End-of-Year Talk About Self-Publishing

by | Dec 29, 2010

People are talking, ebooks are selling, print books are still here, but the pace of change seems to be picking up.

Here are some things you could hear around the web in the past few days.

Publishers say they are keenly aware that the ground is shifting, but most don’t see the situation as dire.
Alex Pham, Los Angeles Times

Art of McSweeny’s: A Heartwarming Work of Staggering Genius: In case anyone is still wondering whether books are still on life support, this book should put those claims to rest.
Jennifer Kennard, Letterology

The Gatekeeper is still controlling the industry. Still looking for new writers, offering them 17.5% ebook royalties while he takes 52.5%. Still treating authors badly, while claiming they should be grateful. Still playing by the old rules, even though there are now new ones. Still trying to stay relevant in a changing industry and a dying business model.
Joe Konrath, A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing

It seems that the objection to self-publishing by the cadre of modern-day inquisitors had less to do with truth and more to do with ideology-how to control how book buyers chose to spend their dollars and how to keep authors from going independent and wrecking the status quo.
Brian Scott, Book Publishing News

Whatever stigma vanity publishing may have had has diminished substantially for both readers and authors,” notes Russ Grandinetti, v-p of Kindle Content, who is also involved with CreateSpace, Amazon’s self-publishing arm.
Jim Milliot and Michael Coffey, Publishers Weekly PW Select

Like many famous authors, a growing numbers of professors are “revolting against book and journal pricing” by self-publishing their work or creating custom course packets that can then be copied at a low rate.
Catlin Tucker, Examiner.com

There’s a much bigger wild card sitting out there that impacts what’s happening: e-books. Publishing’s business model is transforming as more people switch to e-reading devices or tablets, and it will likely take years before you start to see firm or expected standards—i.e., “normalcy.”
Jane Friedman, Writer Unboxed

Along with other executives, (Brent) Sampson says that if the self-publishing industry is to continue to expand, author education must be a top priority. . . Author education will be a “major thrust” for Author Solutions in 2011, (CEO) Weiss says.
Jim Milliot and Michael Coffey, Publishers Weekly PW Select

If an author has the choice of two distribution models, one that costs nothing and has no gatekeeper and the other has lots of gatekeepers and costs a lot of money, a lot of people will go with the free one.
Seth Godin, quoted in Los Angeles Times

This past year has seen tremendous growth and innovation in self-publishing, with books moving to mobile platforms, into apps, expanding with content from other media, and being re-thought in fundamental ways.

At the same time, the publishing industry itself is undergoing massive fundamental change. Systems—like book distribution—that have been in place for many years are coming under continued pressure. The number of points at which content is being generated, curated, published and distributed has exploded.

I wonder what 2011 will bring for self-publishing, and for the wider world of book publishing in general. All thoughts welcome.

Image licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License, original work copyright by Kathryn Rotondo, https://www.flickr.com/photos/kathryn_rotondo/2258367736

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. bowerbird

    stephen said:
    > But is anyone designing eBooks
    > with a sense that they’re making art?

    i am… or, to be more accurate, i am
    programming _authoring-tools_ which
    will help writers create artful e-books.

    but most authors simply want to make
    a plain old regular book, which is fine…


    nice summary post, joel.

    for me, the most significant development
    in 2010 was that authors finally started to
    make _big_ money selling their e-books…

    not all of them, of course, not even a lot
    of them, but how many do other authors
    really need, before they start to dream?

    you probably heard amanda hocking sold
    100,000 e-books in the month of december!
    that’s a really stunning number, i would say.

    thus, to me, the rubicon has been crossed…
    the book world will never be the same again.


  2. Stephen Tiano

    I hit “Submit” too soon. I should have closed with:

    I’ve experimented with InDy files to epub to mobi. It can be done; I can do it. But is anyone designing eBooks with a sense that they’re making art?

    • Joel Friedlander

      Well, it’s not all doom and gloom, Stephen. I think there will also be a new appreciation for books as books. Just the mention of ebooks gets people started rhapsodizing about the smell of ink and paper. Maybe there will be more books that people put attention into, and which command a higher price, as ebooks take over the more conventional uses for books. But I think printed books will outlast me, at least.

    • Joel Friedlander

      I’ve seen books where the designer has set the book so you can’t change the fonts, and that approach produces a much better-looking ePub, but it’s not common.

      In May, 2011 we’re supposed to get EPUB3, with support for embedded fonts and other enhancements. Maybe we’ll see the possibility of typographic design in ebooks. Stay tuned.

  3. Stephen Tiano

    I just never understood how the whole remaindering thing got started with books. How the hell it’s survived ’til this day’s even more amazing.

    I was just starting to feel like print books would survive, and maybe they will, but there’s no doubt there numbers will decrease. And that’s too bad, because, although I get the convenience of eBooks–certainly for students and textbooks–I just don’t see any eBook as art, the way print books can be.

    Great! New Years Eve Eve and I’m back feeling all gloomy about the prospects of printed books.

  4. Ren Cummins

    Fantastic post, Joel. It really perfectly summarizes a lot of the buzz that we’ve been hearing. So often, I’ll quote one such statement and the knee jerk response is “well, that’s just one person’s opinion.”

    So, fine, now we use a bigger bat. Excellent!

    • Joel Friedlander

      Yes, get the bat! It’s our turn, don’t you think?

  5. Roger C. Parker

    Dear Joel:
    Thank you for pulling these resources together into a single post; what a great service and a fine way to avoid missing some important ideas.

    Best wishes for a Happy and Successful 2011!

    BTW, what’s interesting is that the crises of trade publishing was diagnosed as long ago as 1982, by Leonard Shatzkin, in his “In Cold Type: Overcoming the Book Crisis,” but so few in trade publishing were listening.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Roger, I remember Shatzkin’s book well, and he wasn’t the first to complain about the book distribution system. Interesting that all these years later, not much has changed in distribution although so much has changed around it.

      Best wishes to you, too, for a great 2011. Thanks for being part of the conversation here, Roger, it’s a pleasure to have your insights.

  6. Joel Gates

    It’s an eternal question for a lot of people. I face it all the time. We submit multiple books annually to publishers and agents and basically collect rejection letters.
    Our content is typically different than other things out there, but this is changing.
    Even still, it is as you have pointed out before. Part of it is frustration that makes one think about doing it yourself, but part of it is also the desire to control the process from start to finish and to maintain creative control.
    I think what will change the stigma against self publishing will be more attention to quality. Professionally edited books with excellent interiors and well designed covers. Right now, if you pick up a self-financed POD book, often you can tell right away what you have in your hand and you have probably been disappointed by just such a work in the past and so your expectations are low.
    We, as an industry, have too work to change that perception.

    • Joel Friedlander

      There is a great disparity in self-published books, but there have always been self-publishers willing to take the time and the expense to produce really professional books, and I think most of the financially successful fall into that group.

  7. Michael N. Marcus

    >>Systems—like book distribution—that have been in place for many years are coming under continued pressure.<<

    Sadly, "returnability (i.e. publishers selling books to booksellers on consignment) is still the rule — many years after it was introduced as a way to keep store shelves full back in the Great Depression.

    This adds tremendous cost and waste to book distribution, and is unknown in most other fields. Sellers of cars and clothes are seldom able to display products for three months, and then return them to the manufacturer if they are not sold.

    Because they don't have to be concerned with sales potential, booksellers will load up on books that may never sell. Publishers print many more books than will ever get read. Ultimately, it's the readers — and authors — who pay for the excess. It's also bad for the environment.

    There have been reports in the trade press that major booksellers will return even popular books that are unsold 90 days after receiving them — and order more of the same titles on the same day, to delay payment.

    Even as we are well into the 21st century, the publishing industry is saddled with — and suffering because of — a distribution gimmick that was devised in and for the conditions of 1930.

    HarperStudio was an imprint of HarperCollins, launched in 2008. It started an experimental program to sell books to booksellers in a one-way transaction, in exchange for providing additional gross profit. The experiment failed and HarperStudio was shut down after two years.

    Selling on consignment may have been a good solution in 1930, but 81 years later it has become very expensive and wasteful.

    eBooks are one solution.

    Michael N. Marcus
    — Create Better Books, with the Silver Sands Publishing Series: https://www.silversandsbooks.com/booksaboutpublishing.html
    — "Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults)," https://www.amazon.com/dp/0981661750



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