Thursday, January 07, 2016
Think of Yourself as an Artisanal Publisher
A cut above self-publishing? A few weeks ago, I was playing around with alternative names for self-publishers. In some ways, I don't mind the term. I like the emphasis on publishing. I don't mind the emphasis on self, except that it seems to imply that self-publishing is all about doing it yourself, which is a bad way to think. For one thing, it's a misunderstanding of the publishing process. Self-publishing is about the author acting as publisher—and publishers don't do everything themselves. They are CEOs, essentially, who decide on publishing projects and then hire people—staff or contractors—to get the job done. While self-publishers may do some of the work themselves, they are publishers and should think of themselves that way. Still, the term self-publishers is a problem.
I began to fish around for alternatives. I noted that there is a whole artisanal movement afoot, which is applied to the creation and distribution of food, beverages, clothing, household products, even shelter. The term implies an emphasis on quality over quantity, artistry over production, local over national, repeat customers over new ones. It seemed to me that self-publishers might benefit from thinking of their work as artisanal.
I tried a couple of word inventions—authorsan, authisan—but they were a mouthful. Still, I couldn't shake the idea that the authors I work with would benefit from thinking of themselves in alignment with the artisanal movement.
Quality over quantity: Print-on-demand and eBook technologies have made it possible for authors to make a profit by selling far fewer books than would have been required decades ago. For example, twenty years ago, you might have needed to sell 1,000 books to pay off your offset printing bill. Today with a small printing bill from CreateSpace—or no printing bill from Kindle—you could pay off your printing bill with one book sold. It's still tough to sell books, but it's a whole lot easier to sell 100 than 1,000.
Artistry over production: Self-publishing has a bad reputation for artistic quality because today's technology enables authors to do so many things themselves. The result is that there is a lot of ugly work out there, but it doesn't need to be this way. Because you have little to no printing costs, you might be able to hire a copy editor, a designer, book producer, or proofreaders. My suggestion is to start with the copy editor. It's a real skill that takes a long time to learn. Technology doesn't help much with it—and yes, I am aware of Microsoft's grammar checker. It's not enough. On the other hand, you can use a free or inexpensive cover creator to do a cover. You can learn how to design your own pages on Microsoft Word. Of course, the technology doesn't guarantee good results. You need to be computer comfortable, you need some know-how, you need the time, and you need to care about the results. But some artisanal publishers are up to the job.
Local over national: This doesn't apply in the same way to books as it does to food. Books are easier to sell nationally—or even internationally. Still, authors who get out and talk to people in person are going to build more relationships and ultimately sell more books. This work is easier to do locally.
Repeat customers over new ones: Of course, you need new customers. However, artisanal producers don't build their businesses on selling to one-time customers. They are out to build relationships. In other words, they are in it for the long haul. Authors should be the same way. Besides, relationships are fun.—The Publishing Pro