The Emergence of the “Author-Publisher”
by Rob PriceThere has never been a better time to be an author. For decades (centuries actually), all-powerful Gatekeepers ruled the landscape, determining who would be published and who would not. Unless you were one of the lucky few, your chances of being seen were minuscule and your costs insufferable. Then things changed. First came Amazon and the introduction of the online bookstore. Then came the fall of Borders and other brick-and-mortar outlets. Recent years have brought the proliferation of e-books and the ubiquity of e-readers. Advancements in print-on-demand technology now allow authors to affordably print as few as one book at a time and avoid tying up thousands of dollars in inventory. As the barriers to entering the publishing industry have crumbled, “author-publishers” have popped up. With the right choices and a compelling manuscript, a first-time author can place her book on the same playing field as an author chosen by one of the still-existing Gatekeepers. I know because I’ve done it myself and I’ve seen it done by many of the authors I work with. The most important thing an author-publisher can do, outside of writing a compelling manuscript, is hiring the right people for the right jobs. Below are tips for going through the publishing process and hiring the right people along the way.
1. EditorialIt should go without saying that things like typos, inaccurate grammar, and usage mistakes can destroy a book’s chances for success. Unfortunately, it needs to be said. Always have your manuscript professionally edited! I have seen first-hand the effect of negative reviews relating to preventable oversights and it is not pretty. Not only do you need someone with an eye for things like punctuation and syntax, but you will also want someone to review the content and quality of your manuscript, addressing organization, transitions, tone, voice, complexity, character development, etc. When seeking a professional editor, ask for qualifications and references and have them to do a sample edit for you. Find out how many rounds of revisions are included and make certain to nail them down on price.
Cover DesignPeople judge books by their covers. Even an untrained eye can spot the differences between a high-quality, professional cover and one that is amateurishly done. A talented and professional cover designer will not only know how to capture a book’s essence, but also what to do to make a book as marketable as possible. A good designer can use her professional discretion to take your ideas and run with them as needed. When hiring a designer, ask for their portfolio and make sure their terms are clear. Will they provide graphics or will you? Who is responsible for their cost? What happens if you are unhappy with their work? Will they create only one design or several? Is their price for the front cover only or is it inclusive of the back cover and spine? What is their turnaround time?
E-book CreationE-book creation is as much art as it is science. Although often referred to as “conversion,” which implies a certain passivity, the creation of a properly formatted ePub or Mobi file is a highly technical process that can make most people’s heads spin. When hiring an eBook technician, make sure they do their work by hand and line-by-line to ensure no formatting errors. If your book is image-heavy like a children’s book or graphic novel, make sure the person you hire knows how to create a “fixed-layout” file (as opposed to “flowing text”). Obtain assurance that the file created for you is compatible with all eReading devices and across all retail platforms. If you want your eBook to contain embedded audio or video files, make sure the person you hire can handle these specific needs.
PrintingFinding the right printer is as important as any other factor. You can have a beautiful cover and a professional interior, but if it’s printed on poor stock or is bound improperly, all will be for naught. When talking with printers, find out what paper stocks they use, how fast their turnaround times are, and, if needed, whether they offer unique options like spiral-bound printing, cover embossing, or DVD-affixing. Ask to see samples if you aren’t familiar with the different options available and make sure you’re aware of their minimum printing quantities. If you go the print-on-demand option (which is generally recommended unless you know for certain you will sell at least 500 to 1,000 copies within your first year of publication), some printers can print one or two books at a time, while others set their minimums at 25 copies.
3. DistributionThere are more distribution options for author-publishers today than there ever before. If you have the time, a number of the larger retail outlets (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc.) allow you to set up and manage accounts directly with them. If not, you may want to work with a distribution aggregator. Some will take a percentage of your sales and some will ask for payment upfront. If you go with an aggregator, make sure they provide you with regular sales reports that are broken down by venue and understand whether they are acting in an exclusive or non-exclusive capacity. Lastly, make sure you are not signing away any ownership rights to your book unless that is what you want.
4. MarketingMaking a book available, in itself, is not enough to ensure success. If no one knows it’s there, it may as well not be there at all. Making a book known and discoverable to readers is the trickiest part of publishing and, more so than any of the other aspects, the onus falls most directly on the author’s shoulders. Even the big publishing houses, more and more, are shifting this duty onto their authors. This area is the one most fraught with lecherous snake-oil salesmen. Be wary of anyone who guarantees results; always read the fine print of any contract to see exactly what is being offered. What does social media coordination mean? What good is guaranteeing fifty phone calls to media outlets if the whole idea is futile from the beginning? As much as any other aspect of publishing, references here are a must. In conclusion, when transitioning from author to author-publisher, keep in mind that you’re the boss. Do your research and make service providers sell themselves to you. Armed with the right information, you can take advantage of this brave new author-centric world and give yourself the best opportunity for success.
In 2016, author-publisher Rob Price and host Gina Hogan Edwards held a detailed discussion about this topic on the author education series CONVERSATIONS Around the Writer’s Table. They talked about the phases of self-publishing, including a comparison to traditional publishing, and the basics of creating print and e-books.If you would like access to this audio, please email me at Gina(at)AroundTheWritersTable.com.
ROB PRICE began as a self-published fitness author at the age of 19 and subsequently founded Price World Publishing. He now works with hundreds of aspiring authors and publishers through www.GatekeeperPress.com. Connect with Rob Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/gatekeeperpress/ LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rob-price-a3a836b8
Gina Edwards is a retreat leader, a certified creativity coach, and a book editor. She is also a writer, so she’s intimately familiar with the challenges and elation that come with being one.
She supports all writers—published and aspiring—who want to write as an act of courageous and necessary self-expression.
Walking the writer’s path hand-in-hand with her clients and students, she helps them establish a writing practice and define a creative life on their own terms.