8 Reasons Self-Publishing is Entering a Golden Age

by | Aug 31, 2010


Whenever a discussion about self-publishing gets heated, you can be sure someone will say, “If we let just anybody publish a book, soon we’ll be buried in bad, unedited books and all the good ones will be lost in a sea of crap!”

There were over 350,000 books published in the U.S. last year, more than ever. And that doesn’t include the hundreds of thousands of books moved to print-on-demand servers and assigned ISBNs, and therefore “published.”

I don’t feel buried, do you? Where are all those books? Apparently it’s not that easy to find them. You have to actually make an effort. You won’t get downed in some tsunami of badness, you have to go looking and jump in.

The Real Shame of It All

Writers who are waiting for the gatekeeper to come and open the gate may have a long wait ahead of them, and that’s too bad.

You know why? Because we’re about to enter a real golden age of self-publishing. There is no denying the fact that a whole lot of people have something to say and are busy writing their books. They want to publish, put their thoughts, their history, their research, their story into the arena, and why not?

It might seem overblown to call it a golden age, but I think it’s really happening, and here’s why:

8 Reasons We’re Entering a Golden Age of Self-Publishing

  1. The playing field is leveling—Net neutrality ensures the internet stays equally available to all. As far as online business is concerned, each book competes on its own. In this environment it’s your passion, persistence and pluck that will sell your book, and that’s within your power.
  2. There’s easy access to tools and professionals—In order to make top-quality books, you need people with top-quality skills. Part of the downsizing of the publishing industry has been the upsizing of the freelance marketplace, where every talent you need to build a superior book is available.
  3. Social media marketing—The person-to-person communication that typifies social media can be scaled through smart use of sites where your readers congregate. When you get involved in social media you can begin to build community based on your own personality and ability to communicate, not on huge advertising budgets. Social media, blogging, forums all drive traffic and can make your book a success outside normal promotional channels.
  4. Elimination of production risk—Digital printing and print-on-demand distribution have eliminated almost all of the production risk of publishing. Book printing, storage and fulfillment are the dominant costs in publishing and this new system makes it possible to get into print for almost nothing. It’s now cheaper to publish a book than to copy one at Kinko’s.
  5. Prejudices are starting to crack—More authors are moving to ebooks, and ebooks are even easier to self-publish than print books. The attraction of 70% royalties is strong, of course, but so is the ability to control your own publication, something that’s long been denied to authors. Publishers have given over more responsibility to authors to build their own platform, to do a lot of their own marketing. But this has also empowered authors to take the autonomy and exercise real choices over their own publications.
  6. The softening definition of books—We are in the beginning of a transition to ebooks, although print books look like they have plenty of life left in them. Book traditions of hundreds of years are still strong, and this may be one of the last times most people in the world will have learned to read from books printed on paper. Books are already beginning to stretch and change, and ebook markets are equally friendly to new forms and formats for textual content as they are to digital texts that are made to look like “books.” All kinds of writing and information products will find life in print that were simply uneconomical to produce before.
  7. The globalizing force of the internet—Ebooks and apps have opened the world market to books in electronic form without regard to national boundaries, an unprecedented development in publishing that will continue to have a greater and greater effect.
  8. Mobile technology—The spread of mobile computing technology has increased the amount of reading in the world. Now we read everywhere, and the digitization of books into ebooks and apps has opened the whole world of smart phones, tablets, MP3 players, and other devices to books, a phenomenon that has never existed before. The average smartphone user can now carry in her pocketbook a massive library that would have dwarfed entire home libraries just a few years ago. And there are over 50 million smartphones alone in use around the world.

Well, that’s my list. I think we’ve only seen the beginning of the curve, and it’s heading up.

What do you see in the future of self-publishing?

Image licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License, original work copyright by delphaber, https://www.flickr.com/photos/delphaber/

tbd advanced publishing starter kit

24 Comments

  1. L. S. Miller

    I self published my first novel, A Death in Our Family, this summer with Createspace/Amazon and the process was relatively simple although it would have been easier if I was not as technologically challanged. I have four more complete novels but haven’t moved forward with publication pending the sales success of the first one.
    Is it possible to hire a reputable marketing agent to deal with that part of the process?

    Reply
  2. Mogo~Spok-Spok~Slogo

    The self-publishing age is absolutely fantastic…every human on earth can now tell their story, or create a fantasy from their imagination, capture the history of their ancient tribe, GREATER than the Library @ Alexandria….the wealth and beauty of humanity is being captured on little flash drives…UNTIL..UNTIL..UNTIL.. a GIANT solar flare arrives and destroys all the World’s electronic systems and we all go back to the 18th century again….so make sho’ u put yo a iPad and a memory stick in a very thick LEAD box deep in the ground…beware 12/21/12….Love Joe…

    Reply
  3. Mary Tod

    I agree with L.J. Sellers with the caveat that writers have more to figure out and more roles to take on as part of being liberated! Interesting to see Mitch Joel’s post today on Content is Everywhere as well as Mike Shatzkin writing about new markets for english language books by which he is referring to Europe, Asia and beyond.

    Reply
  4. L.J. Sellers

    I think that as more and more authors go indie, parts of the publishing industry will start to shrink. For example, vanity presses and small publishers may not survive, because they have so little to offer writers. I imagine there will be also be fewer agents, but agents will be engaged in a greater variety of services.

    Being in control of the publishing process is very liberating for authors, and once they experience it, they may never go back to a traditional publisher. There’s never been a better time to be a novelist.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Yes, it’s heady stuff. Luckily, there is plenty of help for the entrepreneurial author. It’s one of the things I like most about the publishing business. Thanks for stopping by.

      Reply
  5. Austin Briggs

    Hi Joel,

    Just saw your post at Twitter. I did read it before, however – in fact, it was this post of yours which tipped the balance in my decision to go self-publish.

    So far, has been fun. (Pre-)designing the website, working with artists on the cover and with editors on the text . . . I’m loving it.

    Good luck to all of us playing in this field, or preparing to play as it were.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Austin, thanks for that. I pick on post from my archives each day to tweet, glad to hear you’re enjoying the process. That’s the best part and when things start to get stressful, I remember that it’s supposed to be fun, too!

      Reply
  6. ZetMec

    I self-published for 2 reasons: price & control.

    I am a poor starving author & it allowed me to keep cost low & quality high, pick my own cover & call the shots.

    Social media for an unknown is still a difficult marketing tool, however. It takes forever to build a solid following & not everyone wants to buy a “print book.”

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      ZetMec, maybe you should consider doing a version for the Kindle store. It would give you another revenue stream from the same material.

      Reply
  7. Pauline Barclay

    Hello Joel
    I was fascinated and cheered by your article about self-publishing having self-published two novels, I have come across great support and disturbing snobbery! I make no bones about it, SP is hard work, but when did anyone think writing, publishing etc was easy. I am determined to make my writing a success, my third book is written, but needs much more attention before it will see the light of day. But when it is complete, I will be looking to self-publish again. Maybe consider an e-book this time. I would be more than happy to talk about my experience to anyone who is contemplating self-publishing.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Pauline, you’ve already done the hardest part, and that is getting started. Every book you do will build on that foundation, and I hope you have continued success with your publishing. Thanks so much for your comment.

      Reply
  8. Mary Tod

    Hello Joel – I realize that this is an old post (old in blogging terms!!), however I would like to provide a bit of input and would really appreciate your feedback. I’ve written blog post titled No Writer is an Island (https://onewritersvoice.com/2010/08/12/no-writer-is-an-island/) that illustrates a number of external factors affecting writers. I’ve also written a post So Many Options – What’s a Writer to Do? (https://onewritersvoice.com/2010/08/07/so-many-option…a-writer-to-) looking at some of the technology change affecting writers.

    It seems to me that these reflect some of the points you are making here.

    Looking forward to reading more of your material.

    Mary

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Thanks, Mary I’ll check out the articles when I get a chance. I’m sure others will be interested also.

      Reply
  9. Will Entrekin

    #9: “Will Entrekin is about to independently publish his first novel.”

    Ha!

    No, seriously, I think self-publishing will truly enter its “golden age,” or, more accurately, truly come into its own when the “self-” prefix is dropped. When people realize that publishing is merely distributing information–be that information any form of medium, and be that distribution any sort of delivery–we’ll really see a trend of more people not just accepting it but embracing it. The Internet has subsisted on pretty much nothing besides self-publishing, but the problem is that too many people want to call it “user-generated content.”

    When people recognize that something like YouTube is not “user-generated content” so much as totally independent filmmaking, we’ll start to see a golden age.

    Or then again, maybe not. Who uses gold anymore, anyway?

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Hey, Will, why not? At least, it could be a reason it’s your golden age.

      Good point. I’ve never cared for the tug of war between “self-” and “indie” publishing anyway. Maybe someday we won’t need those labels. I hope you’ll keep us in the loop about your publishing progress. Thanks for stopping by.

      Reply
      • Michael N. Marcus

        Disagreeing about words seems to be a fundamental part of human life.

        Did George W. Bush really “win” the election in 2009? Can white people use the “N word?” Are Catholics really Christians? Are Jews really white? Is Barack Obama really black? Why was an Octoroon considered black and not white? What is race? Why is a tomato really a fruit, but used as a vegetable? Is that portable computer a laptop or a notebook? Is an eBook a book? Is a scroll a book? Can an eBook be loaned? Chippewa and Ojibway are two Anglo terms for the same tribe of Native Americans. Are American Indians Indians? Why does the Yellow Freight company have orange trucks? What’s the difference between a freedom fighter and a terrorist? Was the Virgin Mary really a virgin when Jesus was born, or was there a translation shift? Is an un-published author really an author–or merely a writer? Why are there different versions of the 10 Commandment?

        With all this history, it is not surprising that people in publishing–who make their livings by selling words–will disagree about the nature and meaning of “publishing.”

        We each have to either accept the terminology used by others, or convince them to use ours.

        In Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There,” Humpty Dumpy told Alice, “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean.”

        For two years, I expended a lot of effort and a lot of words attacking the term “self-publishing company.” I criticized companies that used the label, pointing out that it MADE ABSOLUTELY NO SENSE, because no person or company can self-publish someone else–just as no one can self-educate, self-immolate or self-medicate someone else. A few months ago, I gave up and gave in.

        For better or for worse, the meanings and implications of words do change–and I can’t stop the changes.

        At one time, a “girl” could be a boy. Now, “bad” can mean good.

        An iPad is both “cool” and “hot.”

        Going “up to the front of the line” means the same thing as “down to the front of the line.”

        Many people–and media including The Wall Street Journal and Writer’s Digest–use the term “self-publishing company.” There’s not much point in my continuing to bang my head against an unyielding concrete wall. Or to pee into the wind.

        Therefore, I no longer debate the semantics and illogic of “self-publishing company” and will stop saying and writing “vanity publisher.”

        I own a small publishing company (Silver Sands Books) that so far has published only books that I’ve written. I could logically call the company a self-publishing company (a company that publishes books written by myself). But that would only make the situation more confusing.

        I am now a self-published (or self-publishing) author, who has also had books published by “traditional” or “trade” publishers. I am also a publisher, but not yet an “indie” publisher.

        My company’s website has a preview of our first book that will be written by someone other than me, so the company is almost-indie.

        I consider myself (the person) to be an “independent self-publisher.” Next year, my business (and I) may also be an “indie publsher,” or a “krellflarn” or “wawadoodle” or whatever term is then in vogue.

        Michael N. Marcus
        https://www.BookMakingBlog.blogspot.com
        — “Become a Real Self-Publisher: Don’t be a Victim of a Vanity Press,” https://www.amazon.com/dp/0981661742
        — “Get the Most out of a Self-Publishing Company: Make a better deal. Make a better book,” https://www.amazon.com/dp/0981661777
        — “Stories I’d Tell My Children (but maybe not until they’re adults),” https://www.amazon.com/dp/0981661750

        Reply
        • Joel Friedlander

          Bases well covered, Michael. I agree it’s inaccurate and potentially misleading for companies publishing books for other people to call themselves “self-publishing companies.” And I can remember talking about the self-publishing vs indie or independent publisher confusion fifteen years ago. We didn’t solve it then either. Your efforts haven’t gone for nothing, it’s just that the task of education is endless. Thanks for your contribution.

          Reply
  10. Tom Evans

    For me it’s also speed. I’ve got a book being published by a mainstream publisher (who is fast and brilliant I have to say) in Jan 2011 that I finished in May 2010. I wrote the sequel in July/August and it already available for the Kindle and in print in October. Enuff said !!!

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Yes, speed is another great value of self-publishing, as evidenced by your story. That could be another reason to add to the list, thanks Tom!

      Reply
  11. Lyn Cote

    Joel,
    I don’t think the awe of writers is going to wear off just because of the new technology. Telling a story fiction of non fiction is still HARD! And I agree with your points.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Lyn, apparently you are right, at least that’s the evidence I see. And why not? As you say, telling a story well is not as easy as reading one. Thanks for your contribution.

      Reply
  12. Michael N. Marcus

    Your post demonstrates–and people in the book biz know–how easy it is to publish now. But many “civilians” are still in awe of authors.

    I was reminded of this on Sunday when I was at a brunch meeting of about 25 members of a burial society that I’ve inherited membership in.

    Although I’ve theoretically been a member since birth, Sunday was the first time that a meeting was held close enough for me to conveniently attend. I was surrounded by relatives I am scheduled to spend eternity with, but I had never met any of them before.

    During the meeting, someone was speaking about a milestone in family history about 100 uears ago, and I casually mentioned that I had written about the incident in one of my books.

    I was surprised by the response. Some people were in awe! Someone said, “Oh you wrote a book!” and there was at least one “Wow.” People asked the name, the subject and where they could buy it.

    I answered the questions quickly and politely, I didn’t want to hijack the meeting and turn it into a book promo event.

    My extended family (mostly sophisticated New Yorkers) thought that meeting a writer is unusual.

    I certainly don’t think writing is unusual. I spend a lot of my online and offline time communicating with writers, editors, designers and publishers. My close relatives and neighbors and employees know that I write and publish and they are not impressed.

    I know how easy it is to get published; but to this group of strangers–who share some of my genes, and will share a final address–it was a big deal. I’m certainly not a celebrity like Elvis, JFK or Shakespeare, but some of these folks seemed to be a bit excited to be related to an author and maybe even to be buried near one.

    It made me feel good.

    Magicians don’t explain their best tricks. Maybe we shouldn’t reveal how easy it has become to publish.

    Michael N. Marcus
    https://www.BookMakingBlog.blogspot.com
    — “Get the Most out of a Self-Publishing Company: Make a better deal. Make a better book,” https://www.amazon.com/dp/0981661777

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Thanks for the story, Michael. And I’ve been similarly impressed with the fact that people are still impressed by “authors” when we both know what it takes these days to become one. Nevertheless, enjoy your status! You earned it.

      Reply
      • chinedu ochulor noble

        i am inspired by all the write ups by all of you here. this is a good one ,that means as an upcoming author i still have a great future to make a living with my writing talent. please i will love to meet with a good author who can encourage me more on my writing ability. i am working on my first inspirational book which which will come up soon before ending of february 2017. God bless you joel and please send me mail cos i will love to be close to you sir so that you cna assist me anyway possible.

        Reply

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