So, when I first really started blogging, I talked about self-publishing and the paradigm shift that needs to happen for self-publishing to really take off. That paradigm shift has to come from multiple places: the readers, the writer, the market…it also has to come from those networks that support authors.
I don’t mean fans and family.
I mean the support network within the publishing market itself: the publicists, the agents, the distributors, the book stores, and others whose action or inaction can make or break a novel.
Here is, in a nutshell, how the market works now. An author writes a book. They either hold onto it and shop it out from agent to agent until someone picks it up or they self-publish it and wade through a complex and sometimes unfriendly market to find readers for their work. This is the market as it exists as we all know and love it.
And it isn’t working. On the traditional publishing side, how often have we heard or read about, over the last two decades, book stores failing and printed media going on the decline. The struggle isn’t just in magazines and newspapers. People are not consuming books the way they used to either. The response was to focus on digital aspects. Apple and Amazon both did well in this (say what you will about some of their practices…that isn’t today’s discussion) while Barnes & Noble and their Nook sunk. Now say what you will about Apple and Amazon, I think what sunk the Nook was that Barnes & Noble tried 1. to look too traditional at the e-pub outlook and 2. failed to make the Nook competitive vs. the market they were putting it into. While 2 was definitely a downfall for the company, consider what you can do with your Kindle vs what you can do with, say, an iPad or a Windows tablet PC. The Kindle doesn’t compete function-wise, but it paid careful attention to 1 and decided not to take too traditional a view on the e-publishing market.
The current way that business is working doesn’t work for self-publishing as well. It works for some people. Self-publishing is an easy market to get into. Just write a book and publish it. This ease of entry has a problem though: it lacks equality. How many authors struggle to find readers outside their own circles? How many times do we hear that self-published books aren’t up to snuff compared to the traditional novels?
Now, I could go on and on about editing. I do that a lot, and I am going to revisit it again, but not right now. Yes, self-published authors need help with editing. I’ve seen it. I get it. I know it. The thing is, not all editors want to work with self-published authors. And that’s what I’ll revisit later.
What I wanted to talk about here is the relationships that follow editing and go into pre- and post-publishing.
Agents and publicists.
Right now, I want to focus on the publicists. You see, there are services out there to help authors publicize their work. They’re expensive. They are paid up-front. They also have no real incentive to actually get a self-published author’s publicity to work for them.
If you pay a company $1000 or $6000 up front to publicize your work, what incentive is there for them to get your work seen? When you complain, what do you think will happen? They’ll tell your bank that there’s a clause in the contract where return on investment is not guaranteed. Oh, and no refunds. They’ll have a rep go on the message board and say “Look, we empathize, but we sent out everything we said we’d send out. It’s up to the media outlets to pick it up, and for whatever reason, they decided not to do so.” It’s the blanket response to all complaints about these services.
It isn’t right. If you pay multiple thousands of dollars for a company to push your work, they should. But they’ve been paid. The moey they pull in for your book is no different if you sell 100 books or if you sell 1,000,000 books. You don’t want to just sell 100, but if that’s what they get you, their job is done.
What self-published authors need is a publicist who gets paid for your success. Think about the publicist for your favorite brand, for your favorite author, for your favorite actor. If that brand or person’s image falters and they lose fans, or don’t gain new ones, because their publicist isn’t doing a good job, what happens to that publicist? They lose that person or brand. On an on-going basis, these publicists have to keep their clients promoted and their name out there, recognized, and if not at least popular, then notorious. You may hate Lindsay Lohan, but I guarantee you there is not a person in this country, possibly the world, with TV or internet who has not heard of her.
Let me ask you this: what is Kim Kardashian actually known for, other than being known?
What self-published authors need is what any brand needs. They need a reliable advocate with a vested interest in their brand being out there and recognized. Without that vested interest, what incentive is there to do more than send off the press releases and articles? What incentive is there to speak to the editor for the book review section of a newspaper and convince them this self-published book should at least be looked at by a reviewer…the need for a review will speak for itself? What incentive is there to talk to the internet, TV, or radio publicity person and say hey, you really want to talk to this author?
I’m sure there are pre-paid services that will do that for the self-published author (and hey, share, because right now we mostly just hear the complaints). The problem is, with the way that publicity works for the self-published author now, it is open for abuse. There are companies out there right now that take advantage of the author, who get them no greater of a readership than they would get on their own, and will tell them it was a job well done (which for the company it was, they just made thousands of dollars fleecing someone). But over-all, there needs to be a change to this. There needs to be a way to build accountability or incentive, both would be nice, so that these services that are supposed to work for the author really do.