The world of publishing has quietly been undergoing a revolution for some time now. Three forces have converged to level the playing field for authors, enlarge the selection of books for readers, and make the whole game more interesting all around.
The three forces are:
~ The rise of e-readers (Kindle, Nook, and others, as well as books available to read on iPads and other tablets, and iPhones and other smartphones, as well as PDF versions for computers)
~ The legitimizing of self-publishing (which I covered in another blogpost here recently)
~ The rise of “boutique” publishers
Let’s look at these phenomena.
I’ll dispense cursorily with the legitimizing of self-publishing, having recently devoted an entire blogpost to the topic. Suffice it to say that with self-publishing having lost its stigma, a lot more authors are going that route and a lot more books are thus being published. Some, admittedly, are crap that no traditional publisher would ever accept, but there are a lot of good books in the mix as well, not to mention books that are too “niche-y” for most traditional publishers, as they would appeal to too small an audience. But that in no way diminishes their quality.
The advent of e-readers led the way to e-presses, publishers that published only e-books and no print, although some of these eventually began producing a limited number of print editions as well. Print is here to stay, although I think e-books are too. Those who predicted that e-readers were sounding the death knell for print (or “physical”) books were writing their pre-obituaries prematurely—and erroneously. But because e-books are so much less expensive to produce—they still need editing, formatting, and cover design, but gone are the costly press runs—e-publishers can afford to accept and publish a greater number of books, as well as books that are too niche-y for most print publishers. For readers who don’t insist on holding a physical book in their hands, there is, as a result, a wider variety of books to choose from…and they are, by and large, less costly, too, making it possible to buy more books and read more books, as many as you have the time for.
Then there are the boutique presses. These are small presses primarily distinguished by two features:
~ Their wares are available in bookstores only by special order, but not on the shelves.
~ They utilize “print on demand” technology.
What does this mean to the authors and the readers?
First, let’s look at the bookstore angle. There are some authors who balk at placing their books with a press that can’t get them on the shelves of Barnes & Noble, smaller chains, and indie (independent) bookstores. But let me clue you in to the reality of the situation. If you, an author, get your book accepted by one of the Big Name Publishing Houses, it’s an entry in B&N and their ilk, yes. But if your book doesn’t sell like hotcakes in its first few weeks on those shelves, it will quickly be cleared out to make room for the next shipment of new books. You can tell your friends and family to go down to their local bookstore and look for [TITLE OF YOUR BOOK], and if they hurry, they will find it there, but if they don’t hurry, it will be gone. More to the point, it won’t be sitting there tempting strangers, either.
If this is your first or second book, you can pretty well count on at least some of your friends and family members to buy a copy, whatever they have to do to snag it, but it’s EVERYBODY ELSE you’re really concerned about—or should be. To make good sales and garner good royalties, you want people who DON’T know you to find and buy your book. And if B&N has taken it off their shelves, those folks aren’t going to find it in a serendipitous encounter in the bookstore.
If your boutique publisher’s books are listed with either the Ingram catalogue or the Baker & Taylor catalogue, people who have heard about the book can go to the bookstore, ask for it, and have the store special-order it through the catalogue. But the reader won’t be able to go home with it that day and, more to the point, won’t find it on the shelves.
So, you see, getting Simon & Schuster, or Random House to publish your book is no guarantee that the world is going to find it at the bookstore. And that levels the playing field for the boutique publishers.
How, then, do people find and buy your book? The primary means is through Amazon. Even if they never heard of your book, if it’s nonfiction, and they type in the subject they are interested in learning more about, somewhere in a (possibly long) list of titles, your book’s name is going to come up. Even if it’s fiction, if they type in “sci-fi” or “romance” or “western” or “mystery” or whatever, it’ll come up, albeit possibly far down a long list.
Then there are other “third-party sellers” such as GoodReads (don’t confuse GoodReads with GreatReads), which promote and sell books that are listed with them, and of course your boutique publisher will have their own website through which books can be ordered and on which they are promoted.
Which brings me to promotion. Time was when the Big Houses publicized their books. That simply isn’t usually true anymore. Yes, if you’re a John Grisham or a Danielle Steele, your books will get a publicity push from your publisher. But if you’re John Nobody or Jane Noname, it’s all on you to get the word out about your book. So placing your book with a boutique publisher is no disadvantage in that regard over placing it with a Big House.
And now let’s look at the print-on-demand technology that boutique publishers use. What does it mean for both the author and the reader?
With traditional printing, press runs are typically a minimum of 1000 (and often much higher, if the publisher expects the book to sell well), which can cost a pretty penny. Then there is the need for storage space for all those editions until they sell. Whether the publisher owns a warehouse or rents storage space at a facility, again, that adds to the cost.
With print-on-demand technology, it’s possible to print literally one book at a time (although press runs can be 10 or 20 or more). The cost of each copy is, as you can understand, higher than the per-copy price of traditional printing, but by printing one at a time or a few at a time, the publisher saves on the initial cost, and doesn’t have to spend money for storage space either.
The result? Much as with what I said about e-publishing, with the initial cost down, the publisher can afford to accept and publish more books, including niche-y books and others that are calculated to attract a narrower audience.
For the author, this means a greater chance of acceptance. For the reader, this means a greater selection to choose among. When more books are being published, including some on esoteric topics, you are more likely to find more books that tempt you.
The winds of change are blowing.