Tag: The Medium is the Massage

Part 3: Changing my mind about self-publishing: Signaling con’t further

To signal some of their books as especially high quality, self-publishing companies must overcome 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, and in fact, many authors now don’t even bother with the Traditional Publishing Path at all, 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 publishers.

Second, how can a 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 get published without so much as a proofread—legitimately signal that a particular book is a cut above everything else it publishes?

Next up the iUniverse solution.

Going it Mostly Alone

iUniverse and the publishing path of the novel A Perfect Blindness

Part 2: Changing my mind about self-publishing

Cover proofs went to production Tuesday as planned, but a new concern bubbled up—about lyrics and fair use. When going over the proofs, I realized I had misremembered the lyrics of a song that was playing on a dance floor in the story. I corrected them in the proof and then realized: am I using too much? In researching how much text I can use from a song for it to be considered fair use under copyright laws, I discovered there are no hard rules: using one line of a song that has only one line of lyrics means using 100% of the song lyrics.


That got me worried as I remembered using, in one way or another, a fair amount of song lyrics in the book, either as the song itself plays in the background, or as someone says, thinks or speaks them. I asked iUniverse what the fair use rules were; they said if it’s only one or two lines, it shouldn’t be a problem, but asked me to send along a manuscript marked up with what concerned me. So yesterday, I prepared a version of the whole manuscript highlighting every lyric or line I could remember using, placing the referenced piece and the published lyric or line in a comment. While comparing the manuscript to the sources, I realized I only used a handful of actual lyrics verbatim, and then mostly attributed to the song and artist: other song lyrics are interpreted, referenced, or winked at. Still, I sent the prepared manuscript to my contact with hopes that I’ll need do nothing more: I interpreted source material or attributed just about everything, like a good boy.

Now back to the questions the end of the last post asked: How did it get this far? What made my change my mind about self-publishing?

In a word: technology. Specifically advances in creative tools, and in means of production and distribution; these latter two, writers have traditionally been forbidden access to.

First, advancements in personal computing have provided research, error correction and organizational tools, which has increased general writing quality, and thus many self-published works. Second, advancements in Desk Top Publishing software gave high quality and powerful tools to both authors and independent designers, enabling them to create high quality looking raw materials. This software along with increasing quality printers, and compact collating and binding machines lead to Print on Demand (POD) services. No longer did an author have to pay for a single, expensive type setting and then run as many books as he or she could afford, which then had to be shipped someplace, stored until sold, and then reshipped, each of these steps being paid for. If the book sold enough, and the author wanted additional printings, that would require another round of typesetting costs, printing, shipping and storing of at least a minimum run.

With POD, an author pays for (or creates for themselves) a single software type setting, such as in a PDF file, which can be used as often as needed, without extra expense. Then, when a book gets ordered and paid for, it gets printed on that demand, and shipped directly to the reader or bookstore: No minimum runs, no storage, no repeated typesetting fees, for one or a thousand or as many times the book is ever bought. These individually printed books are every bit as good as what Random House prints en masse. All it takes is a PDF version of the book, which an author can create on a home computer.

That is, if a book needs to be printed at all. Ever improving software, new gadgets and the Internet gave birth to a new form of book—the E-book. They are cheaper and easier to “publish” than paper books—requiring only a formatted file of the book and a way to read it—and are built for distribution via the Internet, which is where bookselling has been moving for decades: Jeff Bezos started Cadabra, the company that would become Amazon, in 1994.

This shift in particular has been decisive in the erosion of the differences between the two publishing paths and not merely for E-books.

Next post will dive into this new market place.