The (Long) Tail of Self-Published Authors

I read Meghan Ward’s excellent Writerland blog post, Does Social Media Sell Books?, this morning, and thought I would share a version of my comments here:

I recently came across two terms that relate to me as a self-published and self-marketed author:

Googlable“: I have a blog that comes up on top of the first page of search results with my my name as the search string, so I guess that makes me “googlable”.

Long Tail Business Model“: Illustrated in the graph below, Lulu.com founder Bob Young verbalized this business model in a 2007 interview:

A [traditional] publishing house dreams of having 10 authors
selling a million books each. Lulu wants a million authors
selling 100 books each.

Long Tail Business Model Illustration (Picture by Hay Kranen / PD)

I guess I could have also titled this post “Are Self-Published Authors Skewed?”

On the topic of using social media to market books, I currently have about 20 folks who follow my blog, about 40 likes on my Facebook page, and a little over 300 followers on Twitter. Pretty meager numbers compared to many, but darn, it has taken an inordinate amount of time away from writing my next novel just to get to these levels. Going by gut feel, I can’t relate many–if any–book sales to my social media efforts. Maybe I’m doing it wrong. I adopted the “social media is about being social” mantra, and I hardly ever even mention my novel, let alone hawk it, although everything does link back to this blog.

While I sit with the vast majority, somewhere in the “long tail” of self-published authors, I’ve met some lovely folks through my social media socializing, and I’m enjoying posting weekly on my blog. Now it’s time to dive deeply into my next novel (think James Herriot meets Nora Roberts in Ireland!), because it’s the crafting of stories that I really enjoy.

All the best,
Rob

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The Renaissance of Self-Publishing

Native American Storyteller

The term “disintermediation” seems to be popping up more these days, as if the concept is something new. It’s really just a fancy way of saying “cutting out the middle man” or “going right to the source”. If you remember Webvan from a few years ago, they tried (and quickly failed) to disintermediate the retail supermarket industry by delivering groceries direct to consumers. You succeed where Webvan failed every time you go to your local farmer’s market and buy what they’ve grown directly out of the back of their trucks. If you want to take this food supply chain disintermediation example to its ultimate level, grab a hoe and go plant your own garden.

I set out to talk about disintermediation in today’s publishing industry. I must be hungry.

The “traditional” publishing model puts many intermediaries—gatekeepers, if you will—between the author and the reader. In its simplest form, an author contracts with a literary agent to represent a manuscript to one or more publishers. If the manuscript is accepted, the author and literary agent contract with the publisher to finalize, produce, distribute, and market the manuscript in the form of a finished book. Only then is the reader presented with an opportunity to experience the author’s story, with very little chance of ever interacting directly with the author.

The “new” self-publishing model puts the author almost directly in contact with the reader. I think at least some of today’s self-published authors see themselves as pioneering disintermediators of the publishing industry, bypassing the gatekeepers of the Big Six and other publishers by taking their stories directly to the reader. But as far as being pioneers, I think those self-published authors and self-proclaimed iconoclasts have it a bit wrong.

In terms of human history, the “traditional” publishing model is relatively new. While Irish monks may have saved Western civilization by meticulously hand-copying and thus preserving many Greek and Latin texts, Gutenberg’s mechanical movable type started the Printing Revolution in the year 1440. Without movable type, the Renaissance, the Age of Enlightenment, and the Scientific Revolution all would have had a much tougher time getting off the ground. Without Gutenberg’s invention (and all those Irish monks with writer’s cramp) knowledge would have spread much more slowly. Our modern world would look much different without those six or seven centuries of literary agents, publishers, and printers intermediating to spread literature and knowledge to people of all walks of life.

But what was happening before the year 1440? From the dawn of human history until then, the vast majority of people received their literature and knowledge directly from another person, in the forms of myths, legends, tales, songs, epic poems, and folklore in our rich and now almost forgotten oral tradition. No writing systems. No intermediaries. The village medicine man, tribal elders, minstrels, bards, and other storytellers had the ears of anyone within the sound of their voice. From generation to generation in every culture, knowledge was passed along orally, with each generation adding new stories of their own. The Printing Revolution may have given birth to many vital movements, but it effectively put a halt to our rich traditions of person-to-person oral history, oral lore, oral law, and oral knowledge . . . until very recently.

Just a few short years ago, what is perhaps the ultimate disintermediator came into being. Without the Internet, today’s Renaissance of Self-Publishing may never have gotten off the ground. After a six or seven century hiatus, the storytellers of our time finally have the ears of their listeners again. Well, almost.

Self-Publishing Services on Penguin Group (USA)’s Book Country

Book Country, the Penguin Group USA‘s online community dedicated to genre fiction, introduced a suite of self-publishing tools today. While there are dozens of entities offering authors self-publishing options, I believe this is the very first time any unit of The Big Six traditional publishing houses (Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, MacMillan Publishers Ltd, Penguin Group, Random House, Simon & Schuster) has ventured into this relatively new and fast-growing (and fast-changing) segment of the book industry.

This is great news on a number of levels:

  • Emerging authors and established authors now have yet another option to get their works directly into their reader’s hands.
  • The book publishing experience behind this new suite of self-publishing tools may prove to be an advantage over some existing self-publishing options.
  • The wide distribution option covers both print and e-book formats across most major online bookseller outlets . . . including Amazon!
  • This new revenue stream is also helping Penguin discover new authors for their traditional publishing business. That’s a win-win situation!

I think the biggest revelation with this announcement is the indication that The Big Six are coming around to a self-publishing trend that is popular with both authors and readers. You and I already know it’s a trend that’s here to stay!

Here are links to the Penguin Group USA’s announcement and a related article in today’s Wall Street Journal: