For Better or Worse, Self-Publishing Has Changed the World
A boom in self-publishing has been seen in recent years as the demand for books has grown. Readers can’t seem to get enough! More doughty authors are seeing their works rejected by traditional publishers, only to become a huge success through self-publishing. Then those same publishers come crawling back, asking for a contract. Some give in while others tell them emphatically to “bugger off!” I know it seems rude but if you’ve read some of the rejection letters that I have, then you would know that “bugger off” is quite mild in comparison. The days of traditional publishers controlling what gets put into readers’ hands have come to a welcoming end. For better or worse, self-publishing has changed the world.
People now have a greater understanding of what publishing is and they now know that it is much more difficult than it seems. The book industry has often been surrounded by an ironic stigma that effective publishing is only evident when invisible. Today, anyone can publish a book so most people have looked into the idea and learn what the publishing companies have long kept a secret. Their job was never easy; we all knew that. What we didn’t know was the sheer amount of painstaking attention to detail that goes into publishing a book.
Traditional publishers have lost their prestige – a fear that they all held close, along with their “secrets”. Our confidence in them has wavered. Now everyone feels less confident that a publisher or agent knows what everyone wants to read. For example, fantasy and romance novels have always been under-represented in the industry – yet both have become extremely popular with the emergence of self-publishing. Again, I must ask myself whether traditional publishers felt like these genres would not sell, or that they were just obsessed with being able control what people could read.
Let’s turn our attention away from traditional publishers for now and focus more on some other branches that have opened up with the book of self-publishing. Copywriters used to be marginalized, probably because their work was always deep behind the scenes in a very secretive process. Now copywriters are in high demand. This skill-set has always been extremely important for sales figures but in the publishing world has only just recently become publicly recognized. Self-published authors have to be well-connected with readers through social media and they have to be able to effectively explain what their book offers.
Another well-kept secret that traditional publishers have kept is the outsourcing of editing. Now self-publishers are also seeking freelancers to perform the same tasks. So the boom in self-publishing has put a lot of demand on freelance editors (which I am thankful for).
In my opinion, the greatest benefit of this rise in self-publishing is the re-emergence of the book as a precious object. People are reading again – more importantly, kids are reading again! I could write an entire book on the benefits of adding more readers to the world. If you want proof, then just look at what LeVar Burton has done with Reading Rainbow. It’s extraordinary to see the world changing before our very eyes.
Authors are seeing their role change, even with traditional publishing. Publishers are already asking far more from their authors than in the past. So learning how to promote your book is essential, no matter what publishing route you choose to take. Authors are now required to meet readers at literary festivals, engage readers through social media, and forge relationships with their fans. Authors can no longer be completely reliant on their publishers to forge these relationships. In the past, some publishers have allowed their authors to be complacent while they do most of the legwork. That is simply no longer an option.
Agents are also seeing their role change. While their job used to be secure in the fact that they introduced authors to companies that might invest in their services. Then an agent would work with those authors to build long-term careers. With self-publishing now a very legitimate option, smaller agencies are struggling. This has left a gaping hole in the industry that is being filled with new opportunities. These opportunities come in the form of “publishing services” which is basically advice on how self-published authors can be successful. Publishing has become its own process and requires a unique set of skills.
Self-publishing is not all about making money. In fact, I tell clients that profits should never be their number one goal. I believe that creating content that is useful, entertaining, and presented in a professional manner should always be the number one goal of any author. If a book delivers value to a reader, then it will generate revenue. Writing a book for the sole purpose of making money will most likely end up being less valuable to readers.
As the industry continues to evolve, we all need to continue to strive to do our part by creating books that truly deliver value to readers.