Thursday, January 5, 2012

Publisher Wakeup Call

With the rise of Amazon's self publishing arm, and the soon-to-be announced copycat venture with Apple's iBooks (betting, here), publishers can no longer rest on their laurels. Especially e-pubs. We are rapidly approaching the point (if we haven't already) where conventional publishing no longer the end goal for writers.

From a strictly business sense, the services provided by a publisher are editing, cover art, some marketing, and distribution. A publisher also provides exposure to a loyal following of readers, as well as credibility for the author as a genuinely published author (i.e: someone felt you were good enough to make money off you).

Every one of these advantages, however, are being eroded.

Lets start with editing. True, a professional editor can cost you several hundred dollars, but if you are fortunate enough to have a reading group consisting of other successful writers who line-edit each other's work, then you can produce a manuscript with the same quality (most editors are/were writers themselves). Free of charge, save for your time editing the other folks in your group.

Cover art. Another expense, but do you know anyone who is handy with Photoshop? There is plenty of free art out there that can be fashioned into an attractive collage by a knowledgeable weekend artist. The current version of Photoshop can quickly turn even a mediocre graphic artist into a suitable cover creator.

Distribution. This is where the publisher's advantage all but dissolves. Amazon will get your e-book out there. Apple is on the way, and we have SmashWords. Their royalty split is not only competitive, in most cases a publisher is well behind the eight-ball.

Marketing. Even with a publisher you are often stuck with the lion's share of marketing your work. Facebook, Goodreads, Scribd...all of these can help you get the word out.

Credibility. Sell a thousand or more titles in a month, get on Amazon's top sellers, and you'll get credibility enough in most cases.

Now, before you think this is just another rant for self-publishing, let me explain that I am not self-published and don't plan on heading down that road just yet. The fact that I don't say "never" should be a warning to any publisher, however. I used to say that, but no longer.

So what, in my opinion, does a publisher have to do in order to combat these in-roads into its business. Simple. Offer a better suite of services.

The publisher that has a robust marketing program will win over one that relies on the author for most of the footwork. Up till now, they didn't have to. It was a enough of a privilege for the author to be brought into their fold. That attitude has to change. The privilege works both ways these days. The publisher who can crow along with me about my books at conventions will be the one getting my submissions.

Readership is another "must". The publisher should have, or be in the process of obtaining, a loyal following of readers. Branding is essential to stand out from the flash-pan outfits.

Distribution. Time to step up. There are many independent online bookstores. The publisher needs to be in all the ones that count besides Amazon, B&N, and the rest. Get international.

Editors. Don't hire hacks who might change a word or two and let the crippling plot mistakes go by. If quality is not on the agenda, what does that say about the publisher willing to let this stuff go out flawed?

Cover Art. Here's a thought - engage the writer in the decision making process. Don't toss up covers that have zero to do with the story or are otherwise of less than professional grade. I see a poorly executed cover, I stay away from that publisher. If they can't do covers right, what else can't they do?

Credibility comes from putting out great products and earning one's self a reputation as a publisher. Having authors who win awards. Authors who say "I'm with that publisher" earn real bragging rights. If I am reluctant to even give out a website for the publisher because they put out a terribly done front-end, then what kind of author am I for submitting to them?

When the time comes that the extra amount I earn from self-publishing exceeds the value of a publisher, then I'll head out to Amazon with the rest. That time hasn't happened...yet.



Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Well stated, and complete. As our literary population grows older, we see a rush to tell one's life stories, gleened by experience and observation. That kind of frantic scramble for immortality comes with a price. Stick with the people doing their best work. By so doing, you'll be proud of your product and content with yourself.

Donna McDine said...

Terrific article. All terrific pointes and one's to keep in major consideration when contemplating one's direction.

Best regards,
Award-winning Children’s Author
The Golden Pathway Story book Blog
Author PR Services

T. M. Hunter said...

Definitely spot-on with the analysis...

Anonymous said...

Damn Kerry. I'm impressed. Well researched. As aside, I just saw today where one of the mainstream outlets now has a main page category "Independent authors" as one of about seven search criteria. Interesting.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year, (2008 and 2009)

Linda Rettstatt said...

Excellent points made! Thanks so much. There is so much for authors to consider these days. And it's important to do your homework and make wise decisions.