How Self-Publishing Has Changed the Industry

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

I read a recent blog post on The Guardian book blog about the 10 ways self-publishing has changed the book world and, after Jim’s post yesterday, it got me thinking about how I would explain the current state of the book world to friends and family who are neither authors, nor wanna-be writers, but who, as book readers, are nonetheless intrigued by all the changes going on in publishing. 

I’ve summarized the Guardian’s top 10 list below and am interested in whether or not you agree (though I do think most of them are pretty self-evident):

  1. There is now a wider understanding and increased visibility about what publishing is (and acceptance that it’s more difficult than it looks). Self-publishing has enabled people to learn the process and understand what is involved which has led to a wider awareness and diversity in the publishing process.
  2. We are no longer confident that publishers and agents know what everyone wants or should read. 
  3. The copy-editor is now in strong demand as writers realize the limitations of self-editing. Freelance copy-editors are now in high demand by both self-publishing authors and traditional publishing houses.
  4. The book as a ‘precious’ object is re-emerging as publishers produce limited, luxury editions.
  5. Authors are being empowered to do their own marketing and are no longer reliant on publishers to mediate the relationship between authors and their readers. Looking ahead, authors are likely to be less compliant with what their publishers demand of them.
  6. The role of the agent is also changing. With self-publishing, agents need to find new ways to make their work pay.
  7. New business models and opportunities are springing up offering ‘publishing services’ from manuscript and plot development to editorial and marketing assistance. Publishing is thus emerging as a process – accessible as a variety of different services – rather than an ‘industry’ as such.
  8. It’s not all about making money. Self-publishing means recognizing and preserving content that has value for someone but that doesn’t mean the process has to yield an income to be worthwhile.
  9. The end of the ‘vanity press’ put down. Self-publishing is now seen as the ‘homing ground of the instinctively proactive’ – those who can identify the market, meet its needs and deliver directly. 
  10. Self-publishing brings satisfaction and happiness in and of itself as each writer meets their own needs (which may only require a finished product or small sales to a niche market).

The most important element I take from this list is the notion that publishing is emerging as a range of processes, accessible to all, rather than an industry that so many viewed as an impenetrable fortress. I am also intrigued by the comment that authors will probably become less ‘compliant’ with the demands the publishers place on them, as they are empowered to understand their own market and reader needs (especially as authors now have many of  the tools [such as social media] to meet these needs directly).

Here at TKZ we have had a number of blog posts regarding the question of self-publishing, its challenges as well as its rewards. So what would you say is the number one way self-publishing has changed the book world?

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23 thoughts on “How Self-Publishing Has Changed the Industry

  1. Good summary, Clare, and a great addition to yesterday’s discussion. I would say #10 is emerging as a leading contender for authors who know they can produce good work (and don’t expect instant riches; as I said yesterday, expectations are for chumps). Good writers can indeed find a niche, and happily grow it.

    • I think a lot of it is about managing expectations as I fear many people do expect instant riches when they publish! I like that the book world can now cater for a range of interests and that publishing for many brings satisfaction in and of itself.

  2. I really like what you’ve listed here. I wrote last week on my own blog about the germination of new self-e-publishing sites and what these new companies might mean. I wondered if perhaps we will see sites begin to specialize in certain genres. Will one e-pub site cater to mostly thrillers, while another YA, and another Vampires. So that when you go look for a new e-book will your search take you to that e-pub site.

    One thing I do enjoy about it all is that the entire industry is in such a state of flux. Who knows what might happen next or what might take off. Another topic your list hits on is that agents and old school publishing houses no longer are the final arbiters of what readers will or won’t like. I wrote several months ago about Wool and the way that that series cropped up and became popular. Then with Hugh Howey’s new contract aspiring authors can see the outcome of this new state of publishing.

    Keep up the good work.

    • Thanks Dick – it will be fascinating to watch the industry evolve and I do think we’ll see more specific genre focused publishing sites (I think in YA this is already happening – but I might get other TKZ authors to weigh in on that).

  3. As an old guy working to be a new writer, I have discovered a wealth of encouragement, resources and potential for writing in this new self-publishing environment.

    It starts with a burning need to write, and then you write and read (Plot & Structure) and learn and edit in the search for story. Then you put the work out there (on Amazon) and tell people about it and hope they tell people about it. What a thrill just to earn enough to buy a latte . . . or a boat even.

    Then you start all over again with the next one. How cool is that? What fun! At the least, all you need is a pen and a notebook. And gallons of coffee. And don’t look back.

  4. Jim – you’re right, this new book world is fun:) and there are so many resources out there to help guide and support your way.

  5. Great article, Clare. You did an excellent job summarizing an indie author’s point of view. So often this view point gets crushed under the juggernaut of traditional publishing hype.

  6. Thanks Mark – I think the top 10 list provides a good overview of the state of the book world at the moment.

  7. I think the major change is that writers no longer see publishing as the Emerald City, surrounded by a huge wall that they must talk (meaning write) their way past in order to gain entrance. Everybody’s scrambling now, everybody’s hustling, and it’s much more exciting! Meanwhile, we all need to: Keep. Writing. Great post!

    • Agree – though sometimes self-publishing authors still feel the need to trash traditional publishers. I say in this new book world it can be live and let live:)

  8. Good post Clare. There is so much change going on. My first three books are all self-pubbed after several nearly successful attempts to get on the inside. Luckily as self-pubbed works they’re making money, albeit not quit the day job money, but money in the pocket is better than not.

    The last two books, a novel and a novella, I just went straight to self-pub without looking for an agent since they closed out the same loosely connected series as the previous books.

    My next book I plan to try and really push to trad pubs for a bit, as its a totally new series, and over the course all the others (not to mention all the great advice I’ve gotten here over the years) I think I’ve learned something about writing. If it fails to enter the castle gate though, after a few score rejections, it will enter the same space as my existing work. And then I write more, because just like scratching an itch, I know eventually I’ll hit sweet spot.

    • I think you’ve done a great job of getting your work out there and that’s what counts – that and writing, writing and more writing!

  9. Hello Clare, I would like to comment on this great post in my humble way…
    ________________________________________
    1. There is now a wider understanding and increased visibility about what publishing is (and acceptance that it’s more difficult than it looks). Self-publishing has enabled people to learn the process and understand what is involved which has led to a wider awareness and diversity in the publishing process. My opinion: I do not know if readers are more aware, however writers are.
    2. We are no longer confident that publishers and agents know what everyone wants or should read. My opinion: Yes. How many times was J.K. Rowling’s, Harry Potter rejected?
    3. The copy-editor is now in strong demand as writers realize the limitations of self-editing. Freelance copy-editors are now in high demand by both self-publishing authors and traditional publishing houses. My opinion: They probably are in high demand; however, for many of us the cost is prohibitive to the possibilities.
    4. The book as a ‘precious’ object is re-emerging as publishers produce limited, luxury editions. My opinion: I hope that is true, and authors must find a new avenue to energize non-readers that there are abundant rewards in reading instead of watching a television or social media-ing.
    5. Authors are being empowered to do their own marketing and are no longer reliant on publishers to mediate the relationship between authors and their readers. Looking ahead, authors are likely to be less compliant with what their publishers’ demand of them. My opinion: I LIKE THAT, and it opens avenues for entrepreneurs, creating new avenues for promotion and self-promotion.
    6. The role of the agent is also changing. With self-publishing, agents need to find new ways to make their work pay. My opinion: Not relevant
    7. New business models and opportunities are springing up offering ‘publishing services’ from manuscript and plot development to editorial and marketing assistance. Publishing is thus emerging as a process – accessible as a variety of different services – rather than an ‘industry’ as such. My opinion: Not relevant
    8. It’s not all about making money. Self-publishing means recognizing and preserving content that has value for someone but that doesn’t mean the process has to yield an income to be worthwhile. My Opinion: For all the work, sweat and tears I would like to be paid something — Please
    9. The end of the ‘vanity press’ put down. Self-publishing is now seen as the ‘homing ground of the instinctively proactive’ – those who can identify the market, meet its needs and deliver directly. My Opinion: Not relevant
    10. Self-publishing brings satisfaction and happiness in and of itself as each writer meets their own needs (which may only require a finished product or small sales to a niche market). My Opinion: Yes

    • Thanks for sharing your opinions here, Dave. I do think copy-editing services are still costly so I’m hoping that was the world evolves all elements in the publishing arena become more accessible (though I don’t want to deprive copy-editors of their income:)!) I agree it would also be nice to get paid something for your work:)

  10. I guess I’d say, first and foremost, self-publishing has allowed more voices to be heard. But, as a self-published author, what I love about self-publishing is that it has made the AUTHOR central to the publishing process. We have more at stake as well as more control. (Yay!)

  11. Dina, you’re spot-on – the author is now central to the process (which seems obvious but hasn’t always felt like it was the case…) and is more empowered as a result.

  12. I don’t know what the greatest impact is, but the one that means the most to me personally is the opportunity for small sales to a niche market, which really hasn’t been possible with traditional publishing. As a consumer of books, I want a crack at reading books that weren’t either drastically changed or held back altogether by the gatekeepers, and as a writer who writes stories that are not mass market appeal, I like having a fair shake at getting my work out there to it’s small share of the reading populace.

  13. I think generalizing about self publishing is as difficult as generalizing about traditional publishing. But I will say that self publishing would not have taken off like it has without the rise of ebooks. Lower production costs and new technology make it possible for individual authors to compete with traditional publishers. The free sample feature, in particular, helps a lot when you’re selling an unknown product.

  14. I think better and more diverse art will emerge from self publishing. Without the constraints of a publishing business model, writers, artists can truly explore their craft and their means of expression.

    They can present their art directly to their audience and see what happens.

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