Our story thus far... Once upon a time (September 23 at the MPIBA trade show in Denver, to be precise), there was a heated discussion during the panel, "Independent Publishers & Independent Booksellers, Can We Talk?"
And they all lived happily ever after.
Well, no, not quite. Tales of suspense, with complex plots and passionate characters, do not lend themselves to tidy, redemptive endings. For the past few weeks, we've heard from a variety of people with a stake in the future of independent publishing. No one harbored delusions we would solve anything here. Just talking shop.
Shortly before Halloween, I spoke of hearing voices, and that's how I'd like to close this series, with some last--if not final--thoughts from a few of the people I started the conversation with in Denver... a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.
"It’s easier for people-who-would-write to make their work available to people-who-would-read-what-others-write," observed Fred Ramey, co-publisher of Unbridled Books, "As a result, more people are writing. But of course, this does not imply that more people are reading. I’m not at all sure to what extent the growth of self-publishing in all its forms will impact the behaviors of that steady percentage of people who would read; certainly some of them will find some books that have risen from the self-publishing authors’ faith in their own work. That’s wonderful. I picked up a self-published book I much admire in a small Colorado mountain town recently--a perfect-bound POD title. Good reading can come from this. People will connect.
"If traditional publishing dissolves from these pressures, as so many folks are asserting, I believe it will reform itself in ways that are not unfamiliar, because people still will read. It doesn’t strike me that the continued existence of houses in the position of 'publisher' will be a matter of 'professionalism' in presentation or business practice. It strikes me that the basis for the business of publishing is, as it always was, a confident assertion of value. The best publishers in this and in the new Bookworld are and will be the publishers who publish what is good--entertaining, well turned, involving, accurate, informative, moving, rewarding--to read."
Teresa Funke, author and president of Teresa Funke & Co., responded to my question regarding whether "we need some new titles for the different types of authors out there now, especially now that anyone can 'publish' a book. On the one hand, I wonder why our industry should be different from the other arts. I know people who only play the local bars and call themselves 'musicians,' which is the same name someone uses who travels and plays to large audiences. I know painters who sell their paintings out of their house only and painters who exhibit in multiple galleries and each calls herself 'an artist.'
"The publishing industry is changing. Unlike a painter, who can sell her paintings anywhere she wants, a writer used to be stuck with only one solution to see her work in print--she had to get a traditional publisher. Now she, like the painter or the musician, can produce and sell her work anywhere. It's true that the term 'self-published' has gained a negative connotation, though, but I think those writers who go beyond and start their own presses are showing their commitment to treating their book as a business and it is a step up from self-publishing. For me, I'm proud to be called an independent publisher. I think it says it all."
Arielle Eckstut, agent and the co-author of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It... Successfully! (Workman), offered some practical questions that writers considering the self-/indie publishing route should ask themselves:
Is there a product like mine already out there? If so, how is mine different? Being able to compare and contrast your book with other successful products will be one of the keys to actually getting onto bookstore shelves.
Is there an audience for a product like mine? If so, how big is this audience? Where are they? An audience of 10,000 people may seem like a lot until you try to sell them a book. In order to reach any significant sales level--say 5,000 copies of more--you're going to need big numbers. The only exception here are die-hard enthusiasts of short-tail subjects.
Can I produce this product on my own and still make it the best professional product possible? Or do I need to hire other experts to help? For example, if you're self-publishing, you must hire an editor/copyeditor. We got sent a book recently. On the first page, in the acknowledgement section, it said, "I'd like to thank my morther." We found it very hard to take that book seriously.
Can I sell this product on my own? Where does my audience shop? How do they shop? How can I reach them? Who can help me reach my audience? There's no point trying to sell your book to bookstores if your audience lives and buys solely on the Internet, or in flower stores, or at conventions.
How will I garner publicity for my product? Will I need to hire a publicist? It's getting harder and harder to attract the media's attention because there are fewer and fewer outlets.
Can I create professional packaging for my product? If you aren't a professional graphic designer, you're probably kidding yourself if you think you can. For those who are honest, you're most certainly going to need to hire someone not only to design your cover, but also to design the interior of your book.
Finally, in an age where chaos sometimes seems just on the verge of reigning supreme in the book trade, Nancy Mills--publisher of Pie in the Sky Publishing
and president of the Colorado Independent Publishers Association--envisioned a more cohesive future: "Writers, publishers, booksellers and independent publishers, up until just a year or so ago, were all working independently, frequently divisively and with contempt for each other. The lines have been blurred so, now, more than ever before, it’s critical that each component work together. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts so it is my opinion that, finally, we can all play together, nicely, as opposed to separately and divisively. What benefits one, benefits all and working together, harmoniously instead of contentiously, will make the entire industry better, stronger and more vital."
The end.--Robert Gray
(column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now