Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Today’s Publishing Gatekeeper Is The Writer

For writers who have tried to get published by a traditional book publisher – and have been rejected or told to use a literary agent and have never landed one – many will rail against the establishment with cries of “elitists,” “gatekeepers” and “close-minded.”

But now writers have no excuses, no one to blame, no one to stand in their way.  They can simply publish themselves.  Instead of a gatekeeper in the form of a publishing acquisition editor who not only weighed a manuscript’s quality but its marketplace and the marketability of the author, today’s gatekeeper comes in the form of the author and his level of tolerance of fear and risk. It also comes in the form of resource availability -- in time and/or money.

If one wants to self-publish, there are set-up costs.  One must design a cover, edit a manuscript, do interior layout and invest time into learning how to upload a book for sale.  If you create an e-only book or print-on-demand publishing, you are spared the costs and benefits of printing thousands of copies.

The choices can be confusing, as there are many, many ways to self-publish.  But the good news is this:  If you have an idea and you take the effort to write a book, no one can stop it from being published, promoted, and sold but you.

That is both a liberating and burdening feeling for today’s writer.

Publishers still serve many purposes.  They filter what gets published less for political purposes or even stylistic tastes, but more for the bottom line: Are there enough readers for this kind of book if they were to discover it – and how willing and able is a writer going to actively and successfully market and promote his or her book?  For better or worse, publishers become the arbiters of what gets published; filtering what the public is exposed to.

Publishers make wrong decisions all of the time.  Their publishing choices become self-fulfilling prophecies – the more often they say a book or genre won’t sell, the more they prove themselves right by not trying to prove themselves wrong. They are risk-averse. 

But now that authors can self-publish, some feel trepidation in not having an excuse to stop them from testing their work out.  On the other hand, for many, self-publishing doesn’t really give their book a chance to succeed.  One can’t merely press a button to launch a book for sale and expect that sales will automatically come.

Self-publishing means doing what a publisher should be doing – so you now are taxed with doing – or hiring others to do what’s needed, from editing and design to marketing and sales.

Even though traditional publishers are difficult to get a deal from and authors make a small royalty per book sale, traditionally published books tend to sell a lot more books than self-published authors.  Freedom and autonomy come with a price.

Some authors believe their role is to write – and don’t want to concern themselves with the other aspects of publishing.  They become lazy or fearful and don’t want to put in the time or money to support their book.  And they don’t want to risk anything, such as startup costs.

Writers today are being asked to be entrepreneurs and to pay a tax before earning any money.  That’s like telling workers they should start a business and create their own job and to pay taxes in advance of getting a paycheck.

Just as being a published author sounds great – you have your book read by others and you receive praise from peers and possibly a financial pay off – the reality is that to be an author requires dedication and determination.  Anyone can start a business – the vast majority fail in just a few years.  Anyone can be a published writer – but few make money from writing.

Some say the ultimate gatekeeper is the reader.  Consumers decide if you are a success or failure but long before they ever get to decide, writers must determine how they want to be published and what they are willing to do to make their book get noticed.

There is a limit at any given time, in any given field, as to how many can work in it, how many can make good money, and how many can continue to grow.  Book publishing is the same.  Sure anyone can put out a book, but not everyone can sell it – or buy it.  Today’s author has a different obstacle course to getting published, sold and discovered than a generation ago.  It’s not necessarily better or worse.  But it is interesting to see how new winners and losers are created with the changes in the book industry.

No one stands in the way today of the writer, but that doesn't mean there aren't challenges to hurdle. 

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, Media Connect, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2014

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