Mark and Lesleyann Coker wrote a novel called Boob Tube, based on her experiences and observations as a soap opera reporter. They found an agent, who shopped it around to traditional publishers to no avail. Rather than give up, however, they decided to start their own e-book publishing company, Smashwords, to give their book — and others — a chance.
“That experience really opened my eyes to how publishing works,” Mark Coker told TechNewsWorld. “The large, traditional publishers are in the market to sell books. The entire traditional publishing industry is built around the notion that a book’s merit is built on its commercial potential. I thought that’s the wrong way to value books. Books are worth more than money.”
Smashwords now distributes around 275,000 e-book titles to a variety of online retailers, including Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo — and in some cases, Amazon. It’s one of many e-book publishers and distributors that have sprung up to serve the needs of a new breed of author.
With services like Smashwords, Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and Lulu, e-book writers retain the copyright to their material, don’t pay any upfront fee to get their books into the hands of readers, and receive a percentage of the proceeds. Depending on the company and the price of the book, this percentage can range from 65 to 90 percent.
“KDP is a platform for anyone to publish a book on Kindle,” KDP spokesperson Brittany Turner told TechNewsWorld. “It’s free, it’s easy, you keep your copyright, and it’s really fast. You log in with your information, upload your book, and it can be live within 12 hours or so.”
Using KDP gives e-book authors unprecedented and near-instant access to Kindle and Kindle app users.
“It’s the only way to get your book up on Kindle as a self-publisher,” said Turner. “You have access to millions of Amazon customers around the world. It’s a great way to get that worldwide audience.”
The Question of Quality
It’s one thing to publish a book. It’s another to publish a well-written, well-edited, and well-crafted book. The issue of quality that has haunted vanity publishing from its beginnings is still there with self-published e-books, with the difference being that it’s easier than ever to upload a carelessly produced book.
E-book companies are aware of these issues, and they often counsel their authors about the importance of getting professional editing and design for their books before publication.
“When a writer self-publishes a book, they’re assuming the responsibility of becoming their own publisher,” said Coker.
“It’s their responsibility to make sure that it’s professionally edited and has a professional cover design. Some authors take that responsibility very seriously. One of the potential downsides is we make it too easy for writers to publish,” he added.
“Quality varies,” said Turner. “The great thing about self-publishing is the control is in the hands of the author, and they have the final responsibility. Often they end up hiring an editor.”
The fact is, if books are not well-written and well-edited, readers will turn away from them, said Turner.
“If they’re not top-notch quality, readers are vocal about it,” she noted. “One of the good things about self-publishing is you get direct feedback from your readers.”
As with traditional publishing, selling books depends on creating a product that readers want to buy.
“There are some powerful Darwinian market forces at play here,” Coker pointed out. “If an author honors their reader with a professionally produced book, they will find readers. If they don’t follow best practices, readers are going to ignore their books, and their books will instantly become invisible.”
Some e-book companies, such as Lulu, offer a suite of services to self-published authors that resemble those offered by traditional publishers, including help with editing, design and promotion.
“Authors can choose from print and e-book formats, and these can be created as DIY projects or with the help of our professional services experts,” Dan Dillon, director of product marketing for Lulu, told TechNewsWorld.
“We offer publishing services, which help a writer create a remarkable book and bring it to market. And we offer publicity services, which help an author market their book and drive sales,” he said.
Lulu stresses a theme that’s common in the world of self-published e-books: control. Authors retain rights to their work and can shape, edit, market, and sell that work however and whenever they’d like.
“With Lulu, you are the master of your destiny,” said Dillon. “The ability to self-publish e-books has made it that much faster and easier for our authors to share their stories and experiences with their readers. The ability to go from drafted manuscript to published e-book, to being downloaded on a reader’s device in a matter of minutes is a true testament to the opportunities self-publishing presents.”
Most self-published authors quickly find that loading a book on ebook platforms does not result in anybody being aware that their book exists. Self-publishing on one platform has some appeal if the platform commands a high level of the sales for the category (genre fiction such as science fiction, fantasy, and romance), but those categories are few and far between. For most categories, local stores still provide the majority of sales so partnering with a provider that can get books in those stores and drive readers into those stores remains important.
Hybrid publishing service companies (such as the company I manage, WestBow Press) help an author get their book on all the ebook platforms and the online book retailer sites–and we offer authors sales and distribution services to get their printed editions in local stores.