist is shareable across any platform you might wish, and you can snag a web link to copy and paste into emails or Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram, or any other kind of social media feed you can imagine.
  3. Take a stab at an entirely new social media platform.  The reason why Listmania disappeared is that nobody was using it, or at least, too few people were using it to make it worth Amazon’s efficiently allocated time to advertise and maintain.  It had a function, but it wasn’t one that really connected with Amazon’s user base.  To make yourself findable these days, you must needs throw yourself into the post-millennial age, and go where your readers are.  I’m not necessarily an advocate of just trying anything–you should always do a little cross-demographic market research to see if your readers actually are the sort who use Snapchat or Instagram or Tumblr or Twitter–but as a good friend told me last week, “Just doing what you’ve always done and expecting things to improve is a special kind of lunacy. Sometimes you have to innovate.”  So–innovate, with calm but cautious optimism. ♠
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.