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The Why Installment of
(W5+ H) x (IP ÷ RMs)
The Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How of Indie Publishing - R McCormack Style
Once upon a time there was a bookmaking industry who met three travelers at a crossroads. The first wayfarer was Creativity, looking for the next adventure. Then there was Technology, buzzing with potential ideas. The last of the crew was Economy, who felt a bit sluggish and wondered if he was coming down with something. Standing in unknown territory, introductions and hellos were made, and soon they found themselves settling roadside to rest and eat, to share stories and advice. The foursome ended up making merry with tall tales and drink, and all was going well until a scuffle broke out. Economy had been drinking from Bookmaker’s tin cup, and Bookmaker was sure she would come down with whatever was ailing Economy. Creativity suggested they both switch to water, pop a Vitamin C tablet, and hit the rolls. Technology smoothed it over further with a funny retelling of a bad day ending in a reboot. Never-the-less, the next morning Bookmaker and Economy both awoke feeling terrible, and though Creativity and Technology wished they could’ve done more, they had to move along in their travels. They left Publishing and Economy well-stocked with provisions and promised to write, email, text, and tweet as they waved from the road. Bookmaker and Economy huddled in their packs to wait out the downturn in their health. They knew they’d be okay. They also knew that all their paths would cross again, for they were headed to same place. Indie Publishing Land.
Today I introduce the last W in our equation, W5, the question of Why. Why is the market changing? And after reading my Indie publishing fairytale, you may have figured out that there are three evolutionary placeholders that have affected the book-selling/book-buying marketplace over the past few years.
The Economy, Technology, and Creativity
Beyond my attempt at being cute, there is truth in my fairytale. These entities did all converge at the exact right moment to initiate change, and the personalities of the characters in the tale are similar to their real life counterparts.
The economy was sick, and when it tanked, it hit traditional publishing just as hard as it did other industries. There were layoffs, restructuring, and of course, the Big Six began to take on fewer titles. Part of this was due to the habits of readers, who were buying fewer products. And part of this was due to book buyers (book stores, big box stores) who couldn’t sell their stock (think Borders).
Beyond the supply and demand issue, book printing is an expensive endeavor, where it takes teams of people to write, design, print, market, and sell a book. Most do their jobs very well, as the traditional publishing marketplace has had years of honing its craft. And the problem doesn’t lie with the people behind the scenes, it lies with the system, which requires publishers to risk money upfront in order to get books on the shelves. The book sellers also take a risk by ordering without knowing if the entire shipment will sell. There ends up being a lot of waste and unsold books are often shipped to disposal centers.
Enter technology, who was stock-full of ideas for how to rework the system in ways that were more environmentally friendly and would put money back in people’s pockets. First, we had the birth of the eReaders...Kindle, Nook, and many others. Second, we had improvements with online publishing, and suddenly anyone with a computer could upload a Word document to become a print-on-demand (POD) or eBook.
When creativity came into the picture, the self-publishing market changed again because dedicated writers, artists, and illustrators saw an opportunity to become their own publisher. More and more information was shared, and technology responded by creating the templates for craftspeople to take their brand, product, books to the next level. As social media grew and websites and blogs became easier to build, all the online media sources merged into one big information highway where people could share ideas and market their work.
Now, there are kinks that need to be worked out. Traditionally publishing is still in the process of finding their way in the new marketplace, and chain book stores and big box stores (Costco, Target) that sell books aren’t feeling the economic upturn from the growth of POD or eBook publishing. Independent bookstores are doing okay, though. They have always dealt in smaller supplies, used books, and individualized service, and they’ve been able to adjust their model to include online sales and feature local and/or Indie published authors. And let’s face it, most people still love the feel of a book in their hand, so there will always be a place for libraries and book shops. I’ve heard it said many times over the past year that the traditional publishing houses will enter the POD and eBook market on a larger scale, creating their own online stores and only printing hardcopy books for their best-selling, up-and-coming, and popular authors/illustrators.
Another issue is the speed at which the market is changing. And this brings us back to the economy. The process has become so simple and user-friendly that the self-published marketplace is becoming saturated. In fact, most writers won’t see a return on their investment. Luckily, the financial investment is quite low, but there is the matter of time and energy spent. This is why I’ve been encouraging anyone who wants to move this direction to accept certain standards of quality before they launch their title. Quality equals longevity.
Along with fast growth, as in any new venture, there are many who come out of the woodwork to offer services to the people entering the field. Not all of those Indie publishing services are necessary or worthwhile, and I caution you to do multi-tiered evaluations before you pay anyone to do work for you. In time, the good businesses will rise to the top, so for now use referrals and triple-check what you get for your money. Remember, in the end this is about personal expression, which can be done with an eye on the wallet.
The markets—traditional and Indie publishing—will also have to flex and bend as their relationship grows. And there are matters, like marketing, that will affect both. There will be some overlap, and we’re already seeing players in the traditional game opening their doors to the Indie pubbing world. For instance, the highly-respected Kirkus Reviews now offers self-published authors reviews for a fee. How will this reconcile with the reviews they provide on traditionally published books? Will they always remain separate or will they combine one day? A good book is a good book, no? I personally think most things will remain separate but become equal.
So, with a long road to travel and many unknowns, why would you want to get in on the ground floor of Indie publishing? Here are a few reasons:
- You want to build or grow your platform NOW – Authors who already have an audience, whether through previous published titles, a blog, public speaking efforts, another career, or charitable work, may choose to self-publish because they can tailor the book’s message to fit into a specific framework or brand that they’ve established or hope to establish.
- You want to create a related product(s) NOW – Authors who have or want to sell products related to their book may choose to self-publish in an effort to manage brand consistency and get the products on the market in a timeframe that best suits their needs.
- You want to earn a higher wage NOW – Authors who are looking to make a higher return on royalties while also holding the copyright to all their work may choose self-publishing.
- You want to be the Creativity CEO NOW – Authors who have specific ideas about their book or books and want to bring an exact vision to light may choose self-publishing.
Get out that calculator, start working the variables. Is it time to pack the bag and hit the road? Or maybe you need more information before you embark. Next week we'll add the final question to the equation when we discuss how to make the most of your Indie publishing experience. For now, you have the five Ws to consider, and as the Irish say, may the road rise to meet you and the wind be always at your back.