Thursday, May 26, 2011

What does a publisher offer an author?

Less and less, I think.

James Altucher, at Freakenomics (here is his own blog) recently wrote about self-publishing a book.  First, to develop some cred, he notes that he has sold five books through major publishers.  His latest book didn't fit into the cubbyhole - probably finance and economics - that his publishers had put him in, so he was facing resistance in selling his book. "[So] I’m never going to publish in the morgue of the publishing industry again."
Here are his reasons for self-publishing:
Advances are quickly going to zero. Margins are going to zero for publishers. There’s no financial benefit for going with a publisher if advances are going to zero and royalties are a few percentage points. The publishing industry does minimal editing. The time between book acceptance and release is too long (often a year or more). That’s insane and makes zero sense in a print-on-demand world when kindle versions are outselling print versions.
He was also upset that his publishers didn't tell him about promotion opportunities, for example using Amazon's Author page to connect with his audience and communicate with them.  As I see it, the main jobs of publishers are editing and promotion.  If they are failing in these areas, Altucher has a point.

Then he goes into detail about how he published.  Most of the steps were free and included downloading a Microsoft Word template that formatted the book - it kept tract of the table of contents and marked the pages "left' and 'right' and such.  Converting the book to Amazon Kindle format cost around $70 and he was ready done.

At the Freakenomics site are instructions to download his "luckiest Person Alive" ebook  as a PDF free.
In the paragraph below the quoted section I described one of the jobs of publishers as editing.  I should add quality control as well.   I have read two self-published books that didn't meet my standards.  One, Frozen Beneath (no link), I bought in paper form so it was somewhat costly.  Altucher was a commercially-published author before switching to self-publishing so he already has a reputation as a skilled writer.  How can new authors sell self-published books if they aren't already recognized?

Scott Sigler reversed Altucher's strategy.  He had been denied a contract by a publisher so he offered a few books free as podcasts (actually many books as free pods), then returned to the publishers with evidence that people wanted his stories.  He managed his own promotions as well, instructing any fans (minions) who wanted the book to all buy it on the same day.  He was briefly the best-selling author in Horror (and science fiction? - I can't recall).  I wrote about his exploits here and was thrilled to find he commented on my post.

Mur Lafferty was in a similar position.  She was a professional author or articles for magazines but unable to find a publisher for her fiction.  She too went the podcast route - she is one of THE masters of podcasting- and her books now appear on Amazon - self-published, I think.

Amanda Hocking is someone I need to pay more attention to.  I have mentioned her self-published e-books before on this blog, but still have not actually read any of her work. Hocking (at novelr)

John Scalzi made a graphic covering what he thought were all the issues of e-book publishing.  I cannot find the link but he is active about describing the writing process and is offering a book (follow the link, but also other books, I think) free to attract interest.
I am still not sure how to get around the quality control issue.

Thirty years ago, in my small town, the choices were to go to the library or buy a book at Reader's World or travel an hour by car to another bookstore.  I read many of the books at the store and library because there weren't other options.  Oh, I like libraries, and have found two in Busan that have English books, but if your reading follows a theme, you often run out of choices at libraries.

Offering free books and books-as-pods are strategies that have been shown to work.  As a lazy writer who writes more about how-to write than actual content, I don't want to write two or three books to get paid for one.  Perhaps I need to look at this as an apprenticeship or the like.

The other option is to offer a book at near-free.  This seems viable as fewer groups take their piece.  The division is Amazon and the author, instead of Amazon, the author and the publisher.  Further, people may be more willing to try a new author for a few dollars than for ten dollars.
I've said Amazon repeatedly, and I very much enjoy my Kindle, but I presume the other bookstores and ebook readers have similar arrangements.

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