Writer or author? Printer or publisher? The more I read and listen to, the weirder and funnier the whole thing seems to get. Apparently, you can now become ‘an expert’ by ‘niching’ yourself to the max. I’ve been in retail a long time, but this sounds extreme, even to me.
Finding your own niche in the publishing business is not only expected, it’s nearly as important as the act of writing itself. One of the first questions you’ll be asked is, ‘what is your genre?’ If you don’t know, or if you have more than one for your current manuscript, you’re already in trouble. ‘Owning’ your niche is awesome, and I think this better describes what some call ‘becoming an expert.’ My slogan is ‘putting fun into scifi.’ This is how I own my niche. It’s science fiction, not science spoof, but it’s extremely entertaining. (By the way, my definition of fun excludes meanness and vulgarity. I recommend 14 and up for reader age, because younger children may not understand some of the adult themes. However, a friend told me her 11 year old thoroughly enjoyed Been Blued, and had no questions.) In one sense, I suppose I’m an ‘expert’ regarding my own books. However, I do not have a major in any science. When an issue comes up that I don’t have enough information on, I have to go and do research. (So far, it seems there’s one per novel.)
In one ‘expert’s’ opinion, my publisher is not a publisher at all, but merely ‘a printer.’ I have a printer. I love my printer. It’s an HP, and it gives me lovely colorful brochures for my book signings and printouts of emails I don’t have time to read while online. What it does not do is: publish my novels, provide artwork, give editorial feedback, get my books listed on places like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Ingram, pay me royalties, or offer suggestions for things like web hosts and language translations. Oddly enough, iUniverse does, so I shall continue to name them as my publisher.
The argument is out there, that some ‘self-publishing’ companies (or ‘printers,’ as the one fellow calls them) will accept anything, regardless of quality. Sure, some will. This is the equivalent of saying you should keep your money under your mattress because some bank employees will steal what you deposit. Fortunately, most of those people get caught–or at least, that’s what the banks tell us. Most of us would insist of some sort of credentials before sticking our money in a bank we’ve never heard of, and there’s nothing wrong with holding a self-publishing company to the same standards.
‘Vanity printing’ is a term that should be obsolete by now. Tell a self-published author that he or she has used a ‘vanity press’ and you may have to escape. Quickly. Apply the same type of publication or production to any other business and they will call it an ‘indie’ work. The site, Nothing Binding, has a neat logo in which the ‘indi’ letters in the word, ‘binding’ are prominent. I suspect the term ‘vanity press’ may have been created by old publishing houses who felt their turf was being trespassed on, and decided to name the intrusion with as degrading a term as possible. The fact remains, most books published don’t sell well. Publishing methods seem irrelevant. This leads me to surmise that traditional ‘gatekeepers’ may not be as effective as they should be.
Gatekeepers are those individuals at every level of the process, who have a veto option on the manuscript before it gets into print. Traditional publishing is full of them, while self-publishing seems to have very few. Editors, market researchers, even the odd intern, include just some of the gatekeepers in the traditional houses. The main gatekeeper in self-publishing is cash or credit–the author has to be willing to put up part or all of the cost. It might not be a bad idea for the traditional houses to get in on this…it could cut down on the overwhelming number of poor manuscripts they have to weed through. Then again, it could create quite a backlash. This could get interesting…
I was something of my own gatekeeper when I chose a ‘supported self-publishing’ company. iUniverse had the credentials I looked for, and offered many things I had no way of doing myself. For me, their ability to post my novels online with major booksellers was huge. That credibility was also one of the main reasons the local TV station was so willing to give me an interview.
I took the responsibility of marketing seriously, as any self-published author should. My books are not on the shelves of bookstores, but you can go into a Coles bookstore (in Canada, at any rate) and order them in. That’s probably true of most bookstores, since they can get them from Ingram. However, my personal author sales have already exceeded the amount of ‘most published titles,’ which sell a hundred copies or less. Two hundred and thirty-three, in case you’re wondering, not counting Internet sales, and not counting the promotional copies I’ve given away to the media. (It takes several months to get the sales figures from Internet sales, so I don’t know those totals yet.)
‘Marketing’ and ‘publicity’ seem to be two heads of the same monster. Marketing refers to things like advertising, whether you pay for it or not, and would include your ads, putting up your website, sending out copies of your book or your sell sheet to the media, etc. Publicity refers to less tangible things, like ‘word of mouth’ when someone loves your novel and tells all their friends, when Oprah or Dr. Phil recommend your work, or when you’re lucky enough to tap into the Internet’s viral marketing trends. The two terms are used less interchangeably than many other things, since people seem to have a clearer understanding of them.
If you’re a continuous reader of my blog–(and if you are, please let me know!)–you’ll know I think of myself as both an author and a writer. You can’t be an author without writing, but some are of the opinion that if you went with self-publishing, how dare you call yourself an author when you’re ‘merely’ a writer?!? Actually, after hearing that most books sell a hundred copies or less, I wonder if the definition shouldn’t be, ‘a selling author,’ instead of a ‘published author.’ I still believe the real ‘gatekeepers’ are the people who buy and read your book, and tell other people about it.
Yes, it takes marketing and publicity to do that. However, if your book is terrible, or worse, offends good people, no amount of marketing and publicity will make your sales improve. You may get a sudden rise in sales because bad news travels fast, but after that, forget it. If you want to see the final results of all this, go to a book sale when a library is clearing out its old stuff. (Ignore the trashy stuff, unless you’re aiming to write trash.) Notice which books have the wear and tear that come from being taken out repeatedly, and which books have become fragile from neglect. The oils in human skin seem to fortify a book’s pages, but old ‘leafs’ that have rarely seen the light of day are easily damaged. Which book would you have wanted to author? Which book did you write?
Thanks for reading. 🙂
Phyllis K Twombly