Earlier this month Porter Anderson guest posted over on Jane Friedman’s website about an opportunity and program for authors to gain access into the library market in the USA. The program was originally launched by BiblioBoard in conjunction with Library Journal. It’s called SELF-e and it offers indie authors the chance to place e-books in front of librarians at state or national level. BiblioBoard is providing the nuts and bolts of the platform and Library Journal will carry out the vetting and evaluation of selected e-book titles. It’s important to note that Library Journal serves the library community, not authors directly. BiblioBoard is a media company that works with leading publishers and cultural institutions around the world to help them find new audiences for books, maps, images, documents, sounds and moving images they digitize, publish and curate.
So what exactly is SELF-e?
There are many different reasons people self-publish and every author has different goals for their book(s). Some of the top indie authors in the business today believe SELF-e is a great way to build a base of readers, but authors can take a look at this helpful SELF-e Explainer to see if SELF-e is right for you.
In addition to Library Journal’s curated selections, we have also launched an awards program to recognize and promote the best self-published ebooks in the following genres: Romance, Mystery, Science Fiction, and Fantasy. There is no fee for entry, and all submissions are also eligible for LJ’s curated selection process. Take a look at the Awards Criteria and Prizes more information.
Be sure to check out our FAQ to get details on the program. Authors throughout the world with English ebooks in PDF or ePUB files can submit today. If you do not have a PDF or ePUB file for your manuscript, be sure to review our resources to see what options you have, or contact us for more information.
— From the SELF-e Website
Authors who sign up will be automatically included in a state anthology list, which means your e-book will be available to your local library. Authors then have the opportunity to have their work curated by Library Journal and if the e-book is selected, it will be offered to libraries nationwide. Authors also have the opportunity to use the SELF-e curated stamp of approval on their e-book cover. Authors have the freedom to withdraw books from the program.
Critically, authors who wish to submit e-books to the SELF-e program must own the rights to their books, and while the program does not cost anything for submission, it does NOT pay revenue for books loaned at state or national level. Ultimately, the SELF-e program is intended as a channel of curation for the library community to access the best of self-published books and an additional channel of discovery into the library market for authors.
When Porter Anderson wrote his piece on SELF-e at the start of this month, he and the program came in for some criticism. I can appreciate that the SELF-e program is not something for every author. I understand that some authors will take issue with the fact that while the program charges libraries a fee for inclusion, submissions from authors are free, but there is no royalty lending fee paid back to authors. Authors can rightly argue that free submission to a platform like Smashwords gets them access to some library channels with paid royalties. But I think that misses the point of the SELF-e program. SELF-e is not intended as a sales channel with paid revenue, but a curated discovery channel into a statewide and national level of library access for e-books. No one is frogmarching unwilling authors up the aisle for a shotgun wedding. It’s an option; a choice. Some authors will place high value on discoverability in a library market that is difficult to break into due to it being a part of the establishment. For other authors, the dilemma of giving away free content for a wider readership may seem too much of a price to pay.
I’ve been following the debate on SELF-e through Jane Friedman’s website, where the original Porter Anderson article appeared (and a subsequent article today where Anderson gives the SELF-e team a right of reply), and also via social media. Frankly, from following some of the debate, you’d swear the library market contained buckets of gold coins for authors. In reality, it represents a fraction of author earnings unless you are the author of national and international blockbusters. I’ve heard terms like ‘scam’ and ‘suspicious’ bandied around in relation to SELF-e and it leaves me wondering how hard those people using such terms have actually looked at the program. I’m also not quite sure how you can draw comparisons between SELF-e and Overdrive or Oyster. That’s like trying to compare NetGalley with Amazon.
As I’ve indicated, SELF-e isn’t for every author. But when a new program comes along to provide discoverability for self-published books, and it is endorsed by indie poster boys and girls like Hugh Howey and CJ Lyons, I think it is at least worth a second look.
I also find it a little ironic that some authors snarking about the lack of author revenue from the SELF-e program are the same ones who don’t think twice about selling their books for free or next to nothing on other retail channels.
As I indicated above, Porter Anderson came in for some criticism, notably from David Gaughran, who also drew attention (via Twitter – see screen shots below) to the fact that one of SELF-e’s team (Mitchell Davis, chief business officer of BiblioLabs/BiblioBoard) was a founder of Booksurge and the team also had links to Author Solutions.
Let me get this straight. Biblioboard charges libraries for all the content in the SELF-e program. But Biblioboard doesn’t pay authors for that content. Am I missing something?
A for-profit company is charging non-profits for supplying content it doesn’t even own, and not reimbursing the content owners. This is hilarious. It seems like everyone is getting paid except for the authors.
(Including you, Porter.)
— David Gaughran (Comment on ‘How self-published authors can distribute their books to libraries’)
I think David is right to highlight a company connection if it has links or dealings with Author Solutions. I do it myself when I write reviews of service providers if I find founders of a company have worked at a senior level of AS or had partnerships with them. I think the connection with Booksurge (ironically merged into CreateSpace years ago, and now one of the leading DIY service providers in the self-publishing community) is a little long in the tooth now to throw out slights; and many of the issues with Booksurge were about print quality and customer service.
The issue of non-payment for content is an entirely valid point and all authors need to consider if the trade-off of discovery outweighs loss of revenue. But let us also not forget that placing a book in a (e)store or library is also no guarantee of revenue either.
Citing Anderson for being a ‘shill’ and ‘promoter’ of a service in an article where Anderson provided full disclosure that he was a paid media consultant and was assisting them to help market SELF-e to a wider audience was something of a cheap shot at best, and at its worst, unfair and unwarranted. Aside from this, I actually thought Anderson’s piece on SELF-e was presented in a balanced way and went out of its way to expose the positives and negatives of the service.
So how does SELF-e make money?
Participating libraries subscribe (for a fee) to the program to get access to curated indie e-books. The program was financed between Library Journal and BiblioBoard during its year-and-a-half development and received no external funds. SELF-e has not excluded the possibility that revenue payments may be introduced for authors at some stage.
It’s All About SELF-e
SELF-e is a free service for authors. Its purpose is to expose great self-published books to a wider audience. It’s not a revenue channel for authors and it’s certainly not for every author. But it’s also a choice, not a scam or obligation. My own feeling is that it’s not really ideal for an author with one or two books in select retail channels, but an option to consider for authors with reasonable sales and a willingness to trade-off a little revenue for increased library exposure. For some authors, they may consider that too much of a trade-off.
What this whole episode underlines for me is a growing ‘self-e’ culture in indie publishing — and I’m not referring to the company, but instead to a pervasive attitude of entitlement from authors. The digital publishing landscape now allows authors to use services and distribution platforms to self-publish for free, or what we might call the use of freemium models. That is — for free — some company provides the tools, software and access to distribution channels to take your manuscript from desktop/laptop to the eyes of readers. But all those freemium platforms also cost time, expertise and money from someone to provide and continue to develop. It’s a reality that has created a democratic publishing landscape, a so-called levelling of the playing field whether you are a first-time or big name author. But it’s also creating a culture that publishing should be a free public service and resource and that all the other aspects of publishing should also be free, like skilled help, book exposure or discovery, the attention of others in the wider book trade and readership alike. And that all this and more should come with absolutely no loss of control for the author over their creative output (and at premium royalty for the author).
If being a serious author is like running your own business, then I’d like to know of any functioning and successful business that can operate with the above entitlements and expectations. It seems to me the self-publishing community has done a tremendous job of banding together, offering advice and support to fellow authors. However, we still all need to appreciate that the book world is also a business and when we self-publishing, we enter that world to do business (unless you simply want to self-publish for pleasure, and for family and friends).