BookExpo 2015 Connects Writers with Publishing Services

Photo by Rod Searcey

Book Expo America, the big New York show for publishers, featured several new resources for self-published writers. Here’s a roundup:

BookWorks founder Betty Sargent and BookDesigner founder Joel Friedlander have teamed up to publish The Self Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide. The new book contains over 800 curated resources, including editors, designers, and book marketing experts by name. BookWorks also offers an online database of vetted publishing professionals, as do Bibliocrunch and Reedsy.

Publishers Weekly now offers “first reads” and “evaluations” of your manuscript by professionals in the book business. Through its Booklife site for self-published authors, PW experts will provide feedback on a treatment plus the opening 1,500 words of your manuscript for $79; or the entire manuscript for under $600.

TextCafe is one of several new companies making it easier to create samples of your book to tweet, post or email to potential readers. You control the percentage of your ebook you want to reveal and which online bookstores to show your readers. Your sample goes out with front cover intact. TextCafe is offering a free 21-day trial. Litlette is offering similar sampling services through Facebook.

BookBub, the company that offers new titles to readers at discounted prices, provided a glimpse at their own reader demographics during the Expo. Turns out they are strongest at reaching older women “empty-nesters”who are heavy readers of genre fiction (romance, mystery, thrillers, fantasy). Fifty-nine percent of their readers read over 4 books per month. You must be accepted into the BookBub program and you must pay for the promotion, but once accepted, you have a better chance of reaching the readers you want.

SelfPubBookCovers featured at BookExpo a sampling of their large collection of inexpensive pre-made book covers. Such covers (which start at $69) are becoming a bigger part of the picture for authors on a budget, especially those writing genre fiction. Once a cover is sold, it is never sold again.

Vellum offers a variety of templates to make your book interior look as though it has been professionally designed. As costs start at $29 per template, that makes Vellum’s templates less expensive than TheBookDesigner’s.

How much does it cost to self-publish a book?

two birds2Plenty of people will tell you that self-publishing a book is free. And it is free if all you’re talking about is the cost of uploading your files to CreateSpace or Kindle or Bookbaby.

But publishing a book that can compete in today’s overstuffed marketplace requires a number of skill sets, some of which you’re going to have to job out. And that requires an investment on your part.

Here’s how the numbers break out for the average self-published writer:

  • $1,500 for a simple copyedit. More if your book is long or if you need structural help.
  • $800 for a cover design (front, back, spine). That’s after you realize that the cover templates offered on self-publishing websites are so bad as to be unusable. (No extra cost for using that same design for your ebook.)
  • $0 for page layout. Most people use the free templates offered on self-publishing websites to format their books. But it’s a huge time sink, trust me on that.
  • $0 for technical help. Once you have pdfs of your cover and interior, it’s relatively easy to upload the files if you have any tech savvy.
  • $250 for ISBN numbers. If you want to avoid CreateSpace being listed as your publisher of record on Amazon, you’ll buy your own ISBN numbers at One costs $125. Ten cost $250. You’ll need two–one for your print book and one for your ebook. You can’t buy two, of course.
  • $25 for a barcode. You buy that from, too, and put it on your back cover.
  • $? for marketing. You’ll be spending lots of time and some money in marketing your book. Perhaps the most common cost comes when you decide to submit your book to Kirkus, Foreword or Publishers Weekly for review. Cost: around $450.

Add it up, and you realize that you’ll be investing at least $2,500 in your publishing endeavor. Then the question becomes: are you, the publisher, willing to invest $2,500+ into you, the author?

The Future of Book Publishing: Two Predictions

Amazon EncoreHere’s a prediction: within three years, we’ll see the publishing industry split into two tiers. Bestselling authors will work with traditional publishers–Simon & Schuster, Random House, and HarperCollins. And new authors will prove themselves in the self-publishing arena before they’re allowed to play in the big leagues.

If you’re an emerging author, you’ve probably already stumbled into this world. You know it’s practically impossible to get the attention of an established publisher. And if you do get lucky and find a publisher, the marketing department (now staffed by a couple of 24-year-old interns) all but ignore your book while they focus efforts on proven authors. Your paltry 10% royalty doesn’t really matter since your sales figures are so low. After six weeks, your publisher pronounces your book sales “disappointing” and loses interest.

At the same time, Amazon is opening doors for self-published authors. In May of 2009, the company quietly launched Amazon Encore, its first imprint as a publishing company. Using both sales figures and customer reviews, Amazon identifies books with potential and invites their (often self-published) authors to sign with Amazon Encore. The selected books are then formatted for all platforms (print, ebook and audio) and reintroduced into the marketplace–backed by Amazon’s substantial marketing muscle.

The number of titles published by Amazon Encore is small so far, and the imprint seems focused on novels. But if you’re invited to play, word on the street is that the royalty deals are far sweeter than those offered by traditional publishers.

And here’s another prediction: within ten years, serious self-published authors are going to wonder why they ever needed any publisher–Random House or Amazon Encore.

How Viable is Self Publishing? Proof is in the Numbers

Kindle and booksClearly, 2011 is a tipping point for self-publishing–moving this new publishing model from backwater to the forefront of the publishing world. It’s all happening despite the bow-tie traditional publishers who still would have authors believe that they are the only ones who can bestow legitimacy on a work. But the track-records of self-published authors don’t lie.

There’s a terrific article by Alison Flood over at the Guardian that traces this coming-of-age for self-publishing. Highlights from the article:

– Author John Locke just passed the 1 million mark in sales of his mystery thrillers on the Kindle platform. He’s the first self-published author to do so.

– After years of resisting, JK Rowling finally announced this week that she’ll be selling her Harry Potter series as ebooks. They’ll be available on her new website Pottermore.

– Self-published co-authors Louise Voss and Mark Edwards claim to be selling 1,900 copies a day of their thriller Catch Your Death.

– Author Amanda Hocking who started by selling her paranormal romance stories on the Kindle platform for $.99 to $2.99 has now signed a deal with St. Martin’s for a reported $2 million.

– British writer David Moody started by giving away his zombie novel Autumn. Now he sells his novels on the Kindle platform for $.99. Chump change? He was making $1,500 a month when he attracted the attention of a film producer.

– Thriller novelist Barry Eisler turned down a deal reported to be worth about $500,000 from St. Martin’s to self-publish. He has accepted a deal with Amazon (now a publisher in its own right) for a six-figure sum for one book. He says the Amazon deal offers “the advance and marketing muscle you (might) get in a legacy contract; the digital royalties, creative control and time-to-market you get with indie.”

– GP Taylor, author of the children’s novel Shadowmancer, is one of several authors who started as a self publisher, proved his worth, was picked up by traditional publisher and is now considering going back to self-publishing. He sells 6 ebooks for every paperback.

New Award for Literary Science Writers

It’s been a big week for Palo Alto.

Last night Obama showed up for a $30,000-a-plate dinner at the home of Google VP Marissa Mayer. The Dalai Lama spent two days speaking on altruism at Stanford. And Harrison Ford flew into town to stand next to the biologist E. O. Wilson for a press announcement at the Garden Court.

PEN American Center logoOf the three events, the Ford/Wilson announcement is the one that speaks most clearly to active writers. The actor and the Harvard biodiversity expert were here to kick off a new literary award–the $10,000 PEN/E.O.Wilson Literary Science Writing Award. The intent of the award is to encourage and support those writers who know how to marry literature with science.

Wilson, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his nonfiction book The Ants, funded the award together with Ford who is an active conservationist. The award becomes another in the prestigious collection offered by the PEN (poets, playwrights, essayists, editors and novelists) American Center, including:
the PEN/Nabokov Award
the Ernest Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for First Fiction
the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction
the PEN/Galbraith Award for Nonfiction

If this is your genre, go for it.

Book Design Faux Pas: Five Ways to Signal You’re a Rank Amateur

Recently I asked several self-publishing companies to send me samples of books they’d produced. I told them I wanted to check the production values of those books–paper quality, binding, cover stock and so forth–before deciding whether to go with their services

This request is clearly not something they’re used to. One company, after expressing minor outrage, sent me a title with a note pointedly asking for its return. Okay.

But the real lesson was how many of these books were poorly designed. And a poorly designed book screams “amateur.”

Here are five faux pas of interior book design–all of which were clearly evident in the collection of books I received. Avoid them!


Page from Typography Essentials by Ina Saltz

Typography Essentials by Ina Saltz

• Choose a “really cool” font. Make it italic, even.
You’d be surprised how many ways there are to screw up fonts. If you’re not a pro, stick with simple fonts for both body copy and headers. Helvetica. Times New Roman, Gill Sans. These are your friends.

If you’d like to eavesdrop on designers talking about fonts, check out the excellent book Typography Essentials: 100 Design Principles for Working with Type, by Ina Saltz.

• Skimp on page margins.
What is it? Are authors trying to save money? A real tip-off of a book published by an amateur is the size of its page margins. If you need to save money that much, reduce the size of your font, or tighten your leading, or choose a more condensed font–but don’t run those lines out to the edge of each page.

• Start a chapter on a left-hand page.
If the previous chapter ends on a right-hand page, make sure the following left-hand page is a blank. Do not be afraid of white space!

• Run headers throughout.
A header doesn’t belong on a page with a chapter opening. Nor on a page that’s otherwise blank. And it may not be appropriate on a table of contents, acknowledgment page, or about the author page. Pay attention.

• Keep your table of contents simple.
Ah, here’s where you don’t want to be simple. Just listing your chapter titles with a page number is often not the best way to go. Your Table of Contents is your book’s roadmap. If you have subheadings in your chapters, you’ll want to list them here (but a page number for each subheading is unnecessary).

Because book design is so crucial to the acceptability of the book in the marketplace, it’s worth spending time to it. You may even want to forgo those mediocre templates offered by self-publishing companies and hire a professional designer.

Book Trailers vs. Audio Interviews

book trailer I’ve yet to see a book trailer that makes me want to buy a book. I know they’re all the rage right now, but because they’re made by wordsmiths and not by filmmakers, they often look embarrassingly amateurish–especially when they promote novels.

Book people need to use ideas and words–the tools they know best–to promote their books. A good author interview–which can be distributed as an audiofile or a podcast–is a better sales tool all around.

Check it out for yourself:     Book trailers vs. Author interviews

Seth Godin abandons traditional book publishers

Seth GodinSerious authors often squirm when they have to reveal that they’re self-publishing their books. That’s because self-publishing is often confused with vanity publishing, that backwater of the publishing industry where snake-oil salesmen still flourish.

But now Seth Godin has given the field of self-publishing a shot of adrenalin. In mediabistro today, he claims he’ll be self-publishing from now on. The way he sees it, today’s publishing industry is too cumbersome and, well, archaic:

“I can’t abide the long wait, the filters, the big push at launch, the nudging to get people to go to a store they don’t usually visit to buy something they don’t usually buy, to get them to pay for an idea in a form that’s hard to spread… I really don’t think the process is worth the effort that it now takes to make it work.”

Here’s the complete interview.