Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Simon & Schuster Take The Self-Publishing Train - Mind The Step!

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It was not the most lengthy press release today, but news that big six publisher Simon & Schuster has dipped its feet into the self-publishing arena with Author Solutions Inc. is significant only in relation to the fact that it has been in the pipeline for a while. The recent purchase of ASI by Pearson may have kept the news at bay a little longer than S&S planned, but make no mistake, it was always on the cards that one of the big six would bite the bullet and take up ASI on a self-publishing partnership. Ever since its partnerships with Harlequin and Thomas Nelson three years ago, ASI has been gunning for a really big fish. Breaking this news a few weeks ago might have raised a few more eyebrows in light of Pearson's purchase of ASI and nestling it in with Simon & Schuster competitor, Penguin. Now the dust has settled on that deal, it would not have made much sense to delay the announcement until early 2013.

Simon & Schuster Enter Self-Publishing Service Market with ASI

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Big six publisher Simon & Schuster has made the plunge into the self-publishing field with the launch of Archway Publishing in a partnership with Author Solutions. Simon & Schuster is now the second of the big six (or big five as it will be next year) to offer publishing services to authors after Penguin launched Book Country a couple of years ago.
More on this later. For now you can read more on PW.
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Publetariat Omnibus Edition 2008-2012 | Now Available

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Publetariat is an online community, resource centre and news hub for indie authors and small press imprints. Publetariat's founder April Hamilton is celebrating its first four years with the release of the Publetariat Omnibus 2008-2012 in an ebook Kindle edition. The ebook features the best of Publetariat's contributed articles over the four years from many leading voices across the indie and self-publishing scene.
From the blurb:

A compendium of advice, lessons learned and how-tos from leading authors, publishing industry pros, consultants and subject area experts, drawn from the first four years of Publetariat.com’s operation. They’ve been there, done that, and now they’re sharing their lessons learned. This book includes articles written by:
Alan Baxter, Julian Block, Mark Coker, Melissa Conway, Nick Daws, Joel Friedlander, April L. Hamilton, Joseph C. Kunz Jr., Cheri Lasota, M. Louisa Locke, Shannon O’Neil, Joanna Penn, Virginia Ripple, Fay Risner, Mick Rooney, L.J. Sellers, Dana Lynn Smith, Bob Spear, Richard Sutton and Toni Tesori.
Here you’ll find everything from craft advice to tax advice, from marketing tips to design walkthroughs, from self-editing how-tos to copyright boilerplate you can use in your own book, and more! Having these 67 collected articles is like having a publishing consultant, editor, designer and business adviser by your side as you set out on your own indie publishing path.

The Publetariat Omnibus 2008-2012 can be purchased and downloaded here.   
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Tuesday, 20 November 2012

The Write Lines | Podcasts with Sue Cook

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I first mentioned Sue Cook's excellent The Write Lines on TIPM almost three years ago. Back then the programme was a BBC Radio Oxford production aimed at writers and publishing and ran for two years before sadly disappearing from the BBC schedules. However, Cook, a veteran television and radio broadcaster and author of two mainstream novels, kept The Write Lines brand going with a number of podcasts in 2011 highlighting National Short Story Week UK and also conducting several author interviews arising from her activities at literary festivals in the UK.

This year Sue Cook has returned to the original format of The Write Lines, often featuring three guests per programme and lots of discussion, but with a greater degree of attention on aspiring writers and self-publishing. The Write Lines also has a website with resources and all episodes can be listened to directly or via iTunes. Even the original BBC Radio episodes from 2009/10 are available there. The Write Lines is unfortunately only planning a short run this year with three of this season's episodes complete.

1. ebook publishing and getting a traditional book deal

Sue Cook talks to three writers who have all enjoyed success by self-publishing ebooks. Mark Edwards (Catch your Death, Killing Cupid), Roz Morris (My Memories of a Future Life) and Mel Sherratt (Taunting the Dead, Somewhere to Hide) share their experiences of going it alone and, in Mark’s case, of securing a traditional book deal.
Topics covered include getting to the top of the Amazon Kindle charts, building a buzz about your book, formatting a book for Kindle, cover design, the benefits of agents and editors, digital vs print publishing and pricing strategies.

2. How to build a career as a writer

Sue Cook is joined by Julie Cohen (novelist, tutor), Sue Moorcroft (novelist, short story writer, tutor) and Nicola Morgan (fiction for children/YA and non-fiction for adults, tutor) to talk about how to build a career and profile as a writer.
Topics covered include ways to get into writing, making money from writing, recycling your writing, using Twitter for research, holding a book launch, getting book reviews and author networking.

3. How to market your book

Sue Cook talks to Dr Alison Baverstock (author, publishing expert and university tutor), Catherine Ryan Howard (successful self-published author) and Jane Wenham-Jones (fiction and non-fiction writer, journalist and speaker).
The guests share their experiences, with advice about writing marketing copy, identifying a market for your book, building a readership, avoiding the hard sell, how publishers promote books, cheap and free books and using social media.

The Write Lines is well worth checking out and it is a shame there isn't more programmes of this nature available. If anything, the few programmes over recent years on television and radio have stuck rigidly to mainstream authors, disappeared completely (The Book Channel); become pap-filled entertainment; drive home political agendas; or for the most part are outright celebrity book endorsements (Book.tvThe Book Show and The TV Book Club) and any programme of real substance seems consigned to a pod or blogcast on the Internet (Radio Litopia and BlogTalkRadio). There is certainly an audience and opportunity for any daring TV/radio producer.
You can follow The Write Lines here on Facebook and Twitter.  
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Monday, 19 November 2012

The Biblio-Mat Book Dispenser | The Monkey's Paw Bookstore

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Photo: Inquisitr.com
The Biblio-Mat is a random book dispenser built by Craig Small for The Monkey’s Paw, an idiosyncratic antiquarian bookshop in Toronto. Biblio-Mat books, which vary widely in size and subject matter, cost two dollars. The machine was conceived as an artful alternative to the ubiquitous and often ignored discount sidewalk bin. When a customer puts coins into it, the Biblio-Mat dramatically whirrs and vibrates as the machine is set in motion. The ring of an old telephone bell enhances the thrill when the customer’s mystery book is delivered with a satisfying clunk into the receptacle below. The Inquisitr has the full story.

The BIBLIO-MAT from Craig Small on Vimeo.
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Friday, 16 November 2012

The Rise of the Self-Publishing Experts

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It is not too often that I use TIPM to draw attention to an opinion piece elsewhere on self-publishing, but Lin Robinson's article this week on Indies Unlimited is worthy of it. Robinson is a journalist, author and screenwriter, and as long as I have engaged with the self-publishing community and written on many aspects of the publishing industry, Lin Robinson has never been too far from its heartbeat.
There is a reluctance in Robinson's words in his latest article, EX-PERTISE, not generally present in most of his honest and down-to-earth assessments of how he sees writing and publishing as it is now. Nobody wants to knock or criticise a community they engage with day to day and Robinson is careful to deliver his words without ever allowing them to descend into a rant, or that of a testy publishing curmudgeon.

"So it’s not without a certain sense of irony that I write a piece suggesting that the opposite can be a problem: that “experts” online are often worthy of being ignored because they are full of crap, or at least that their expertise in no way applies to the actual situation that contemporary writers face. I think you’ll admit this is a delicate subject to approach, so I intend to just barge into it and make a mess, as usual."

Robinson's core argument is that the publishing world is changing, month on month, and some of it's loudest voices are from experts claiming years of experience in publishing, only to disseminate 'crap', when in reality, some snotty-nosed teenager could be sharing valuable up-to-date information and experience highly relevant for authors about to take the plunge into publishing.

"One of the more, to me, infuriating examples of this comes from those who use a position to pretend to expertise. So you see a magazine editor offering webinars on how to get a literary agent when he has never done so in his life. Why would he? He’s a career magazine hack. Or a famous writing magazine publisher doing $90 webinars on self-publishing when she’d never published a book in her life, much less self-published one. These people are not just useless, and not just more of the parasites that feed on writing dreams, they are actually harmful to those who pay them for their lore. Example on that: one of the bullets of the SP webinar was, “How To Choose The Right Self-Publishing Company.” It wasn’t worth $90 to find out if it was “our magazine advertisers on parade”. I jumped to the conclusion. But people paid $90 to get informed."

Robinson is by no means out to diss experts in the area of modern publishing–in itself–and he happily name checks those he respects, but his piece does highlight why the publishing industry attracts so many scamsters, shysters, bullshitters and 'experts' out to earn a buck on a wing and a prayer. Sure, self-publishing and the democratisation of the industry–if that's what you want to call the advent and ease of e-publishing, social media as an avenue of marketing, and the blurring lines between retailer and distributor–has made the reader and author question what publishing and its value truly is.
I've written a great deal on TIPM about the vanity element of self-publishing, and how it has evolved over decades. There is no doubt that the forefathers of vanity publishing of the 1960's and 1970's became the modern day POD publishers since 1999. Equally, the modern self-publishing industry is built–to a vast degree–on the finances and support of author communities, authors as business and marketing entrepreneurs, and not readers. That's a hard truth many within the community are still not willing to accept. Remove the author community as readers and buyers of self-published books and you may find a less than vibrant independent movement. Readers are readers, and most often, nothing more. Authors are authors, but almost all are readers and buyers of books. If the label of vanity has migrated from the minds of self-published authors, it still exists as part of the collective psyche of their community.
Back to Robinson:

"Here it is: if you’re a new writer trying to get out there and score, who should you take advice from: Neil Gaiman or Joe Konrath? Or, for that matter, Konrath or some hotshot who is selling stacks of a book very much like yours without doing any of the “right things”? A million-seller like Stephen King… or some housewife who just sold $45,000 worth of her dippy romance in a month? Or… here it comes… some guy who’s been writing professionally for 40 years or some 13 year old skater who’s selling $1100 a month of his lame spy adventure novel? Obviously the answer lies in a balance, in being able to lay off what is “known” and what sort of experience produces real-time, useful expertise."

I can't answer some of Lin Robinson's questions, but I do agree that it is about what every writer feels is right for them. I visit hundreds of author and publishing resource sites every week when I carry out the research I need to do to put together the information, reviews and news for TIPM. What turns me off the most about those sites immediately is someone selling a service, book, webinar or event from the moment I arrive there. Imagine being tapped on the shoulder every time you took a book from the shelf of a library and reminded that you, too, if you reach for your credit card, can learn the knowledge to become a bestselling author in three easy webinars or by purchasing another book by that publisher or author.
The only answers I can offer, as helpful to Lin's questions, is that a writer should know first what it is he/she needs answers to. The most vulnerable writers using the Internet for information on publishing are the ones who have not asked themselves what they really want from their publishing experience and what their measure of success is. There are too many websites and experts out there happy to tell writers what the value and meaning of sucessful publishing is. Generally, those experts are selling their view on the publishing universe according to their paths and what proved right for them. It's a bit like visiting a doctor with a chest infection and getting advice on Shingles. The advice might sound reassuring, and is another way to get you on the path to where you want to be, but, chances are, you are no better off after a few weeks.
I've been a publishing consultant for almost five years. I don't upsell consultancy services here and I keep it tucked away on the menu and sidebar. In fact, every bit of consultancy advice, review of publishing services, opinion or article is free to view for any author. There is nothing more here I won't advise or tell you privately in a consultation. Yet, I've never had two consultations that were the same. Every writer brings their experience, wishes, goals and dreams to the table. The challenge is always to make a writer's journey–their journey. The knowledge and experience of other writers–no matter how successful and expert they are–can never come close to replicating your experience.

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Thursday, 15 November 2012

Lulu Layoff Staff with Restructure

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Image representing Lulu as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase
DIY self-publishing service provider Lulu confirmed earlier this week that nine staff members had been let go from its head office in Raleigh, USA. Lulu's Chief Operating Office, Tom Bright, confirmed the news in an email (via Triangle Business Journal) that the decision was part of Lulu's overall strategy to refine its platform focus. Unfortunately the staff losses at Raleigh, which occurred on November 5th, may not be the last of the restructuring move, with a undisclosed number affected at other locations. It did surprise me that Lulu, as one of the leading self-publishing providers, only employ a total of 120 staff, mostly located at its head office.

"Based on extensive customer research, Lulu - a ten year pioneer in open publishing – is refining its strategy and platform focus."

and also...

"Our restructuring will mean eliminating or changing the focus of more positions still under review as certain projects wind down through the first quarter of 2012. This does not necessarily mean departures. We will create new roles for which existing team members can apply as well as make new hires in exciting growth areas beginning in Q1.”

Interestingly, WRAL News points out that Bright's statement was actually revised from one originally issued earlier on Tuesday of this week, though WRAL do not specifically indicate what specifically changed in the communication. Moreover, this for me is a further sign that the print POD success for self-publishing service providers has long reached its peak and the trend is now very much toward e-publishing platforms for authors. One of Lulu's major competitors, ASI (Author Solutions and its self-publishing many service brands) made a significant shift to e-publishing with the launch of its digital platform, Booktango, last year.
It is becoming increasingly harder for self-publishing services to rely solely on a POD publishing model for its self-publishing services and the recent advances and launch of Kobo in Europe is another sign that the times are a-changin'.
My only gripe with Tom Bright's communication is that killer line, 'Based on extensive customer research, Lulu - a ten year pioneer in open publishing – is refining its strategy and platform focus.' Perhaps that should not have been part of the final released version. I'm always irked by companies, when announcing staff losses, who inadvertently point the finger at 'customer research' or 'customer needs' to somehow reason a decision to cut jobs. It doesn't do the company any good and it certainly doesn't engender any warm or understanding feelings from its customers. Primarily, Lulu's customers are authors!    
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Thursday, 8 November 2012

Blurb Launch Magazine and Brochure Services

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Image representing Blurb as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase
Self-publishing platform Blurb has launched two new services for authors and businesses, Blurb Magazine and Blurb Brochure. The services will be available via Adobe InDesign plug-in and offer both print-on-demand and e-book formats. The services will eventually be available using Blurb's publishing tools, but the initial launch is intended to target businesses and photographic and creative professionals.
Using HP Indigo presses, the launch of these services will rival similar offerings from MagCloud and reflect the burgeoning development in the online magazine sector. Although the services are aimed at businesses, I'm not convinced the cost of £7.95 for a minimum 20 page magazine is going to prove much of sweetener for commercial enterprises. Blurb say the services are aimed at low-volume orders and users can update and reprint orders with additional discounts for higher volumes. At the moment an 22 x 28 size format is available with further plans to introduce an A4 size early next year. Blurb users will also have the option to convert magazines and brochures into digital e-book versions for the iPad or PDF format for other suitable reading devices.
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