Why Self-Publish?

You may be wondering if self-publishing is a legitimate path for a writer. Here’s a little history, and some pros and cons:

Changes in the Publishing Industry
The Decline of Traditional Publishing
The Rise of Self Publishing
The Real Differences Between Traditional and Self Publishing
What’s Left For Traditional Publishers?
The Traditional Publishing Path: Not an Easy One
The Local Self Publishing Option

Changes in the Publishing Industry

  • For decades, self-publishing was known as vanity publishing. It was usually a self-indulgent option for people who couldn’t get their books published in the traditional way through an established publishing house. Typically, a less-than-honest “publisher” (remember Publish America?) would convince a writer that his/her manuscript was a work of art, and then charge exorbitant fees for editing, design, publicity, and other services that were never delivered. The resulting books were simply not up the standards of traditional publishing. No wonder most legitimate writers considered self-publishing a scam.
  • What changed? Mainly, two things: digital publishing, and the Internet.
    • In the past, printing was a highly mechanical process, requiring million-dollar presses and a crew of artists and machine operators. The average person couldn’t even dream of producing books without an investment of many thousands of dollars for printing, marketing and distribution. The major publishers had almost complete control of those resources.
    • The digital revolution has changed all that. Modern design programs have made it possible for a single person to do the work of an entire staff. Now, one trained graphic artist with a computer can layout a book, design the cover, and prepare the electronic files for printing and ebook formats.
    • The digital revolution has produced even more radical changes in the areas of distribution and marketing. Ebooks have made it possible to distribute works instantly, and without physical inventory. Print on demand books are ordered, printed and shipped individually. No longer do authors have to keep stacks of books in their garage. More importantly, authors no longer need to rely on old-style, corporate marketing channels to publicize their books. Social media allows authors to create their own networks and market as much as they wish for minimal expense.
    • According to Bowker, the company that provides ISBN numbers by which books are cataloged, in 2010 approximately 3 million books received those numbers. Of that total, about 2.8 million were published by independent companies or self-published.

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The Decline of Traditional Publishing

  • There are other reasons traditional publishing has declined:
    • Typically, in the past couple of decades, when a new author signed with a publisher, the author received an advance (which in recent years has dwindled to just a few thousand dollars), and committed to selling a certain number of books before s/he saw any more money. Any printed books unsold during the contract period counted against the author’s advance, and in many cases the author was responsible for buying back the extra inventory. Authors have also often been responsible for paying for book tours, marketing efforts, endorsements and other publicity costs. And if that’s not bad enough, many publishers are applying even stricter contract terms on new authors, reducing the royalty percentages and demanding rights to future, and sometimes past books. To save money they also require almost all new authors to do much of the marketing for the books themselves. How has this come about, you ask. Just remember that publishing is a business—a big business—and the corporations that have controlled publishing for decades, while still claiming they are interested in producing works of artistic merit, are first and foremost committed to making a profit. Whether they make that profit from sales to the public or on the backs of new authors apparently doesn’t matter to them.
    • And because traditional publishers are dedicated to the bottom line, that means they tend to publish books that fit into already successful genres. This leaves many, many excellent writers on the sidelines, unable to publish traditionally because their books are considered too much of a sales risk, or because the writer is not connected to a well-known school or network of writers.

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The Rise of Self Publishing

  • The long, slow climb doesn’t have to be so long and slow. Most well-regarded writers have spent many years working to improve their craft—that aspect of writing will never change. It usually takes a decade or so for even the best writers to work their way through publishing in literary journals and indie presses before landing a deal with a larger house. But that doesn’t mean every writer has to endure that trial. What if you have a different goal for your writing? Self-publishing offers options for the writers who haven’t planned on writing in obscurity for a decade, or who just want to publish for other, personal reasons.
  • So what’s the bottom line? Even major traditional publishing houses like Penguin and Simon and Schuster have established self-publishing subsidiaries. Why? Well, we doubt it’s because they want to give a greater voice to aspiring writers. More likely it’s because they are large corporations looking to capitalize on the tremendous growth in self-publishing. Frankly, traditional publishers missed the boat on the digital revolution and are now looking to “catch up” on what they see as a financial boon. Unfortunately, they have chosen to make up their losses by extracting even more concessions from new authors.
  • Want more about this? Here’s a great article on Forbes.

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The Real Differences Between Traditional and Self Publishing

  • Okay, but what about the editing and revision expertise offered by traditional publishers? What about their marketing reach? What makes self-publishing today different from the vanity publishing of years past?

Apart from the ease and affordability modern digital publishing offers writers, self-publishing has also changed regarding the potential quality of works produced. Yes, you can still find plenty of scammers out there (subscribe to Writer Beware to find out who’s suspected of cheating their customers). But more often writers are utilizing networks of experts to produce books that are as high in quality and as entertaining as anything on the market from traditional publishers. Freelance editors, book designers, marketing people and others are available to work with for a fraction of the cost of what traditional publishers build into their contracts.

The biggest difference between large publishers and self-publishers would appear to be marketing reach. The big guys can afford to advertise in major media and pay to place their books in the front displays at bookstores (yes, they have to pay for that), although they rarely do those things for new authors. The average individual writer can’t compete there. But more and more, readers are looking in other places to find the books they want to read. Online sites like Shelfari and Goodreads let readers converse about books and offer reviews. Amazon and B&N offer global marketing reach. There are dozens of book marketing sites. Even the august Kirkus Reviews, long an industry standard for unbiased reviews, has an Indie section where authors can have books reviewed and marketed. No wonder traditional publishers look like they’re panicking.
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What’s Left For Traditional Publishers?

  • As far as we’re concerned, not much. For more than a century the big publishers have dictated what literature is to the reading public. But the marketplace is not a dictatorship; it’s a democracy. Many readers are tired of the same old books from the same old sources, and appreciate the choices that alternative publishing offers, and more and more of them are making their reading selections based on alternative marketing as described above. Already traditional publishers are scouring self-publishing sales and offering contracts to writers who have proven sales. Some accept their terms and take a lower percentage of sales in exchange for not having to market as much. Others laugh at the paltry royalties offered by big publishers and gladly continue their own marketing efforts. We, of course, believe in the future of publishing, which is to say we believe in a literary democracy.

 

The Traditional Publishing Path: Not an Easy One

  • But let’s say you’d still rather go the traditional publishing route with your manuscript, for their experience, marketing reach and the prestige. Just how difficult is it to get an agent and a publisher?

The major publishing companies produce thousands of books a year. They sign new authors all the time. Agents and publishers encourage writers to submit their work. But in truth, the chances of actually landing an agent and a publisher are, unfortunately, microscopically small.

Here are some statistics released for the 2012 year by the Nelson Agency, a major literary agent:

16: number of new clients

32,000+ or some big number…: estimated number of queries read and responded to. Down from last year as we closed queries in the month of December.

81: full manuscripts requested and read (up from 69 last year).

The numbers appear to be typical for literary agencies. And that’s just getting an agent. Of the books represented by agents, perhaps ten percent are actually selected by publishers for production. Mathematically, that comes to a .0005 percent chance your book will make it into a publisher’s catalog. Oh, and did we mention that a much higher percentage of new authors come from major MFA programs or have previous connections to publishers?

  • What about independent publishers? Where do they fit in?

We mostly love independent publishers. They make up a significant segment of the traditional publishing industry. At best they produce some of the most creative writing available, and give voice to writers who otherwise might never be published. At worst, they are staffed by inexperienced writers who have little idea how to produce or market quality literature. A few have become established businesses with excellent values and marketing reach, but the vast majority are very small, have great difficulty turning a profit and many go out of business within a few years of starting. Virtually all are subject to even greater financial constraints than large publishers, which means that if they publish you, you will receive a small advance ($1,000 is usually tops), or in many cases no advance with just a percentage of sales—and those sales are largely determined by how much you, the author, are willing to market. You’ll have to pay for your book tour, press releases, endorsements, book trailers, etc. Basically, what you get from most indie publishers is some respect in the literature world, and their company name on the spine of your book.

If you decide to go with an indie publisher, and your manuscript is accepted, you also need to perform some due diligence to ensure their company is legitimate and has the experience and connections to properly produce and market your book. If they don’t, then what’s the difference between an indie publisher and self-publishing?
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The Local Self Publishing Option

  • Why a small, local network to help me self-publish, rather than Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Penguin or one of the other big companies?

A small, local company means several advantages for writers. First, because we are small and local, we are accountable to our customers. We don’t have leagues of minimum-wage customer reps who respond to your questions by following a script (and then trying to sell you something else). You contact us, you get us. We personally vet each member of our network to ensure their quality and professionalism.

Second, because we are small and local (are you noticing a theme here?), we don’t have to charge as much as big companies for the same services.

Third, we are writing, editing and publishing experts. We don’t wish to sound egotistical, but that aspect is very important to us, and we believe it is to you. Our company is comprised of four local writers who have known each other and worked together for years. Together we have nearly 100 years of professional writing and publishing experience. We have published stories, articles and books. We have run other successful businesses. We’ve worked as editors for literary journals. We’ve worked as graphic artists and in print shops. We have advanced degrees in creative writing. We love writing and publishing, and have spent a tremendous amount of time understanding the industry and how it is changing.

Just to be clear, Woodward Press is not a group of businesspeople or investors looking to establish a highly-profitable business. It is a group of writers who have realized that the future of publishing is now, and that this future is primarily happening through self-publishing. We have created our own books and want to help the writers in their community take advantage of new avenues to publishing to do the same. Yes, it’s a business; but no, it’s not all about the bottom line.

Please take a look at the professional books we have created, and consider allowing us to help you do the same for your writing.

 

Make Your Best Book Possible, and Make it Yours. Woodward Press.

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