Month: May 2017

Changing my mind about Self-publishing Part 4: intake to the alternate Publishing Path

First Contact

Simply getting accepted into the program in the first place is not easy—by design.

The acceptance process must assure any book that gets an imprint’s backing is of the highest quality—and nothing less—then it must assure that it has a market, and finally acknowledges that the book actually sells once in the market. First, the publisher must be able to identify not only superior quality writing, if even in the rough, but discover if the author can and will commit to making the book the best it can be. Next, since selling more books is the ultimate goal, the process needs to determine if there is a market for the high-quality book, and that the writer will work in partnership with the imprint to sell it. Finally, the book must prove itself: it needs to actually sell.

The first two parts of the acceptance process happen before a book sees print and started with the author signaling iUniverse that he or she is writing a book with the intention of selling it: When authors request help publishing a book, they fill out an intake questionnaire. The questionnaire asks about the author’s reasons for publishing, as well as the writer’s expectations. If the author indicates that the book is intended for sale in the market with the goal of competing against offerings from Traditional Publishers, he or she gets more questions about the book itself, such as genera, and the author gets probed more deeply as well, about his or her intent, will and capabilities. It’s a very simple vetting to get books started on the correct path at the start and sort out books that might have potential for the program.

Once that questionnaire gets completed, things get more serious: Money becomes involved. Based on what can be gleaned of a writer’s intent for publishing a book, and the kind of book to be published, different sets of plans are offered. Because I intended A Perfect Blindness to compete in the market against traditionally published titles, I got a call, and we talked much further about my specific goals, and then a bit about the different publishing plans iUniverse offers to get the book started toward these goals.

After the call, my contact at iUniverse sent over a selection of three packages that fit what we discussed.

Part 3: Changing my mind about self-publishing: How to Signal con’t

So without denigrating everything else it publishes, how does a self-publisher clearly signal an assurance of superior quality to booksellers, critics, bloggers and readers? The publisher of A Perfect Blindness iUniverse uses a special recognition program, starting with the “Editor’s Choice” designation, moving on to “Rising Star” and culminating with the “Star” designation. So, while all books from iUniverse are published under the iUniverse imprint, some include modifications and additions to the imprint’s colophon. These designate that the book has some special quality.

Each of level of special recognition makes unique changes to the standard iUniverse colophon, which appears on the book’s back cover. This puts the most obvious element of the signaling package on the book itself. Each designation then has its own special sections of the iUniverse bookstore exclusively for these high quality books, reinforcing the signaling on the book itself. Each level of the program, which builds upon the previous, gives the author access to special support resources and promotion through iUniverse’s own social media channels. Any book reaching at least the “Rising Star” designation initiates iUniverse to prepare a sales package for Barns & Noble, which then considers the book for possible inclusion in their brick and mortar stores in addition to their online marketplace. In other words, iUniverse starts spending its own time and money backing the book.

But this happens only after a book makes it into the program, and how much support depends on how high on the ladder of designation the book climbs in the program.

Simply getting accepted into the program in the first place is not easy—by design.

Next time: the hurdles.

Part 3: Changing my mind about self-publishing: How to Signal

To signal certain books are of especially high quality, self-publishing companies must handle two broad problems.

First, their high quality books must overcome the same stigma self-published authors must: if a book “couldn’t” get a “real” publishing deal, what’s the matter with it? Certainly this prejudice has been abating of late, and in fact, many authors now don’t even bother with the Traditional Publishing Path in the first place, so it’s not always a question of ability but desire to go the traditional route. Still, if a self-publishing company vouches for a book, it can ill afford backing a bomb, or even a mediocre book: That would simply reinforce the image of self-published books as inferior, as books that couldn’t make it the “real” way, which in turn would hobble the publisher’s ability to make money actually selling the books they publish.

In other words, if a publisher gets behind a book, it has to make absolutely sure it really is that good: a publisher’s not only protecting their brand but the business model of a whole class of publishing.

Second, how can a self-publisher, which by definition publishes whatever it gets paid to publish (with some exceptions)—including books that are not meant to be sold, or that are poorly written and rushed into print without so much as a proofread—legitimately signal that particular books are in a class above everything else it publishes?

A publisher might choose to have a unique imprint for these special books, such as Little, Brown and Company is for Hachette. But doing so would imply that everything else it publishes isn’t up to a certain level of quality. Not something most would be keen to do: few authors wish to be stuck with an imprint known for inferior quality books and might publish elsewhere, just as many readers might turn up their noses at books from such an imprint. Further, that would sever the best books from their main brand, which would dilute the perception of the overall rising quality of self-published books by cordoning off the best as exceptions and leaving the rest to wallow in old biases, justified or not.

So without denigrating everything else it publishes, how does a self-publisher send a clear signal that booksellers, critics, bloggers and readers would recognize as an assurance of superior quality?