The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

November 2, 2012

Lee Duran: Indie publishing a rocky but exciting road

By Lee Duran
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — I wonder how many people who are not in the book biz understand what indie-pub, or self-published books, really are, and what it takes to produce them. Those who don’t explore books on the Internet probably haven’t run into many of them, because most are e-books. But they are out there.

How many can there be? Hold onto your hat: 235,000 self-published titles are being released annually in the U.S., a 287 percent increase over 2006 figures, according to a report from Bowker, a provider of bibliographic information and management solutions “designed to help publishers, booksellers, and libraries better serve their customers,” according to its website.

Why so many? There are lots of reasons -- money being one -- but also rejection by traditional publishers and freedom to write your own book without contending with guidance or interference from editors and publishers. The traditional route tends to be cut and dried and not receptive to breaking the mold.

Are all self-published books good? Of course not, but many are. Some are created by traditionally published writers who have a book they won’t slash and twist into a publisher’s requirements. That’s called “blessed freedom.” There are also talented newcomers with something different to say.

Are all traditionally published books good? Not hardly, although often better edited. If publishers really knew what they were doing, every book they put out would be a best-seller, which is not the case.

“Anytime a market is saturated (as with indie books) ... it reminds me of when YouTube first came out,” said TVNewser senior editor Alex Weprin. “There were a handful of really great YouTube shows ... (and) some guy sitting in the dark room rambling on about the movie he saw last week. The e-book market might be seeing the same thing that YouTube saw -- a flood of original content, but the challenge is sorting the good from the crap.”

It’s easy to see why there is crap when you consider all it takes to publish your own novel. The author is responsible for everything, including all that a publisher would provide.

First, write a good book. Then the book must be edited. Many authors fall down on this requirement and do it themselves instead of hiring someone to do it, which is often a mistake. A cover is necessary, and not all authors are also graphic artists, which creates another expense to have it done. There’s also back cover copy, promotional blurbs and author information to write.

The author also sets the price for the book. Royalties can be as much as 70 percent of that price, and even the low end is considerably higher than you’d ever see from a traditional publisher, if the book sells.

These are just the basics, but the truth is there are innumerable details. The process of production can be done by a determined author but there are experts for that, too -- for a price.

Once the book is available, it’s time to promote, which is where I fall flat on my face. Promotion is time-consuming and frequently fruitless, unless the author likes that sort of thing, which I don’t.

Back when I sold my first book to Harlequin, I was told to promote if I wanted to, but “we do everything that is necessary.” It worked for me then, with my innate aversion to promotion, but that is not the case today. Now most publishers require authors to promote whether they like it or not.

While self-publishing may seem like a cottage industry. It is dominated by large firms such as CreateSpace and Book Baby that offer publishing services to individual authors -- “a sophisticated and highly accessible support structure,” according to a spokesman for Bowker, who added that “self-publishing is out of the dark corners and making its way into the mainstream. Notable success stories include a number of self-published authors landing their titles onto the prestigious New York Times best-seller list for e-book fiction.”

And the rest often languish in the dark hole of anonymity. At least authors had an opportunity to write the book they wanted, which for me was “The Who’s Who Caper” available from Amazon and others in paper and e-book.

If you have a book in you, go for it. You can find all the information you need on the Internet -- so much information you can get lost in it if you’re not careful. You can do the whole thing yourself for free, if you’re so inclined and willing to learn, or you can pay for as much help as you need and can afford.

As always, the question is: What do you want, and how bad do you want it?

The sky’s the limit.