This is the second part of a guest post outlining ways writers can understand and respond to the rapid changes in the world of publishing. If you haven’t read Part 1, I suggest you start with that post, which immediately precedes this one.
An Author’s Guide to Publishing in 2012 – Part Two, by Dr. Amy Rogers
Part 2: Indie Publishing
Take all of the above and add another, less glamorous tech advance: print-on-demand publishing. What you get is a slew of new publishing options. Traditional New York-based publishers (now consolidated into six major houses with many imprints) used to be the only game in town. What was once derisively called vanity publishing has become “indie”, and indie publishing encompasses a wide range of approaches.
This is the buzzword on everyone’s lips, but what does it mean? I find that many people use the term “self-published” to broadly describe any book in any format that does not have the imprimatur of a Big Six publisher. This fails to account for the various degrees of self-publishing and also the new professional indie publishing options out there.
1. A truly self-published book is written, edited, designed, formatted, and distributed all by the author. The main advantages of this approach are total control and minimal financial expense (though the investment of time may be substantial). Some writers create their own publishing company to do this. However most self-pubbing authors hire out at least some the non-writing tasks. In fact, the majority of “self-published” titles were published by a subsidy publisher chosen and paid for by the author.
2. Subsidy publisher
A subsidy publisher is a company hired by the author to turn his text file into a paper or digital book. In most cases, the subsidy publisher provides online distribution but NOT to bricks-and-mortar bookstores.
With subsidy publishing, the author pays out of pocket for all expenses. The cost and services provided vary a lot, so it pays to shop around. Unlike old “vanity” publishing, print on demand technology frees the author from having to pay in advance for a print run of books that might never sell. This keeps the costs low relative to the old days. In this model, the author is the publisher’s customer.
The next step closer to a traditional publishing arrangement is assisted self-publishing where the author does not pay the costs upfront but rather shares future royalties with the service provider. This means the book has to be good enough that somebody is willing to take a modest financial risk in publishing it. Several literary agencies are now offering this type of “consulting” service to their existing clients in exchange for a commission.
3. Not self-pub: Small presses
A small press is any traditionally-structured publisher that is not owned by the Big Six. University presses, regional presses, niche publishers and others fit in this category. Such companies may only publish a few titles per year. The key distinction that makes this “not self-pub” is the publisher, not the author, pays the costs of getting the book out there. In this model, booksellers and readers are the publisher’s customers. Unlike self-publishing, the author must provide a manuscript that is deemed commercially viable on at least a small scale.
4. Digital-only full-service publishers
This category didn’t exist until a few years ago. Digital-only publishers operate like small presses but release their titles only in e-book formats. This keeps their costs lower and allows them to take on riskier projects—such as first novels—that may not sell enough copies to catch the attention of a Big Six imprint. My own publisher, Diversion Books, is a leader in this category.
With Diversion, the author retains the right to self-publish in paper. This creates an interesting situation: my science thriller Petroplague is currently on sale with two different covers and two different publishers. One cover is for the professional e-book with Diversion; the other cover is on the paper books I produced at my own expense with the help of a subsidy publisher.
One size does not fit all in publishing these days. Indie authors can choose to learn a variety of non-writing skills and publish their books themselves, or they can hire others to do it for them. If the book is marketable and the author is willing to split royalties, a small press or a digital-only publisher may be an alternative to the Big 6. For the first time in the history of the book, barriers to entry are low and every writer has the power to bypass the gatekeepers and put his or her words in the hands of readers.
Amy Rogers is a Harvard-educated scientist, educator, and critic who writes science-themed thrillers. Her debut novel Petroplague is about oil-eating bacteria contaminating the fuel supply of Los Angeles and paralyzing the city. She is a member of International Thrillers Writers Debut Class (2011-2012). At her website ScienceThrillers.com [there’s a link on thefirstgates blogroll], Amy reviews books that combine real science with entertainment. You can follow Amy on Twitter @ScienceThriller or on her Facebook fan page http://www.facebook.com/pages/Amy-Rogers/202428959777274