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Self-published authors purportedly rewrite publishing’s future big time

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(Current fiction & past quality fiction)

About half of all books published in the United States may now be self-published and half of those may be eBooks, according to a compilation from four reliable sources. By some estimates, authors could be paying $240 million to publish their own books.

A pile of often confusing statistics from those publishing sources also indicates eBooks -- paperless electronic digital marvels that can be stored on the head of a pin -- have gained phenomenally in numbers.

The nostalgically attractive paper print book has apparently yielded at least about 22 percent of the market to electronics, according to a Pew Research Center survey now 24 months old. Pew found that about a third of Americans owned a device for reading eBooks. Since that survey, sources place the electronic gain closer to 50 percent, depending on who does the counting.

The business magazine Forbes reports between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books are published every year in the United States alone, “depending on which stats you believe.” Many of those – perhaps as many as half or even more – are self-published. On average, self-published books sell fewer than 250 copies each, according to Forbes.

Those 250 copies are not a lot of copies by age-old publishing standards; but Publishers Weekly, a publishing trade source that traditionally declined to review books of limited print runs, has changed its direction with the rising tide of self-publishing. Over the years PW has averaged about 8,000 reviews per year of books with print runs of at least 2,000 copies. Previously, so-called “books on demand,” the source of many self-published books, were not eligible for review because print runs were small. How small? Possibly as small as a single copy. But now PW has changed its tune:

“Self-publishing is booming, and in recognition of the boom and as an acknowledgment that valuable works are being published outside traditional publishing, Publishers Weekly is giving self-published authors a chance to present their titles to the publishing trade,” read the initial announcement. “To keep you abreast of the self-publishing revolution,” Publishers Weekly announced “PW Select, a quarterly supplement dedicated exclusively to self-published titles,” was being born.

Examiner notes that didn’t last long: Overnight PW Select became part of BookLife, launched as PW's new site dedicated to the world of self-publishing. In turn, PW Select became a marketing program for self-published authors and the place where independent authors can submit books for possible PW Review. The old print-run rule died. Of course, there’s no guarantee a book will be reviewed.

With good reason; Examiner notes there are about 100 publishing companies catering to this booming self-publishing market, at least 65 in the United States. Some are big, some small, some good and some falling a little short. The top five, according to Online Publishing Review, are AuthorHouse, Outskirts, iUniverse, Infinity and Lumina Press.

The combined output of all these new publishers could add up to 75 million copies of books this year; a figure arrived at by taking Forbes’ average 250 copy sales figure and 50 percent of 600,000 books as self-published. Those 300,000 books cost self-published authors on average a median $800 to publish which rises to $240 million.

Gee whizz, with a pie like that, no wonder self-publishing has caught Publishers Weekly’s attention. Sure, a few self-published books are being republished by major publishers, but that’s not the momentum behind self-publishing.

Bowker is the world's leading provider of information designed to help publishers, booksellers, and libraries serve their customers. According to Laura Dawson, Product Manager for Identifiers at Bowker, an analysis of U.S. ISBN data by ProQuest affiliate Bowker reveals that the number of self-published titles in 2012 jumped to more than 391,000, up 59 percent over 2011 and 422 percent over 2007. Ebooks continued to gain on print, comprising 40 percent of the ISBNs that were self-published in 2012, up from just 11 percent in 2007. Bowker’s figures are usually accurate.

“The most successful self-publishers don’t view themselves as writers only, but as business owners,” said Beat Barblan, Bowker Director of Identifier Services. “They invest in their businesses, hiring experts to fill skill gaps and that’s building a thriving new service infrastructure in publishing.” This Examiner edits and ghost writes for these people, most of whom need a lot of help.

The Bowker analysis shows the growing prominence of a handful of companies that offer publishing services to individual authors. More than 80 percent of self-published titles came to market with support from just eight companies, including Smashwords and CreateSpace.

Bowker’s research on self-publishing includes surveys of authors that provide insight into where the market is going and services required by these writers. Those who intend to self-publish most often plan to bring fiction to market, followed by inspirational or spiritual works, books for children and biographies. The majority cite finding a traditional publisher as an obstacle (what’s new?). They also feel challenged by marketing – a hurdle that becomes bigger with increasing numbers of books in the market.

Examiner asked Online Publishing Review why it didn’t rank Amazon’s Kindle, the leading eBook publisher. The OPR didn’t respond but it appears eBooks are still not considered in the same breath with paper print. Examiner instinctively approves of the separation because Examiner harbors a prejudice in favor of print – the smell, the comfortable feel of a real book, while eBooks are electronically akin to those electronically vaporizing smokeless tobacco gadgets. Besides, eBooks are read on cold screens – yuk!

None the less, a quarter of the top 100 bestselling Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) eBooks on Amazon were self-published (2012 figures). Despite this Examiner’s prejudice there appears to be a solid reason for going the eBook route. “There is no cost when publishing with us,” said a KDP spokesman. “You can publish your book for free anytime you'd like.”

Kindle pays a 70-percent royalty or you can select a 35 percent royalty which means Kindle pays delivery expenses to a long list of places abroad.

Joel Friedlander, a bespectacled book designer who hangs his hat at Marin Bookworks, 369-B Third Street #572, San Rafael, CA 94901, has become one of the most reliable sources of information about self-publishing. He briefs people almost daily.

Recently Publishers Weekly reviewed a self-published novel, “The Quest for Lost Éire” (AuthorHouse) by Patricia Walsh. Basically PW printed the publisher’s promotional text:

“The twins, John and Paul, Hegarty, supposedly named after the Pope’s visit, but actually after the Beatles, are what is termed 'immature students,' that is, having gone to college after being sacked off every bad job there was. In the course of their studies, they feel they can take on the world, and when they land their first job on an archaeological site, under the auspices of Archaeological Research and Sites Excavation Ltd (or ARSE Ltd for short), they are in their element. Even if it is in a backwater called Baile B’stard. They quickly learn that the practice of archaeology is nothing like what they studied at college. The site they are working on is a circular feature called, temporarily, a 'thingfort', with bets being placed as to its true age afoot. They encounter a dystopian mix of disinterested supervisors, interested locals, megalomaniac site assistants, a porn star moonlighting as a finds person, and getting one’s rocks off behind the filling station, all under the auspices of menacing giant cow who terrorizes anyone that comes in her way. At least they wouldn’t be bored . . .”

Examiner notes that you can have the “possibility” of a review in PW’s BookLife.

Any self-published titles can be submitted for “review consideration” through BookLife. There will be no charge to participate in BookLife or to submit a book or receive a review. At the same time, PW has said that it will integrate reviews of self-published books into its regular review coverage.

Adam Boretz, who edits PW Select, was named the editor of BookLife. Remember, PW Select is a monthly supplement (not a quarterly) and marketing service. For a fee of $149.00, self-publishers receive a listing of their book in a PW Select issue and are included in the seasonal announcements database.

Let’s see, $149.00 times . . . how many self-publishers? The true momentum becomes clear. Apparently, everyone wants to help self-publishers. For example, scheduled June 21 the San Francisco Literary Festival added an all-day seminar on digital publishing. Lucky eBook enthusiasts could attend “Digilit” at the University of California Hastings College of the Law for only $225.00. Let’s see, PW wants $149.00 for a “maybe” review, add $225.00 if you are lured to Litquake’s Digital Publishing Conference, then of course there’s the average $800.00 to publish (actually, the range is more like $400 to $5,000) and suddenly one might wonder what happened to the “independent” in independent publishing?

While Examiner may adore print books as a personal preference, all these helpful hands begin to make free Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) look attractive. Suggested strategy: publish with Kindle for free and after you earn some money, then take the same text and publish a real book with Amazon’s CreateSpace. While people who want to write are going to write no matter what, you might as well profit from the best deal available. And while you’re at it, stay in touch with Joel Friedlander – he may want your money, too; but he’s truthful and an excellent source of free information updated almost daily.

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