|Empowering the independent author
|Written by Ann Byle
|Tuesday, 03 June 2014 04:56 PM America/New_York
How writers are taking control of their careers through custom publishing
The glittering, flag-flying Camelot of Christian publishing, with its thick walls and guarded gates, is still an achievable option for authors seeking publication. But the advent of digital publishing and the new ways customers are accessing content has thrown open the castle gates to a variety of new publishing opportunities for authors.
The names are as plentiful as the options: custom, self and independent publishing; print-on-demand (POD) only; e-book only; co-, boutique and micro-publishing. The common denominator is that authors must invest time and usually money—somewhere between $100 and $50,000—to get their books into the marketplace.
New authors are finding that venues such as CreateSpace, an Amazon company, offer quick and easy access to audiences without having to wait for agents and publishers to agree that the book is worth doing. Custom publishing giants such as XLibris are joined by Christian publishers that also are tapping into the market. WestBow Press is a division of Thomas Nelson and Zondervan and “is designed to empower you to fulfill your dreams and reach your goals,” according to its website (westbowpress.com).
Launched in 2009, CrossBooks (crossbooks.com) is an imprint of B&H Publishing Group, the trade publishing division of LifeWay Christian Resources. Authors have several publishing packages to choose from, generally ranging from $1,299 to $9,499, but the books must meet strict moral and quality standards to become part of the program. CrossBooks has published almost 1,500 titles since its inception.
“CrossBooks was the vision and initiative of LifeWay CEO Dr. Thom Rainer to offer a self-publishing service helping more Christian voices share the gospel through book publishing,” said Deanna Nelson, marketing manager for B&H Publishing Group.
Traditional publishers typically look for certain types of authors and projects, but first-time authors don’t often fall into those categories, she adds; authors retain rights and control of their projects should they choose an option such as CrossBooks.
“Self-publishers are generally quicker to market than traditional publishers and yield higher profits per unit to authors,” Nelson said. “Plus, innovation is easier for an entrepreneurial self-published author than for someone working in a traditional environment.”
Thom Freiling is a consultant with Charisma House and its custom-publishing imprint Creation House, plus the 6-month-old POD publisher Excel (excelpublishers.com). He’s seen explosive growth in custom publishing in the last three to five years.
“Technology is so much easier for authors to leverage today,” Freiling said. “And now custom-published books are more accepted within the industry by readers, the media and bookstores. The speed to market is so much faster, and custom publishing gives authors much more control over content, design and marketing. This type of publishing offers more control over a person’s future as an author.”
Believers Press is part of 1Source, a marketing brand that offers customers that kind of control. It’s a one-stop publishing experience that offers author training through Jerry B. Jenkins’ Christian Writers Guild, print and publishing solutions through Bethany Press and distribution through Anchor Distributors. Believers Press offers a smorgasbord of services, including ghostwriting, editing, cover design, interior layout and e-book conversion.
“There are a lot of places that provide publishing services, but not a lot of places that help an author become successful,” said Dave Sheets, president of the Christian Writers Guild and Believers Press. “We believe in the strategic partnerships we’ve built. It’s become a wonderful marriage of companies that all believe in the same thing and are moving in the same direction, and, ultimately, the author benefits.”
The allure of independent publishing, said Sheets, is twofold, with control being number one.
“With the proliferation of tools and techniques, the author is now in control of the publishing industry,” Sheets said. “Even five years ago the industry was dominated by traditional publishers. Everything spins out of that control.”
Now an author has the ability to release a book in a few months instead of a year or more that a traditional house takes to release a book. And an author can publish a book that a traditional publisher has declined.
Matthew Green, co-owner of Kudu Publishing Services, agrees.
“Companies like Kudu are popular with authors because of cost, speed of turnaround from manuscript to books-in-hand, and customizable publishing options,” he said.
Green calls the e-book revolution and the speed at which books can be produced and distributed “an amazing reality.”
“A book may be released on a certain day by a traditional publisher [e.g., Matthew Vines’ God and the Gay Christian]and an e-book response to the book will be independently released the very same day [e.g., God and the Gay Christian?, edited by Albert Mohler]. It seems like the line between the one-way communication of print publishing and interactive communication of blogging and social media is becoming a bit fuzzy.”
Green adds that the competitive look and feel of the books themselves are a bonus, due to the increasing quality of print-on-demand technology.
“Based on what our authors have told us, they like the speed, flexibility and personalized experience they receive,” he said.
Kudu (kudupub.com) started in 2011 after author Andrew Jackson approached Green and business partner Martijn van Tilborgh to help him republish his book on Mormonism with additional material on then Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Green and Tilborgh formed the company in time to get the book out before the January primaries, which soon led to other inquiries.
So far they have produced and published about 50 books under the Kudu imprint, in addition to over 100 e-books self-published by authors. Prices range from a few hundred dollars to $15,000.
The cost of custom publishing is one of its downsides. Authors experience sticker shock, but, as Sheets of Believers Press said, “If you set it up properly and get marketing done at a grass-roots level, it can work.”
Also, choosing a publisher is important.
“We encourage authors to focus on the content and quality of their book and their commitment to building a platform to get their message out,” Green said. “Then, choose a publisher who will produce a book that visually and editorially reflects that quality—all at a price that allows the author to quickly get a return on their investment.”
There are variations on the custom-publishing theme. Micro-publishers such as Mountainview Books (mountainviewbooks.com) publish titles by the founder and one other author. Gut Check Press (gutcheckpress.com) allows its founders to publish their own niche titles as well.
Two websites—dustytrailbooks.com and forgetmenotromances.com—offer authors a place to republish out-of-print books as well as new content for specific markets. Started and monitored by MacGregor Literary Agency, the sites are publishing co-ops specifically for Westerns and romance novels.
“Anyone can take an out-of-print book and post it on Amazon,” said Chip MacGregor, founder and president of the agency. “But it’s hard to get noticed. We thought that if we could help authors create a co-op that gets noticed, it’s a benefit to those authors. The site becomes a destination.”
Dustytrailbooks.com held its launch party at the Western Writers of America convention in June in Sacramento, California. Forgetmenotromances.com plans to hold a launch party in the near future.
“There are two major advantages to indie publishing,” MacGregor said. “First is that the author is in control of their books. Second is that the authors are making money. In doing these sites as a co-op, we are trying to make sure authors have marketing power behind their books.”
Authors may also opt to e-publish their books or publish as POD-only titles. For Cheri Cowell, owner of EA Books, that intersection of technology and publishing is her sweet spot. Begun in 2012 (eabooksonline.com), EA Books offers authors a flat-fee service to create an e-book and/or for POD formatting.
“We do all of the headache stuff that you would have to do if you were doing it yourself, then we turn the book back to the author,” Cowell said. “We’re filling the niche for those people who want to publish themselves, but who are either technically challenged or who don’t want to take the time to learn. And we do it at a reasonable cost.”
Costs range from $350 for POD services to $500 for e-book services. Cover design is extra. Cowell says she and her six employees who work on a project basis are always busy.
“Publishing is changing so rapidly, and I’m not convinced that the traditional publishing world understands or is capable of making the changes necessary to capitalize on this,” Cowell said. “The Christian publishing world is struggling to figure out how to hold onto the old business model, yet still embrace changes. And I don’t think they can.”
She points to the differences in how various age groups view the published content they want.
“We are used to having the publishing industry say that they are the gatekeepers,” Cowell said. “Buyers can go into a bookstore and say that a publisher has vetted this content and so it’s good. But if you’re under 30, you don’t want your content vetted. You don’t need a middleman telling you what’s a good book. The best will rise to the top and they want lots of content offerings.”
Christian retailers, she said, can help by being open to local independent authors who are willing to send people into stores to buy their books. Christian retailers often have been closed to indie authors—to their detriment, Cowell believes.
“There really are some of us who know what we’re doing,” she said. “Both the authors and the stores could benefit.”
Sheets of Believers Press agrees, saying the independent stores with owners in the store will get the indie trend more quickly.
“Like it or not, independent retailers are expert in publishing,” he said. “They know a whole lot more than new authors might know about the process. We hope that over time the independent retailers become local publishing hubs in their areas. As they help independent authors learn retail—what sells and what doesn’t—they are building the future viability of their stores.”
Green of Kudu adds that while most Christian retailers don’t carry a lot of self- or co-published books, authors who reach out to them find them open to stocking their titles and conducting in-store events.
“This is encouraging for authors, and I think it is also a way that independent sellers can increase their affinity with their customers, as they find new authors whose messages resonate with them,” he said.
Creation House’s Freiling said that bookstores are especially good for local authors, particularly as they build their community of readers and fans.
CrossBooks’ Nelson still sees the need for the printed book, so many indie authors will want to go that route or at least, have print and digital books published.
“Current buyer trends and research supports that most book buyers will prefer to buy printed books. Having a physical book to hold and pages to flip through, is believed to be a valued experience to readers.”
Sheets said 1Source dreams of helping independent retailers have the tools and knowledge to help independent authors get started. He speaks of kiosks or training modules or store-based publishing events.
“It’s about building bridges, about helping authors understand how they can help local retail stores, how they can collaborate and both benefit,” Sheets said.
Nelson sees only growth in the custom-publishing arena: “The number of self-published titles continues to increase year-over-year as more authors see the merit in taking control of their own publishing experience.”