Publishing a book has never been easier. For would be authors that is good news. With the means to upload your manuscript and self-publishing it literally anyone can become an author. But there are some other, intangible factors making two questions key in the process. 1) Do you believe you’re an author? 2) Does the public believe you’re an author?
The ease with which books can be published has created degrees of authorship. Technically, the act of making a book available for the public to read makes one an author. A professional author makes at least a portion of his or her living form selling the books he or she writes. A successful author makes the majority of his or her living from writing. A best selling author is someone whose book reaches and maintains high ranking on a list of best selling books, whether by genre, class, time period or other consideration. So clearly just becoming published, whether it is self fulfilled or executed through a publisher, is only the initial step. The reader’s buy-in literally makes a difference in whether a writer is effectively an author.
There is a question about the legitimacy of self-published books. Some of that carries over from the past when vanity presses would publish any book for a fee. Critics refused to read such offerings and largely the process existed for writers to print personal memoirs to be shared with friends, family members and colleagues. However, in some cases, certain authors used vanity presses to print their manuscripts that major publishers rejected for whatever reason and sold them personally in much the same way as books were produced and marketed in the 19th Century. A few authors have gained the attention of literary agents and major publishers from bonafide sales of self-publoished works. This process continues even today.
Major publishers may see themselves as gate keepers charged with filtering the variety and volume of books to find those fit to print. But there are countless examples of books major publishers rejected that have gone on to be insanely popular, just because the publisher worried about the controversial nature or the material or failed to see its marketability. The single fact is that the five major publishers do not know what the reading public will like. They guess, same as anyone else.
What major publishers traditionally offer are editing, cover design, promotion and distribution services. Also they lend the company’s brand name, image and prestige as a badge of quality for the produced work – whether perceived or real. In many cases the quality component of their offerings comes from the simple process of professional editing.
Other services major publishers offer can be obtained in other ways… for a fee. Anyone can contract professional cover designer and arrange for appropriate channel distribution to have a book listed for bookstores and libraries. Promotional services can be purchased through contract with established marketing firms specializing in specific media that offer publicity and advertising in trade publication as well as general print and broadcast channels. Tech savvy authors may develop a personal following through social media and use that to leverage an initial pop for sales for a new release. As major publishing houses control over the industry has continuously eroded more and more authors weigh the value of their services and decide whether to do more of the work themselves and reap the rewards of higher royalties.
From a reader’s perspective the rise of self publishing has provided millions of new titles that might never otherwise exist. But with the plethora of material out there the reader may be at a loss for which books to choose. The book cover and description become all the more important in the decision process. Reviews, recommendations and other factors such as previous purchase experience matters as well. If a reader has an overall positive experience the author may gain a new fan. Also the reader may effectively recruit other readers for an author through word of mouth recommendations and a fan base may begin to grow. But if the reader’s experience is bad it will be difficult for an author to regain lost trust. Also the negative word of mouth may spread and quickly destroy the author’s chances in the market place. The recent addition of try before you buy programs offering samples of books or allowing the actual borrowing of a book help counter the hesitation in the buying process. But still, it is the quality of the book that will close the sale.
From a consumer perspective the cover and description may be critically important in making a purchase decision, but the quality of the reading experience always determines the success of the book. If there are numerous errors, whether lapses in editing, misspelled words or critical flaws in the plot, the reader may forego reading the balance of a book and move on to something more appealing. This is why every author, whether self published or working with a publisher, needs to have a professional editor. Any author who believes that he or she can edit his or her own book is foolish. Regardless of editing or basic proofreading skills when dealing with other peoples’ works it is a proven fact that when working with one’s own writing an author tends to see what should be there as opposed to what is actually there. For the reader, coming across a glaring mistake interrupts the flow of reading and breaks the suspension of disbelief necessary for complete immersion into the contrived reality of a book.
If you are to become a successful, best selling, professional author, you must have a supportive fan base that loves your books. Your readers validate you as an author, not how the book was processed and made available for purchase. Without loyal readers your status as an author is questionable.
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