Book Publishing, A Quick Look at the Industry

Publication2On April 24 I had the pleasure of sitting on the Publishing Panel at the Writers in the Mountains’ annual book festival held this year at the Union Grove Distillery in Arkville. I was joined that day by Leslie T. Sharpe, professor, author and editorial consultant; Anique Taylor, poet, painter and educator; and Lillian Browne, journalist. We all shared very different perspectives on publishing.

Here were some of my contributions to this conversation.

  1. General Considerations

Independent publishing or self-publishing, as it is now called, has always existed. Shortly after the invention of the printing press, artists and writers with entrepreneurial spirit learned to design and publish their own books. Digital technology has of course made things a lot easier. I highly recommend the essay “From Papyrus to Pixels” published by The Economist in 2014.

Self-published authors are those who set up accounts with various self-publishing platforms, and publish that way, and those who set up their own presses, and become their own publishers, the likes of Mark Twain and Virginia Wolf.

Earlier this spring I attended the Woodstock Writers Festival, co-sponsored by The New School. One author explained that publishing a book is ultimately a way to connect with readers, and self-publishing is one way to do so. But authors shouldn’t choose self-publishing as a way to avoid gatekeepers, because gatekeepers can really help make a manuscript better.

Four authors were asked about their route to publication, and all four of them had a different answer:

  • One of them met his publisher at a party in Woodstock.
  • Another one had a more methodical approach: she started by googling “how do you get a literary agent?” and then googling “how do you write a query letter?” Her manuscript was accepted on the first day she sent out query letters to six agents.
  • A third admitted that it had taken her a really long time to find an agent. She started by approaching friends, and friends of friends, and people she met at workshops. Her advice to writers was to look at books that were similar to theirs, and see who published them.
  • The fourth author said that he was lucky, because it took him six years to write the book, but sold it in forty-eight hours.

Ultimately, how you choose to publish a book depends on the complexity of the project, I would say, how resourceful you are, and how much time you have to commit to the project.

  1. Trends

My advice to writers has always been to remain constantly creative and curious, and look for new models in publishing, because the industry is changing rather rapidly. For instance, at the Woodstock Writers Festival last year I met someone who works for Diversion Books in New York City: Diversion takes a digital marketer approach to books – they use data analytics to assess book consumption, and enhance the commercial success of a book. What does that do to the literary value of a book, what does that do to poetry, and projects that don’t really fall into categories – these remain open questions.

A few trends I’d like to highlight:

  • Millenials watch YouTube more than television. They are the largest generation in the history of the country. The millennial market (18 – 34 year old) is estimated at 92 million people, and $200 billion worth of spending in the U.S. (source: Publishing Perspectives).
  • Digital audio books are becoming more and more popular, and more common in independent bookstores.
  • Also, we see more digital content in schools.
  • New apps, and new tools for writers are introduced every day – tools for writing, editing, organizing content, designing and publishing books. For instance, Amazon StoryWriter app automatically formats screenplays, so writers type without worrying about format. Moleskine introduced a Smart Writing Set that includes a smart pen and a notebook that instantly digitizes notes, including sketches – this comes in handy for illustrators.
  • Retailers are giving independent authors more space.
  1. Statistics

Smashwords 2016 Survey (conducted between March 2015 and February 2016) reveals that among Smashwords authors:

  • Fiction dominates (89.5% of Smashwords sales were fiction titles);
  • Offering books for free remains a powerful discovery tool – free books get about 41 times more downloads than books at any price, according to Smashwords;
  • Preorder is becoming more and more popular: 13.5% of new books released at Smashwords during the period under investigation were released as preorders, up from 9.8% in the year before;
  • Series books outsell standalones.

Read full article at http://blog.smashwords.com/2015/12/2016-book-publishing-predictions.html.

Also from Mark Coker at Smashwords:

  • Print books continue to dominate: print accounts for 70% of the market;
  • Independent authors control 15 – 20 % of the e-book market;
  • Kindle Unlimited model reconfigures the entire industry – readers get used with reading for free;
  • Libraries remain an area of growth and opportunity for independent authors.

Read more at http://blog.smashwords.com/2016/04/2016survey-how-to-publish-and-sell-ebooks.html.

The American Association of Publishers reported that:

  • When it comes to traditional publishers, e-book sales decreased 12% in 2015 compared to 2014.
  • After years of decline, physical retail stores saw an increase of 3.2% in revenue ($3.80 billion from $3.68 billion) and 4.1% in units (577 million from 554 million) in the trade category in 2014.
  • Online retail remained the top sales channel for customers in the trade category, selling 832 million units and providing $5.90 billion in revenue in 2014.

You can read more at http://publishers.org/news/us-publishing-industry%E2%80%99s-annual-survey-reveals-28-billion-revenue-2014.   

© 2016 Simona David

Independent or Traditional Publishing?

books modernAs more and more aspiring authors debate over traditional versus independent publishing, I am weighing in this debate by exploring the pluses and minuses of each option. Herein I will consider the relationship between author and publisher from a historical perspective, I will look at self-publishing from a business and marketing standpoint, I will share statistics and trends, and I will mull over the future of publishing.

Historical Perspective

Over the past five years or so we’ve talked extensively about self-publishing given tremendous opportunities created by digital technology, but self-publishing is not new. Shortly after the invention of the printing press in Germany in 1450, German painter Albrecht Durer self-published an illustrated book called The Apocalypse, as reported by Hyperallergic and other sources. As a side note, Durer’s godfather, Anton Koberger, one of Germany’s most successful publishers around that time, published The Nuremberg Chronicle in 1493 – that book is on display at Vassar College through December this year.

To resume, artists and writers with entrepreneurial spirit have always existed. In the 17th and 18th century Europe self-publishing was fairly common; self-publishers were using subscription models to hook new readers. But moving forward into the 19th century, the advent of newspapers and magazines changed again the way publishers were doing business, by enabling them to publish short book excerpts and popularize novel ideas. It’s worth mentioning the essay published in October this year by The Economist magazine From Papyrus to Pixels: The Digital Transformation Has Only Just Begun, a piece musing over the past and future of publishing from different perspectives.

Granted, the relationship between authors and publishers hasn’t always been a rosy one: in 1849, for instance, Thoreau had a hard time finding a publisher for A Week on the Concord and Merimack Rivers, as reported by Brain Pickings; eventually, he paid out of pocket to print 1,000 copies – only 300 would sell. In 1845 Edgar Allan Poe only made $20 for the publication of The Raven, despite the instant success of the poem. Meanwhile, in 1855 Walt Whitman decided to self-publish Leaves of Grass – Whitman only printed 800 copies, and although the sales weren’t great, the author wasn’t discouraged. Today, we’re looking at traditionally published authors like David Mamet, who is considering self-publishing, and also at successful self-published authors like Bella Andre, who sold millions of copies of her novels, and made The New York Times Bestseller List.

Self-Publishing Is a Business

Self-Publishing is a business. Writers who self-publish are also publishers, marketers, and business managers. Publishing a book is very much like a start-up – it involves everything from product development, the book, to knowing the technology that’s involved, resources that are available, project cost, market research, branding, distribution, sales, and taxes. Successful self-published authors understand the book market – they know what people read, and how they read, know who their competition is, know how to price their books, know how to promote and distribute; they can compare different publishing models, and make a profit. In sum, authors who self-publish are more than writers – they are also entrepreneurs.

Self-publishing and book marketing go hand in hand, because authors who self-publish have to market their books, and build name recognition. Therefore, in addition to being writers, authors today are also performers, communicators, and brands. In that sense, I’m quoting Helmut von Berg, a publishing expert, who said for Publishing Perspectives in January 2013 that: “publishing of the future is networked publishing.”Also Seth Godin, who just published a CD of his bestselling book Tribes, emphasizes the importance of having a tribe, when it comes to marketing and sales: “All those blogs and social networking sites are helping existing tribes get bigger and enabling new tribes to be born.”

Trends and Statistics

In 2013 there were a total of 458,564 self-published titles, an increase of 17% from 2012; broken down by format in 2013 self-publishers published 302,622 print books, an increase of 28.80%  compared to 2012, and 155,942 e-books, a decrease of 1.60% compared to 2012. The source is Bowker Market Research.

In 2013 self-publishers preferred print to digital, a remarkable finding, considering how much easier it is to self-publish digital rather than print content. The ratio print to digital was 60 – 40 in 2012; in 2013 that changed to 66 – 34 print to digital.

Also, another exciting trend, in October 2014 Frankfurt Book Fair, the world’s largest book festival, expanded its successful self-publishing German-language arena to include English-language books; the fair hosted this year a two-day intensive program dedicated to self-publishers, thus acknowledging the increased importance of independent publishing.

The Future of Publishing

In recent years we’ve seen a constant increase in self-published titles. But traditional publishers are no stranger to this market either: in 2008 HarperCollins created Authonomy.com, a site dedicated to independent authors; in 2011 Penguin U.S. created a similar site called Bookcountry.com; in 2012 Penguin acquired Author Solutions, one of the biggest self-publishing conglomerates; also in 2012 Simon & Schuster partnered with Author Solutions to create Archway Publishing. Furthermore, in 2013 Bowker, the agency that issues ISNBs in the United States, in existence since 1868, created a site called SelfPublishedAuthor.com, providing resources for authors contemplating independent publishing. In sum, traditional publishers appear not only to have been embraced self-publishing, but also to profit from it.

Pundits looking at traditional publishing models ponder over what changes the future might bring. And editors working in big publishing houses already moonlight as freelancers for independent projects. Meanwhile, Penguin UK is offering online writing courses, thus this major company becomes more than a publisher, and enters the realm of instruction and education. Other pundits wonder whether traditional publishers would unbundle their services, and thus offer authors just what they need, whether be editorial services, design, marketing or distribution.

In conclusion, should you self-publish or look for a publisher? The answer depends on a whole range of factors. It’s important to look at both options, and assess pluses and minuses. Ultimately the decision will depend on the goals and needs of each author, and the nature of each book project – some projects are more complex than others from an editorial, legal, or financial standpoint. Your choice.

© 2014 Simona David

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Happy New Year & Happy Publishing

It’s been a great year in publishing, with more and more options for independent authors, and more and more opportunities for smart promotion.

In July two giants of the publishing world – Penguin and Random House – announced their merger, with ramifications yet to be seen by aspiring authors.

Meanwhile, independent publishing continues to improve: earlier this year Bowker launched SelfPublishedAuthor.com to provide more resources to writers interested in self-publishing. CreateSpace, Lulu, and Smashwords, three of the largest self-publishing platforms, continued to refine and polish their offers: in September Lulu introduced new book templates, while Amazon introduced its MatchBook program; MatchBook program enables readers to purchase Kindle books at a discount rate after purchasing their print editions.

During the summer Smashwords introduced a Pre-Order Feature which allows authors to further engage in advance marketing, and increase the discoverability of their books.

In March Goodreads, a popular book recommendation site with over 20 million users, was acquired by Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer and bookseller.  Amazon has integrated Goodreads with its various Kindle models, and enhanced the social benefits of reading, sharing, spotting trends, and reviewing books online.

Authors and publishers continue to innovate and transform the industry: this fall Random House partnered with Pinterest to feature popular pins related to books, and thus help readers find new titles.

Surprisingly, in 2013 e-book sales stagnated, at about 30 percent of the market in terms of units and 15 percent in terms of dollars – that’s according to the Book Industry Study Group via Digital Book World.

All in all, it’s been an exciting time in publishing. Aspiring authors have more and more options to publish and market their titles, so that both writers and readers benefit.

Happy Publishing!