Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone!
Coming up next weekend is the 2017 conference of the Maryland Writers’ Association. As president of MWA, I appreciate all of the advance planning and work that has gone into producing this conference, especially by the conference chair, Jess Williams, but all of the board members have contributed.
With well-known authors like Maria V. Snyder and Jeffery Deaver as keynote speakers and a host of local authors in attendance, conferences like this are of interest to readers as well as writers. In fact, I was surprised to learn that my local chapter of Sisters in Crime is an association of mystery writers and fans. The national mystery conferences, Bouchercon and Malice Domestic, both draw a large number of fans as well as writers. In fact, most writers’ conferences, I would guess, are open to readers and to anyone with the registration fee. Participation in these conferences guarantees a rich, rewarding, and well-spent day.
I will be presenting a workshop at the MWA conference on evening the playing field for self-published authors. Producing, selling and promoting books has never been easier, thanks to Amazon and social media. When my husband and I started out as publishers in 1994, google hadn’t been developed yet. Social media were unheard of. E-books were the germ of a possibility, and I guess that print on demand technology was in the development phase.
We had to publish our books the traditional way, by offset which required layout sheets, color separations, screened photographs. And to bring the price down, we had to order at least 1,000 books, probably more like 3,000 or 5,000. Then we had to store those books somehow so they wouldn’t collapse our house. Then we had fulfillment costs such as packaging and shipping should we get any sales.
In order to get sales, my husband, our author at the time, did a lot of radio and TV interviews and book shows. We’d tell people to call our 800 number to order books and we paid a hefty amount each month for a merchant services account so we could accept credit cards.
We could get our books into local bookstores although they might not be actually shelved there. No, to get into bookstores, we had to have a distributor or wholesaler and they didn’t come easy or cheap. When we finally did manage to get a distributor, we ended up paying them more in shipping, catalog and returns fees than we ever made through sales. We ended our contract with them.
Now, we can publish our books by print on demand technology for very little, buy just a carton at a time, and sell them through Amazon.com and other online bookstores with fulfillment handled by the POD printer. If we sell them as e-books, our cost is even less. And we don’t have storage costs nor do we have to bother with courting distributors or wholesalers. Since we print our books through Lightning Source, a division of Ingram Book Wholesalers, we are listed in the Ingram catalog for booksellers. Promotions through social media have the potential to reach millions of people. And it’s so easy to say, “You can get it on Amazon.” Independent online reviews also have the potential to overcome another barrier: reviews in the accepted powerful reviewing media like Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, etc. These magazines receive thousands of books a week for review. Self-published authors need not apply unless they are willing to pay for the review.
What all this means is that absolutely anyone with a book can get it published at little cost. It’s up to them to make sure it’s a good product and sell it, of course. Having known would-be authors who were rejected out of existence by agents who “couldn’t see the vision,” or “didn’t excite me enough,” or “didn’t meet my needs at this time,” I say this is all to the good. Many good books have been saved because the author braved one more attempt after receiving a heap of rejections.
It also means the competition is stiffer and more intense.