Writers Are The New Publishers

In my last post I talked about $0.99 eBooks in the context of industry disruption. Today, I want to talk about what looks like a corollary to that trend: the writer-as-publisher.

Tim O’Reilly said recently that he believed a small group of successful indie writers will soon create their own publishing outfits. He has some authority on the matter: O’Reilly, after all, started out as a self-publisher, before he began doing it for other people. Today, O’Reilly Media, Inc is a multi-million dollar publishing outfit, one of the few successfully adapting to a digital shift.

I think this makes sense, and I’m not going to spend too much time on the obvious advantages:

1) Successful independent writers have ‘been there and done that’. If you were a writer you would probably be attracted to the idea of having an accomplished indie writer (say, J.A. Konrath?) help you with your ebook. Think: is it a good trade to give away the difficulties of designing, marketing, and selling your ebook to indie-writers who are well-experienced in the matter? They get to take a small cut of your ebook sales, you get to focus on writing. I think it’s a good trade.

2) The margins for a small, writer-as-publisher startup makes a lot of sense. You’re not likely to make much per book, but thanks to the economics of the digital bookstore, you are likely to make a sizable amount — so long as you gather a small team of editors and designers, and focus on releasing as many ebooks as possible. The long tail of digital economics would ensure that you’ll make money for about as long as your ebooks are online (which can be forever, if they’re on the Kindle store).

We’re already seeing several web fiction writers turn to publishing. Last week I linked to Alexandra Erin’s new outfit, LitSnacks. This week I spent some time browsing through web fiction author MCM’s catalog, over at his 1889.ca website. He’s lent his ebook and design expertise to a small (but growing!) number of authors, under the 1889 Labs label.

We’ll soon see more of these publishers, I bet. And — yes — these outfits will still be in the margins of the publishing industry. But they will be profitable, and they will grow as the market grows.

Writing this article has made me realize that there are really two barriers to publishing at the moment: one bit of it is technological, which we’re trying to solve with the software we’re writing at Pandamian; the other bit is process — the very human effort of taking a book from manuscript to market. These small publishing outfits are likely to be the solution to the process problem, and I look forward to seeing how they solve the intricacies of editing, design, and ebook production in a low-margin, high-output context.

Note: I’d love to hear from you, if you are (or you know of) a writer-turned-publisher. Just leave a link to your outfit in the comments, and I’ll include you in a roundup post next week.

Possibly Related Posts:

Category: Publishing
  • Perishpublishing

    You are correct, Sir! I got fed up with snarky literary agents as gatekeepers, Publishers who only want celebrity tomes, and if Snookie and Paris Hilton can get published, oh why, oh why, can’t I? So, I E-Published, and started Perish Publishing! see http://perishpublishing.blogspot.com/
    and, ” Siren” on Kindle…

  • http://elijames.org Eli James

    Hi there – are you a publisher? Or is Perish Publishing your publishing-related blog? :)

    I should note that I’ll only link to actual publishers, though. So am a little confused at the moment.

  • http://twitter.com/IsaKft Isa K

    I’m not sure I agree with this as someone who is taking a work from webfic to traditionally published. The process of editing is more than finding typos and the benefit of having a stricter editorial hand is that it allows you to be more creative and experiment in the drafting process.

    I’ve done self-publishing with a hired editor before. I never really felt like my editor was being 100% honest with me because her ability to continue getting paid depended on keeping me happy. With a publishing company’s editor the power dynamic is different … and while it’s not always pleasant I think the challenge is ultimately making the work stronger.

  • http://profiles.google.com/zoetewey Jim Zoetewey

    I’ve been thinking about this a little bit recently.

    Self-publishing is a lot of work. Hiring someone to do the copyediting is expensive. Doing it yourself is simply hard. You have to figure out how a copyeditor finds all those stupid little errors you make (whether typos or grammatical), and in many cases, the reason you didn’t see them is that you make that mistake often enough that you don’t notice it.

    In short, you’re unlikely to see it no matter how hard you look.

    On the larger issues of plot holes, character consistency, thematic consistency, and stylistic issues, you’re again limited by how good you are.

    Where I work (a small software company), we’ve got a guideline that if you’re stuck for more than 15 minutes, you need to go talk to someone else.

    I find it useful. I’m sure that part of the reason is that I’m only just learning the company’s software, and my coworkers have used it for years, but also I come out of a freelance consultant background.

    I’ve had to depend completely on myself for answers for much of my working life, and I know how much time it can take to reinvent the wheel.

    Coming back to writing, it struck me recently that I don’t have comparable support for the hard parts of writing.

    Sometimes I think that it might be useful to create something that’s less a publishing company than a self-publishers critique group where you find the errors (both typo and plot hole level) by reading each other’s work.

    The idea would be that with many eyes, all bugs are shallow.

    The funny thing is, if I ever managed to get something like that going, I could easily see how it might turn into a small publishing house given time.

  • http://elijames.org Eli James

    With a publishing company’s editor the power dynamic is different … and while it’s not always pleasant I think the challenge is ultimately making the work stronger.

    Well, I know a few writers who won’t agree with you on that. But perhaps the solution to this isn’t as hard as it might seem. a) Find an editor who’s a friend (or make friends with an editor, one who’s not afraid of speaking her mind) b) upon forming the publishing company/collective, other writers would ultimately be answerable to the aforementioned editor.

    The power dynamic would be different, but not exactly as with a traditional publishing company.

  • http://elijames.org Eli James

    How do we go about setting up one such collective, Jim, and how might I help?

  • http://profiles.google.com/zoetewey Jim Zoetewey

    I’m not sure.

    In some ways, I think the first question might be, “Are we doing something that’s already available elsewhere?”

    In the sense that online workshops already exist, the answer is no.

    If we’re talking about a group that exists to help writers bring their story from web fiction to ebook/self-published hardcover, then I’d give a qualified yes.

    Qualified by the fact that 1889.ca exists and they’re doing the almost the same thing.

    Ideally though, I’d think that this could be complementary to them in that if someone used this collective to catch the copy errors, plot holes, and so on, it would make their job easier.

    So, the major thing that you might do is simply ask the community if they’d be interested.

    Personally, what I’m hoping to get out of something like this is as follows:

    I want to edit my story for ebook and print, but I know I’ll miss things. My hope is to catch those things without paying through the nose for it.

    I think other people might want that too. I’m willing to help them do it if they’ll help me.

  • http://twitter.com/nancynaigle Nancy Naigle

    Love this post. Things are changing so quickly in the publishing world. My debut novel, SWEET TEA AND SECRETS, is coming out with a small publisher in May. There was a time when a small publisher like Turquoise Morning Press couldn’t exist.

    We’re getting more options, and the readers have more to choose from than ever.

    I’ll be looking for your next posts.
    Nancy Naigle
    Love stories from the crossroad of small town and suspense.
    SWEET TEA and SECRETS, available in e-format and print May 2011
    Award-winning novel, OUT OF FOCUS, November 2011

  • P Dugan

    Eli, I’m loving this series so far.

    I think those of us with the independent spirit will find that joining forces with other people in our situation will make things easier all around. But I think history shows that if you don’t form some alliances with other people in your position you will handicap growth.

    There is something to be said for organizing something that would balance out each member’s deficiencies.

    P

  • http://www.dreamfantastic.com Alexander Hollins

    Which is exactly what I’m trying to do at Dreamfantastic. But… Do I have to have been a SUCCESSFUL online author myself before I can be a successful publisher? Because, I’ll be the first to admit, I’m a mid level author.

  • http://www.dreamfantastic.com Alexander Hollins

    Isa, I feel that very much. I’ve never liked the concept of a pay in advance editor, and the one thing I liked about publishing Houses is that the editor’s there only keep their jobs if the books they edit sell well and make money. Their jobs were mostly to make sure books were good, not stroke writer’s egos . (I’m sure some egos were stroked, but hey. ) Its a big balancing point when you move to the self publishing market. I’ve had two people that decided to serialize with me, I set up a website for them, did some design, posted the first few pieces of their story, and made a few editing suggestions. Trying to be as soft and general as possible, and one decided that it wasn’t for them, since they just wanted a webhost, and no suggestions from me, and the other bailed because I wasn’t offering ENOUGH suggestions and feed back. So to make it pay in this kind of new game, there IS always going to be that aspect of keeping them happy. Sigh.

  • http://www.dreamfantastic.com Alexander Hollins

    Isa, I feel that very much. I’ve never liked the concept of a pay in advance editor, and the one thing I liked about publishing Houses is that the editor’s there only keep their jobs if the books they edit sell well and make money. Their jobs were mostly to make sure books were good, not stroke writer’s egos . (I’m sure some egos were stroked, but hey. ) Its a big balancing point when you move to the self publishing market. I’ve had two people that decided to serialize with me, I set up a website for them, did some design, posted the first few pieces of their story, and made a few editing suggestions. Trying to be as soft and general as possible, and one decided that it wasn’t for them, since they just wanted a webhost, and no suggestions from me, and the other bailed because I wasn’t offering ENOUGH suggestions and feed back. So to make it pay in this kind of new game, there IS always going to be that aspect of keeping them happy. Sigh.

  • http://twitter.com/dreamfantastic Dream Fantastic

    Jim, I do similar things. That kind of collective is exactly what I’ve always wanted. From my first website, The Leaking Pen, through several email groups that never took off, to now, DreamFantastic, where the intent is to help people self publish, ebook and serial, as well as have a community of writers helping each other out.

    Also, there is a thing out there that is going to hit public beta soon that is very much everything you just mentioned, in terms of many eyes looking at manuscripts. (www.bookcountry.com).

  • Anonymous

    “Sometimes I think that it might be useful to create something that’s less a publishing company than a self-publishers critique group where you find the errors (both typo and plot hole level) by reading each other’s work.”

    This is basically what I experienced during my MFA program. There were ten of us, and by the end I was only really listening to 3 of my classmates, but the input was invaluable.

    I think the idea of a more organic collection of writers/self-publishers, almost along the lines of a co-op, will be the model that emerges as opposed to mini-houses. Maybe you won’t pay money to have someone edit your manuscript, but instead offer to edit theirs.

  • http://elijames.org Eli James

    Thank you, P. This discussion has started me thinking, too, especially about Jim’s proposal.

  • http://elijames.org Eli James

    Doesn’t matter, I’ll link to you anyway. :)

  • A.M.Harte

    Woohoo! I’m all excited about the 1889 Labs shout out. :-D

  • http://twitter.com/dreamfantastic Dream Fantastic

    Have you checked out bookcountry.com yet eli? It has officially entered public beta.

  • http://elijames.org Eli James

    I haven’t, but thanks for the headsup!

  • http://profiles.google.com/juddexley Judd Exley

    GREAT post mate, and in line with Point #1 up there as well as you and Jim’s plotting Global Domination, I thought I’d formally out my new website. It’s still very much in development, meaning stuff breaks and the design is ugly because I haven’t had my pro on it yet, but it’s essentially OF writers, FOR writers.

    It’s called Page Buoy, http://www.pagebuoy.com (please forgive the mess, I clearly don’t have Penguin’s budget), and I started it because me and some other writers are getting tired of simply emailing each other weekly to check in on our “challenges” and “goals”. I kept thinking, “I need to build a system that reminds us weekly of the goals we’ve set, how close we are coming to them, and how our fellow writers are doing.”

    So, I’m doing that. I’ve got about half of the guts of it built and will be working on it feverishly now that I’m making a formal announcement about it’s existence.

    I would love, Love, LOVE your (and Jim’s! And everyones!) feedback on the idea of a website that keeps you in touch with other writers, and basically keeps you on top of your projects with the ability to get feedback on the Works-in-Progress rather than having reviews for books already written.

    Thanks again and rock on with your socks on.

  • http://www.dwyerogrady.com Jeff Dwyer

    Dear Eli: I love watching folks connect the dots. I’m a literary and illustration agent for children books – http://www.dwyerogrady.com, and last year I formed BookPartners, LLC, http://www.bookpartners.org. The purpose of BookPartners is to expand our agency services and to provide our clients with another reason to remain our clients. As I’ve watch the changing publishing landscape, it became apparent that legacy publishers would shrink their lists and offer increasingly poorer and poorer publishing agreements. This is occurring daily. The legacy publishing picture market is slowly vanishing. For twenty-five years, we sold our client’s work product to another business (publisher) who sold the product to another business (bookstores) who sold the work product to the purchaser (reader). The talent’s work product became much too expensive as everyone added their mark-up along the food chain. Now that electronic publishing has allowed the talent to reach the reader without the literary agent, the publisher or the bookseller, everyone in the food chain must justify their existence. Borders and the majority of the indie bookstores are toast. Booksellers can’t justify their one hundred percent mark-up for shelving titles. B&N and BAM may survive, but its questionable, and if they do survive, the stores will look nthing like they did a year or two ago. At BookPartners we’re helping our authors and illustrators collaborate with eachother and get their projects edited, designed, formatted and distributed via Ingram, Amazon, Apple’s iPad and the Nook. Each project presents new challenges and whether it be reissuing an out-of-print title or publishing a new collaboration between an author and an illustrator, its exciting and worth the effort. Once the books arrive in the digital marketplace, those titles will remain available to readers for a long long time, and the majority of the revenues will reach exactly who should receive them – the talent.

    Jeff Dwyer

  • http://elijames.org Eli James

    Hi Jeff, is there a site I can link to? (BookPartners seems unlaunched, at the moment).

  • http://www.dwyerogrady.com Jeff Dwyer

    Hi Ely:

    Not BookPartners.org yet. Use Dwyer & O’Grady, Inc. if you’d like to stay in touch http://www.dwyerogrady.com. Frankly, the BookPartners project has changed so much since its inception, the website remains “in process,” until we have enough titles completed to make a debut. We’re working on a dozen reissues of OP titles, and have three new publications in process. Unlike middle grade or young adult novels with text only, picture book collaborations require a bit more collaboration and design time, and the new projects require that the artists actually create the artwork – a several month time lag – but its coming. In many cases, we might have represented the artist of a picture book, and another agency may have represented the author. If our client is eager to reissue their OP title, we must arrange for the participation of the author and, of course, their lit agent. Easier said than done in many cases since most literary agencies are as perplexed by the changing landscape as are the publishers. and, of course, there’s no royalty advances in publishing collaborations, so these projects do not command a lot of attention at most literary agencies.

    Jeff

  • Erin M. Klitzke

    Eli –

    There’s at least one bestselling author that’s been doing epub for a little bit now on his website. Michael Stackpole’s been selling some of his out-of-print novels as ebooks from Stormwolf.com and the impression I get is that he prepped and created those himself.

  • http://elijames.org Eli James

    Hi Erin,

    Yes, I do know of Stackpole – in fact, I recently bought an ebook from
    Stormwolf.com! (The In Hero Years … I’m Dead limited edition novel).

    Thanks for reminding me about him. Though I should note that I’m looking
    specifically for authors who are now doing digital publishing for other
    authors …

  • Anonymous

    And how do I join? I’ve been looking for support for a novel that’s in its second draft, and I’m also interested in independent publishing for the final product. I haven’t quite recaptured what creative writing classes could do by sending it around to friends, and I’m sure there are things wrong with it that other writers could find. I think I’d be capable of formatting my own book and selling it on Kindle, but I have lingering questions about how one markets a book published that way. I haven’t ruled out the traditional route either–just don’t have any takers yet.

  • http://ctndigital.com Jeff J

    Excellent. where i do this its integration of images and video, magazine quickreads, but we are working on a solution that is all webapp ( tablet readers with broswers including the ipad ) And all delivered-to-page content is variable and dynamic. Could be all photos or all text, doesnt matter.
    http://www.ctndigital.com
    would love to prototype a novella or shorts piece of your choi
    ce…. no platform / store dependency.

  • Jarvis

    I’m on the boat where people say self-publishing waters down the market. Great for you if you wrote a piece and can sell a few copies, but it expands the market so wide and fast, it’s hard to navigate and more difficult to discover quality content.

  • http://elijames.org Eli James

    Not necessarily true, Jarvis. Information overload has existed for centuries. The problem we have today isn’t information overload – it’s filter failure. Downstream filter failure, to be exact.

  • Tim Roux

    Eli,

    Couldn’t agree more although I would put the greatest emphasis on book promotion. Knowing the inside of how to promote a book is the piece that will usually elude even seasoned authors.

    Night Publishing publishes 5-10 books a month from its 660 strong indie author community, Night Reading, and everything is exactly as you say, plus having a portfolio of books allows our 160,000 seller – ‘Spoilt’ by Joanne Ellis – to pay for the publication of wonderful books that will only sell a few copies a year but really should be out there.

    Websites:

    Night Publishing: http://www.nightpublishing.com
    Night Reading: http://nightreading.ning.com
    Showcase: http://relaxatnight.weebly.com

    I was originally an author (10 books, but don’t get much time now to write) who got very frustrated that so much writing was going unpublished.