Gutenberg 2.0 (Part Two)
For writers reluctant to sell their autographed first edition of Tolkien’s Smith of Wootton Major to finance their authorial endeavours, a new form of self-publishing has emerged over the last five years. E-publishing is an immensely growing business model, and a big cause of consternation within the industry. But it is also the cause of much delight. Hille calls this the “Golden Age of self-publishing.”
With e-publishing, however, you really are going it alone. No editors, no design team, no marketing team. Nothing. That said, publishing your e-book for Kindle on the Amazon site is no harder than when you sold your mom’s fine china last year on eBay to keep your car insurance paid up. There is even a step-by-step tutorial. Once you set up your account and get to the publishing page, you click “add new title,” enter the back jacket copy (a short blurb about your book that will capture a potential reader’s attention), identify the rights and set the price, add your cover image (you may need to ask a designer friend for help), then download your digital file of the book (Word document, etc.) which will then automatically be converted to a Kindle file. Twelve hours later, your book is for sale in 175 countries at zero cost to you.
You set the price, and get options as to what royalty percentage you want (up to 70%), et voila, sit back and wait for the bucks to pour in. This is only one example of how easy it is to e-publish. Barnes and Noble’s Pubit!, Apple’s iBookstore, and Kobo are some of the other forerunners in this rapidly expanding field of publishing, and new formats continue to evolve; Kindle singles (essays, articles, or short stories between 5,000-30,000 words) are an excellent example. Even better, you don’t have to commit to one publisher or bookseller with this model; you can print and sell the same book on an infinite number of devices and sites. And there are hundreds of successful indie authors who in the past few years have sold over 50,000 copies of their books.
But not everyone is on the e-pub bandwagon. “Self-publishing can help an author establish himself,” Grams says. “But so, too, can scratch-and-wins fund your mortgage, or your ‘acting career’ take off in Hollywood. That sounds facetious, but I think one of the problems with the self-publishing model is that there is so much content, and so much competition, that it’s very difficult to get noticed. I think a lot of people forget that and assume they will be the exception to the rule.”
Even e-pub promoter Hille feels that within two years the amount of content flooding the market will make it hard for those not yet established to reach their target customers.
Gugeler suggests that authors give their options a lot of thought before jumping in. “If you’re going to self-publish, then really be a publisher. Really think about why you want to publish this book. For what market? How can you reach them? How much of that effort will be online? How much will be in traditional media or in person? How do you get in front of readers rather than expecting them to come to you? And do you have enough time to write and do all this to promote your book? If not, how do you farm some of that out, get help, and still come out in the black?”
So, is it harder than ever to make money writing? Yes. Is it easier than ever to make money writing? Also yes. Whether you go the traditional publishing route or try your hand at one of the newer business models, there are a lot more options out there for writers than even five years ago.
“I think we’re still in the wild west days of figuring what the sweet spot is for publishers and for authors,” says Gugeler, “and, unfortunately, any author who graduates into this environment right now just enters the chaos to a certain extent and my advice to them would be to do your homework.”
We’re a tech-hungry society, and online publishing isn’t a fad, but it remains to be seen whether a business model can be found that allows good writers to monetize their work. Meanwhile, the old model will likely morph into a hybrid of what it is now and what the market demands. And whether you’re a traditionalist or a web-savvy blogaholic looking to produce your first book, you will need to connect yourself with as many potential readers as you can. The great thing about this digital revolution — for you hibernating writers at least — is now you can do it all while eating no-name noodle soup in your cave.