The Interactive Learning Lab session “Self-Publishing and Its Implications for the Industry” takes place on Tuesday, October 8 from 3:20 to 5:30 p.m. at the Frankfurt Academy’s CONTEC 2013 Conference as part of the Frankfurt Book Fair.
By Porter Anderson
Self-publishing democratizes the publishing market. Authors agree that through self-publishing, it is possible for them to enter into publishing.
If a group of American or UK authors heard this from Dr. Florian Geuppert, Managing Director of the robust European self-publishing platform Books on Demand, they might feel fluent in the language of such comments from their German counterparts.
The vocabulary of self-publishing interests among writers seems to be melding into a near-universal tongue.
Geuppert and the School of Applied Management in Erding have just completed a study of author opinion about self-publishing in Europe. The study’s purview is hardly limited to Germany.
“We have about 25,000 authors” working with Books on Demand both in ebooks and high-quality print on demand (POD), he said in a telephone conversation from his office in Norderstedt near Hamburg. The company also works with publishers to produce their POD projects.
“And these authors are in Germany, yes, but also in Austria, Switzerland, France, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland. So we asked them what is their motivation? We also wanted to compare the different countries and see where self-publishing really is,” he said. “Because the movement (toward self-publishing) is broad in Europe, but not at the level of what we see in the US. It probably will get there.”
What many traditional European publishing houses are trying to determine, Geuppert said, “is what are the needs of the self-publisher? They (publishers) are really afraid to miss out on something.”
And yet, Geuppert says, traditional publishers are hard-pressed to demonstrate real value when many entrepreneurial authors demand extensive publicity and marketing support.
For purposes of our article, he broke out some of the earliest general points the study is producing among German authors. And when he joins a specially selected panel of leadership at Frankfurt Book Fair’s October 8 CONTEC 2013 Conference, Geuppert will reveal some of the top-level input his company has gathered across its seven-nation sample of authors.
From the German ranks of authors responding, Geuppert said the early returns of the survey also indicated, “The main reasons for choosing self-publishing are creative freedom and control; simplicity of process; fun; and the speed of publishing. Self-publishing authors agree that through self-publishing, they have been able to strengthen their capability to work independently as well as their creative competencies.”
And a quick echo of this sentiment comes from journalist Matthias Matting of FOCUS Magazine. His own survey work of German authors is reported in his and Hilke-Gesa Bussmann’s book Self-Publishing in Deutschland, and he runs an informational blog, The Self-Publisher’s Bible.
Matting sees service to authors as a new, core requirement for the industry.
“Traditional publishers will have to refocus on what they can do best,” he said, “helping an author to publish. They will be service providers for those authors who choose to concentrate on writing. They will be responsible for the right publishing strategy that maximizes the value of the author’s work.”
But does it not blur the lines of publishing process and procedure when traditional publishers offer such services?
For a while yet, Matting said, one area remains sharply demarcated: publishers will continue to have an edge in print distribution. “Providing access to traditional booksellers. This is currently the last part of the ecosystem where gatekeeping is still intact.”
New Bridges for Authors to Publication
The CONTEC self-publishing session has an unusually large roster of specialists. Its nine-member panel has been chosen to engage attendees in an exchange, rather than deliver a one-way stage-to-audience session.
One element involves distinctive startups that are offering specific approaches to entrepreneurial authors.
Representing such companies on the panel are Amanda Barbara, Development Director with Pubslush, and Peter Armstrong, co-founder of Vancouver’s Leanpub. These two publishing programs are not traditional houses looking for new relevance; they’ve been created as responses to the digital disruption, itself, born in the upheaval.
The key component of Pubslush is crowdfunding. And Barbara makes the rationale behind that emphasis clear.
“Traditional publishing,” she said, “is a great option but the luxury of being picked up that way is afforded to very few writers. Not long ago, if you were an author, your fate was in the hands of your publisher — that is, if you were lucky enough to get signed by one.
“Crowdfunding has changed all that. A good crowdfunding campaign can provide an author with the capital and audience they need to be successful—all before they even put pen to paper. This is a fundamental shift in the world of publishing.”
One of Barbara’s most compelling points is that a crowdfunding campaign isn’t just generating seed money for an author but also readers: the donors to a writer’s crowdfunding effort are, presumably, going to become that author’s first readers.
“This diminishes the financial risk,” Barbara said, “since authors can determine (in a crowdfunding attempt) whether or not there is an audience for their book. Concrete facts about interest in a book and reader demographics” revealed by a crowdfunding campaign, Barbara said, “provide empirical data that can guide publishers’ decisions and mitigate the risk inherent in choosing which books to publish.”
Reader involvement is also part of Armstrong’s Leanpub program, but in terms of what Armstrong called “the act of publishing as an in-progress book.”
“You use lightweight tools and many iterations to get reader feedback,” he said, making changes “until you have the right book.”
“Currently,” Armstrong said, “most publishers think ‘print book first, ebook second.’ But since ebooks can be published in-progress, and allow so much room for experimentation, we flip it around at Leanpub and think ‘ebook first, print book second.’ Print books should be what you do with successful ebooks, and ebook platforms should be places that encourage experimentation and iterative learning.”
Armstrong pointed to computer programming books as being especially good for the Leanpub approach, “because they really lend themselves to being published in-progress with technology changing so quickly.”
And that speed of change in tech, he said, is a good example of challenges facing the traditional industry: “By the time many publishers think a technology is important enough to warrant starting a book,” Armstrong said, “the technology has already crossed the chasm to the early majority…By the time most computer programming books reach a bookshelf, the most important readers…won’t be interested, as they’ll have already learned everything they need from blogs.”
Agents: Caught in the Middle? Or Leading the Way?
Perhaps no one in the industry sees the self-publishing dynamic’s energies as closely as literary agents. Their roles as mediators and brokers, in many cases are expanding their participation in client publishing.
One of the most articulate agents on the changes afoot is Jonny Geller, the Joint CEO and Managing Director of the books division with the UK’s Curtis Brown. He spoke with Publishing Perspectives earlier this year, in Two Experiments Running: Agent-Publishing in London.
Geller is one of the quickest to make the point that “There is nothing new in agents being involved in the publishing process. As agents, we have always been involved in developing material in order to help exploit it commercially. Traditionally, it has been conducted via a third party — a publisher.”
With “every element of the chain of book publishing” undergoing change amid digital disruption, however, Geller said, pragmatism requires new approaches.
“Working at Curtis Brown, one of the largest and oldest agencies in Europe, we have developed our role from brokering deals to producing films, television, and books, directly. We have done this simply because it is what our authors/clients wanted and needed.”
And does that signal an end to professional publishing and agenting? “Not in my opinion,” Geller said, “but it does mean a reconfiguring of roles, and a new set of relationships.”
From the standpoint of self-publishing, Geller said, “If a writer can publish themselves with little cost, they need a different type of help to get their message out.”
This is something Kristin Nelson knows a great deal about. Having established Nelson Literary Agency more than a decade ago, she may best be known for her growing list of runaway bestselling self-publishing and hybrid authors, as well as traditionally published writers: Hugh Howey, Barbara Freethy, Jasinda Wilder, Jamie Ford, and others are among her clients.
As Geller joins the CONTEC session talking of authors needing “a different type of help to get their message out,” Nelson arrives with a precise list of hands-on advisories, some of them particularly well-suited to the social-media leverage that has facilitated the long reach some of these authors have in connecting with their readers.
For example: “For an ebook edition,” Nelson said, “remove all front matter and set it to the back of the ebook file.” A book sample downloaded to an e-reading device is likeliest to convert a reader into a book buyer through its story, not through the technical details of front matter. “Anything before Page 1, Chapter 1, gets lost,” Nelson said.
Similarly, she said, “The last page after a reader finishes an ebook is gold, and publishers are not currently leveraging that. It can pop sales hugely. Engage the reader immediately for a click to the next buy.”
In the Frankfurt session, Nelson will have more such tactics that can be used in the heat of the bond between author and user, to extend and deepen a satisfying read with the immediate offer of more content, of contact with the author, or both. Clearly, some of the ways bestselling self-publishers are building audience are going to work their way into traditional process.
The Author Who Plays It Back to the Crowd
Kristin Nelson’s client Hugh Howey rapidly has earned a reputation not only for sharing his success with the Silo Saga trilogy (Wool, Shift, Dust) with readers and fellow authors, but also for his considered, pointed commentary about the industry at large.
In preparation for his appearance in this CONTEC session, Howey gave an interview to Publishing Perspectives—Hybrid Author Hugh Howey on Self vs. Traditional Publishing — and he also contributed 10 Counterintuitive Tips for Self-Publishers.
Unlike some writers who primarily allow their work to represent them, Howey engages in the evolving terrain of new publishing, using his blog posts at HughHowey.com, along with guest articles for other venues, plus videos, press interviews, and appearances to make suggestions and expose problems. Inevitably, a warm, daffy bit of Howey humor comes along with his efforts to demystify the experience of bestselling celebrity for his fellow authors.
In a recent guest article at IndieReader.com, for example, he warned self-publishing authors that naysayers not only are abundant, but are, in publishing, sometimes remarkably hostile and vociferous:
There will be authors out there, readers, publishing experts, and booksellers who say that this outpouring of unprofessional dreck is ruining the industry, which makes me wonder if these same people drive through neighborhoods yelling and screaming at people gardening in their back yards, shouting at them that, “You’ll never be a farmer!” Or if they cruise past community basketball courts where men and women unwind with games of pickup and shout at them, “You’ll never make it in the NBA!”
And having achieved a rare US print-only deal with Simon & Schuster for Wool and with Random House UK for the trilogy, he brought a recommendation to his Publishing Perspectives interview for the formation of one or more publishing imprints expressly designed to market ebook bestsellers in print:
“The first major publisher who creates an imprint dedicated to this model will do very well for their bottom line,” Howey said. “It just requires thinking outside the box, not worrying about upsetting other publishers (who should be their competitors), and seeing the publishing relationship more as a partnership and less as an acquisition.”
Major Producers, Influential Voices
Two of the world’s largest self-publishing and digital distribution powers are sending key representatives to the CONTEC session.
One is Seattle-based Amazon.com.
Jon Fine, the company’s Director of Author and Publisher Relations, is particularly well-positioned to speak to this dynamic, working as he does with Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and CreateSpace writers and with the publishing houses associated with Amazon’s far-reaching operations. Both in terms of Amazon’s international expansion and its consumer-conscious efforts to extend authors’ reach, the company continues to defy efforts to over-simplify its presence in the marketplace, not least by generating new initiatives that are redrawing traditional frontiers in publishing.
As reported by Publishing Perspectives‘ Editor-in-Chief Ed Nawotka, the most prolific literary translation house in the US is AmazonCrossing, an imprint of Amazon Publishing. And Germany’s Oliver Pötzsch has become, Nawotka writes, “the first Amazon Publishing author to sell more than one million copies in combined print, audio, and Kindle English language editions worldwide.”
Another of the CONTEC session’s heaviest hitters is Toronto’s Kobo with its highly regarded Kobo Writing Life self-publishing program for authors.
Michael Tamblyn, Chief Content Officer for the company, will join the CONTEC discussion on the 8th, with his deep background in sales and publisher relations.
Like Amazon, Kobo’s energy in the marketplace frequently is punctuated by controversial developments and initiatives.
Most recently, Tamblyn was quoted by Publishing Perspectives’ Dennis Abrams describing Kobo’s “new fleet of e-reading and tablet devices along with an ebook store for children and a partnership with content aggregator Pocket — all aimed at helping Kobo win the fight for ‘people who have reading at the center of their lives.'”
“We’re a service company now”
And when Tamblyn and the rest of these thought-leaders convene at CONTEC in Frankfurt, none will want to overlook what Geuppert of Books on Demand is bringing to the table in terms of the needs and interests of entrepreneurial authors.
“What we see in Europe right now,” Geuppert said, “are authors who are not bestsellers but they really have something to say, and they live for writing…In the past, they would just send in their manuscript to be published. But now they feel they don’t get enough resources (from their traditional publishers). So they come to us. We’re a service company now.”
“Self-Publishing and Its Implications for the Industry” starts at 3:20 p.m. on October 8 at Frankfurt Marriott, as part of a full day of keynote addresses, debates, and provocative presentations with industry leaders including The Guardian’s Mercedes Bunz and Hewlett Packard’s Udi Chatow. More information is here and a 20-percent discount on registration is available with the use of the code CONTEC13KPTW20.