Self-Publishing in the Digital Age: 8 Reasons Why it's Golden, and 2 Reasons Why it's Not

A Picture of a eBookImage via WikipediaStigma used to be attached to self-publishing. Traditional publishers and literary agents looked down on indie publishers dubbed "vanity presses". Any aspiring writer's dream was to land a contract with one of the Big Six.

The digital revolution has changed that and now all you hear is enthusiastic talk about the dawn of a "golden age of self-publishing".

A golden age... really?

8 Reasons Why This is The Golden Age of Self-Publishing

Joel Friedlander, one of the more respected professionals in the publishing industry, has just posted a video about it (click here) giving 8 reasons for this wonderful new "golden age".

Briefly put, and using Joel's words to the best of my abilities (his presentation is not written - just a video) they are:

1. The "playing field" is leveled: by that Joel means that anyone can afford to publish - you don't need to be a publisher or have access to bookstores: digital books are produced and made available on all digital bookshelves at a minimal cost and in record time; actually, you don't need a "vanity press" to publish.

2. Easy access to tools and professionals : anyone can hire on Internet the needed editors, proofreaders, file converters, book cover specialists etc, often at very low costs;

3. Social media marketing replaces the expensive marketing strategies of yore (bookstore tours, reading club events etc): you don't travel and do everything sitting at your computer without spending money (or almost none)

4. Elimination of financial risk: since production/distribution costs are so low, your risk of losing money is minimized;

5. Prejudices against e-books and self-publishing are eroding: that, I believe is how Joel put it. Of course Amazon sells more e-books than print books. And self-publishers are tough entrepreneurs, willing to take risks and showing marketing savvy: not everyone's cup of tea (many writers still prefer to write and leave the rest to publishers). But the word "eroding" does imply that there is still some prejudice lingering...

6. Changing definition of "Book": a fascinating observation! Yes, publishers used to request long manuscripts in order to justify the price they charged. No more. You just write books at their "natural length" and short ones find markets just as easily, as proved by the Kindle Singles that sell novellas and short stories and the Milano-based 40KBooks selling strategies brilliantly focused on short non-fiction.

7. Global Nature of the Internet: true, books now sell everywhere on every continent - the American book market has been transported to every corner of the planet by Amazon, but conversely, books written in India or Sweden are becoming bestsellers in America.

8. The rise of mobile technology: sure, this is obvious but easy to overlook. Following the Kindle (it was born just 3 years ago!), we've had the Nook, the iPad etc etc and more and more people read books on their smart phones. The more mobile devices spread, the more book reading spreads...

Is all well in the brave new world of digital publishing? Not quite.

2 Reasons Why All is Not Well in Digital Self-Publishing

Of the eight reasons listed by Joel Friedlander, I believe the first is both the most important and the most deceptive.

Ambiguous, really.

While the brave new world of digital publishing has been especially beneficial to mid list authors with a big back list of titles and a good-sized fan base, it hasn't been so for newbies. Sure, young Amanda Hocking famously made it in 10 months with her Trylle Trilogy and landed a contract with one of the Big Six (St. Martin's Press). But that was last year.

I don't think that performance can be easily repeated today.

Why not? because of two new reasons that are changing the playing field Joel is talking about: it is no longer leveled. And that means that the window of opportunity for newbie writers which propelled the likes of Amanda Hocking to the top is rapidly closing up.

There are two reasons why self-publishing in the digital age has become much harder for aspiring writers:

1. Tough competition from mid list authors: they have what it takes to make a success of self-publishing, that is: several books. You can't have just one up there! It doesn't look serious! I know I do, but I'm busy on my second one (should be available next week) and working on my third (it's got to be out before Christmas). God, the pressure is intense, believe me! While your long-published writer can simply relax and pull out his or her back list and publish books one after the other like hot cakes.

Julie Ortolon in her Survival Guide makes no bones about this: along with Konrath, Scott Nicholson and so many other professional writers, she urges writers to put up several books on that digital book shelf! If you add the fact that mid list authors already have a fan base, you can imagine how hard it is for a newbie who's unknown, who's got no fan base and only one book! A year ago, there were fewer mid list authors in self-publishing. Today they are flocking by the thousands...

2. Rising competition from Traditional Publishers: at last, they are entering the digital market. Many are already lowering e-prices below the $13 or $14 level that they had seemed so unwilling to cross a few months ago. Also the infamous "agency model" is presently under attack by one or perhaps several class actions (against Apple). That means it's probably not going to last more than another two years. And then prices will be free to move downward - pushing close to the famous 99 cents-$2.99 price range so dear to self-pubbed newbies. Also, I might add, this is a price range not disdained by mid list authors either, as they seek to relaunch their back list in digital form. But with traditional publishers pressing down, the marketing magic of low prices will not work in the same smooth way!

More importantly, traditional publishers have at their disposal weapons in terms of marketing and branding that no newbie has. Things like access to reviewers of renown, major journals etc in short, they can call upon what some term "cachet", a quality attached to their authors and that attracts readers. They are the "gatekeepers of quality" and for a newbie that's hard to beat.

No doubt mid list authors are better placed to fight back, or even play the field on both sides.

Not so the newbie.

Sorry if this post is not gushing with wild optimism. I guess, I'm sort of issuing a warning: newbies beware! The self-publishing road has been opened up by the digital revolution - no doubt about that - but it's no longer the easy road it once was, even just one year ago!

Do let me know whether you agree with this or whether you think I'm too much of a pessimist!
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