The Question of Self-Publishing

Heather Greene —  July 28, 2013 — 16 Comments

In yesterday’s post, I discussed the state of the publishing industry with respect to Barnes & Noble’s recent unimpressive fiscal announcements. How would the disappearance of the last remaining large-scale, traditional bookstore affect the metaphysical book industry? After speaking with two industry experts, the answer seems conclusive. A Barnes & Noble collapse, while not at all preferable, would not permanently damage either company. Llewellyn and the Phoenix & Dragon Bookstore both maintain flexible, diverse, customer-driven business structures that are adaptable in this evolving marketplace.

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Photo Courtesy of Elysia Gallo, Llewellyn

Will Barnes & Noble go the same way as Borders? Only time will tell. The industry is still changing and evolving. To date, there are many factors that have contributed to the upheaval including increased competition, changing consumer behavior, and the diversification of the product. There are paper books, audio books and eBooks in multiple formats. There are books published by the “big six,” by independent publishers, and most recently, by the authors themselves.

Self-publishing has become one of the hottest trends in the marketplace. Several weeks ago I interviewed New York Times best-selling author John Matthews, who had just announced the launch of his new self-publishing venture Mythwood Books. After years of negotiating the traditional publishing world, Matthews has chosen to “go it alone” in order to earn a greater percentage of the revenue and to maintain creative integrity over his work. 

As I reported in that article, approximately 43% (or 148,424) of all published books in 2011 were self-published. Bowker Books in Print reports the 2012 figure to be well-over 235,000 titles.The number continues to grow.

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Cara Schultz

First-time author Cara Schultz chose to self-publish after an uncomfortable encounter with a traditional publisher. She explains:

The security, expertise, and wider distribution offered by publishers were attractive, but in the end the loss of control over my content and brand weighed too heavily… The publisher wanted to add and subtract products featured in my book based on advertising and marketing partnerships with companies.  I wanted to only feature products I own, use and recommend based on performance. 

Ginger Wood

Virginia Chandler

Virginia Chandler, author of fantasy fiction novels, and Christine Hoff Kraemer, Patheos Pagan Channel’s managing editor, also made a similar choice. Chandler’s first two books were published by Double Dragon Publishing, who she describes as “very supportive.”  However, she “craved more control” over her end product and has now turned to Amazon’s Create Space. Kraemer published her first books through a traditional academic publisher but turned to the more progressive Patheos Press for her most recent work, Seeking the Mysteries: A Introduction to Pagan Theologies. “The royalty percentage [is] much higher,” she says.

In response to the Matthews interview, author Donald Michael Kraig posed a poignant question to those who do choose to self-publish:

Self-publishing replaces everything the publisher did, including promotion, advertising, marketing, etc. Publishers have distributors and can get their books into bookstores and chains. How will you, the self-publisher, accomplish this?

Christine Hoff Kraemer

Christine Hoff Kraemer

All three of authors had the same response. Shultz said, “Publishing houses say they will help market your book, but … they really won’t.” Chandler agreed saying, “Unless you are JK Rowling, Dan Brown, or a guaranteed million dollar selling author, you are going to be doing all of the promotional legwork.” Kraemer added, “Some publishers still do limited marketing for you, although this is becoming more rare.”

So how does their choice to “go it alone” affect the traditional book industry players? EBooks nearly eliminate the need for a publisher, distributor and brick-and-mortar store. Everything is done digitally. Phoenix & Dragon had already lost 15% of its sales to Amazon even before the popularity of eBooks. Self-publishing only exacerbates the problem.

Many self-published authors, like Kraemer, have turned to print-on-demand publishing services. These companies, such as Lulu.com, bridge the gap between a traditional publisher and full self-publishing. With print-on-demand, the author can offer a tangible product which broadens the potential readership and increases the likelihood of seeing their work on a store shelf.

However, it is not quite that simple. When I asked Candace Apple about the growth in self-publishing, she simple stated, “It makes life crazy.”  Phoenix & Dragon employs a full-time book buyer who evaluates every book sold. This screening process becomes more strenuous with self-published products. In such cases, Apple can’t rely on a publisher’s reputation in order to pre-qualify a book’s content.  Her buyer must carefully screen every self-published book. That takes time.

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In addition, the cost is prohibitive.  As Apple explains, self-published authors do not offer wholesale discounts and large inventories. Apple must pay the full cover price plus shipping for every book purchased.

With that said, Apple believes in supporting community and will showcase local self-published authors. “I enjoy finding the gems,” she told me. Fortunately for the self-published Pagan author, the independently-owned metaphysical bookstores have that flexibility. The big chains, like Barnes & Noble, don’t. Going forward, Apple hopes that Amazon’s new distribution processes will alleviate some of the headaches associated with selling the self-published book.

What about Llewellyn? How is it handling the increase in self-published material? Bill Krause said:

There is no denying it has never been easier to self-publish and would-be authors may choose this path rather than submitting a manuscript to a traditional publisher for consideration. We can’t change this, so we have to figure out how to work with it. We have picked up some authors who were originally self-published and sold them to the trade quite successfully. In some cases we had them write new books, in other cases we had them rework their original. In all cases, it’s based on the content of the work.

He continued on to say:

The number of self-published books that find success is extremely small. Unless the author has some industry knowledge and also happens to be a tireless marketer/promoter while also being a strong writer, editor and designer (or willing to pay for this assistance), it’s very difficult to find success. 

David Salisbury

David Salisbury

Author David Salisbury echoed this sentiment saying:

My books so far have all gone through the traditional publishing process. It made the most sense for me to go that route for all the practical reasons. I love writing but hate doing everything else that goes along with putting a book out (editing, marketing, pitching etc.). I felt better handing my work over to professionals who I trust more than myself to complete a nice polished product

Crystal Blanton

Crystal Blanton

Crystal Blanton, author and Wild Hunt Columnist, also chose the traditional route. She said:

All three of my books are published through Immanion/Megalithic Press….I was looking for a partner in the process of working on my book. I chose to publish with a small press because I wanted the support of a publisher yet the creative freedom that a smaller press like Immanion could provide.

But what about that great promise of 70% revenue on every self-published book sold versus the 10-15% from a traditional publisher?  Krause said, “70% of what? To be another face in the crowd with no marketing budget.” He reiterated the importance of the relationship that Llewellyn forms with its authors.  This relationship along with its professional services can be invaluable over the long run – making up for that 55-60% revenue difference.

By Jorghex (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) via Wikimedia Commons

By Jorghex (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

For the author there are certainly pros and cons to both forms of publishing. For both Llewellyn and metaphysical shops, like Phoenix & Dragon, the self-publishing boom has created complications – ones that now must be taken seriously.

As for the mega book seller, don’t count Barnes & Noble out just yet. According to some analysts, Barnes & Noble is now in a golden position to thrive in one specific area –book selling.  It has the brand name, the resources, the real estate and industry clout. The only question is: can it adapt to the changing climate, find a way to work with the growing population of self-published authors and compete with Amazon? If it does, it will only be good news for Llewellyn, specialty stores like Phoenix & Dragon and many others.  If it doesn’t, we can all reminisce about our glory days getting lost in a book superstore.

 

Full Unedited Comments from authors:

Cara Schultz
Virginia Chandler
Christine Hoff Kraemer
Crystal Blanton

 

Heather Greene

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Heather is a freelance writer, film historian, and journalist, living in the Deep South. She has collaborated with Lady Liberty League on religious liberty cases, and formerly served as Public Information Officer for Dogwood Local Council and Covenant of the Goddess. She has a masters degree in Film Theory, Criticism and History from Emory University with a background in the performing and visual arts. Heather's book on witches in American film and television will be published by McFarland in 2018.