• Log In
  • Sign Up
    • With the advent of Amazon and a myriad other self-publishing platforms as well as limitless possibilities to market your own book via online resources and social media, is traditional publishing still relevant?

      What can self-published authors learn from traditional publishing, and what is the future of books: is popularity and Amazon sales the only important factor?

    • The beauty of self-publishing is removing barriers to a myriad of stories that might otherwise be squelched because someone deemed them unmarketable. The downside is removing, for many, the editorial process that can challenge the writer to publish something worth reading. Blockbusters will get the visibility from publishing houses, smaller books will still get lost.

      Amazon, and the subsidiary Goodreads, uses a public review process (at least in theory; there are reports they are working to stop paid and fake reviews) that many readers find helpful to narrow down the overwhelming number of choices available. Unless one lives near an independent bookstore and develops a relationship with the staff who can guide them to great reads based on their interests, finding books is often a crapshoot.

      What’s the best model going forward? A behemoth controlling every aspect of publishing, marketing, and reviewing books, but one that also allows anyone to put their work out there for anyone willing to pick it up? Or the old model of a limited number of publishers deciding for the masses which books are worthy (translation: profitable)?

      My vote, having gone both routes, is keeping the publishing world as open as possible.

    • Great point about worthy of publishing often meaning profitable!

      I too love the idea of keeping publishing as open as possible, but I'm finding it increasingly overwhelming to find books really worth reading.

      I recently bought a nutrition book (self-published) on Amazon that had excellent reviews and a good rating but reading it, I was cringing - a huge amount of basic grammar/spelling mistakes, incredibly simplistic delivery and a rather superficial understanding of the topic. Still, obviously a big number of people found the book useful because it was rated and reviewed so well? And maybe that's good enough - that a certain number of people found it useful. I suppose it's the same with online content and blogs. Some people might miss quality in a number of them, but if it helps people or gives them what they need at that moment - ideas, validation, emotional support - then, perhaps, it's all good.

      I'm currently preparing to self-publish a book, too, and I'm very anxious about the process, especially the editing part. Will a hired freelance editor give it to me straight? Will the editing improve the quality as much as I hope it would? Should I be looking into traditional publishing, too, as a plan B or even simultaneously? Or should I just go for it and put the book out there for the readers to decide? Having gone with a traditional publisher previously - and successfully - I also sometimes doubt by marketing prowess once the book is released. At the same time, it's also very exciting!

      I guess I'm wondering if it is at all possible to somehow get the best of the two worlds and combine the best practices.

    • For a strange but unforgettable few years of my life, I was in the New York publishing scene. It was a very hard time for the big publishers and so it was taking its toll on editors. I knew some of the best editors who were hanging on amid the reductions, and they explained how different what they did was compared to how they were perceived.

      One editor wrote a book about it, The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know. I was fascinated to read that the most important thing an editor looks for is essential elements of the story. For example, in a thriller, it's mandatory that the protagonist be at the complete mercy at some point in the story to the villain. If I remember right, Thomas Harris, the author of the Hannibal trilogy, resisted because he thought it was too corny. That meant no publisher would take it. So he caved and went through something like 200 iterations before coming up with the one that made the cut.

      Dr. Seuss was the editor at Random House for the Berenstain Bears books and the Berenstains give him immense credit for their success.

      Barnes & Noble bought a company I had started so I ended up on one of their boards. For some reason they had me dealing with their 4 biggest authors, one of them Stephen King. He told me (and I think he wrote in his book On Writing) that his wife is a savage editor who would tell him to "kill his babies" and wouldn't take no for an answer. That meant anything that didn't support the storyline had to be ruthlessly cut. Entire chapters. He said it kills him when she does that.

    • Good editing is essential. The hardest part, for me as a writer, was being willing to listen to feedback from my test readers and editor when I was emotionally attached to some aspect of the story and they weren’t. The discussion in my head was whether I wanted only to tell ‘my story’ or to write something others would want to read. Ultimately it’s a blend, with a definite lean towards what others will find interesting.

      I’ve read poorly edited books from publishing houses and brilliantly edited ones from self-publishers. I think they key is getting quality, detached eyes on the manuscript and listening to feedback.

      I haven’t found much difference in how books are marketed between self and standard publishing. Seems unless you’re a known author it’s going to fall on you to do the legwork. I was shocked how little was done for The Women’s Guide...they only sent review copies out. I asked them to set up talks, etc. at motorcycle events and they never followed through. Everything done has been done by me, which is amusing since I get zero royalties (paid hack to write it).

    • I used to own Computer Literacy Bookshops here in the Silicon Valley, a chain of four bookshops with locations in tech areas. It got bought by Barnes & Noble, which is how I ended up working for them.

      Here's the thing: we didn't have much money to promote our stores but we needed to bring people in. So we would schedule author events and get them listed in all the local event calendars. Of course if we could get a recognizable name, great, but an exciting description would do too. "Meet the woman who rode the legendary Iron Butt Rally."

      We liked characters who could tell great stories. The independent bookstores all loved Stephen King because he would show up on his Harley and be fascinating. Slideshows of adventures were a big thing. Imagine showing up on the bike you're traveling the world on, ready to speak and autograph books in your gear.

      It was really hard to tell which books would catch on. One year at the height of her fame, Madonna published a book called Sex. We all knew it would be a hit and the publisher had a really large production run. Some physicist from England wrote a book about the history of time and violated his editor's rule: no equations. Every one you include in your book will cut sales in half. He said he had to include E = mc squared. I don't think Madonna's book sold 50,000 copies, but Hawking's sold 7 million. I'm not aware of anyone who saw that coming.

    • Test readers - now that's an excellent idea! Do you ask them to read the whole book, or just excerpts?

      Do awards and prizes matter when marketing a book, or is it all about the readers and hitting gold with something people just love to read, like Chris's Madonna vs Hawking example?

      I'm sure there probably isn't one perfect formula that fits all, but I do wonder if there are certain things that work.

    • My overall process is to write the entire book, although I self-edit periodically since that’s how my brain works. Once I have a good rough draft I ask a couple of people, usually those I know and who are big readers, to give it a look. At this point I’m most interested in whether they find the story interesting, are they getting the story I think I’m trying to tell, are there bits that need clarification, and are there gaps, redundancies, simply boring bits or unnecessary tangents. The feedback I get has been incredibly helpful. Then I do my re-writes incorporating their comments plus any brilliant ideas I’ve had before re-reading it several times to do my own editing. Once I have what I think is what I want to say I send it to my editor. She not only looks at grammar, word usage, etc., she is another pair of eyes letting me know if I am communicating what I want to say. On my last book she was imagining something very different than what I was, and her initial edits reflected that. Lots of conversations helped us clarify and then she re-edited accordingly. Lots of trust needed! Finally, sent it out to a few random readers who volunteered through my Facebook page in exchange for honest reviews on Amazon, Goodreads type sites (with disclaimer that they were given a free copy for that purpose). Only a few tweaks were done based on their feedback.

      I think the biggest challenge is marketing. Figuring out the niche and spending time on social media. There are sites that do promote but so far they seem to still require you to do all the work. But friends who have used publishers have had the same issues.

    • RiderLola is much more current on modern publishing than I am, but her advice sounds wise to my ears.

      My understanding is once you're ready to launch, getting reviews is critical. Reviewers like the opportunity to write the first reviews because they stand the most chance of getting noticed and upvoted. Advanced copies really help them.

      I do see a lot of helpful marketing blog posts & emails from people like Jane Friedman and GoodReads.

      It seems to me your story is so visual and you're traveling with such a great photographer, you have opportunities other authors don't: leveraging Paul's following on ADV, having ADV do a book review for their upcoming editorial pages, and contributing stories to BBC Travel, etc., like you're doing. A video trailer for YouTube?

    • Ah but there won't be any photos in this book, just old fashioned storytelling... The point about reviews is great though! Thank you!

      How do you choose your books? Is traditional vs self-publishing a factor at all? Which review platform do you trust the most?

    • Most of my reading is non-fiction and I’m drawn to the author more than the publisher. For example, I have very deep regard for Richard Saul Wurman, the founder of TED and master of conversation, so I bought his self-published book Understanding Understanding. It’s a phenomenal book.

      I check reading lists from Obama and Gates, I look at what Amazon thinks I’ll like, I listen to podcasts of author interviews such as from Terry Gross or EzraKlein or Kara Swisher. I see recommends on Cake.

      But I keep feeling there must be a better way. You? How did you discover Yuval?

    • Another thought about publishers vs. self-publishing has to do with control of content. Four of my books were totally under my direction...every word, page, spacing, and covers. With The Women’s Guide to Motorcycling the publisher made the decisions. In many cases they were far more brilliant than any I could imagine since they had an art director on board. They did allow me to solicit photos from rider friends and used many (including the beautiful back cover photo) but they also used stock photos. Many were fine but some wouldn’t have been my choice. The biggest issue is the front cover, which I think represents only a small fraction of the target market and turns off a larger portion. They’re open to changing it but as a traditional publishing house they pre-print a set number and have to sell those out first. With print on demand I can make changes constantly.

    • I used to listen to TED talks a lot and I think that's where I first heard Yuval speak, or perhaps it was a TED talk that lead to an interview with him; either way, Youtube is responsible:)

      I've been disappointed by Amazon's suggestions more than once so now, I mostly browse Kindle store by topic, find something intriguing, check out the author on Google, download a sample and then, if interested, buy the book.

    • What a great conversation! Thank you all for sharing your wisdom.

      I'll contribute my humble experience as a total newbie writer.

      When it comes to publishing, it might be worth keeping your specific target audience in mind. My book is a motorbike travel story, and as such sells to a specific niche audience. Being part of a community such as the adv riders scene seems to be a major contributor to getting a book out. All the advice and connections i needed to self publish came through fellow riders/travellers. And I connect with my target audience on a near daily basis via social media.

      I think that self publishing is the way to go if you're audience and expected impact are small. For my second book (when I get around to writing it ;) )I'm aiming for a wider audience. So I'll reconsider the process. However, if you already have a name and reputation in a community that ensures a decent size exposure, with good reviews and the workings of the Amazon algorithm you probably get your book seen and marketed to a wider audience.

      I agree with riderlola, get a good editor and collect as much feedback as you can from others. In the end, I believe good books can be self published or traditionally published. The key is to reach your audience and if I interpret the above correctly that comes down to the writers efforts either way

    • Wow thanks for the compliment Chris! And thanks for sharing the info. It still amazes me how far my journey reaches!

      When it came to writing the book. For me the key was to be 100% open and honest. No sensationalism, no over the top exaggerated stories. Just plain simple truth. And to my surprise it seems to work!

      I'm in no way the expert in bike travelling or writing but I'm always happy to share any experiences and advice! Just ask :)

    • Yes, traditional publishing is still relevant. It's about the only way to ensure that your book will be available in print in bookstores around the world. While self-publishers rule in digital publishing the traditional presses still have the bookstore and library market wrapped up.

      But hybrid publishing is filling the gap. Hybrid publishing is evolving, but complicated and hard to pin down. It's necessarily a creative deal between author and publisher or service provider. Distribution is the advantage you're looking for as well as professional help with editing, design, and marketing. To help you identify a good hybrid publisher, the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) has published a Hybrid Publisher Criteria doc.

      Last week I interviewed Angela Bole, CEO of the IBPA, an organization that advocates for author-publishers and independent presses. We talk a lot in the podcast about hybrid publishing. The interview will be released on the Author Friendly Podcast on Oct 2, 2018.

      How does hybrid publishing work? Let's use She Writes Press as an example. She Writes Press is a small press who publishes authors under their imprint but they also offer a subsidized hybrid deal via their SparkPress imprint. Subsidized hybrid publishing is where authors invest in their projects up front and retain a large portion of profits. SparkPress's all inclusive package costs $5900 and you retain 60% of net profits on print (which get traditional distribution) and 80% of net on ebooks.

      They use Ingram Publisher Services who, like all the big traditional-style wholesale distributors, employ sales teams—actual people—to visit book buyers and pitch them on the books in their catalog.

      You can also enjoy traditional distribution if you've done all the work yourself (and your book is professionally published) by making a hybrid deal with a small press with a catalog that fits your book.

      Still another way that self-publishers can get traditional distribution is by applying directly to a traditional style wholesale distribution company like Small Press United (SPU), a branch of Independent Publishers Group (IPG), a traditional distribution company. (In the early 2000s I distributed my self-published books with IPG, and then SPU, before self-publishing services were available.) SPU only accepts about 40% of applicants. They do, after all, have to go out and sell your book so they need to literally stand behind it, and be confident there's a market for it. They (and you) do not want to lose money with book returns.

      But the truth is that most books are bought online now and most of those are bought online on Amazon.

      Amazon's top-of-the-heap status may eventually erode due to the recent launch of the Walmart iBookstore powered by Rakuten Kobo (See IBPA Industry news for my evaluation of the partnership and a link to my interview with Kobo Writing Life Director Chrissy Munroe.) Of course it will take a while. However, with Kobo's ties to independent publishing—they have long supplied indie bookstores with digital books through their partnership with the American Booksellers Association—and library markets, they may prove to become a more interesting path for self-publishers who want to reach traditional outlets. This is going to take some time but watch out for it.

      Today, the best case scenario would be to keep your digital rights and publish your print books with a publishing house. You have to have a fair amount of negotiating power to do that. (Bring a big platform to the table.) Bella Andre, the romance writer, famously made that groundbreaking hybrid deal with Harlequin in 2012. But she is a publishing powerhouse. Still, it gave publishers permission and a model to work with.

      So yes, there's a place for both. But level the playing field. Do your market research and competitive analysis, and write a damn good book. Get it edited, designed, formatted, and proofread. Pay for an eye-popping book cover. Engage your readers, listen to them, and keep writing.

      This is not a fast process and being too quick to publish is the biggest mistake 99.9% of self-publishers make. They write it, slap a cover on it, and upload it to Amazon. And then wonder why it doesn't sell. Boo hoo. Throw some money at marketing it. Boo hoo again. Here's the reality: Marketing starts when you start writing the book. If you can't get traction with fans who read early chapters, then think twice about completing it. (Unless it's strictly a personal project, of course.)

      Traditional publishing does not publish in a hurry. They take 12-18 months to publish a book. Before they even accept it they make sure that the book is relevant and wanted (acquisitions editor).

      Then, they hover over the author to make sure it's written and edited to that market (developmental editor).

      Creating marketing buzz happens far before the book is even finished, with the author posting segments to social media and developing superfans from their bank of early readers.

      Then advance review copies (ARCs) or galleys are sent off 3 or 4 months in advance to the trade reviewers.

      An awesome cover, or two, or three, gets created and tested, maybe by the author on social media. (I've even seen covers morph even after publication. Take a look at Chris Pavone‘s The Expats for example.)

      The final "proof" copy is proofread (which is a separate process from copyediting).

      The publishing house PR team is, all this time, urging the author to keep their tribe engaged by doing all the social media things, blog tours, personal appearances, radio, television.

      The author's literary agent may have negotiated a marketing budget as part of the deal, perhaps where the PR department handles traditional media stuff with the author committing to a certain and perhaps matching budget to market herself. (Yes, literary agents rock. Get one if you want to publish traditionally.)

      All while writing the next book.

      Self-publishers need to learn to slow down and do all the things that traditional publishing does to publish successfully and keep our eyes open for hybrid deals that bring the creative and business sides of the business together in a way that benefits both parties. And if you can take advantage of the power of traditional publishing, go for it. Just don't count on it completely.

    • What an awesome, super informative post, Carla. Damn.

      write a damn good book. Get it edited, designed, formatted, and proofread. Pay for an eye-popping book cover.

      I just looked up your books and now my reading list is getting crazy. I didn't know about your podcast, but wow, so much good info for authors.

      P.S.: I ride a Ural like you do.

    • Thanks much, Chris. Riding, writing, reading. So little time. It's about time to ride the Ural down to Baja. I'm looking forward to exploring with it. It's so... durable. Here's a shot from Morocco.

    • Hi Chantal! Thrilled to see you here.

      Great observations about the audience. I wonder what was it like before the internet, when books had to reach people via...hmm... Book stores? TV interviews? That's about it, right? Nowadays, it's "all about your tribe". I wonder how authors found their tribes in the middle of the 20th century, for example.