Saturday, 6 December 2014

Global Trends in Self-Publishing - FBF 14 Reportage

By JJ Marsh

This year, I attended the International Self Publishing and Author Programme at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Seminars, panel discussions, informal discussions, insider opinion and up-to-the-minute observations on what’s happening in the publishing world.

Are there too many books in the world?
With speakers such as Porter Anderson of FutureBook, Edward Nawotka of Publishing Perspectives, Alison Baverstock of Kingston University, Orna Ross of ALLi, David Taylor of Ingram UK, Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn, Hayley Radford of Authoright, Jonas Lennermo of Publit, Julia Koblentz of Nook, Dr Florian Geuppert of Books On Demand, Camille Mofidi of Kobo Writing Life, Matthias Matting of Der SelfPublisher Bibel, Meire Dias of Bookcase Literary Agency plus lots and lots of successful authors, the information was overwhelming. Here's my digested version of the big picture.

Global Trends in Self Publishing


Last year, the number of ISBN numbers purchased by indie authors surpassed those bought by trade publishing. The estimates of books published without ISBNs exceed 1 million. Trade publishing is watching the indie scene very carefully and regards it as “a seed bed”.

Established authors are considering the benefits of creative control. Edward Nawotka shared how the University of Houston’s Creative Writing Programme expressed an interest in self-publishing. Not for their students, but for faculty members - all successful authors and prize winners.

Self publishers are moving away from the Do Everything Yourself model and using expert resources. According to Alison Baverstock’s recent research, 59% used an editor, 26% availed themselves of marketing support and 21% had taken legal advice.

Success Stories
Companies are springing up everywhere to take advantage of this new demand. Freelance editors, designers, proofreaders, sales data tools, marketing services and specialists in intellectual property and entertainment law are a growing infrastructure to support the professionalism of the independent author.

Legal advice is an essential area. Without a publishing house’s lawyer to check copyright issues, potential libel and accusations of plagiarism or infringement, authors need to take this responsibility themselves. This gets more complex when dealing with translations. For example, while there is no copyright on titles in the UK & US, German laws prevent the use of a title if an existing work already holds that name. Pleading ignorance is insufficient. You’ll have to remove your book and may have to pay the other party’s legal costs.

Staying with Germany, a curious phenomenon is that many of the latest self-publishing initiatives have come from major publishers. One example featured in Publishing Perspectives’ Author Guide is 100 Fans (German only). This is a crowd-funding platform, supported by M√ľnchner Verlagsgruppe. When a writer’s campaign gains 100+ fans, the book is produced and distributed as both print and ebook. When it gets over 1000 fans, it receives frontlist treatment in the publisher’s catalogue.

A variety of platforms and formats is crucial to connecting with readers. Every single speaker stressed the same message: exclusivity is a bad idea. Joanna Penn made the point that few companies in publishing are too big to fail. Some presenters made a strong case for building a successful name in digital only before venturing into print. Especially as indie authors have a hard time getting into bookshops, due to basic economics. However, many voices spoke up for the value of handselling and the importance of the paperback to their readership.

Audience at the Author Programme
New formats including audiobooks, games, translations and TV/film adaptations are fertile ground for self-published material. The adage used to be ‘bring an existing audience’, but now opinion is changing. One of these formats might be the place you find your audience.

One instance is the huge potential emerging in China. Tens of millions of people are reading on their phones or other hand-held devices. In The Wall Street Journal, Wei Gu quotes authors such as Tang Jia San, Li Hu, Liu Wei and Zhu Hongzhi, all of whom are under 40 and each has become a millionaire since publishing online.

And to end on a high note, Alison Baverstock made two points about self publishing. Firstly, she has found a fundamental difference between self published and traditionally published authors. According to her research, which you can find in her book The Naked Author, self published authors are generally happier. Secondly, the supportive and generous nature of the independent author community makes it a positive and helpful place to be.

Long may that trend continue.


In this issue of Words with JAM, you’ll find a second FBF14 summary:

Marketing for Authors

Plus if you’re thinking of attending the fair next year, check out this post:

Five Tips on how authors can get the most out of a book fair.


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