Bringing Tools of the Trade to Self-Publishing

In Discussion by Porter Anderson

25 February 2014 iStock_000026582375Small photog EveythingPossible texted story image

Table of Contents

  1. Our Live #EtherIs­sue Chat is Wednesday
  2. What Tools Do Authors Need Now?
  3. Wednesday’s #EtherIs­sue at 11 a.m. ET / 4 p.m. GMT
  4. Last Week’s Topic: “Do Hugh Howey’s AuthorE­arn­ings Add Up?”

Our Live #EtherIs­sue Chat is Wednesday

Publishing Perspectives Editor in Chief Edward Nawotka and I will host a live Twitter chat on this week’s Ether topic(s) at 4 p.m. GMT / 11 a.m. ET / 8 a.m. PT. We’ll use the hashtag #EtherIssue as we do weekly. Join us and watch for @PubPerspectives and @Porter_Anderson on Twitter.

Back to Table of Contents

What Tools Do Authors Need Now?

By Porter Anderson

Granted, there may be as many answers to that question as there are authors. (And in case you haven’t noticed, there are a lot of authors these days.)

However, an interesting trend we’re certain to see accelerate is events and tools for entrepreneurial authors.

Gareth Howard

Gareth Howard

In a “Porter Anderson Meets” interview with Gareth Howard of Authoright — the company producing this week’s inaugural London Author Fair on Friday — Howard said he sees self-publishing “only just becoming professional with (the) same infrastructure as the traditional model.”

A full account of that interview will run Friday in The Bookseller. But what has caught my ear is that term “infrastructure” in relation to the work and needs of authors today.

An interesting parallel may be surfacing in a new post from longtime publishing consultant and analyst Brian O’Leary, based in the New York City area. His title: The Empire Strikes Back: Walking away from the single largest experiment in the history of publishing.

Brian O'Leary

Brian O’Leary

In this post, O’Leary (on his birthday, no less) argues that traditional publishers and their representatives in the past couple of months have made the wrong responses to the debate about prospects facing self-publishing and/or traditionally publishing authors today.

O’Leary frames the entrepreneurial momentum of the recent high-visibility Hugh Howeyan debates as part of “the single largest experiment in the history of publishing.”

And, writes O’Leary:

Right now, publishers are walking away from what is arguably the single largest experiment in the history of publishing. Independent authors are electing to sidestep the supply chain, publish without identifiers, and test new forms and new platforms that look nothing like a book. If they aren’t the farm team, they are a window into what the future might look like.

Rather than engage productively with independent authors, publishers and their intermediaries have been trying to convince themselves that things really haven’t changed that much. Maybe they haven’t. Maybe they won’t.

Baldur Bjarnason

Baldur Bjarnason

In comments on the piece, Baldur Bjarnason, the Bristol-based technologist and author, proposes that a recent focus on questions of author earnings may be a matter of looking at the wrong thing, with their emphasis on perceptions of whether self-publishing and traditional publishing may be equally remunerative.

Instead, Bjarnason writes:

The core impetus behind self-publishing isn’t money but autonomy and control. Self-publishers feel more in control over their destiny. Part of that control is the idea that, in the unlikely case you do get lucky, you have some control over the direction your success takes you. Do you want to push that one title as far as you can, forward into print? Then take your bestseller to a traditional publisher. Do you want to focus on the craft? Then focus on writing follow-ups and keep the bestseller as just an ebook. Are you freaked out by the success and the attention, like Flappy Bird’s creator? Take the bestseller off the market…

As long as publishers focus on earnings and not on giving authors back some autonomy and control, they will continue to lose the mindshare battle.

If Howard’s phrasing in terms of “infrastructure” to support professionalism in self-publishing holds water, then I’d surmise that we’re going to see an increase in offers to build and deepen the entrepreneurial author’s toolkit.

  • The London Author Fair, for example, is followed by the London Book Fair’s Author HQ program as part of a week-long London Book and Screen Week set of events. April 7-11.
  • That’s followed in the same month by a new event for authors and small publishers, Charleston’s PubSmart Conference, April 16-18.
  • In turn, Boston’s The Muse and the Marketplace, May 2-4, includes a town-hall style panel that will look at the question of how literary-fiction authors can navigate the digital dynamic.
  • Berlin’s Klopotek Publishers’ Forum 2014 has invited Howey to speak to its gathering of industry professionals and observers on the changes driving these entrepreneurial developments.
  • Late that month, BookExpo America’s uPublishU Author Hub places a working center of activity for entrepreneurial authors on the trade-show floor for the first time.
  • And in London, the June 13-15 Literary Conference is being devised, organizers say, to help writers “catch up on the very latest in technology and thinking in the book publishing world.”

With so much activity rising to meet the energy of the entrepreneurial development in the creative corps, one of  the most important areas of these events to keep an eye on is “sponsor alley.”

Companies are working to determine what’s needed by authors and to provide it. Many of them sponsor various elements of these author events at times called exhibitors, at other times called collaborators or partners or underwriters, and so on. Watching what they offer and how they offer it can create a way to look at the progress of the writerly momentum in the industry today.

Vook logo clean @VooktvFor example, the media company Vook, a publishing platform that has included among its clients authors including Seth Godin, Tony Robbins, and Gary Vaynerchuk and such companies as The New York Times, Fast Company and Google, is in late-stage beta testing with a product it calls Author Control.

Using the tools Vook has developed for its corporate clients, the Author Control dashboard will track an author’s book sales across a wide array of publishing platforms and produce customized reports with graphical treatments. That, of course, is data, precise sales information of the kind that’s become such a holy grail in an industry largely blindfolded by proprietary controls in retail.

Matt Cavnar

Matt Cavnar

Vook’s co-founder and vice-president for business development, Matt Cavnar, tells me that Author Control, when launched, will offer historical data, not just sales-going-forward.

And the company has just announced an acquisition of the real-time data and analytics platform Booklr, which should generate new levels of information integration and analysis into what authors are being shown about their own work.

In Vook Acquires Book Data and Analytics Start-up Bookr, the Digital Book World staff writes:

Booklr co-founder Josh Brody will be joining Vook as chief operating officer and will have a seat on the board. All of Booklr’s employees will be joining Vook, which is now up to 17, according to the company. The financial terms of the deal are not being disclosed.

Booklr logo @BooklrNeedless to say, competition will rise with that professionalism Howard talks about. DBW’s write goes on to note that “proliferating array of choices when it comes to publishing partners.” Choosing well becomes one of the tricks of an evolving trade:

The addition of Booklr should allow Vook attract new customers and retain old ones by offering them data they may not be able to get elsewhere.

As the professionalism of the self-publishing community increases, the “infrastructure” he mentions, a growing kind of apparatus that may not be fully visible for some time, will begin to come together in support of what O’Leary is calling that “single largest experiment in the history of publishing.”

Writers now become not only the consumers of tools they like but a de facto jury on what’s needed, and what isn’t.

Which presents us with questions for our Wednesday #EtherIssue discussion.

Back to Table of Contents

Wednesday’s #EtherIs­sue at 11 a.m. ET / 4 p.m. GMT

Please give these questions a bit of thought, and join us:

  • What tools to you think entrepreneurial authors need first?
  • How much do you see commercial offerings responding to authors’ needs so far?
  • At what point do tools for a burgeoning author community become less supportive of the work at hand and more intrusive when time is so limited?
  • Which tools have you had the most experience with so far, and what were the results?
  • In general, have you found it worth taking time from your writing to learn and/or test new tools? Or is this something you see primarily as yet another challenge to the writing time that authors find it harder and harder to protect?

We’d love your input on Wednesday at 11 a.m. Eastern, 8 a.m. Pacific, 4 p.m. GMT on hashtag #EtherIssue — see you then.

Back to Table of Contents

Last Week’s Topic: “Do Hugh Howey’s AuthorE­arn­ings Add Up?”

18 February 2014 iStock_000027456753Small photog catalinr texted story imageAs you’ll recall, our #EtherIssue topic last week focused on the then-new AuthorEarnings.com initiative created by author Hugh Howey and an unnamed data-wrangling associate.

In our column, Do Hugh Howey’s AuthorEarnings Add Up? we were grappling with the fundamental problem of having no overriding insights available, at least not in the form of definitive numbers. Without the sales figures held to be proprietary information by major retailers (and that is plural because Amazon is not the only one), we really just don’t know.

This means that some of the arguments over recent efforts to quantify elements of the book-sales dynamics in the States have sounded like “You’re misinterpreting the estimates!” and others have sounded like “No, you’re mis-estimating the interpretation!”

Or, as author James Scott Bell had it:

It’s at times like these, of course, that you really appreciate the kind of friendly, fair, and upbeat tone our Publishing Perspectives readers bring to the live Twitter feed. It won’t surprise anyone to know that some chatter online since the launch of AuthorEarnings.com has been less than cordial, although from where I sit, it seems we’re past the worst of the kind of hostile exchanges we once witnessed around topics of self- and traditional publishing.

Suffice it to say, there was an underlying sense that our group on February 19 knew that nothing is so simple as a “publishing war” between two camps and that we’re entering an era in which respect for an author’s individual journey and pathway will characterize the best understandings of the digital potential.

Leave it to author and self-publishing guide Joanna Penn to rightly remind us that some things never change:

Our good colleague Baldur Bjarnason spoke to the shifts in operational structure inherent in a rise of entrepreneurial leadership:

In fact, Bjarnason had started one thread of the conversation by proposing:

Penn proposed that the questions of literary fiction’s future vis-a-vis that of genre fiction might be more interesting:

And this led to what, for my money, was the single most provocative comment of the day, coming from Kingston, Ontario-based editor Carla Douglas:

What a thought. What a question. Lots of potential responses. We do tend to see, certainly in the Howey reports at AuthorEarnings.com, a confirmation that the ready-fan-base nature of much online community building might provide its most immediate support to genre work. How to parlay such networking capabilities into similarly robust support for literary fiction and/or narrative nonfiction? — not nearly as clear to us yet. And Douglas has seized on an intriguing scenario…imagine all literary work being based in traditional publishing with its distributional reach and other work being plied primarily in the self-publishing space.

Mine, too.

What he said. And how much of this still stands in the land of appearances?

And yet, as ever, we seemed to be hearing more from those who are, like Noe, working in self-publishers than from authors who are traditionally published:

Had we needed it, sanity would, as usual, have fallen on us when Corinna MacLeod dropped this into the mix:

At any rate, we even got around to taking heart from pop music:

We were never that far from the statistical:

Or the biz-skills element:

We all had a quick prayer at the Altar of Elusive Facts:

And, with a parting word in the scriptural mode, Aerbook’s Ron Martinez’s led us in an apt benediction:

Back to Table of Contents


Porter Anderson‘s Issues on the Ether column appears here at Publishing Perspectives on Tuesdays, followed by an #EtherIssue live discussion on Twitter on Wednesdays. Anderson’s Writing on the Ether is read on Thursdays at JaneFriedman.com, and he is a regular contributor to WriterUnboxed.com. He writes the Porter Anderson Meets column weekly for The Bookseller‘s Friday magazine in London with a live #PorterMeets Twitter interview with a newsmaker on Mondays. More about him is at PorterAnderson.com. Find him at Google+


Main image – iStockphoto: EverythingPossible

About the Author

Porter Anderson

Facebook Twitter Google+

Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's 2019 International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for trade and indie authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson also has worked as a senior producer, editor, and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA, and as an arts critic (National Critics Institute) with The Village Voice and Dallas Times Herald.