We are on the cusp of a new paradigm in the information industry. That’s what we are. We aren’t book designers, publishers, authors, newspaper or magazine (or even e-zine) journalists, TV anchors, advertising professionals, or artists, or entertainers. We are information producers and providers. What’s changing fast is the delivery system and the choices of our consumers.

crwodsourcingThis book: Crowdsourcing appeared last August, so I hope I’m not too late to the party. (Ironically, produced on paper first.) This video is a nice overview. I like how he uses photography as an example of a paradigm shift. It’s something we designers are very familiar with and can easily understand. The book cover itself was a case study for his thesis. A contest was held and designers submitted cover designs on which the “public” (people who pay attention to such things) voted. Like American Idol, but um, not. Many of us professional designers just hate design contests, because it reduces us to the level of say, the yodeling, tap dancing farmer hoping to win a spot on the aforementioned TV show and possibly see a profit from our speculative efforts. It’s not really a fair thing to ask of a “professional” is it? And yet, we seem to be willing to do it—the risk is worth the possible reward. But that’s a whole other rant story. I mention this book mainly to illustrate the following example.

Back to the paradigm. Think about the photography example. Technology, and delivery systems changed the way photos were made, sold, and delivered. Abundance of producers using these new technologies to create and make photos available changed the pricing of them. The result was photographers had to change the way they marketed and sold their wares and services or face extinction.
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nytlogo153x23Today, the New York Times published an article by Motoko Rich entitled “Self-publishers Flourish as Writers Pay the Tab.” It’s a pretty realistic look at a new world in publishing. Below is my opinion on this situation.

It had to happen, critical mass has been reached. That, and the model practiced by major (mainly New York) publishing houses has at long last proved to be unsustainable. More and more books are published every year in this country, yet the cost is born by those very few “mega-blockbusters” promoted as such by their publishers. Yet by all accounts there are fewer and fewer readers of “books” each year. But readers, when polled don’t always count reading done online, or on other electronic devices, nor audio books as “books.”

Are we witnessing the death (or severe winnowing) of print publishing in the traditional sense of mass marketed ink on paper books, verses the many other delivery methods being explored? It’s hard to say. As a cover/book designer, I surely hope there will still be significant demand for that singular intimate experience that only the visually pleasing, tactile and physical book can provide. After all, that’s my livelihood, and my passion.

As for the new surge in self-published titles of varying quality and aesthetic appeal, I suppose that it’s a great thing for those who want  to share their stories with a few people. But I hope they don’t harbor unrealistic illusions about striking it rich and appearing on Oprah. For every talented newbie writer, and or compelling story that successfully uses this method to springboard to fame and a wider audience when picked up by a big name publisher, there are thousands that languish in obscurity. If fame and fortune were their aim, they may have been better off robbing a bank—infamy seems as marketable these days.

Evidence supports that this can be done though. First, they had to have a good product, but they also had to spend considerable effort, and dare we say a few bucks, in getting the word out about their book(s). I don’t think any self-published titles (with the possibility of rare exceptions) ever got picked up by a publisher without first establishing some significant and verifiable sales. No doubt there are some roses out there in the mass of stinkweeds. Or as Cathy Langer of the Tattered Cover in Denver said, “For every thousand titles that get self-published, maybe there’s two that should have been published.”

What of paying the tab? Mr. Rich doesn’t really get in to the gritty details except to offer $99 to $100,000 as the range of costs involved. Well, that’s mighty big range! If we’re talking print on demand (POD) I’d sure like to know what the author is getting for $100,000! Can you say writer’s beware? I have looked at the so-called “custom covers” many POD “publishers” offer and frankly your baby would be better off making its debut in a plain brown wrapper.

I’m paid to put the lipstick on … whether they are pigs or natural born beauties. And I do it most happily. So all you self-publishers out there, give your natural born beauty its best chance of thriving in this very crowded marketplace. Let me do the cover. (Even e-books need covers.) I can unequivically guarantee you it won’t cost nearly $100,000.

Does anybody use LibraryThing? Well, I know over 500,000 people are signed up, but does anybody here reading this use it? I signed up as a user back in July of 07, and then promptly forgot about it. The idea of entering all my books manually just seemed overwhelming. But now I see that they have a $15 barcode reader that allows you to scan your books and upload them all at once. You can get a widget for your blog that shows your random covers (if they are linked on Amazon, or if you uploaded them). Though I think it links TO Amazon to buy the book, still I am all in favor of helping writers sell books in whatever way they can.

I does have some interesting tools and lists of use to writers, publishers, and readers. For instance, you can see the top 25 books, based on users uploads; read reviews and post your own reviews; connect with authors and other users. You can find bookstores in your area that stock a book you want—independent ones too.

There are lots of book centric blogs there, many based on genre or category. I browsed through a YA blog and the comments and posts seemed to be from teachers and librarians (as well as the occasional actual YA). Seeing what this demographic thinks is pretty enlightening.

So, now I’m thinking about getting that scanner, and uploading my books. This could take a while as I have hundreds, perhaps thousands. What do you all think? Is this yet another way to waste time and procrastinate? Check out Library Thing before you answer…

twslogoSo given the spirited discussion we had about this subject last Saturday at my Writer’s Meetup group, I encourage those members to listen to this episode of The Writing Show in which Paula B. interviews Jennifer Silva Redmond, Editor-in-Chief of Sunbelt Publications, an award-winning small press that celebrates the natural and cultural history of the Californias. What she has to say backs up some of my points and reiterates some of what Carolyn Hayes Uber was saying in her interview here. If you ever want to be published you can’t afford to ignore what people in the business say they want, and maybe even more when they tell us what kind of behaviors really tick them off. After all, it may be their jobs to give your submissions fair consideration, but remember that their time is limited and the volume of demands on their time is tremendous. Why on earth would you want to do ANYTHING that would make it more difficult for them or annoy the very people whom you NEED to champion your work? Hmm?

My guest is Carolyn Hayes Uber, who is president of Stephens Press, LLC in Las Vegas, Nevada. Stephens Press is a small regional publisher and has been in existence since 2002. They have published about 100 titles since the company’s inception.

SC: As an acquisitions editor what do you absolutely hate to see and what do you love to see, in terms of the query/proposal?
CHU: We’re a small publisher so I think we’re easier to submit to, but as hard as anywhere to get a “yes” unless the author has a good platform, something amazingly unique, a good FIT for us, connections or money attached (a sponsor).

Hate:

  • Submissions reeking of smoke or cats.
  • Misspellings, typos – is this the BEST you can do?
  • Something totally unsuited to us – clearly sent to dozens if not hundreds of publishers with no consideration for what we publish.
  • No cover letter, or one with no personality.
  • Arrogance.
  • Ignorance of the pub world, such as saying “EVERYONE will love this book, the entire world is my target audience” or my marketing plan is for the publisher to post billboards across the country and book me on Oprah.

Love:

  • Neat, readable, clean package (you’d be surprised what messy packages arrive)
  • Cover letter with some personality that suggests they know something about Stephens Press.
  • An incredible platform – creds, contacts, media, speaker etc.
  • Writing that sucks me in without my noticing (I’m always resisting, I have too much to do, so if I find I’m actually READING, not skimming, I must be hooked.)
  • A really unique hook, angle or subject.

SC: Please explain further what you mean by “platform” does this mean a following? Or does it mean something else?

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