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NYTM: The Rise of Self-Publishing

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I thought some of you might be interested in this New York Times Magazine article on The Rise of Self-Publishing.

 

Interesting, but I felt like I missed something. A lot more people are self publishing, but are a lot more people buying self published books? I mean, yes, it is easier than ever to get self published books, but are my friends more likely to recommend some random book off the internet, or a book at the checkout of the local grocery store?

 

IF

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A lot more people are self publishing, but are a lot more people buying self-published books?

 

"A lot more" is hard to quantify. In one sense, yes—twenty years ago, self-published books had to be self-distributed to physical stores or sold mail order, and very few of them sold. Today, far more than just "onsies and twosies" of self-published books sell. However, we're talking about very small numbers of books compared to a major publisher. Those of us "in the biz" have access to Bookscan (the publishing industry's equivalent to Soundscan, that ranks music sales). In all my research, I have so far never encountered a self-published book that has sold more than 4,000 books (and that after a few years of sales).

 

This is not to say that no self-published book has sold more copies than that. Bookscan surveys the major book trade players—Waldenbooks, Barnes & Noble, Borders, and so on. It also includes the major online players—Kindle, Amazon.com, iBooks, B&N Digital. But sales from specialty websites won't be included. In other words, if I were a famous champion fisherman, and I sold my self-published book on my website, in bait & tackle shops, and on fishing-related websites, I might have sold 20,000 books but have bookscan register only the 1000 that were special ordered from Borders.

 

Anyway, I'd answer your question with a qualified "probably not." And I say that as a very avowed supporter of self-publishing, who will self-publish if my novel isn't picked up by an agent or publisher. But first I'll shop it around, serialize and podcast the first half of it online, etc. before I'll self-publish, in part because I don't think there's a large enough audience yet.

 

Orren

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A lot more people are self publishing, but are a lot more people buying self published books?

Yes. Exactly. That is the question. But if I were just playing the odds, I'd have to say yes. Why? Total unit sales are up but traditionally published titles are down. There could be another explanation (vastly greater unit sales of fewer titles) but I think I'll bet with my heart. Further, I suspect, with the help of Amazon and Apple etc., self-published unit sales will someday surpass the non-self-published books.

 

I mean, yes, it is easier than ever to get self published books, but are my friends more likely to recommend some random book off the internet, or a book at the checkout of the local grocery store?

I'm most likely to buy a book recommended to me by a respected reviewer, someone I know, or a book by an author I'm familiar with. I bought Ender's Game (The Ender Quartet Box Set: Ender's Game, Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, Children of the Mind by Orson Scott Card) simply because you guys were talking about it (and I needed a new Laundry Room book). I don't think that will change (at least not for me) in the foreseeable future. So it's (still) about learning to play the game.

 

Edgar Allen Poe is considered the inventor of detective-fiction and is credited with contributing to early science fiction. He was the first well-known American to try to live by writing alone. He was a self-publisher. (He also married his 13-year-old cousin. Connection?)

- Thoth

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If you can get the book listed with Amazon.com, I suspect that self/regular publishing is now almost a nonissue. I say this because I have bought paperback books from Amazon.com and realized only after I received them that they had probably been generated through Print on Demand. I found them either by the automated recommendations system or because I was looking for a particular title that a publisher had dropped from its backlist and a POD printer had picked up. With e-books, that line is even thinner: does anyone look carefully at a Kindle book to discover the publisher?

 

The big problems with self-publishing are the same as they have always been: lack of marketing/promotion and the perception, true or false, that if a book is good enough, a regular publisher will want it. Of course, we all know that good work (even bestselling work) can languish for years without any publisher signing the author. We also know that a considerable quantity of schlock makes its way into the bookstores. But when I look back on my own writing, I have to say that I would not have done the world or myself any favors if I had self-published my first few novels. So in that limited sense, the process does seem to work. :)

 

These days, regular publishers put almost nothing into marketing and promotion unless the author is a big name, so I think that, too, is not much of a factor for beginning writers. The trick is to make the book really good and somehow persuade people to read it (word of mouth created J.K. Rowling, among others). Generate enough interest, and you won't care whether you self-published the book (not to mention that agents and editors will be flocking to your door). Which is a bit like saying, "Climb Mount Everest, and you won't worry about the hill in your backyard." But then, people don't go looking for a regular publisher hoping to sell 2,000 copies either, do they?

Best,

M

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If you can get the book listed with Amazon.com, I suspect that self/regular publishing is now almost a nonissue.

Almost. But I think it won't be long before self/regular publishing (I prefer "self/non-self". It's more Freudian.) becomes a nonissue. Unless, of course, publishers wake up and try to take the distinction back.

 

But when I look back on my own writing, I have to say that I would not have done the world or myself any favors if I had self-published my first few novels. So in that limited sense, the process does seem to work. :)

Except you, in your wisdom, were able to make the distinction yourself. You simply didn't need a publisher to do it for you. I never bothered to get the free proof copy (from CreateSpace) for my NaNo book because I knew I could do a lot better. Don't misunderstand; I learned a lot from NaNo. But I did not feel that it pulled a worthy book out of me.

 

These days, regular publishers put almost nothing into marketing and promotion unless the author is a big name, so I think that, too, is not much of a factor for beginning writers....

It makes me wonder just how they predict investment versus return. Or even if they bother calculating it at all. Piers Anthony (of Xanth fame) had said that he just lucked out with A Spell For Chameleon. His publisher just decided (willy-nilly) to push fantasy that year and (lo and behold) his book had an advertising budget. This was 1977!

- Thoth

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It makes me wonder just how they predict investment versus return.

 

In general, publishers do research on other titles in the subject genre and use Bookscan to get an estimate of their sales. Once they have a general range for a "typical" book in a given subject, then marketing, sales, and editorial have meetings to basically figure out where they guess a given title will fit. Once that sales guess is made, they determine what kind of budget the title warrants. I'm sure this isn't how all publishers work or for all genres, but I'll bet it's a very common methodology in this biz.

 

Orren

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I think Daniel Gross of Slate agrees with you, with a rather interesting caveat.

 

"To paraphrase Bob Dylan (whose Chronicles, Volume 1 has sold 370,000 copies in hardcover, according to BookScan), the scanner now will later be scanned." For the times, they are a-changing.

- Thoth

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Well, consider this (at itunesconnect):

 

iBookstore Online Application

 

 

 

 

Requirements for Distributing Content on the iBookstore

 

Technical Requirements:

An Intel-based Mac running OS X 10.5 or later

At least 1 GB RAM

QuickTime 7.0.3 or later. This is so you can encode and deliver content using our dedicated software.

At least 10 GB of available hard drive space (more for larger catalogs) is recommended.

A broadband internet connection with an upload rate of 128 kbps or faster is recommended.

Book Content Requirements:

ISBNs for all titles you intend to distribute

You must be able to deliver your book content in EPUB format, passing EpubCheck 1.0.5.

Financial Requirements:

A US Tax ID

A valid iTunes Store account, with a credit card on file

Apple does not pay partners until they meet payment requirements and earning thresholds in each territory. You should consider this before applying to work directly with Apple as you may receive payments faster by working with an Apple-approved aggregator.

If you meet these requirements and want to proceed, click Continue.

 

(Uh, sorry if this is already common knowledge, I just found out about it today...)

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Yeesh! Does the part about quicktime and using their dedicated software mean you can't make an ebook for them using any other software?

 

 

Another thing about iBooks I just found out that unlike music (which having looked through the terms, appears to actually be sold to you), iBooks are not sold to you, they are "licensed", like apps are and it states they can delete the books you purchase from your device any time they feel like it. That's my understanding of it anyway.

 

More reasons not to buy ebooks! :lol:

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Yeesh! Does the part about quicktime and using their dedicated software mean you can't make an ebook for them using any other software?

 

I pretty sure they are not referring to an eBook creation application, but a loader to iTunes. It's the same for music. Individuals cannot sign up to sell music on iTunes, only labels or aggregators can. But those labels/aggregators have to use a special application Apple wrote to upload media to their iTunes servers. The music files can be created using any software that anyone wants.

 

 

Another thing about iBooks I just found out that unlike music (which having looked through the terms, appears to actually be sold to you), iBooks are not sold to you, they are "licensed", like apps are and it states they can delete the books you purchase from your device any time they feel like it. That's my understanding of it anyway.

 

That is the same with Kindle. You may not remember, but Amazon got some bad press for deleting all copies of Orwell books from people's Kindle. There was a rights issue, as I recall. I think the wrong company added the books, and so for legal reasons Amazon deleted them from everyone's Kindle.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/18/technolo...s/18amazon.html

 

More reasons not to buy ebooks! :lol:

 

A woman after my wife's own heart. :) She's a physical book reader with no interest in electronic books in any form or format.

 

Orren

 

PS—FWIW, I would recommend using an aggregate than trying to go direct with Apple. You'll get paid sooner, and depending who you go with, it would be more "full service." That said, it's great to see Apple dealing with individuals.

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Yup. I immediately thought of the Kindle 1984 thing.

 

Haha, well, after her heart to a point anyway! I'll read ebooks, they're great for when I don't want to/can't take a book with me (or didn't have one on meand ended up with reading time) or something, but I won't buy them. Well, that's not true. I actually bought a $2 ebook from some obscure place because it wasn't available any other way. But in general, I'll buy the real book if I want to buy a book. I'm still hoping for an ebook library though.

 

Just cause I keep wondering and forgetting to ask.. what in the world does FWIW stand for?

- Jools

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One more reason to go with Kindle and Amazon instead. But then, as JG says:

 

Another thing about iBooks I just found out that unlike music (which having looked through the terms, appears to actually be sold to you), iBooks are not sold to you, they are "licensed", like apps are and it states they can delete the books you purchase from your device any time they feel like it. That's my understanding of it anyway.

Amazon actually did this once (delete books from people's Kindles) to their utter and ubiquitous condemnation. I seriously doubt they'll ever do it again (until the next time).

 

More reasons not to buy ebooks! :lol:

The ebook industry does seem to be shooting itself in the foot. Perhaps they'll have it all sorted out in another few years.

 

Here's hoping.

- Thoth.

 

Edit: Sorry. I type too damn slow this time of night. (2:04AM EST)

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Just cause I keep wondering and forgetting to ask.. what in the world does FWIW stand for?

- Jools

FWIW: For What It's Worth.

 

Largest collection of online abbreviations I've found is here at netlingo.com. Use Cmd-F to search the list.

 

- T

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FWIW: For What It's Worth.

Aha! Thank you!

 

..... this time of night. (2:04AM EST)

Ah yes... 2am we have to stop meeting like this, I'd much rather sleep with you. :lol:

Goodnight All, well, except perhaps you west coast peoples.

- J

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