Mainstream publishing may not matter at all to most publishers…


Let me offer another thought, between Mark Coker’s “The big houses are on the way out” and Peter Beren’s “Not only won’t it happen…” I wonder if, for 95% of the potential book publishers, the big houses matter much at all.

Oops, in one case they can matter a lot: to an author sought out and begged by one of the “Big Six” to print their opus for a million bucks, plus their next three books, whatever they are, all with even more generous advances…

For the rest of us, why are they probably irrelevant?

* Because the ‘oops’ above ain’t gonna happen to you, me, or anybody we know. We took their rejections to heart. (But I suppose if it did happen, the courting and the cash in hand would offset the snub, the usually lousy royalties, the delay in getting the book out, and so on. At least once.)

* For our books to prosper they are far more likely to be about topics or for markets that aren’t on the big houses’ radar. We can get very rich quickly by working niche markets, where our buyers would never seek us (or find us) in the brick-and-mortar or mega stores. Or we can just die happy, published. So what if we are in wee markets where we can barely find ourselves?

* Or our books could be one of those fictional phenoms about paranormals or wizards or whatever, presumably ground out quickly, that online fans could buy by the billions for 99 cents (or is it 9 cents?), or one of those Japanese novels released a page a day to be read on hand phones while going to work.

* Or they can be your son’s high school graduation book that you put together and publish as his gift, with a buying audience at most 30 deep. A book of love that costs you almost nothing to produce and print, but looks good and will be around forever.

* Or your book can be about how to make and bake your aunt’s quince cookies, your great-great grandfather’s handwritten diary about bringing the family West in a covered wagon, your summer in a Norwegian monastery, or “How to Feed Your Llama.” Who cares how many people read it? Still, there may be 1,000 souls somewhere in the world hiding in a computer or device that are looking for those precise words.

* But my main take on the irrelevancy is why this newsletter exists: it says that if you find a topic that others care very much about and want to buy your expertise, you publish the core book, get it in their hands, and that becomes the center (and foundation) of a very profitable empire that you build around, with other books, reports, articles, video, audio, workshops, classes, a newsletter, boot camps, consulting, etc. You don’t need mainstream publishers at all, or even “ancillary publishers,” though one might propel you farther and the other could make it cheaper and faster. Just POD and self-publish.

* Yet if you don’t care (or know) a whit about the minutiae of publishing, you can use the ancillary houses, write copy that can’t be resisted, let them make your book and sell it, and you just buy enough starter copies to put in the hands of those who will get you speaking gigs or help you get in touch with the very folks who want and need your expertise. A print (or even e-) book that looks professional enough that the reader will focus, beyond the book, on the title, the contents, and how that book’s message must be shared.

* I can think of a dozen more scenarios where mainstream publishers are irrelevant. And even more scenarios where having access to free and fast ancillary book producers could be a godsend, until you’ve found a readership and enough confidence to do the publishing alone—if that ever makes sense.

* I can also think of a dozen cases where big houses, redesigned and somewhat repurposed, must be around to do what Smashwords, CreateSpace, Lulu, PubIt!, Blurb, Scribd, Google, or LightningSource can’t. Most of those cases involve some degree of layering, enhancement, or “cloud” formation. Along the lines that David Marshall discussed in #3 of this four-blog series…


(This is the last of that four-part blog series about the “two publishing revolutions afoot.” #1 appeared on 5/19 where Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, predicted the end of mainstream publishers as we know them. In #2 (5/23) publishing consultant Peter Beren offered a counter view suggesting that ultimately the “big houses” may absorb and dominate the e-book format. In #3 (on 5/25), Berrett-Koehler’s David Marshall showed some of the changes traditional publishers will make to survive and thrive in the future. Here, I add a cranky explanation of how the existence of “ancillary publishing,” as Mark Coker discusses it in #1, and the wee and e-books it facilitates, may in themselves be far more important to their author/publishers than the books’ actual sales records. In my [free] newsletter on 6/7, I will again share #1-#4, with comments, plus add many more immediately applicable insights that Coker shared at a BAIPA [Bay Area Independent Publishers Association] meeting on May 14.)

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

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