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Self-publishing as test marketing

13 September 2010

Keith Ogoreck, Senior VP for Marketing for Author Solutions, has made a rather astounding prediction in book editor Alan Rinzler's blog on Forbes. He suggests that big publishers like Random House could one day 'cede the midlist to a vast army of self-published authors'. His theory is that the 80% of publishers' lists which make up what is known as the midlist - literary fiction, cookbooks, self-help books and presumably a lot of genre fiction publishing, they'd just cherry pick from self-published authors who had already tested the market by publishing their book and shown a track-record of success.

In many ways publishers have already abandoned the midlist, especially in terms of genre fiction publishing - crime, science fiction and fantasy and romance - as they find the economics of building an author's name in these areas doesn't make sense unless they can make some real impact with their first book and thus take it out of the midlist.

Ogorek believes that: 'Some authors could be picked up from the ranks of writers who'd paid the publishers to produce their books under in-house self-publishing imprints: so called 'farm teams' of authors willing to underwrite the costs of getting their books into print.'

Some publishers have set up self-publishing divisions, but the odds on getting picked up through these may not be as good as you'd think. Thomas Nelson's in-house self-publishing division Westbow Press has already published 75 books since January of this year and has signed contracts with 300 writers - but has yet to pick up a single book to publish itself. HarperCollins' Authonomy has, it is said, done rather better, although there is little information about this on their site.

Alan Rinzler said in his Forbes blog: 'How can writers use this situation to their own advantage? If you're tired and exasperated at waiting, waiting, and then waiting some more for agents and publishers to wake up and pay attention to your book..take a look at self-publishing. It's not what it used to be. Self-publishing has grown exponentially and achieved an unprecedented degree of legitimacy. This approach has emerged as a powerful and effective way to prove the quality of your content and show that you can self-market. And most significantly, if you can achieve a threshold of sales, say from 5-10K copies on your own, a traditional publisher may offer you a deal to take over the book for their list.

'This isn't some future-tense scenario hyped up by self-pub marketing enthusiasts. It's real, and it's happening now. I know this because I'm startingto receive more agented submissions of books from self-published writers. And I've signed up several.'

In the meantime consultant and blogger Mike Shatzkin, who thinks e-books are the future, also thinks that publishers need to retrain themselves from being 'b2b' organisations, ie those which work through business to business, (booksellers) into 'b2c' organisations, which are focused on business to consumers. The only problem with this is that books in general are individual objects, whatever format they are in, so a subscription model, which he suggests, is only likely to work when you publish a series of highly consistent books, like, for instance, Harlequin Mills and Boon's romances.

But, as Shatzkin says: 'Once publishers accept that being consumer-focused is essential to their long-term survival, it follows logically (although not automatically or instantaneously) that they need to think about discrete audiences on more than a book-by-book basis; that they need to gather those audiences on web sites and in mailing lists; that they need to publish books that satisfy them repeatedly, not occasionally; and that all these efforts will make more sense if each separate audience has a brand facing them with real meaning.'

With the internet becoming more and more the way people find out about things as well as buy them, both self-publishing to test the water and niche marketing to find a particular audience may look like they make sense.

Alan Rinzler's blog


Mike Shatzkin's blog 6 September

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