Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Everyone's Gone to the Moon

Recently we had a duel of sorts online among authors either espousing or eschewing self-publishing.

The first shot over the publishing bow was fired by English novelist Ray Connolly in an August 12th article in the UK's Guardian here.

Connolly says:
... change is on the way. With Apple's iPad recently joining Amazon's Kindle and the Sony Reader as devices for reading downloaded books, power in publishing might just be shifting in the authors' favour.
Of course, I agreed with him. Five months earlier, on March 2, I said here:
There are three main players in this game: The author, the publisher and the consumer. New York publishing is not yet playing fair with either the author or the consumer. That's understandable because publishing houses have not yet accepted that their power position is no longer as secure as it once was when they owned the only means of production.
About ten days after the Guardian article, on August 23, Seth Godin, marketing entrepreneur, wrote a post on his blog here that attracted a lot of attention.

Seth explained that he would self-publish his next book instead of seeking a traditional publisher. The Wall Street Journal reported "Mr. Godin plans to release subsequent titles himself in electronic books, via print-on-demand or in such formats as audiobooks, apps, small digital files called PDFs and podcasts."

On his blog, Seth said:
Traditional book publishers use techniques perfected a hundred years ago to help authors reach unknown readers, using a stable technology (books) and an antique and expensive distribution system.

The thing is--now I know who my readers are. Adding layers or faux scarcity doesn't help me or you. As the medium changes, publishers are on the defensive ... The question asked by the corporate suits always seems to be, "how is this change in the marketplace going to hurt our core business?" To be succinct: I'm not sure that I serve my audience (you) by worrying about how a new approach is going to help or hurt Barnes & Noble.
I absolutely agree with Seth that self-publishing is the right model for him.

The next day, August 24, I read Philip Goldberg's piece titled "Who Needs Publishers? We All Do!" on The Huffington Post here.

Goldberg said:
My bottom line is this: when it comes to serious nonfiction especially, readers, libraries, reporters and everyone else concerned about accuracy and readability should rely only on books that have been competently edited. And long live advances: may they grow and may authors and their readers prosper.
I agree with Mr. Goldberg that the traditional route to publication is the best model for him.

In James Goldman's marvelous play The Lion in Winter, Henry II asks Philip, King of France, "What kind of courage have you got?"

Philip responds, "The tidal kind: it comes and goes."

Reading this post, you could be forgiven for thinking that my decision-making capacity appears to be the tidal kind. One minute I'm supporting self-publishing and the next, I'm all for the traditional model.

The thing is, whether you opt to self-publish or not depends on a lot of factors. I'm only going to address one here: Marketing.

I encounter at least one person a week who believes that self-publishing is a simple matter of choosing a path: (1) The Author Solutions Approach where the writer goes to an established self-publishing company that offers a full array of services, or (2) The Ad Hoc Method where the writer locates the needed resources (editor, graphic artist, etc.) and then goes to either Amazon to post the e-book or a printer to produce the p-book.

Having a book--whether a physical book or an electronic book--is not the end goal. Selling that book is. To do so, you must be able to attract an audience likely to purchase your book.

Seth Godin is a master at marketing. His blog has a huge following. He also has years of experience in the publishing industry; as a book packager, as the owner of online marketing firms, and today as an author and public speaker. His background and experience give him all the tools he needs to succeed as a self-published author.

Ray Connolly is a well-known English novelist, biographer and film director. In a different way than Seth, he has his own platform. He can access newpapers like The Guardian and command media attention. He certainly has been involved in publishing enough to understand its challenges. I was interested to see that he is serializing his latest novel, The Sandman, online. I suspect he will do well as a self-published author.

I admire Philip Goldberg for his candid assessment of himself and his relationship with the publishing industry. He clearly is happy with his publisher and his editor. He also has a full life as an Interfaith minister, teacher and lecturer. He doesn't want to self-publish. That's a rational and perfectly understandable decision. Good for him.

The bottom line to me is that writers should carefully review their options and make a considered decision as to which path is best suited for them.

And, here's my decision tree to help that process along.

1 comment:

Jesse said...


As you know, I have been down both paths. If a writer looking for sales numbers, a publisher with distribution (via retail stores or direct to the reader) is clearly the way to go. My experience says that is true whether it's a paper book or an ebook.

Marketing is a difficult and time consuming task. Once upon a time I self-published 900 books. I had pre-sold enough to cover my cost. I then spent more than a year marketing and sold about 500 more. Did I make money? Yes. Did I get rich? No. My income probably came to less than $3 per hour.

Subsequently the book was picked up by a publisher and they sold more in a few months than I did in more than a year. They have also translated the book into German, Swedish, and Italian and are pushing those as ebooks. I could have never done that on my own.

I guess my bottom line is that I agree with you. If this is a hobby, then any way the author wants to be published is fine. If you want to actually make money, then traditional publishing is a better bet.

Of course, as you point out, it's a different game if you are already well known. At the same time most well-known authors won't want to be bothered spending hour upon hour doing marketing.

Just my opinion.