In 2003 I published my first short story Gnaw in a literary journal called Southword. The story was shortlisted for the Seán Ó Faoláin competition by the late David Marcus. It was a big deal at the time and still is. I never met David Marcus but I hope he’s drinking fine wines in heaven. Today the story sits in on my shelf, dust gathering. The story is what I’d call in work a ‘legacy title’ or what the industry calls ‘backlist.’
One of my tasks in my day job is to make ebooks out of a ‘backlist’. I adore this work. It’s the closest I get to campaign on behalf of the author, an out-of-print author sometimes, while at the same time make-good the digi-archive I’ve worked meticulously on for years (in a previous life I was an archaeologist which explains my love for preservation). It also gives me fuel to re-imagine an author’s content in a digital context. This may also mean re-purposing their content to suit how Generation X/Y, Millennials and upcoming ‘Digital Natives’ expect to engage with content.
So to recap, in my job I get to extend an author’s shelf-life, potentially make sales for them where sales would never happen, in territories previously inaccessible and in ways that a 2k-plus print run with a finite life-span could never do. All this without the horror of returns, pulping and the inevitable ‘OP’ = Out of Print.
A recent study showed how the Indie/self-published authors were holding their own against the ‘Big Five’ publishers when it came to non-fiction category in ebooks (ref to follow). We already know how powerful the self-pubs can be in fiction in this area. They campaign rigorously, they don’t have a hundred different authors on their list, and they are genuinely part of their product’s sales ‘DNA’, they ARE the business. The Indie publisher too with a smaller list and possibly being a ‘one-man-band’ has less diversity and more incentive to sharpen digital tools. In short, self-pubs and digi Indies are possibly more focused and opportunistic than med-bigger publishers when it comes to digital because they have no choice not to be.
From a production/editorial POV, my particular bread and butter, the indie/self pub crowd are enviably more innovative, self-empowered and by now have a better handle on technology. They understand serialisation of titles, agile publishing, smaller bite-sized content that can be consumed by people who read on device. In digital marketing too, they may have the edge because digital marketing goes hand-in-hand with data analysis; something traditional print publishers are new to. When you look at a svelte publishing model like Orchard Wall Publishing you realise that the hands-on for an ebook publisher is very different to that of a hybrid/print publisher who ends up unwittingly and through no fault of their own in a ‘Jack of all trades, master of none.’ situation. The question for med-large publishers is not only how to sell books online as a discipline in its own right using intelligent metadata and data analysis, but also how to harness, or simulate, the ‘neurotic power of the individual’ (term supplied by author and metadata specialist Ian Flitcroft).
Going back to the ‘killing three wild boars with one stone’ dilemma in my last post I asked myself: How can I as a person working in a medium-sized publisher harness the neurotic power of the individual on behalf of that publisher, on behalf of the authors, on behalf of myself who walks a fine-line between author, producer and publisher? There are only so many hours in the day. Plus I need to write my own book and study at the same time to keep up with the changes in the industry.
It occurred to me that that fine-line was not an obstacle but an opportunity. What if I was to do my own digi indie/self-pub ‘start-up’ beginning with the story Gnaw I mentioned above? The content is peer read, copyright owned by myself. It’s a cheap, time-efficient way to test the waters. What if I ran it through the KDP process, or…took the other model for a different learning curve ie published outside the Amazon ecosystem? If I could do this I could be asking the questions I have as a producer, publisher, editor AND writer and getting more answers.
Can it be done? I think so. Three wild boars with one stone? Yes. Time? Well, put it this way, some colleagues spend a good part of the weekend on the golf course. I don’t do golf. I do THIS, and the bonus is I can do this at odd social hours so I still get to hangout with my family on a Saturday. And that is a bonus that can’t be valued in currency.