As a young book marketing manager I often found myself attempting to explain market realities to new authors to help shape their expectations for their book release. It was never easy. Often I would cite R.R. Bowker’s annual report on U.S. print book publishing compiled from their Books In Print® database and explain, “Your book is one of 200,000 new titles that will release this year, in the U.S. alone.”
In 2002, Bowker reported there were approximately 248,000 new books published in the U.S., and only 13% of those were published through “non-traditional” channels, including self-publishing. At that time, self-publishing was referred to as “vanity publishing” and often implied the work wasn’t good enough to get a real book deal.
By 2010, Bowker reported there were more than 4 million new titles published in that year alone, with 92% of those being “non-traditional.” Granted, 2010 was something of an anomaly in terms of title output driven by reprints and print-on-demand works from the public domain, but it makes for a dramatic graphic. While the number of titles dropped in 2011 to 1.5 million, it’s still a 500% increase in overall title output from just 10 years prior, and 1.2 million titles (77%) were non-traditional, a 3500% increase from 10 years ago.
The numbers for 2012 won’t be available until June but you can expect another significant increase in self-published titles driven by several seismic developments.
2012: The year of “Self-Publishing”
In July, Penguin Publishing, one of the world’s largest publishing companies, acquired Author Solutions, Inc., the largest self-publishing company in the world. Wall Street Journal reported, “The acquisition illustrates the newfound acceptance for self-publishers in a book world where they were once viewed largely as interlopers. It is also one more example of how low-cost digital distribution has disrupted the role of traditional publishers in determining how books are discovered by consumers.”
In November 2012, Simon & Schuster, another of the “Big 6” book publishing companies, announced the launch of their new self-publishing brand in partnership with ASI. Even literary agents have recognized the trend. New York agency Curtis Brown launched a self-publishing operation this year, and Publishers Weekly reported on July 6, 2012, "Many agents are helping clients self-publish, taking their standard 15% commission in the process. In the past year, agencies such as Dystel & Goderich Literary Management, the Knight Agency, the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, and Liza Dawson & Associates, to name just a few, have announced that they are offering self-publishing services."
Nielsen reported that the number 1, number 2, number 3, and number 4 bestselling fiction books for 2012 were originally self-published titles by E.L. James. book reviewer Michiko Kakutani, respected in the industry as one of the toughest book critics, has selected a self-published title as one of her .
This trend has not escaped Christian publishing either. Winepress Publishing has been helping authors self-publish since 1991 and Xulon since 2000. Thomas Nelson, Guideposts, and B&H have all launched self-publishing imprints. Christian literary agency Alive Communications also launched a self-publishing operation this year. And, Christian novel, The Shack by William P. Young, was originally self-published before going on to spend nearly two years on the New York Times bestseller list, selling more than 10 million copies.
A better business model
One of primary acquisition filters used by publishers today is to not accept “unsolicited manuscripts,” which is code for: you need to find an agent. Self-publishing has become a new on-ramp for authors, and I suspect it will become the standard point of entry for most new authors in the near future.
For most authors and publishers, the self-publishing business model is better all-around. In traditional publishing, new authors are fortunate to secure a traditional publishing deal at all. Of those authors who do get a traditional book deal, they’re lucky to get a $3000 advance against maybe a 15% royalty unless they’ve got an established platform guaranteeing the publisher some significant number of sales. And, as most authors know, any marketing their book receives is up to them anyway. Meanwhile, the publisher makes the decisions about the book title, cover design, and product positioning.
Self-publishing allows the author to turn that financial equation around. By investing their own money up front the author gets complete editorial and creative control and substantially higher royalties from the sales of their work.
LifeWay and B&H Publishing Group have also been on the front end of this trend. In 2009 we launched our assisted self-publishing imprint, CrossBooks. Today we’ve published more than 1000 titles with another 500 in development, working with more than 1200 authors. We’ve published two required seminary textbooks that we’re aware of, and there may be others.
What sets us apart from other self-publishing options is our Theological Review. Unlike other religious self-publishing companies, we will not publish everything that comes to us. We post a statement of faith on our web site and every manuscript is reviewed by a theologically trained scholar. In the end, your book is going to carry a logo on it. Our authors are assured their work is affiliated with other theologically sound works and authors.
In addition to distribution through Ingram Book Co., making CrossBooks titles available to more than 25,000 retailers, and ebook distribution through Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, Apple iBooks, CBD and others, we also provide exclusive distribution through LifeWay Digital channels, LifeWay Reader, MyStudyBible, and WORDsearch. When you publish with us, your book is available to all LifeWay digital book users, no other self-publishers can reach.
A new answer to “Publish or Perish”
If you have a book, or thesis, or dissertation in a desk drawer that you once thought about publishing but never had the time or energy to pursue it, we can help. If you have class notes you publish every semester at Kinkos, we can help. Why not turn that work into a revenue stream, especially for content required for your students.
We want to be your “University Press.”
We can set up a turn-key operation allowing your school to publish books with your custom school imprint and we will administrate it all for you. Through our Theological Review process we can provide “peer review” through our reviewers and add reviewers from your faculty or graduate students, providing a nice alternate income source for them.
Publishing books by your faculty for use by your students also has some significant financial benefits. Without a traditional publisher in the mix, the school and the author become the primary beneficiaries of the content you are creating and consuming. It just makes sense.
If your school is interested in a strategic partnership to offer publishing packages to faculty, or as part of graduate student tuition, we want to talk. Email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
What are your thoughts?
We’d love to hear from you. Have you self-published before? Would you ever consider it? Why or why not? We look forward to reading your comments.