Monday, October 24, 2011

Value of Publishing Options

One of the discussion forums I’m on asks why authors would continue to try to go the traditional publishing route now that there are e-books and self publishing? First off, self-publishing has always been an option. The difference today is that e-books provide an easier, much more pervasive vehicle for self-publishing than what print-only offered in the past. So one of the questions that really needs to be asked is what value does traditional publishing provide over self-publishing?

Some of the values that self-publishing delivers, includes:
  • No barriers to entry (This is also a negative, since it opens the floodgates to low quality stories)
  • Faster time to market
  • More control
  • Higher royalty percentage (However, this doesn’t necessarily promise higher actual revenue)

Some of the values that traditional publishing delivers, includes:
  • Built-in distribution sales channel and marketing for both print and electronic versions
  • Team of seasoned experts that contribute to all aspects of the book publishing journey, such as story editors, line editors, cover artists, layout designers, PR people, salespeople, production team, and more.
  • Inherent stamp of approval for major book chains and distribution channel in terms of book quality
  • Inherent stamp of approval for readers in general (While this might eventually become less of a factor as ebooks evolve, with some exceptions I believe for the present most readers will choose traditionally published books over self-published)
  • Higher chance of success (While I don’t have numbers to back this up, I would predict that on average traditionally published books have a higher per-book sell-through rate than self-published books. Please feel free to provide numbers that confirm or dispute this)

Of course there are cons to both options too. Self-publishing typically requires an upfront investment by the author as well as increased marketing effort by the author. Even though traditional publishing is requiring more from its authors in terms of marketing, it’s hasn’t yet reach the level required by the self-publisher for success. Traditional publishing also has cons, the foremost of these being that it has a very high barrier to entry. Some feel that barrier is too high. For me there is actually value in that barrier and it’s worth it to me to spend years and significant effort breaking through it. I also place significant value on having a team of experts backing me up. I look at that as a key ingredient to my long-term success as an author.

So, the question really comes down to, what do you want as an author? If you’re a great marketer yourself, if you don’t think you need the expertise that publishers provide or you just simply want to have a book published, then self-publishing might be your best publication path. If you want a team of experts to contribute to your success and you’re willing to put the effort in to join their team, traditional publishing might be the best route.

While to some, this post might seem like a contradiction to my post of the other day, it’s really not. Both publishing routes deliver a set of values, but the importance of each those values will change based on individual author perspective and as the publishing landscape continues to evolve and change in the wake of the digital revolution.

Also, I know that the above is just a short list of the values that both routes offer. Feel free to add to the list in your comments below.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Author Platform: Friend or Foe?

Over the past few weeks I’ve read a number of articles that talk about the importance of author platforms for increasing book sales. One of the main concepts of the author platform is to create an instant audience for your books through those who follow you via social media, whether it’s your web site, blog, Facebook, Twitter, or whatever. Consulting editor, Alan Rinzler has a great article on The “New Author” Platform – What You Need to Know . Along those same lines, children’s author and SCBWI regional adviser, Kathleen Temean has some great ideas on her blog post today on how to drive traffic to your web site. Additionally, well-known blogger and literary agent, Rachelle Gardner talks in her blog today about why author platforms are so important to agents and publishers.

These are just a few examples of great articles on the how-to’s and importance of the author platform, and I will definitely continually refer to them as try to build up my own platform. But as I read these and so many other articles like them, it makes me wonder if publishers and agents are slowly putting themselves out of business with the increasing emphasis that they place on authors creating their own audience and promoting themselves. It’s obvious that the days are long gone when an author could sit in seclusion, cranking out new books and then passing them off to their agent or publisher to market and sell. But if more and more of the marketing and promotion responsibility falls to the author, what role does that leave for the publisher and agent?

I have long been an advocate of going the traditional publishing route versus the self-publishing route. One of the main reasons for that has been that I’m not an expert in book distribution, promotion and sales. While I enjoy speaking at conferences and doing school visits, I want to be a full time author, not a full time marketer. But if traditional publishing continues down its current path, that might be exactly what I need to do to be a successful author.

Of course, another important role for the traditional publisher and agent is to be the gatekeeper, to make sure only the highest quality books make it to market. But with the exponential rise of epublishing, are they really needed as gatekeepers anymore? Word of mouth and social interchanges of discerning readers have the ability to determine which books are worth reading or not. In many ways, traditional publishers and agents are being seen by many authors as road blocks to publication rather than vehicles to publication.

It reminds me of an interchange I had with an author friend about a year ago, in which I was suggesting that she steer clear of the self-publishing route and go with a traditional publisher. She basically said, “Been there, done that. It was a financial fiasco.” She then told me that due to the publisher’s standard royalty rate that she didn’t make nearly as much money as she thought she could. Inwardly I thought, well that’s just the way it is; the publisher gets their cut, the distributor gets their cut, and retail gets their cut. That’s life. But then she told me about her author platform of more than 30,000 dedicated followers who would instantly buy her new book whether or not it came from a traditional publisher. She built up her author platform so well that she really didn’t need any more of what the publisher had to offer her.

Along similar lines, an article two days ago in the New York Times talks about how Amazon’s vision of end-to-end publishing services has publishers running scared because it leaves them completely out of the publishing loop. For authors that have built up a popular marketing platform, Amazon offers a compelling and more profitable option than the traditional route.

Although, I’m still an avid proponent of the role that traditional publishers and agents can play in regard to author success, as the ebook industry evolves and as publishers and agents shift more and more of what used to be their responsibility to the author I have to wonder what role they will leave for themselves, if any.

What are your thoughts about the growing emphasis on the author platform and self-promotion?

How do you see that increased emphasis affecting the role of publishers and agents?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Advice to Aspiring Authors

Every once in a while I'm contacted by aspiring writers for advice on how to get started as a children's book author.  Whether they want to write picture books, chapter books or YA, my advice is pretty much the same. First I tell them that it’s great that they’re interested in writing a children’s/YA book, but then I warn them that having a children’s book published is not an easy endeavor. It’s a very competitive business. A single publisher might receive about 20,000 manuscripts in a single year from potential authors. Of those 20,000, the publisher might publish anywhere between 5 and 30 books, depending on the publisher’s size and needs. I don’t say this to discourage them, but I say it to give them the proper perspective of what they’re getting into.

If they’re serious in their publishing pursuit, here are some of the main suggestions I give them:

1. Attend local or national children's writing conferences. Not only will writing conferences teach you much of what you need to know, they're great places to make contacts with other authors as well as editors and agents. Preferably, you’ll want to look for conferences where national authors, editors, and agents attend to present their insights on writing and getting published. A good resource for finding about some of those events can be found at

2. Join a critique group. A critique group can give you objective advice on your stories. Once again, SCBWI is a good resource for finding out about local critique groups. Even if you’re not a member of SCBWI, the regional coordinator for your area would likely be happy to tell you about critique groups in your area. (

3. Attend writing workshops. Quite often different published authors offer workshops. This might be authors local to your area or ones that happen to be visiting your area in conjunction with a book tour. Simply do a Google search for writing workshops in your area.

4. Do your research. Read different books on writing children’s books.  The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books by Harold Underdown is a good book to read, as is the Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market by Writer’s Digest. For longer works, Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maas is an excellent resource. There are also a lot of Web sites and blogs with good information too, such as and

5. Reads lots of current children’s books. If you’re not reading what’s being written and bought today in your genre of choice, you won’t have the familiarity you need with what sells in today’s market. Read as many books as you can.

 If you have other suggestions for the aspiring author, please share.