Monday, September 12, 2011

The Changing Roles of Authors and Publishers in a Digital Marketplace

By Donald Jacques, President, Az Publishing Services, LLC

As the opportunities to reach out over the digital network of the Internet have exploded in recent years, and with the recent severe down turn of the economy, we find that the impact of the large publishing houses has shifted dramatically.  As a result, the roles of all those involved in the publishing industry have rapidly changed, and are continuing to evolve every day.

The Author

The role of the Author has grown over the past few years, particularly with the opportunities available to reach out to readers directly through websites, blogs, and social media.  This market is hungry for new material, and the nature of the Internet offers wonderful opportunities for the author to be able to research, compose, compile, market, and distribute their work.

However, Authors are asking for trouble when they offer "too much" of their work for free.  These Authors must realize that in order to make ANY return on their investment, they must market their works in a reasonable manner.  This means acknowledging and engaging methods of selecting scenes from their work to offer for free that will entice readers to purchase that work.  As authors offer complete works for free – with no "up sell" price, they inevitably devalue their own work, and potentially the work of others.  There is nothing wrong with offering some things for free to get readers' attention – but beware, when readers get used to getting large quantities of work for free, they will – as a group – begin to expect more of it for free, ultimately making it more difficult for all authors to make a decent return on their investment of time to develop the work in the first place.

The author's role in publishing a work includes:
  1. Performing the research, whether fiction or non-fiction, don't cheat the readers by releasing shoddy work with poor research of the subject matter.
  2. Write well, whether fiction or non-fiction:  Learn to compose prose or poetry with well-planned segments that follow well-established guidelines that have shown good results in the past.  Readers have not changed much in the last thousand years; they still expect reasonable reading material, or they will discard it.  And once burned by an author, it is a hard sell to get them to return.
  3. Trust in Professional editors.  Be willing to pay for at least one such professional edit BEFORE submitting the manuscript to a publisher – or agent.
  4. When an editor returns the manuscript with suggested changes, be a good sport and at least review them.  Chances are, at least half of the recommended changes are well worth the time to make, and ultimately the manuscript will benefit greatly.
  5. Work with a publisher.  A Reputable publisher.  Talk to other authors, and get recommendations (see Publisher role below).  Whether selecting a Traditional, Vanity, Print on Demand, or Subsidy publisher, be sure the choice is well thought out.  Publishing a book is NOT cheap.  And if anyone says so, they are lying.  Period.  A publisher interested in publishing your work (for pay or not) will have steps for the author to follow, and rules to comply with.  Trust the reputable publisher, and follow their guidelines.
  6. No matter what anyone tells you, the author must take a very active role in their own marketing and publicity or they may as well not get into this business of authoring in the first place. Once upon a time, the publisher took care of all this, but that was before the economic instability of our country and that of the large corporations, such as the Big 6 Publishing Houses, started buckling under their own weight. If you are not a marketing person, then get educated from online sources or books written by the experts.
The Publisher

The Publisher's role has changed by diverging into multiple market segments as digital technologies have brought printing costs down, and introduced Print-On-Demand opportunities for both authors and readers.  New vendors have been able to introduce new service options, and allowed the shark to become harder to detect when shopping a manuscript.  Currently there are four (4) major types of publishers:
  1. Vanity – A vanity publisher is characterized by the simple point that they will print whatever the author gives them, and they will just as easily give the author the bill.  Seldom if ever is there any editing, relevant cover design, and almost never is there any marketing.  Be wary, as some of these publishers will use a detailed contract to steal the author's rights to the work.  Print shops are also included in vanity publishers, not because they own any rights as a publisher, but because they do the production and publishing services involved in printing books.
  2. Subsidy Publishers – A subsidy publisher publishes the author's work for a price.  However, unlike vanity, a subsidy publisher will often provide the author the opportunity to purchase editing, cover art services, and sometimes offer distribution beyond their own website.  Generally, subsidy publishers print using web presses, and seldom print less than 500 or 1000 copies of the book.  These services can be very expensive to the author.  A subsidy publisher will recommend editing, cover art, and marketing elements, but will leave them up to the author to either pay for, or execute themselves.
  3. Print-On-Demand Publishers – POD publishers are similar to subsidy publishers except that POD publishers will typically print only the number of copies of the book the author desires – anywhere from 25 up to 500 copies.  Reputable POD publishers will recommend a web press for quantities above 500 or 1000.  POD services are usually less expensive than subsidy, because they print in smaller quantities, but be aware that the cost per book will always cost more when fewer are printed.  A POD publisher will recommend editing, cover art, and marketing elements, and may offer these services, but will leave them up to the author to either pay for, or execute themselves.  Some POD Publishers are now developing or connecting with digital distribution networks, and even engaging in limited marketing efforts to assist their authors.
  4. Traditional Publishers – It used to be that traditional publishers would accept an authors' manuscript, and pay for editing, cover design, marketing, even include book tours, and an advance payment to the author.  Times are changing, and advances are increasingly reserved for celebrity authors, or authors with an existing sales history.  Also falling by the wayside is the book tour and marketing.  More and more, traditional publishers are setting aside marketing due to budget constraints.
The reputable publisher's role is to guide authors into the readers' market by facilitating authors' efforts in:
  1. Offering constructive acceptance/rejection when a manuscript is submitted.
  2. When accepted, the publisher should facilitate their own editing services.
  3. Encourage the Author to apply appropriate edits.
  4. Facilitate selection and/or design of a cover that relates to the content within.
  5. Provide ISBN for digital edition books, and ISBN/barcode for printed books.
  6. Provide solid book layout, and printing services to the author.
  7. Provide guidance to the author to market themselves, and their book,
  8. Provide guidance and/or services for website and/or blog development,
  9. Provide distribution through at least Amazon, the Publisher's site, and other channels as available and reasonable for Author's market niche.  Brick and Mortar chains aren't practical anymore – except to Traditional Publishers with deep pockets.
  10. Provide reporting of royalties earned, and appropriate tax documents.
A final word about the national chain book stores: These chains typically deal only with the big 6 traditional publishers who can deliver large quantities of their books on consignment and pay premium prices for floor and shelf space within the bookstore.  These larger chain stores typically hold a book on the shelf for a "sales window" of between 3 and 6 weeks.  If the book does not sell in this time, it is removed from the shelf to make room for newer books and is shipped back to the publisher at the publisher’s expense.  While web bookstores offer the opportunity to keep a book available, any book is quickly lost in the sheer volume that such a chain bookstore must maintain.  Attempting to maintain this volume is beginning to take its toll on these bookstores and the "sales window" for a book is continuing to dwindle. Such online powerhouses, like Amazon has become saturated with every conceivable book, no matter if it is sellable or not. It has become very difficult to find those diamonds in all that rough writing. Your job as an author is to provide those diamonds by gaining qualified editing, find quality book production, and then make educated choices in your marketing plan. 

Donald Jacques - 
I have been an observer all my life, and since turning 50, I find myself noticing some things that never seemed to matter before.  Follow these observations in my Blog: Reality Check.
My interests are many and varied, but two are close to my heart.  Space is our next frontier, and we are sorely in need of new heroes and villians we can love and hate.  The Space Settlement Corporation is not just a hobby anymore, but an effort to bring together people who actually wish to go to space.  Check out the Space Settlement Corporation.

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