Isn’t It Time For Self-Publishers To Get Over Self-Publishing?

Image - iStockphoto: Babumani
Image – iStockphoto: Babumani

Let’s Say You Walk Into A Bookstore

You’re taken with all the books on the front table. New releases. Beautiful covers. Fascinating titles.

You leaf through a few. You settle on one you really like. You’re ready to head for the cash register when suddenly somebody jumps up from behind the table and nearly gives you heart failure, yelling:

Aha! You’ve picked up a self-published book! You see? Self-published books are just as good as traditionally published books!

Don’t worry, as far as I know that tawdry little scenario exists only in my imagination and hasnt really occurred anywhere.

But it reflects a bind in which self-publishers may be finding themselves these days. And it has to do with several questions of logic:

  • If readers don’t care if a good book is self-published, then why call attention to that fact?
  • Are you self-publishing because you’re a writer who wants to get your work onto the market?
  • Or are you a self-publisher because you want to crusade for the efficacy of self-publishing?

First, we have to note that in this silly little sketch I’ve just outlined, a couple of fairly impossible elements are represented. For one thing, the self-publisher is not likely to have a book on the front-and-center table of a bookstore. Those positions, for the most part, are bought by well-heeled publishers. For another, let’s be quick to point out that few self-publishers are hiding behind those tables waiting to jump out at customers. I hope.

The issue, however, does have to do with a welcome, although still subtle shift in how self-publishers present what they’re doing, as independent publishing matures.

Maybe it’s time to stop stumping for selfpub, itself.

Maybe its time to just focus on the books.

‘We’ve Outgrown The “Counterculture” Phase’

Not every self-publisher may have had that memo, of course. But it’s none other than “Data Guy” — the technologist behind the AuthorEarnings reports — who writes this in a comment to me at The FutureBook.

I quoted him at more length in the #FutureChat recap from our earlier discussion there, which was pegged on the latest AuthorEarnings report’s consideration by Data Guy and Hugh Howey of the ISBN, the International Standard Book Number.

In his extended comment to me, Data Guy writes:

Indies need to start thinking of themselves as an industry sector. We’ve outgrown the “counterculture” phase now. We’re an established part of the business landscape, and if we want to help reshape the industry and level the playing field to our advantage, we need to “stand up and be counted.” But at the same time, it’s harder to make a case to indies that they should play by the industry’s established “rules,” when doing so imposes asymmetrical business costs on them while providing no measurable near-term business benefit. It’s a classic tragedy of the commons.

The specific “asymmetrical business costs” he’s referencing there are the fees that independent authors and smaller publishers must pay for ISBNs that tag and track books through the marketplace, helping the industry to count its output and gauge its size and scale. Because servicing the many individual accounts of independent authors costs more than handling the bulk buys of major corporate publishers, indie authors are asked to pay what they (understandably) feel is an unfairly large chunk of change — some $27 at the best 10-pack price —  for the same ISBN that Penguin Random House or Simon & Schuster can get for $1.

For some time, many self-publishing authors have been in a disorganized revolt against the ISBN, and this is one reason that the ISBN is now becoming less and less useful overall: it simply is able to “see” fewer of the books in the market today than it once could. For more on this issue, here’s Is The ISBN Still Worth Its Barcode?, an article on the subject I published here in October.

I’m especially pleased to note for you, by the way, that the Novelists, Inc. conference of September 30 to October 4 will have a specific session dedicated to issues around the ISBN and its use.

But moving past that controversy, however, you quickly bump into the next one, and that’s what Data Guy is getting at in his commentary.

Independent authors — self-publishers, for the most part — appear to be facing a kind of contradiction of terms. And, as might be expected, some are coping better than others with it.

Read More

There’s more: Read the full story at Thought Catalog

By Porter Ander­son

Writing on the Ether: Trends: Isn’t It Time For Self-Publishers To Get Over Self-Publishing?

Originally published by Thought Catalog at



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