You may have heard of Author Michael Gerber's great books – The E-Myth and The E-Myth Revisited – if you haven't read them you should pick up a copy (here's an Amazon link to: E-Myth Revisited). Gerber does a great job of explaining both why some entrepreneurs are successful and why so many more fail. The "E-Myth" or Entrepreneurial Myth is the misguided belief that too many folks have about starting and operating their own businesses and what makes them successful. Here's the description from Amazon:
"In this first new and totally revised edition of the over two million copy bestseller, The E-Myth, Michael Gerber dispels the myths surrounding starting your own business and shows how commonplace assumptions can get in the way of running a business. Next, he walks you through the steps in the life of a business -- from entrepreneurial infancy through adolescent growing pains to the mature entrepreneurial perspective: the guiding light of all businesses that succeed -- and shows how to apply the lessons of franchising to any business, whether it is a franchise or not. Finally, Gerber draws the vital, often overlooked distinction between working on your business and working in your business. After you have read The E-Myth Revisited, you will truly be able to grow your business in a predictable and productive way."
In my past, I've successfully owned and operated a number of businesses including a manufacturing business, a record company, a transportation agency and a financial consultancy. While the scope of the industries was vast, the formula for success and the pitfalls for failure were and are the same. It all begins with how you approach your business … or in the case of self-publishing … THAT you approach it AS a business!
The one thing all SelfPubbers have in common is our desire to publish our literary works. From there though, we each set off on our separate paths. We seem to fall into two general categories"
Group 1 writes the book, self-publishes the book and goes right to work on marketing the book – social networking, book tours, blog tours, giveaways, soliciting reviews, book trailers, etc. The one important aspect this group misses: WRITING THE NEXT BOOK!
Group 2 writes the book, self-publishes the book and then moves right into writing the next book without giving hardly a nod to marketing the book they've written.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each group. Successful authors/publishers like my mentor, Dean Wesley Smith warn us about falling too easily into the first group where we write one book and spend WAY too much time trying to sell it, at the expense of writing the next book. Sensei Dean, Joe Konrath and others explain emphatically that the best way to market your self-published titles is by having a number of them.
Good books that we write sell the other good books that we write better than any other single form of marketing!
Nevertheless, there is a certain amount of marketing that MUST be done. Some writers love to market themselves, some hate it – it doesn't matter – if you want to become successful (successful SelfPubber = SelfPubber that makes money = net profit) then you HAVE TO market yourself and your book(s)!
So, as SelfPubbers, how do we know how to balance our writing, back office (operations and administration), and marketing (promoting, advertising, publicizing)?
We do what DWS has repeatedly implored us to do … WE ACT LIKE A BUSINESS! We become a publisher. If we apply Gerber's entrepreneurial model and combine it with Dean Wesley Smith's teachings/expertise/advise, we not only come out with a proven process to ramp up but we also create a sustainable self-publishing business model. Here are a few steps that should be taken (my suggestions), if you want to become a professional self-publisher:
+ Decide on and create a structure: Structure is the first decision in starting any business. In the case of self-publishing, it doesn't matter as much upon which structure you decide (DBA, LLC, Inc., etc.) just THAT you decide on one and set it up. Sensei Dean suggests that for most, a simple DBA (Doing Business As) structure is all you need. My JarRyJorNo Publishing is set up as a DBA. DBA's are the least expensive to create and the easiest to set up and maintain. You can change your structure at a later time – but, according to the structure with which you launch, it can be expensive and complicated. Not so with DBA's, so they are a great structure with which to start.
+ Once you have your structure, open a business checking account! Other than obviously physically separating monies that are made and spent on your self-publishing, this step (as do the other steps) also does something else … it gets you to think about your publishing company as a BUSINESS! I believe it to be a bad practice of just writing checks from your personal checking account for self-publishing needs. I'm not just talking about bad accounting practices, I'm talking about undisciplined business behavior. It's that kind of undisciplined behavior that has lead to small businesses going out of business!
If you want to be a professional and successful self-publisher, you no longer are just a person who's written a book and formatted it for eBook and/or print. Doing those things is necessary but they do not make a business, they're just a few aspects of a self-publishing business. NOTE: Be sure to pass all of your expenses and inflows through your business checking account.
+ This step is where Gerber's model really kicks in – Write down on a piece of paper, all of the jobs that need to be performed in order to successfully (see definition of successful above) self-publish your written work(s). Gerber has you do it in the form of an organizational chart – I like that way – but the way you do it isn't as important as doing it. You can simply take a pad and list down the left side, all of the necessary jobs/tasks. Next, give the jobs (positional) names with a brief but clear description of the position. So, here's an example of my list: (These are my job titles and definitions, not industry standards. You can call them anything you want)
Publisher – In command, strategic-thinking (creates plans to achieve long-term objectives: 12-month, 24-month, and 60-month)
Editor – Responsible for quality control of all published titles. Quality control includes, content editing and book cover and interior design.
VP Marketing – Responsible for all promotional activities, publicity and advertising for both author and book(s).
Chief Information Officer – Responsible for all tech-related issues including web-design and maintenance, social networking (tech-related issues), software utilization (including updates, tutorials, integration, etc.)
Author Liaison – Responsible for efficient communications between author (me) and publisher (me), including any communications with subordinate positions within publisher.
This last position – Author Liaison – is one I created (I'm a fiction writer – I make things up for a living), but it's a vital one and it's the one that I think every SelfPubber would benefit creating. The Author Liaison's primary responsibility is communication between your publisher position/function and writer position/function. This includes aspects like – from publisher to writer: deadlines and scheduling; and from writer to publisher: everything from research assistance to rights management and draw … yes, I pay my writer (myself) a draw. A draw is basically an advance, to be repaid upon the publisher making money. From there on, the writer (me) could convert from a draw to whatever pay setup the publisher and writer have negotiated. This money aspect is not one to fret over – and it's not one to make overly-complicated. I utilize it because I believe, like with any business, the money/pay/expenses components should be accounted for. Again – it makes you act like a real business and that's important because a SelfPubber IS A REAL BUSINESS!
I consider my Author Liaison (me) the Task Master of my publishing house. I have to deal with him on a daily basis and he's friendly enough but he's also on top of me (the writer) all the time and for everything!
The final step in Gerber's E-model is to fill in your name in EVERY box in your organizational chart! That's right, since we are now businesses with only one employee (ourselves), we have to do EVERYTHING! The difference with following Gerber's steps above is that we now take OWNERSHIP of each job!
Now, I left out the sub-positions of each position above, like the Administrative Assistant's for the Publisher and Editor, the web designer under CIO, the bookkeeper, etc. All of those jobs will either have your name written next to them OR you (wearing your Publisher's hat) will assign a third party to them.
Even when your publishing house hires a 3rd-party vendor, the buck stops with each of your internal (read: you) department heads. So for instance, if my publishing house hires someone to create the cover of my next novel, my editor is still responsible for the project management associated with it. My advice: Farm out activities NOT responsibilities! ALL responsibility should always remain with your staff (again, read: you).
There are many benefits to utilizing Gerber's model:
+ Responsibilities are clearly defined which allows you to focus on them, prioritize them and schedule them efficiently.
+ Hierarchies are created within your self-publisher which also allow you to prioritize and handle any conflicts (yes, you will conflict with yourself if you wear all the hats necessary to successfully operate a publishing house).
+ Scalability is built into your company. By clearly defining the many duties associated with operating a self-publishing business, if and when the time comes where you'd want to or (better yet) need to have someone else perform one/some of the duties, you will already have a job description and even SOP (standard operating procedure) for that job. That gives you the ability to effectively manage any 3rd party.
You may scoff at things like scalability, saying to yourself, "I'll never sell enough books to need it." Suit yourself … personally, I do another thing Gerber suggests in the beginning of his E-Myth book, that is, I picture myself five years from now – as a mega-successful author of 20 novels, with Hollywood, video game and other multi-media arms attached.
That vision is what drives me every moment of every day.
Before you can accomplish anything, you MUST believe you CAN accomplish anything!
Passive Guy, the brilliant and mysterious non-practicing IP attorney who's been gracious enough to share his expertise and non-practicing advise with our SelfPubber community passed on this article written by the well-respected, experienced editor, Alan Rinzler - "Good day sunshine for writers." Thanks PG for pointing us to it! Pulling a pint of your own from the tap! c",)
The article is actually a positive one for SelfPubbers to read. Mr. R. gives us all an insider's perspective on the level of confusion in which many TRADPUB execs are existing nowadays. It's an informative article and I have utmost respect for Alan Rinzler, however I do contend on a few points and wanted to share them with you here:
My pennies ... (click on the article above first, so you know what I'm talking about.
Mr. R gives us great insight into the haze of confusion in which many TRADPUBBED execs are living.
Nevertheless, being a devout student of the Tao of Dean Wesley Smith, I do contend with parts of two of his 3 myths about SELFPUBBING:
#2 - Agents won’t represent an author who self-publishes
Mr. R writes, "They’re (read: agents) representing translation and film rights for these self-published titles, and they’re selling self-published books to traditional publishers, if that’s what the author wants."
g: A SELFPUBBER would be better off getting an IP attorney for contract negotiations (pay a fee vs. royalties). As for shopping to TRADPUB ... at this point, I'd suggest that SELFPUBBERS just wait for TRADPUB to come knocking on their doors. Is that pie-in-the-sky? It is, however, if a SELFPUBBER sells north of 5,000 widgets (Mr. R points out 5K as the test-marketing breakwater), they will be in a much better negotiating position and will deal DIRECTLY with the TRADPUB house (no need for the Agent then). If under 5,000 sold, you know what - chances are even if you did attract a TRADPUB house to sign you, you won't earn back even a paltry advance.
Mr. R: "Agents are also beginning to help self-publishing authors to get professional outside developmental and copy-editing, a great jacket designer, set up their website and learn how to social network, make a video for YouTube, get on Facebook, and learn how to strategically blog and tweet."
g: It's sheer nonsense to me that a SELFPUBBER would turn to an Agent (in the capacity of an Agent) for these things. All of them can be accomplished by the SELFPUBBER themselves (no laziness allowed) or by finding/hiring these 3rd-parties directly.
Mr R: "So agents are becoming managers and coaches in the career development of self-published authors. Not all agents, but more and more of the hipper, younger ones who understand how to do this."
g: Is that what a SELFPUBBER wants ... Agents that are managers & coaches? Not this one! How about this - if I want a manager, I'll hire one that actually knows something about managing and calls themselves a manager (with an accompanying 'manager's contract' that would have to show their skin in the game) As for coaches ... lol ... sorry, I'm from Brooklyn, coaches are for little league baseball players. Coaches ... lol
#3 It’s easy to succeed as a self-published author
Mr. R: "Successful writers I know – whether they’re published commercially or self-published – need to write and rewrite their books many times, usually with the support of a developmental editor, not someone who does spelling and punctuation but a creative partner who is able to identify and solve problems with the story, structure, characterization, dialogue, visual description, literary style, pacing, the narrative arc – with a first, second, and third act that engages the reader and reaches some kind of epiphany or denouement that entertains, illuminates and provides emotional satisfaction for the reader."
g: I have respect for Mr. R, however ... this is spoken like a true editor. Let me be clear - editor's are ESSENTIAL to publishing quality literary works! Nevertheless, I am NOT a supporter of the notion (Mr. R definitely gave me the implication) that, in order to become a successful author, one must write, rewrite and re-rewrite with the help of an editor who now reshapes the author's work creatively! Could you imagine Leonardo Da Vinci letting his employee touch up the Mona Lisa ... or Shakespeare allowing a stage hand to change a few lines of one of his plays ... you know, so that the stagehand could "identify and solve problems with the story, structure, characterization, dialogue, visual description, literary style, pacing, the narrative arc ..."?
To me that is the very core ... the essence of the ART of writing. If someone is doing those things, they should have co-writing credit, in my humble opinion.
If a writer can't do those things on their own, then they shouldn't be a writer. That's my opinion and I'm sticking to it!
Keep up the great work, PG ... much appreciated!
B/T/W ... I'm in the trenches of setting up my "TWOE PATRIOT Blog Tour." The tour will run from July 04 to September 11. I'll post info on my site about it ASAP but just wanted everyone to know that I may not post as much until I get the tour set up. There's a TON of emails, correspondence, review-copy shipping, article-writing, Q&A answering, etc. to take care of - something I will write about in a future post. Once again, I want to thank great author and (I consider him) friend, Jeff Bennington for teaching me the ins and outs of conducting a Blog Tour. Jeff told us all about it in his guest blog here at the Pub - you can read it "Building a Blog Tour."
Guest Blogger: Jeff Bennington
I recently made acquaintance via Goodreads.com with fellow thriller author, musician, household handyman, dad of four children and homeschooling advocate, Jeff Bennington. Are those enough similarities between us?
… Wait a minute, is he me … am I him … are we the same person? Nah, he's taller and better lookin'! (grin)
Jeff is the author of _REUNION_, a supernatural thriller, _Killing the Giants_, a political thriller and _The Rumblin'_, a short suspense. Look for his upcoming paranormal thriller, _Act of Vengeance_, coming in late 2011. You can learn more about Jeff Bennington at his website (click this link). Look for his books!
Jeff just completed a 45-day 'blog tour' and not knowing much about blog tours, I slammed him with a bunch of questions. Fortunately for me, he was just completing this great article on his experience. He covers all the bases in it, including answering all of my questions (thanks broth).
Take it away Jeff … (b/t/w … there's always a pint with your name on it here a SelfPubber's Pub …9-))
Building a Blog Tour by Jeff Bennington
There are a lot of ways to build an author platform nowadays. You can tweet, facebook, speak, blog and celebritize yourself, but nothing seems to make your presence known in literary circles faster than a blog tour. What’s a blog tour? A blog tour is an opportunity for an author to travel from blog-to-blog and introduce herself, write articles, or interview with the purpose of building credibility and excitement about her book. I know a little about this because I just completed a 45-day blog tour. And lucky you, I’m going to tell you how I did it.
Before I share how you can do this yourself, I want to point out a few of the highlights from my 45-day blog tour. I also want to thank Scott Nicholson for inspiring me. He traversed a 90-day blog tour that encouraged me to do this. I’m glad I did because after the Reunion blog tour, my book…
• Received 25 book reviews on my Amazon Page
• Collected over 30 reviews and over 45 ratings on Goodreads
• Ranked as high as #28 in Goodreads best books of 2011
• Left my Reunion buy link and website url at around 40 different book blogs.
• Met a ton of book reviewers/bloggers that are waiting for my next book and willing to let me guest blog any time.
• Ranked as low as #470 in Amazon total sales.
• Was introduced to about 30,000 potential readers interested in my genre.
• I Was asked to guest blog at other sites during and after the tour.
Summary: This was my first true book launch and it went as well as I expected. I’m a newer author and I didn’t know any of the book bloggers before I started. It took a lot of hard work, but I made some mistakes when I self-published in 2009 and learned from those mistakes. Anyway, I spent about 50 hours preparing and about 90 hours writing my guest posts. With all of my other responsibilities, it totally exhausted me. But it was worth it.
What about you?
Now that you’ve worked your fingers to the bone, polishing your book to perfection, are you ready to publish and introduce your work to the world? Is your brain oozing with anticipation of your book release? Are you so ready to share your fantastic fiction that you feel like you’re going to burst out of your skin. If you are, you might want to read this article to know what to do next. Why? Because the last thing you want to do is push “Publish” and let that little monster fly before you’ve planned for your release. When publishing, you have to think ahead and prepare for a well thought out book launch. More specifically, I’m going to share how you can plan and schedule your own blog tour with little or no cost.
To build your own blog tour, follow these simple steps. If you do, you’ll start out with an abundance of reviews and a jumpstart to your indie writing career.
1. Professionalism: I’m going to assume you’ve already had your book professionally edited, formatted and have an appealing cover. If you have not done these three things, none of this matters. Remember, you will be dealing with book bloggers and reviewers that interact with traditionally published authors, their agents and publicists. They expect professionalism and it all starts with your pitch.
Warning: Do not be offended if you are not accepted as an indie author. Be courteous and understand that indies are making progress but many reviewers/book bloggers are not open to you yet… and that’s okay, we’ll get there.
2. The Pitch: The first thing you have to do when building a blog tour is to write a compelling pitch. Here’s a link to the pitch I sent out to over 65 book bloggers. (http://thewritingbomb.blogspot.com/2011/...) Feel free to use this as a template for your pitch. Also, you’ll want to start this process no less than 30 days before you plan to launch your book because bloggers/reviewers will need time to read your book (PDF/ARC) if you want the reviews to show up at the time of your release. Many book bloggers like to write a review around the same time that you appear as a guest.
Hint: If you’ve scheduled your book release, you might want to do a “soft” release ahead of time so your reviews can be posted on your Amazon page by the time your book starts selling to your circle of friends; that way they can buy with confidence.
3. Contact book bloggers/reviewers: After you’ve nailed the pitch you’ll have to email a ton of reviewers/book bloggers. You might consider planning a 30-day blog tour. Forty-five days was a bit much for me. Hint: When you start getting responses you have to be very careful to keep good records of who is scheduled and what your topic will be. I used the calendar on my computer and entered each response immediately after they chose a date. Trust me, if they agree to host you 40-60 days before you appear, you don’t want to forget about it. And you’ll want to send your guest blogs out about a week in advance so the blogger doesn’t forget!
But where do you start? Who do you send your pitch to? You can look at my 45-day schedule and email those book bloggers or try Scott Nicholson’s blog tour link (if you write in the suspense/thriller/paranormal genres). Between the two of us, you’ll find over 100 book bloggers to choose from.
Here are the links…
Scott Nicholson: http://www.hauntedcomputer.com/booktour....
Jeff Bennington: http://www.jeffbennington.com/#!blog-tou...
Also, be prepared that many book bloggers require a print copy, so if you are only giving away digital copies you could miss a lot of opportunities with reputable reviewers. Another tip: leave a couple open dates for your blog so you can introduce your home base to your blog tour followers. This will also provide a fill-in date to add anyone interested in joining late in the game.
4. What to write: Once you’ve scheduled your blog tour, you’ll need to start writing articles for your hosts right away. I would recommend that you write about 600-1000 words per article. I customized each post. If the book blogger was more into horror, I’d use words that fed that sort of reader the blood lust they’re looking for. If the blogger leaned toward paranormal romance, I’d talk romance. But whatever you do, don’t repeat anything. Keep each day fresh and interesting. I had a few folks who followed the tour from start to finish because they really liked my blog posts.
Be prepared to do interviews. Some bloggers like to interview but some don’t have the time. For those who want to interview you, help them to come up with creative questions if they repeat previously asked questions. Try to mix up the schedule so that you don’t do too many interviews back to back.
5. Interact: Once you start blogging, be sure to visit at the scheduled blog stop at least once on the day it is published so that you can interact with your new fans. The next day, you might want to visit some of the stops you made in the previous week just to check in. This is very important because “comment” interaction is the whole purpose of the blog tour. This is why you are doing this, to gain fans, to meet readers, to build your platform.
6. Reviews: After a week or so you’ll start to notice that the reviews start rolling in. Reviews are a wonderful benefit to blog tours, because reviews will sell your book and give buyers confidence. Be sure to ask your reviewers to post their review on Amazon. Sometimes they only post on their blog. Whatever they decide, be gracious, beggars can’t be dictators.
7. Giveaways: Are you offering a giveaway? Giveaways are nice, but they can be expensive. I gave away 2 Kindles. That was a little overkill. Unless you expect to sell a lot of books, I wouldn’t give away the Kindles. And the only reason you should expect a lot of sales is because you have a track record of a lot of sales. If all you have is expectations, you shouldn’t spend the extra money. Be frugal. You can do this without spending any money if you really want to.
Fortunately, I had the money to spend on the Kindles, but in retrospect I don’t think it was worth it. I think the tour would’ve been just as successful without the Kindle giveaway. Besides, I was surprised how few people actually registered. I think a signed copy of Reunion would have been enough. As it turns out, both of the winners live in Canada so the Kindles cost me about $360 with shipping and custom fees. Incidentally, one of the blog tour followers informed me that it is illegal to require a purchase to be eligible for a giveaway, so I kind of botched that.
Something else to consider is that if you send out print copies, you’ll find that the cost of the book and the cost of postage will be your greatest expense (especially if you are sending it overseas). I sent out about 25 print copies and spent about $275 to do that. If you want to keep expenses down, stick with only giving away digital copies.
Bonus Tip: One of my mistakes was doing a Goodreads giveaway during the tour. What I should have done was scheduled the Goodreads giveaway to end at the start of the tour, which should’ve corresponded with the release of the book. That would’ve encouraged the folks interested in Reunion to buy it closer to the release day.
Final thoughts: A friend of mine from Goodreads asked me some questions about the blog tour so I’ll address them here. Hopefully, I’ll answer your questions in the process. If not, be sure to comment.
• Q: How long did it take to receive responses from the book bloggers?
A: I started receiving responses within days of sending out review/guest blogging requests, and they continued to respond over the next couple weeks. I simply scheduled the tour on a first come first serve basis. But this is why you want to start at least a month before you plan to release your book. These folks are very nice and easier to deal with than publishers and agents (no offense agents and publishers but that’s the reputation you have out there).
• Q: How did decide what to charge for your book?
A: I started with the $2.99 price point at first to get a little change in my pocket, but then Amazon lowered the price to .99¢. They have that right I suppose. But I’m good with the .99¢ price point, because I’m all about gaining readers at this point. It’s a good way to encourage readers to try a new author. If they like me, they’ll pay $2.99 when I release my next book. That’s my philosophy anyway.
• Q: Out of the 65 book bloggers you sent review/guest blogging requests to, how many took you up on your pitch?
A: About 40. The others weren’t interested, didn’t respond, or preferred other genres. Some reviewers wouldn’t accept my book because I wasn’t traditionally published.
• Q: Have you done a blog tour before?
A: No. I simply followed Scott Nicholson’s tour and tried to imitate it as close as possible. But obviously my guest posts were unique and I blogged in places he didn’t. Some of my favorite stops were at The Creative Penn, The Best Damn Creative Writing Blog, Rex Robot Reviews and several others. I was actually surprised at the response.
• Q: I'm sure it definitely helps spread the word about your books and yourself but I'm curious to know if it sells books (a few, several, a lot)?
A: You have to remember; unless you’re an established author with several books out, you have to be patient and build your reputation and fan base. This will take time. I knew this going in, so my expectations were fairly healthy. If you expect to become a bestseller because you put in the effort it takes to do a blog tour, you will be disappointed, unless you get lucky. Overall I’ve sold over 500 copies of Reunion in the first 6 weeks and continue selling anywhere from 1-10 copies every day. In comparison, I sold 500 copies of my first book in two years. On a day-to-day basis, I’ll rank anywhere from #5,000 - #30,000 in Amazon’s sales ranking. As a newer author, I’m happy with that and expect the momentum to continue when I release my next supernatural thriller, Act of Vengeance, this fall. Basically, a blog tour is probably more PR than a sales pitch, but it can be much less expensive than paid publicity if you do it right.
Overall, I had a great time, learned a lot and plan to do it again. I’ll spend less money the next time, however, and do less blogging. I think I’ll let the bloggers review my book and leave it at that. I do enjoy blogging though, and have continued even after the blog tour has ended because I believe it is a vital and smart way to sell yourself.
If you haven’t read Reunion, it’s getting great reviews and is available in print and in all digital formats. Amazon is selling it for only .99¢! You can get it here by clicking on the following link ---> http://www.amazon.com/Reunion-ebook/dp/B...
From the moment estributors like Smashwords.com opened its e-doors, the world of publishing changed forever ... we all know that ... but I'm NOT talking about the decline of the Big 6 or the obliteration of the "agent-acting-as-gatekeeper" model here. I'm talking about the loss of a QUALITY STANDARD in literary publishing.
Before these platforms were around, people could publish their own written works, but the process was arduous, time-consuming and costly ... and there were limited opportunities for the end result in terms of distribution. Meanwhile, publishing to paper was transformed a bit by print-on-demand, but there were hurdles to leap for POD in terms of cost, which acted as a barrier-to-entry for most.
There were still people who self-published prior to 2008, but they were relatively few and far in-between. The quality of their published works varied greatly, and for the most part, no one cared because they didn't represent any respectable percentage of books sold. It's also worth mentioning that back then, most of the people who self-published were those rejected by TRADPUB - this is especially true for works of fiction - and I think this still holds true today.
So what did the average self-published work look and read like back in the day? Bad grammar ... bad punctuation on cheap paper with shoddy printing wrapped by a cover design that looked like a young child created it. Notice, I'm not speaking about storyline, prose, characters, theme, settings, etc. Those are components of the ART of writing. What this article is about is the CRAFT of writing.
As I've mentioned before (and will continue to mention) ART is subjective, but craft is OBJECTIVE!
Jump to today and now you have quality paper and printing, but what about the rest?
Let me get to the point ... a point I'll continue to talk about and hammer at into the future, because I think this point will be a DEFINING ISSUE in this New World of Publishing revolution ...
There is a NEED for a QUALITY STANDARD in self-publishing!
It's apparent to this Pub owner that in doing away with the old TRADPUB query/proposal process, we've thrown the baby out with the bathwater! What do I mean? Well, let's look at the old process ... and when I say old, this process is still utilized today and will continue to be, at least for a time, but to a much less extent - primarily because nowadays people can circumvent it and just SELFPUB:
In the old days ... say, last year ... a writer like me would write a manuscript. Because I've never been published before, I'd have to adhere to a very narrow window of length - say @80,000 words for a full-length novel. So, manuscript length acted as one of the first barriers-to-entry. If my Ms. was much shorter than that, it wouldn't be accepted as a full-length novel by most agents (read: publishers). If it were much longer, it could very easily be tossed without being read, just from the "151,000 Words" written on the top of the cover page. Even if it was a masterpiece and somehow was read by an agent/publishing editor, the response would almost always be "great but you need to condense it" ... the frustrating call for a re-write.
Length was just one of the rules - yes, there used to be rules to publishing. Some were age-old, some were self-imposed by the particular agent or editor, but there were always rules. Manuscripts had to be flawless grammatically and punctuation-wise, double-spaced and adhering to a bunch of other specific guidelines. All that was BEFORE your prose, voice, characters, settings, etc. The gatekeepers wouldn't even get to that good stuff because of a typo or poor use of commas.
Two years ago, before I shopped my first manuscript, I spent about a year just trying to learn the rules. I went online and read about the query and proposal process. I purchased the _Writer's Market Deluxe Edition_ and the _Guide to Literary Agents_ and I read both cover to cover. Other than their lists of agents and publishers, there was a volume of rules, guidelines an advice in each of those books. I looked at countless samples of manuscript formatting, delving into such micro-topics as 'acceptable fonts' and 'chapter titling and spacing.' Then there was the query formatting ...
I YI YI ... before you were supposed to even create a query, I was taught to create an entire proposal - a much longer document which including everything from the 'back cover blurb' to a competitive analysis. I had to create a 1,500-word summary, a 500-word summary, a one-paragraph summary and a one-sentence description.
The query itself had to be impeccable - short and to-the-point, but it also had to include all the pertinent info. I studied dozens and dozens of examples and continually refined my queries until they were perfect, tight, squeaky-clean works of art!
And what did all that work produce? Just a dozen requests for full manuscripts and ultimately over 90 rejections. Ouch! I'll tell you what though - not one person who read my Ms. critiqued the quality of the writing ... my craft! They tossed me for the subjective reasons, "I didn't fall in love with your main character ..." or "I didn't fall in love with your storyline ..." Ya know what I'm thinking? There's a lotta LOVE-STARVED agents out there!
"Yo, agents ... if you're lookin' for love, there's a whole bunch of websites out there ... if you're looking for a little escape and to be entertained, my novel fills the bill!" That's what I wanted to say, anyhow.
But what did that query process really do? For the industry and the readers, it separated the workers from the chaff. I know of a host of writers who simply never attempted a second manuscript after going through the old query process only to be rejected. When the quitters quit, that only left the workers ... the "strivers" ... the folks I call the WINNERS - because the definition of a winner to me is a person that doesn't give up! What did it do for me personally? It made me examine, analyze and continually improve my writing craft ... and it still does because I still utilize the same process, even though I now SELFPUB!
My point: That old query/proposal process acted as a filter and a barrier-to-entry and since the only alternative in the 'old days' ... say like in the year 2008, was the costly and complicated self-publishing process, those filters were most effective in weeding out the chaff. Did they also weed out some talented folks and brilliant works ... yes and no, for in my experience, WINNERS never quit. So, in the worst case, the old process just delayed some of the worth-publishing writers and works.
What about nowadays? Well without any dam (read: any barrier-to-entry), the global population of readers are now faced with a DELUGE of garbage-laced slush that comes at them like a TIDAL WAVE of brown, smelly muck!
For the most part, the average reader can still count on a TRADPUBBED work to have a consistent level of quality. There's a certain polish ... a certain je ne sais quoi to a TRADPUBBED book or novel. You know what I'm talkin' about!
Now think of the average SELFPUBBED work.
Yeah ... I rest my case.
If we, (read: SELFPUBBERS) think most SELFPUBBED works are sub-par - what do you think the folks think?
I'll talk more about the old TRADPUB process in subsequent articles - mostly because as SELFPUBBERS, we NEED to save the baby! The bathwater we can flush down the drain - stuff like unqualified agents rejecting us because THEY think they know what will sell - or making subjective criticisms about our work and calling for re-writes. Excuse my old neighborhood mentality but "... who the bloody hell died and made YOU friggin' king or queen, Mr./Mrs. Kiss-my-butt-'cause-I-call-myself-an-agent?!
I feel better now ... I'll continue ...
In the last few years everything's changed. Here's a news release by Smashwords, just a couple of weeks ago on May 23rd:
"Smashwords achieved two special milestones in the the last few days. We reached 50,000 original ebooks published by over 20,000 authors [emphasis mine]. We're on track to surpass 75,000 titles by the end of year, up from 28,800 at the end of 2010, 6,000 in 2009 and 140 in 2008."
So, 140 titles in 2008 has turned into over 75,000 titles in 2011, and if the writer-title ratio holds up, there will be @30,000 authors writing those 75,000 works!
My opinion ... virtually 100% of those 30,000 authors WOULD NOT have been published by TRADPUB (in 2011) ... and that includes this Pub owner. Hey, you can't shoot a man for his opinion especially in his own establishment, so there it is. Now you know what TRADPUBBERS meant by their slushpile ... 75,000 titles and that's just the ones that will be published via Smashwords this year!
Getting back to the topic - I'll pose a question: Focusing only on the Smashwords 2011 titles/authors, how many of them do you think would pass a quality standard that just focused on rudimentary grammar, typos and punctuation? And for those of you who've started yackin' about an author's voice and prose and yadda-yadda-yadda - I'M NOT TALKING DIALOG!
I'll use myself as an example. For my debut novel, _The Watchman of Ephraim_, my editing process included three different people - yet, when my 12 year-old son Jared read it for a book report, he found 14 typos. <sigh> 14 typos may not sound like a lot in an 86,000 word novel, but to me it's 14 typos too many. Why? Because I wouldn't tolerate them from any TRADPUB novel I bought - and here's my ultimate point - there should be NO DIFFERENCE between the quality of a TRADPUB and SELFPUB work!
Listen, I count myself as one of the Patriots, just a rank-n-file member of the working-class SELFPUBBERS, which means I'm ecstatic with all the changes that have taken place in the literary publishing industry in the last couple of years. Nevertheless, I'm not a literary anarchist!
Does everyone have the ability to self-publish nowadays - YES; BUT should everyone publish every single jot and tittle of what they write without so much as spell-checking it? The answer, my answer is ABSOLUTELY NOT!!!
Every time one of us self-publishes a literary work of inferior quality, we have diminished ALL self-published works! Why? Because people ... you know, the folks for which we supposedly write our works (and for which we expect them to pay their hard-earned $$$) look at SELFPUBBED works as a type of BRAND! A single brand. Honestly, whenever I read a SELFPUBBED work, I do so with a critical eye. I'm looking for the errors. I don't do that with TRADPUBBED books.
One of the first questions I'm invariably asked whenever speaking to someone who just learned I'm an author is, "Who's your publisher?" I hate the look people give me when I say, "I published myself." The look I get is usually whimsical and condescending.
What they reply is, "How nice!" What they mean to say is, "Just what the world needs, another poorly edited, sloppy pile of trash!"
What really hurts is the fact that for the most part, I agree with them.
That has to change.
Next in this QUALITY series - let's talk about the difficulties, challenges and potential pitfalls of establishing a quality standard in SELFPUB.
All the talk lately in the self-publishing community has been about Thomas & Mercer, the new Amazon.com imprint and particularly their signing of two legendary self-published authors, Joe Konrath and Barry Eisler. Both Joe and Barry have been kind enough to publish their online conversations about their signings - you can read their latest chat here. They're also going to publish their entire conversation on Amazon.com, so keep an eye out for it. As proprietor of this pub, I'll weigh in with my thoughts (since every Tom, Dick & Harry have already done so). Here's my take:
By launching their Thomas & Mercer mystery/thriller imprint, now and in the way they did, Amazon shows themselves as masters of Sun Tzo's philosophies in his legendary tome, _The Art of War_!
This imprint is an OUTSTANDING idea and one whose time has come! For those who don't know what Thomas & Mercer is, here's a snippet from Amazon's May 18th press release about it:
"Amazon.com today announced the launch of Thomas & Mercer, the fifth imprint from Amazon Publishing, focused on mysteries and thrillers. Thomas & Mercer launches with four books that will be released in Fall 2011: "Resuscitation" by D.M. Annechino, "Stirred" by J.A. Konrath and Blake Crouch, "The Immortalists" by Kyle Mills and "Already Gone" by John Rector ..."
It's the next logical step for Amazon. They're already the largest online bookseller, their online hub is massively known and allows them to self-market, promote and advertise, they have a fantastic publishing platform for SELFPUBBERS with Kindle Direct Publishing and their distribution channel is totally owned and controlled by them. That last point is most important since distribution has always been under the primary command and control of the Big 6 (even indirectly, they've always been able to manipulate distributors like Barnes & Noble and Borders) and as in any war, command and control is key. Make no mistake, Amazon has declared war on TRADPUB, but like wise students of Sun Tzu, they have won the war before even fighting the first battle. No doubt they will be met with stiff resistance, at least for the near future, by the infamous and, as Dean Wesley Smith and his wife Kris Rusch always point out, mislabeled "Big 6". The big publishing houses are backed by large corporations with deep pockets. If they decide to put up a unified front, they could succeed in slowing the momentum of T&M but they won't be able to stop the train ... as the saying goes, "that train already left the station."
I told you that Amazon are masters of "The Art of War." Let me show you what I mean by quoting the great general, Sun Tzu, and illustrating how Amazon has heeded his counsel:
"In conflict, straightforward actions generally lead to engagement, surprising actions generally lead to victory."
By launching this imprint with two of the best known SELFPUBBERS in Konrath and Eisler, Amazon has (for now) evaded enticing TRADPUB's biggest authors to jump ship. If Amazon would have waited to lure TRADPUB's whales, it would have given the Big 6 a heads-up. TRADPUB can't keep tabs on Konrath and Eisler's movements as they could their own stable. Plus, if Amazon would have gone after the real money-makers for the Big 6, they definitely would have waged a direct and bloody engagement. I believe the Big 6 were surprised with Amazon's timing and signings.
“Thus those skilled in war subdue the enemy's army without battle ... . They conquer by strategy."
Amazon's strategy is masterful! They launch an imprint which will DIRECTLY compete with TRADPUB on every level but with generals (Konrath and Eisler particularly) that are not turncoats. Joe and Barry have always been patriots (some may call them rebels, I don't). In this way, Amazon doesn't provoke and they don't overtly array their armies for battle. Rather, they're seen as just marching their army directly through TRADPUB's territory, but more as a parade than a menacing force. Out of the box, all the Big 6 can do is stand on the sidewalk, watch and wave.
“In war, numbers alone confer no advantage."
As of today, when seen as one entity, the Big 6 still 'outnumber' Amazon when it comes to scale. However, because of TRADPUB's shortsightedness, stupidity and foolishness they missed the boat when it came to the revolutionary changes in the literary publishing industry. Their entire infrastructure is built on obsolete and soon-to-be obsolete models and processes. Barry Eisler coined the term "legacy publishers" - that is the perfect way to describe TRADPUBBERS now. Because their foundations are built on yesterday's process, their scale is meaningless.
Picture an army of 1,000,000 men all armed with swords and bows and arrows, facing just one super-carrier.
“To ... not prepare is the greatest of crimes; to be prepared beforehand for any contingency is the greatest of virtues."
The former describes TRADPUB and the latter, Amazon.
“What is of the greatest importance in war is extraordinary speed: One cannot afford to neglect opportunity."
Amazon is a company built on 21-century technology and innovation which allows the retail giant to continue to act with the speed of a small, nimble company. In contrast, TRADPUB is ruled by the Big 6 who are in turn, mostly owned and controlled by bigger companies with 20th century sensibilities. Amazon saw the HUGE opportunity and were adept enough to jump on it with T&M.
“A sovereign of high character and intelligence must be able to know the right man, should place the responsibility on him, and expect results."
By launching with Konrath and Eisler as their generals, Amazon showed true wisdom! They selected two of the brightest and boldest new authors who have already showed themselves fearless to the intimidation of the TRADPUB industry. Not only are they showing confidence in both men, they LISTEN to them and their advice! Eisler speaks about how he suggested changes to their contract and they LISTENED ... something TRADPUB has NOT done for the most part with any but their biggest authors. I believe Amazon will continue to pursue authors like Eisler and Konrath - writers who understand and utilize the newest processes of publishing and who continue to invent new ways of marketing themselves. NOTE: In their published chat, both Joe and Barry speak at length about the fact that they are NOT adverse to TRADPUB - they are NOT trying to destroy TRADPUB - and that, to them SELFPUB is not so much an ideology but an astute business decision. In other words, they will continue to utilize self-publishing when it's the prudent choice. As for their Thomas & Mercer deals, those deals were the prudent choice.
“If an enemy has alliances, the problem is grave and the enemy's position strong; if he has no alliances, the problem is minor and the enemy's position weak."
This one you might think would side with TRADPUB, after all they have decades of alliances with large-chain and indy brick-n-mortar booksellers as well as media outlets, big-name authors, agents, reviewers, etc. However, TRADPUB's alliances are not as strong as they may appear. In fact, their strongest alliance may be with their newest competitor ... Amazon! The Big 6 continue to sell a ton of books (both paper and eBook) via Amazon and their Kindle platform. As for their other alliances:
- Just like the Big 6 - major brick-n-mortar retailers like Barnes & Noble and Borders are suffering from their own shortsightedness and stupidity. Borders continues to operate one step away from total bankruptcy while B&N is being acquired by a rich man who already stated that he's not as interested in bookstores and paper books as he is the NOOK.
- Media outlets thrive on news and more and more, the most exciting news is coming from the rank and file of SELFPUB and from the new hybrids like Amazon's Thomas & Mercer.
- Big-name authors have become big names from TRADPUB, no doubt, but that doesn't mean TRADPUB will keep it's monopoly on them. Just like with Eisler and Konrath, big-name TRADPUBBED authors will make the prudent choice for themselves. Many might remain with TRADPUB, which is NOT a bad thing but others might move to imprints like Amazon (and there WILL be others) or SELFPUB. Dean Wesley Smith has always asserted that the wisest choice for ALL authors is to utilize both, if possible - TRADPUB and SELFPUB and now let's throw in the HYBRIDPUBS like T&M. They each offer advantages.
To sum up, although for now it appears that war has been declared on traditional publishing in general and the Big 6 in particular - I believe that it's TRADPUB and the Big 6 that perceive it that way - more so than Amazon, SELFPUB, or the folks do!
Traditional publishing will NOT survive in its present and past forms. They will HAVE TO adapt and to some extent they already are. There is no denying that a change has taken place in literary publishing. The balance of power has shifted. The once all-powerful Big 6 NO LONGER control the industry as they once did ... and they never will again. That is the way of things in a capitalist society. It is the natural progression of things.
Once upon a time, the word computer and the company, IBM were synonymous. When Microsoft came along and started designing operating systems and applications for 'desktop' computers, the IBM stogies decided to dismiss the new company, technology and industry. They stuck with what they considered 'tried and true' mainframes, and turned a blind eye to the needs and desires of the folks. IBM is hardly ever spoken about anymore.
“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it” (George Santayana)
I'll leave you with the summary of a great book titled, _The Limits of Strategy_ by Ernest Von Simson.
"1992 was a killing year for the four computer companies most important to business buyers over the decade. All four had been dominant suppliers of minicomputers for the preceding fifteen or twenty years. But on July 16, the CEOs of both Digital Equipment and Hewlett Packard were pushed into retirement. On August 8, Wang Laboratories declared bankruptcy. In December, IBM halved its dividend for the first time ever, forcing the resignation of its CEO a month later.
How did this happen? All four CEOs were clever and experienced. Two were founders of their companies; the other two highly successful career executives in their respective companies. All four were simply overwhelmed. And while there was no single explanation for what happened, there were definite common themes.
They recur again and again in the many stories of this book. Are the deadliest changes unavoidable because strategy is too easily thwarted by cluster bombs like technological velocity, cultural inertia, obsolete business models, executive conflict, and investor expectations? The year 1992 is the fulcrum of this book, but the underlying theme is company transitions in the face of massive changes in markets, technologies, or business models - or, in other words, the limits of strategy."
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