For over a decade I’ve been speaking at conferences about self-publishing to audiences of dejected, rejected authors. There was always a stigma associated with self-publishing, with many people considering it lower quality vanity press.
But this year, new faces appeared in the crowd: agents, editors, and publishers eager to understand self-publishing. Why? Self-publishing books has finally reached the mainstream, with enough success stories to make it a legitimate part of the publishing world.
Here’s more about this and other trends in 2010, plus some crystal-ball gazing into what’s coming in 2011.
- Self-publishing lost its stigma
In today’s tight traditional publishing market, agents, editors, and publishers are now encouraging authors to test market their book by self-publishing. Yay! Self-publishing has finally lost its stigma. So if you’ve been dissed by agents in the past, 2011 might be your year to try again. Alan Rinzler is a longtime acquiring and developmental editor at major publishing houses and an independent editor with private clients. “Literary agents have been the missing link for self-published writers trying to break through into mainstream publishing,” he states in Literary agents open the door to self-published writers. “But new attitudes are taking hold, especially among younger up-and-coming literary agents.”
- Ease of tech attracts traditionally published authors to go indie
Technology companies have been wholly responsible for providing tools that let authors easily publish in print and on e-reading devices. “Many of our indie e-book authors are outselling, outmarketing and outpublishing the traditional publishers,” says Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, who in 2010 helped indie authors publish and distribute over 20,000 e-books. “Self-published authors are finally gaining much-deserved respect, not only from the industry, but from readers as well.” Coker adds that the 60-80% earnings from the retail price of their books “has caused many traditionally published authors to go indie.” I like a core group of proven e-book creation and distribution solutions, but keep looking to technology companies and partnerships. Just a few to note are Issuu, BookBrewer, and Monocle with its associated Bookish reader.
- The social graph makes conversations and recommendations easier
Authors conversant with social media tools will get even more of a leg up in the coming year from technology services. “There’s a lot of buzz about reading moving onto digital devices, but people don’t talk as much about the consequences of such a shift,” says Trip Adler, CEO and co-founder of Scribd. “It’s much easier to share what you are reading if you are already reading on an Internet-connected device with your whole social graph right there. Over the next year, you’ll see a lot more books, short stories, poems, and other written material recommended to you by your friends and through your likes and interests.” Authors who understand this will cultivate relationships with bloggers and other curators who can make their voices heard above the fray. Among interesting offerings here is BookGlutton, which lets readers and reading groups converse inside a book via a widget. Possibilities are vast: authors can upload and discuss them with a virtual writing group. Reading groups, classrooms, and book clubs can discuss books uploaded from the web or from Feedbooks.
- Online communities and curation continue to grow
Online writing groups and communities like Red Room and Figment are increasingly valuable resources for authors testing ideas and looking for input. For readers, they can provide much-needed recommendations. Twitter and Facebook are also venues for recommendations from trusted bloggers, blogs of peers, famous people, or sources in vertical markets. For literary books, Goodreads provides a really nice social media platform in their community of more than 4 million readers. Their iPhone/iPad app (over 30,000 downloads) has an integrated e-book reader, rating system, buying, progress reports. They also launched a free author program that lets you upload, sell, and even promote e-books. Look for sites that offer similar services in niche and genre, and more product innovations that make curation easier, like the ones MediaShift’s Roland Legrand mentions in his recent post on Storify.
- Content-rich, relevant tools for marketing are still emerging
In addition to participating in communities and wooing bloggers, Karen Leland, president of Sterling Marketing Group notes that “one of the most exciting developments in 2010 was the expansion of multimedia into the everyday promotion of books and businesses. YouTube has become the biggest search engine outside of Google. In 2011 I think driving book sales with content rich, relevant video placed on YouTube and embedded in blog posts will expand as a leading source of driving awareness of a self-published book.” This kind of marketing also improves book discovery with the proper use of metadata.
- But book designers are still frustrated
Joel Friedlander aka The Book Designer has been frustrated in 2010 by too many competing formats and not-quite-ready-for-prime-time design technologies and standards. “My biggest hope and expectation is that we will get better tools for creating e-books in 2011. Great strides are being made in EPUB and other formats but the device engineers and software coders need to finish developing and hand the tools over to the designers. We are eager to use them to create beautiful books and quality experiences for readers.” Good news for Friedlander and other design warriors, EPUB3 is scheduled for review and approval in May 2011, and it’s got lots of bells and whistles.
- Out-of-print titles continue to be revived, shared, and sold
For authors with a stack of out-of-print books, 2011 will be the year to get them into e-book format and recreate an income stream. Among others, the non-profit Internet Archive will scan and run OCR across texts, convert them to the various formats for use in their library for the print disabled (blind, dyslexic or are otherwise visually impaired), and in the free archive. Or, for a reasonable fee, you can exclude them from the archive and get the files to sell them yourself in all the usual places on the Internet.
- The single-purpose e-book reader phases out
The iPad was the first multi-purpose e-reader (besides the web browser). More than one pundit thinks that single-purpose e-book readers are transitional devices, and that, in the future, we’ll be reading comfortably on book size-and-weight versions of the iPad by a galloping herd of makers including the ones making devices today. Expect some to fail.
- Transmedia “immersive” books and apps become more common
Authors who can think “writing” and “movie” and “gaming” are going to love transmedia storytelling. Especially when multi-use devices and books in browsers become the norm. 2010 saw enhanced e-books and magazines, learning materials, and apps based on books on the rise. Watch for continuing growth in the number of startups, a la those Multimedia Gulch CD-ROM development days, to help produce these “transmedia properties.”
- Oh yeah . . . print books
Author services companies will continue to serve up Print On Demand (POD) books for multi-book authors and the masses of people who just know they have a book in them. It’s a great business. Who knows, maybe the Espresso Book Machine will make it into the few bookstores left standing in 2011. But bookstore distribution will continue to be a less viable option to any publisher’s income stream as mail-order from Amazon and the other major retailers continue to usurp brick-and-mortar bookstore sales. The new smaller, lighter, better multi-use devices will encourage e-reading. That leaves the rich and privileged to order special limited print editions of books by authors they love. Okay, that may be gazing a few years too far into the crystal ball, but look, some authors are already finding it a trend, nonetheless.
Did I catch them all? What do you think were the most important developments in self-publishing in 2010, and what do you see in your crystal ball for 2011? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Carla King is an author, a publishing and social media strategist, and co-founder of the Self-Publishing Boot Camp program providing books, lectures and workshops for prospective self-publishers. She has self-published non-fiction travel and how-to books since 1994 and has worked in multimedia since 1996. Her series of dispatches from motorcycle misadventures around the world are available as print books, e-books and as diaries on her website.