“Five years ago, self-pub­lish­ing was a scar. Now it’s a tat­too”

▶ Dig­i­tal plat­forms have emerged to serve midlist au­thors ▶ “Where pub­lish­ers make guesses, we run the num­bers”

Bloomberg Businessweek (North America) - - Advertisement - �Karen An­gel

For Greg White, the last straw came when his pub­lisher for­got to ship copies of his book to the launch party last Oc­to­ber. It was just one in a se­ries of lost mar­ket­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties, says White, co-host of the Food Net­work show Unique Sweets. So he de­cided to take his book back. Af­ter get­ting his con­tract can­celed, he turned to the ed­i­to­rial mar­ket­place Reedsy to re­design The Pink Marine, his mem­oir about life as a gay ser­vice­man. The au­thor, who lives in Santa Mon­ica, Calif., formed his own im­print,

About­face Books, and cut a dis­tri­bu­tion deal with In­gram Con­tent Group. “Five years ago, self-pub­lish­ing was a scar,” White says. “Now it’s a tat­too.”

A new gen­er­a­tion of on­line ed­i­to­rial ser­vices and self-pub­lish­ing plat­forms is fu­el­ing that change in per­cep­tion. The up­starts of­fer skills and ser­vices that used to be avail­able only through tra­di­tional pub­lish­ing, plus fa­vor­able roy­alty splits. They also al­low au­thors to re­tain the copy­right to their work. The ar­ray of of­fer­ings is spurring some writ­ers to leave their pub­lish­ing houses—par­tic­u­larly midlist au­thors whose books re­ceive scant mar­ket­ing sup­port. Some are also us­ing the new ser­vices to put out e-book ver­sions of their out-of-print ti­tles.

Jan­ice Gra­ham used Ama­zon.com’s Kin­dle Di­rect Pub­lish­ing plat­form to re­lease dig­i­tal ver­sions of her five nov­els , in­clud­ing 1998’s Firebird, a New York Times best-seller. For a novel in progress, she hired an editor through Reedsy and plans to self-pub­lish un­less a pub­lisher of­fers her a good deal. “I’m not so in­ter­ested in the pres­tige of be­ing pub­lished by a tra­di­tional pub­lisher at this point,” says Gra­ham, who lives in Florence, Italy. “What I’m in­ter­ested in is max­i­miz­ing sales.”

Reedsy is a com­mu­nity of about 450 hand­picked pub­lish­ing pro­fes­sion­als avail­able for hire. The twoyear-old Lon­don-based com­pany of­fers soft­ware that al­lows au­thors to col­lab­o­rate with edi­tors with­out hav­ing to e-mail manuscripts back and forth. Reedsy co-founder and Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer Em­manuel Nataf says he had an epiphany when he got his first Ama­zon Kin­dle e-reader: “The bar­ri­ers to pub­lish­ing had been re­moved.”

Self-pub­lished ti­tles ac­count for al­most half of all e-book pur­chases in Ama­zon’s Kin­dle store, while e-books from the five largest pub­lish­ers rep­re­sent just a quar­ter, ac­cord­ing to the web­site Authore­arn­ings. Still, de­mand for dig­i­tal ti­tles has weak­ened some­what: E-book pur­chases—which aver­age $4.95, com­pared with about $15 for trade pa­per­backs—peaked in 2014, when they made up 36 per­cent of the pub­lish­ing mar­ket. They’ve since de­clined, as con­sumers with dig­i­tal fa­tigue re­turn to print, ac­cord­ing to Peter Hildick-smith, founder of Codex-group, a con­sult­ing firm in New York City. “I be­lieve the mar­ket is now in more of a steady state,” he says.

To com­pete against tra­di­tional pub­lish­ers, self-pub­lish­ing plat­forms tar­get spe­cific niches and of­fer au­thors terms their old-line com­peti­tors can’t match. Pro­noun, formed last year by a merger of three com­pa­nies, is free for au­thors to use, dis­trib­utes their e-books to Ama­zon and other on­line re­tail­ers, and doesn’t take a cut of their sales. (Tra­di­tional pub­lish­ers typ­i­cally keep 75 per­cent of an e-book’s net profit.) Pro­noun only ne­go­ti­ates rev­enue-shar­ing agree­ments with au­thors who use its ed­i­to­rial and mar­ket­ing sup­port. “Where pub­lish­ers make guesses, we run the num­bers,” says Josh Brody, CEO of Pro­noun, based in New York City. “We ap­ply ad­vanced data sci­ence and an­a­lyt­ics to help au­thors price their book com­pet­i­tively, get it into re­tailer cat­e­gories that pro­vide the high­est vis­i­bil­ity, and tag their books so they show up in the most pop­u­lar and rel­e­vant reader searches.”

Lean­pub gives tech­nol­ogy writ­ers the abil­ity to pub­lish in-progress works. That way, they get feed­back from read­ers and earn roy­al­ties while they’re writ­ing. The com­pany, in Vic­to­ria, B.C., takes a 10 per­cent cut plus 50¢ on each sale through its on­line store. “If you’re writ­ing about an area that changes quickly, your only hope of be­ing rel­e­vant is to pub­lish quickly,” says Lean­pub co-founder and au­thor Peter Arm­strong.

Mered­ith Wild, an au­thor of erotic fic­tion based in Destin, Fla., snagged a $6.25 mil­lion ad­vance from Grand Cen­tral Pub­lish­ing’s For­ever im­print last year for five nov­els—four of which she’d al­ready self-pub­lished. For­ever had sold about 500,000 copies of the books through Jan­uary, com­pared with 1.5 mil­lion Wild sold be­fore the deal through her own ag­gres­sive mar­ket­ing. That dif­fer­en­tial is one rea­son she’s gone back to pub­lish­ing her work— along with that of other writ­ers in the genre—un­der the im­print Water­house Press, which she started in 2014. “It’s more of a per­sonal in­vest­ment of time and money to have my own team,” she says, “but at the end of the day, I like be­ing able to call my own shots.”

Self-pub­lish­ing isn’t for ev­ery­one. “It’s def­i­nitely like run­ning your own busi­ness, and not ev­ery­one is up for that,” says the au­thor, who uses the e-book cre­ation soft­ware Vel­lum. “For those who are, it’s a great way to pub­lish on your own terms.”

The bot­tom line A num­ber of self-pub­lish­ing plat­forms are woo­ing es­tab­lished au­thors by rewrit­ing the in­dus­try’s con­tract terms.

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