Four Things Publishers Could Learn From Successful Self Publishers


Once upon a time self publishers were looked at with condescending eyes. Now they’re raking up sales and occupying so much space in social media that traditional publishers need to take stock of where their business is headed and where writing needs to go.

Everyone knows what’s wrong with self publishers, but what about what’s right? No harm learning from the enemy.

1. Time is Money

If you write a book for a traditional publisher chances are that it will take two years for the book to materialize into reality. A lot of things could happen in two years. Besides the regular changes in your life like getting married, having a baby or getting a new job, the market trends may change as well. Two years down the line a book of non-fiction, say a book on current affairs, will fail to gain traction.  That’s when you need the book to be published on time. A delay of two years makes a book like that irrelevant.

With Indies, you cut down the number of middlemen and one minute you upload your book, the next it’s published. You’re in control of the situation and you get a relevant time-sensitive message out there. 

2. Market Directly

For long now the publishers have depended on distribution for familiarizing the readers with their books. Come to think of it, a bookstore evokes the feelings of love, respect, awe and admiration. Bookstores are considered a cornerstone of our culture.

But what about the publisher?

You may remember the name of the author and the bookstore you bought her book from. How many times do you remember the name of the publisher or imprint? Rarely.

Whatever branding the publishers have done, through imprints say, has also been directed more towards distributors and bookseller than readers.

It’s time to take a cue from Indies who are successfully disrupting the system by taking advantage of social media to make direct connection with their readers.

Whether it is through their blogs and websites, or newsletters, or speaking appearances, self-published authors depend on distribution to do just what it is meant to do – to distribute.

Marketing is their own job, as it should be, for publishers too.

You may say that traditional publishers have their act together. They work hard for their authors- prepare promos and work on the advertising part. They do but what they really need to be looking at is a direct connect with the individual customer.

Every potential reader is important.

So what should publishers keep an eye out for when it comes to marketing their authors?

They need to maintain an author page for their authors on their website. Amazon author page, fb page, twitter, Youtube, Goodreads are top drivers when it comes to getting more customer buzz. Newsletters also work especially since readers want to have contact with authors they love. Not to forget Tumblr and Google+. In this world of sprouting social media, no stone should be left unturned when it comes to an opportunity for visibility and connect with readers.

Another thing publishers should stay clear of is exclusivity- if you want mass sales, you can’t belong to an elitist club. That only discourages potential readers from buying your book. Publishers have to remember that at the end of the day they are trying to get their books out there to many readers, not a select few.

3. Series Sell (Cash on Loyalty)

It is established wisdom amongst Indies that series sell better than stand-alone books. It is not difficult to see why. In fact series go way back – think Sherlock Holmes and you know that we are in terrain that has a history.

Series cater to the short attention span that this generation is heir to.  There are many readers who wait with baited breath for the next instalment of their favorite character’s journey.

Series are great branding vehicles. Over a period of time, the reader is catapulted into a world that they grow to love. Fan clubs are born and merchandise is built around these characters. It is as commercial as literature can get.

It’s good for the authors when they create a fan base and it’s good for publishing houses too.

4. Use Technology; Don’t Get Stumped by It

Self-publishers are not all techies. But they have figured out ways to use technology to their advantage.

Too many people are trying to do too many things when it comes to technology . There is the risk of burning your fingers badly if you go wrong but turning a blind eye to tech changes is not a good idea either.

New ways of sourcing content, book creation, book consumption, and distribution are some of the changes that self-publishers have capitalized on and traditional publishers have overlooked for longer than they should have.

Why aren’t more publishers selling their e-books directly to the customers? Agreed, they may be unwilling to develop the entire infrastructure from scratch for selling e-books, but experiments could have been done by using service providers like e-junkie.

Why has something like Kindle Worlds not come from the publishers who might be sitting on the rights of many more interesting books and characters?

Online retailing, e-books, enhanced e-books, publishing workflow management software, tablets and e-ink readers, smartphones, e-book libraries are all technological changes that publishers need to keep an eye on.

A lot of promising technology never becomes commercially viable, true of publishing and any other industry as well. Even amongst viable ones what works for adult literary fiction will differ from what works for children’s books or for that matter textbooks. Publishers need to do their homework. Just like they have developed an expertise of what books will work in the market, they also need to have the expertise to understand what technologies to try and adopt.


Indies have already taught the traditional publishing industry a few things about the importance of giving the writer more creative control. More focus on delivering the goods faster, marketing, cashing in on loyalty and creation of smarter web-centric systems can revive the publishing industry.

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