This past Friday and Saturday, I attended the 2nd annual Slice Literary conference, held by Slice Magazine, in illustrious Brooklyn, New York. Coincidentally, this is my second time at a literary conference. I was not disappointed. Not only did I meet with some incredibly talented writers, but I also had a chance to meet editors and agents and listen to some of the brightest minds expound on all things literary.
The first panel I attended was the Self-Publishing Panel. I am fascinated by the world of self-publishing, which is quickly shedding its stigma as the new kid on the block. One of the panelists, John Fine, Director of Author Relations and Associate General Counsel at Amazon, indicated that in 1999, self-publishing was merely vanity publishing but due to the ‘democratization of the means of production,’ self-publishing, print-on-demand and other forms of self-publishing have become increasingly used and accepted. Penguin’s recent $116 million acquisition of e-publisher Author Solutions and Random House UK’s distribution unit’s acquisition of ePubDirect, are strategic moves that indicate a sea-change in the publishing industry’s perception of self-publishing and e-publishing.
One of the upsides of self-publishing, as pointed out by Associate Editor Hana Landes of Spiegel & Grau, is that self-publishers have a tremendous amount of data about the end-user or reader. Landes mentioned Anthropology of an American Girl, which was originally self-published (not digitally but rather hand-created) in 2003 and contained a note from the author that she had lost faith in the traditional publishing world, only to garner a cult-following, which eventually led to a traditional publishing deal.
Indeed, many authors have turned to e-pub and e-distribution platforms such as CreateSpace and Kindle Direct, in an effort to dictate their own terms of success. There are countless stories of authors who have garnered a following through self-publishing. Genre-specific categories are particularly successful as e-books (i.e. romance, sci-fi, thrillers). Additionally, so-called ‘interstitial works,’ those works that are not long enough to be a book, yet too long to constitute a magazine, may fit perfectly within the $2.99 pricing sweet spot that is so popular on Amazon.
The relative upsides of self-publishing are however, tempered by the advantages that traditional publishers still have: stronger distribution channels in real markets such as bookstores, editorial support, marketing and publicity. The author may feel a little spread too thin as a one-person publishing powerhouse and publishers still play an important role in supporting the author in these related yet critical ways.
Instead of fearing change, publishers are finally starting to fully embrace it. Although it didn’t really start picking up until the Kindle hit the market, due to wholesale changes within the publishing industry (publishing has shrunk, editors are freelancing, there’s more competition, authors, noise, competing forms of entertainment, etc.), self-publishing is here to stay.
As Mr. Fine pointed out, ” The smartest authors today are those who are trying everything.” Or, if I may comment, the smartest authors are those who are not afraid of trying new things and experimenting with different approaches to their work. The dream of obtaining the six plus figure advance still lives on, but the reality may be something more attainable.
What do you think about self-publishing? Is the stigma really gone or does it lurk in the shadows still? Are more publishers going to embrace self-publishing or do they only seem to be doing it because of the adage ” if you can’t beat the competition, join them?”