Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Self-Publishing Tsunami

Last night I spoke at a local writers group meeting.  The topic:  Independent/Self-Publishing.  The meeting was attended by about 40 people and almost all were considering self-publishing.  That is just one group, one night, in one area.  Yes, the self-publishing tsunami is upon us.

There seems to be a lot of information, misinformation, competing agendas and commentary backed up with little actual data circulating out there when it comes to self-publishing.  Who to select as a publisher?  CreateSpace - which seems to come up most commonly - versus creating your own imprint in the hopes it won't look like you are self-published.  While the contention is that CreateSpace "screams" self-publishing, as one person at last night's meeting put it, I would have to ask this question: Assuming you have created your own imprint - let's say you call it "Morning Thunder" or "Pink Sky Publishing" who has ever heard of either and wouldn't common sense lead one to believe these names, too, are the inventions of self-publishers? 

It also becomes clear that self-publishing is the wave of the future because of the belief that bookstores are dying and the ebook market on the rise.  And, young and old readers, alike, just love their Kindle Fire, it seems. 

As one person said, "Forget the bookstores, put that dream away.  You are not going to end up in Barnes and Noble if you are self-published."  This has to do with that company's corporate decision in 2010 not to allow self-published work in their stores, a reasoning too complicated to explain here - although apparently it comes down to money (traditional publishing houses pay for table and shelf space) and most self-published books are PODs - which means print-on-demand and non-returnable. 

As for independent stores that create "local author shelves."  The feeling is that they tend to look a tad "junkie" and turn off readers because a lot of stuff - good and not-so-good - is crammed on the shelf.  That said, I still believe in getting your book in the stores and when they display them on their shelves or when customers first walk in, it's a terrific feeling of accomplishment.

Either way, the attitude last night is that bookstores are no longer a factor when it comes to making a decision about going the traditional publishing route or self-publishing. 

Another thing to consider: much of the conflicting information swirling around out there is how much money you need to spend to publish a quality product.  One thing is clear - it is agreed that you can't publish a book overnight; you need to hire an editor and cover designer.  All of this is well-documented on the Internet.   But again, how much money to spend on a self-published book varies wildly.  Someone said "anything under $2,000 and forget it."  I spent approximately $1,450 on each of my books and loved the quality and the caliber of them, both trade paperbacks and Kindle versions.

My talk last night focused on how to successfully promote your self-published book.  This I had to jam into a 10-minute spiel, but here's what I said.

  • Understand your audience
  • Create your platform
  • Learn how to write a press release (yes, the media still plays an important role in getting your word out as an author).  And despite some who have said that writing a press release is a no-brainer, this is untrue.  Writing a cogent, to-the-point press release is an art.
  • Figure out how to summarize the plot/substance of your book in two or three sentences when you pitch it to readers.  Again, this is a challenge.  And, if you don't believe me, try it!
  • Build connections in the community through book signings, craft fairs and work to make your table stand out - and put a smile on your face when people approach your table.
  • Set your own pricing for your books - so that they are neither too high nor too low.  When you price your trade paperback, don't lowball it.  You can always revise and bring the price down, but you can't increase the price once you have set the original price.
  • No ebook for an independent author should be higher than $4.99, although right now the going philosophy seems to be $2.99 is probably the best pricing option.
  • Free giveaways of your book lose traction after the 3rd or 4th giveaway.
  • 99 cent ebooks look cheap and scream the message that the author does not value his or her work.
  • Build a blog that is beautiful, interesting and features the work of other authors or whoever your audience is and fits into your "niche."
  • Use social media - Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook to your advantage but don't beat people over the head with all your latest - and greatest - reviews and promos. 

Finally, make no mistake about it.  As I said last night, this is the most exciting AND challenging of times in the history of publishing.  You can make your wishes come true through hard work and perseverance.  Yes, you, too, can be an author. But this is also true and listen carefully.  This "book business" is not for the faint of heart. Being an author means becoming a promoter, publicist and entrepreneur.  There are so many books flooding the marketplace it becomes clear that confidence in yourself and your book, along with a well-defined strategy are essential.  Why?  The tsunami is upon us.

Thoughts or comments on your own publishing experience or on the topic of self-publishing?

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