>Now a while back another list I am on had a few people getting rather excited about self published books at a book fair that they were invited to, but at which no bookseller was going to be to hawk their wares. They’d have to do their own, and how would anyone know they were a cut above? There was some mild hysteria about the idea that the myriad self-pubbed/ small press authors and books were overwhelming these events and the conference panels.
There were suggestions that ‘real’ authors call themselves New York published or various other titles (we’ll call you a ‘sanitation engineer’) as an imprimatur of quality.
The trouble with this is that quality’s hallmark is… quality. Not a title. And the trouble with titles is that “New York Publishing” is the mark of a bunch of brands (publishing houses) who have yet to fully wake up to branding and its value and how it works. Firstly, people have to actually know your brand exists. Baen figured this a while ago. Tor and I see now Penguin are trying to capitalise on their authors (who are brand names) to establish their brands in the minds of readers. This is good thinking for publishers if not necessarily for the authors (who are providing a very valuable property for free). It may of course be good for the authors too, as it lets your brand name mix with other possibly more august names. (August Names, see, are the names of authors who come out in August, which is when the publishers put out their best wares for summer holiday reads. And if you believe this, I have a book to sell you. About selling bridges…) The down side of this of course is the part they may not quite have figured yet, ie… You might end up tarnishing your brand with the more January Names (when no customers have any money left after their Christmas’s Budget blowout, and you put up stuff not many people would buy anyway.) And this I do not think the new rush have quite grasped yet: public opinion of your WHOLE brand and ALL its products matter.
What? Yes, actually I DO know DRAGON’S RING is coming out in paperback in early January. But thank you for pointing it out ;-). I shall continue to believe that people will love the book and tell their friends, and that this was shrewd and not a label. I have to believe this 🙂
Anyway, the point I am making is that a brand of value known for quality say… Rolls Royce for example, might make several models of motor car, or luxury cars and aero engines, but, to conserve their brand’s value, none of these is a fall-apart assembled in Ping-Ping from slightly used tin cans and chewing gum and spit washing machine. A January, if you like. A powerful brand has no January names on its product list. Anonymous no label companies (where the brand is invisible) might make fairly good products and rubbish at the same factory, and put a lot of effort into selling fairly good, and just have the rubbish cheap to make. But companies who sell on brand, can’t.
Anyone who believes the general output of large Publishing in NY has followed a policy of strengthening their brands by never putting out a January, erhm…. I suggest you read more. As a way of marking your book as something better than self-published / small press, this one is a failure. Moreover it’s a failure the writer can do nothing about. As several people pointed out, this is a storm in a tea-cup. There have ALWAYS been vanity / self published / small press books about. And, while this is not generally true, a few really are far better than anything NY has brought out in the last 50 years, and probably about 10% are no worse. It hasn’t brought down publishing yet, or drowned out the authors published by large publishing. Take it away, and those who fail now… would still fail. The reason is painfully obvious: because, quite simply, the self-published and small press can’t get the broad retail access. With rare exceptions (that take a lot of luck and work) they can’t match the NY Publishers’ reach. It’s hard, not very rewarding and most will give up before the breakthrough.
NY publishing didn’t NEED a brand name, and imprimatur of quality, because they controlled most retail access. If you were in B&N across the country… you had their stamp of approval.
Of course that becomes awkward with the advent of the Internet and large online retailers, who are (at present) willing to give retail space to every Tom Dickanharry who can come up with a cover and thinks they can write. What’s worse is that the large online retailers are prepared to give Mr Dickanharry 70% of the cover price (out of which he has to pay the cost of a cover, and for proof-reading, and hopefully acquire some editorial input). And large NY Publishing are pushing their newbies and midlist not into retail space they pwn, but into competition – with no more than Mr Dickanharry, and um… if the author is lucky, 12.5% cover price. It’s going to take a fairly stupid author not to go to a small publisher, that will do as much as the NY House do, and will give him 50% of the cover price. Now you understand why the Publisher’s brand name suddenly becomes a thing of value, that companies who had no real interest before are suddenly flinging themselves into, and pressuring their authors to take slots on their online blogs etc. It adds value to their Brand, at small extra cost (most of the real, vast cost — the author’s time — the Publisher gets for free. On the plus side it does mean the bigger names — who get the bulk of the advance spend and any other push and publicity, get to draw some light to the newbies and the midlisters by sharing a podium. Most of them like doing this, as anyone who has been to Baen’s Bar knows. Authors — especially those who have battered their own way up through hard knocks — are actually amazingly good about nurture. Ok there are exceptions, but when I look at what other writers have done for me, my sarcasm leaves entirely and I can only be grateful and aspire to be one.)
This leaves me, finally (yes, you are relieved), at my conclusions: which are
1)If you are published by NYBighouse do take part in whatever Brand building forum they want of you. You have very little choice, and there are some advantages (whether this amounts to 37.5% of the royalties must depend on what other publicity you have. If you have none, and this will bring you 1000 sales as opposed to 10 chance finds, it is )
2)Distinctly brand yourself within that forum, and keep an off-forum site, which you refer to on forum, which offers things not available on your publisher’s site. They’re using you to build their brand, use them to build yours.
3)Make as many contacts and cross-linkages as possible on that site, with established authors and new writers and wannabes. There is no such thing as free lunch, but these are the people who will help you, as you help them.
4) The flush of self-pubbed and small press ebooks will not go away… or drown the quality. Many new start ups will find this is hard, unrewarding and give up. But some will stay on.
5) Some large houses will try to either cut a cosy deal with the larger online retailer to lock the smaller / individual players out, and stop their bigger names deserting them. If this fails expect at restrictive contracts.
6)Look beyond all of this, and build your Brand, even before you publish.
And I’d be curious about your impressions of where it will go?