Monday, April 5, 2010

How to Publish Your First Book

The Economist published a nice piece on the growth of online book sales, and how publishers are reacting. The graphic from the article (on the left) shows PWC's estimates of online book sales through 2013 as a percent of overall book sales.

Until the Apple iPad came on the scene, publishers had little bargaining power with Amazon and its dominant Kindle e-reader. Now they have negotiated pricing to help them maintain price consistency between real and virtual books. Bottom line: publishers have switched online pricing models from wholesale to percent-of-sale in an effort to harmonize online and retail pricing.

Will it help authors and publishers? Who knows. For the time being, authors still need publishers for retail distribution (see my earlier post on that topic). How do they get their books published in today's jumbled book market? Self-publish? Put their books for sale online?

Jim C. Hines has published survey results that show how first-time authors found publishers. Hines surveyed authors who have published a book, meaning they had collected an advance of at least $2,000. Finding a literary agent is still the most common way to get to a publisher. In this survey, self-publishing was the least effective route to a publisher. By-passing agents and going directly to publishers, though, worked okay. Two things I keep hearing — that you have to publish in literary journals and that you have to know someone in the industry — are not born out by Hines' survey. Publishing in journals and having connections never hurts, but they are not requisites for first-time authors.

What are some alternatives for first-time authors? Smaller firms usually innovate to differentiate from larger firms, and sometimes show where an industry might head next. Two firms worth watching are Publication Studio and William Torphy Fine Arts. Publication Studio distributes physical and virtual books. It prints books on demand when it receives an order, as demonstrated in this video:

Publication Studio Makes A Book from Mike Merrill on Vimeo.
By printing all books in-house and controlling all its online distribution, Publication Studio has vertically integrated all the parts of the publishing business, from title selection through manufacturing and delivery.

William Torphy Fine Arts focuses on the fine arts market, making books that "[link] together artists, collectors and exhibitors of visual art." My friend David Stein is collaborating with Torphy to produce a book of Eda Kavin's Chinese paintings. Serving a niche market gives Torphy a way to avoid most of the book market jumble altogether.

For small volume books, these two models make lots of sense. They may be the new path for authors trying to break into this evolving book market.

It's also instructive to look at how the large publishers are thinking. Here's a fun video by the UK branch of Dorling Kindersley Books called The Future of Publishing:

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