A Little about Where Evolved Publishing Fits into the Grand Industry Scheme — by Lane Diamond, Managing Publisher/Editor
As a publisher, we recognize that we have two distinct audiences out there: those who would be a part of this industry, and those who just want good books to enjoy. This article will speak primarily to the former, though certainly everything we do affects the latter. Given the tendency of this industry to change every 15 minutes, I will occasionally pop back to this piece to update it, making it a kind of constant guide. If it seems like the right time to engage in such discussions, I’ll be back.
Fair Warning: You might want take that BRB and freshen-up that cup of coffee before you continue. We have much to talk about.
Who is Evolved Publishing?
We think of ourselves as a small press. No, we don’t pre-print and inventory books, choosing instead to use the fine print-on-demand (POD) services provided by Lightning Source, a division of Ingram. According to some others, we would best be considered a “Partnership Publisher,” though not all Partnership Publishers are created equal. For example, we focus heavily on bringing to bear the power of the full team in our day-to-day operations; we maintain open and constantly accessible lines of communication with our team; and we engage our readers and fans on a daily basis.
Sadly, there are those in the industry – members of the old guard – who look upon our model and say, “Hey, you’re not really a publisher.” Why? Because we have the audacity to try something new, something more suited to the new market paradigm. Because we’re crazy enough to think that a model in which publishers print and inventory books, then distribute them, then get a high percentage of them returned for credit and/or disposal, is just plain nuts. Most retailers, schools and libraries, in most countries of the world, have access to our books through their distributor.
Furthermore, we have extremely tight editorial guidelines (just ask any of our authors), which I would put up against anyone in the business – and yes, I do mean anyone. We produce top-rate covers (just look at the bottom of THIS PAGE), our children’s picture books are beautifully illustrated and well-written, we’re producing audio books, and we’re translating our books into foreign languages (French, Italian, Spanish, and more to come) and pursuing opportunities in those markets. Those last two categories will expand significantly as 2014 and 2015 progress. And of course, we continue to grow the team, bringing on new authors, editors, artists/illustrators, translators, and we continue to partner with new audio book producers/narrators.
Okay, I admit that I get a little sensitive when someone – always one of the old dinosaurs – says we’re not a real publisher. They’re behind the times, and I have faith that they’ll catch up eventually. This industry tends to move at about the pace of a snail that’s been trapped in a glacier, so… someday.
For authors, we offer one of the most unobtrusive contracts in the industry, in which authors regain full rights to their work after just 7 years (this assumes they choose not to extend with us, which is their option, and which we try to make attractive and as much of a no-brainer as we can); and we pay royalties higher than most, if not all, in the industry (typically 69-77% of gross royalties paid by retailers). Why? Because it’s the author’s work, not ours. I know: crazy concept.
Furthermore, while we do not require authors to pay a single penny to publish with us (I feel as though I should repeat that over and over and over), we give them several options – more than they’re likely to find elsewhere. If they believe it’s in their best interest to pay a small up-front fee for some services (E.g. editing or artwork), in order to raise their royalty rate to levels as high as 81%, we make such options available to them. In short, we let the author decide what works best for their career goals, wherever we can.
Frankly, we prefer authors keep whatever money they have to invest in their business – and make no mistake, this is a business for them – to utilize it for such things as a professional website, personal brand marketing, contests/review sites, fan swag, book signings, etc. In this way, sales are maximized more quickly, and everyone on the project team benefits during the 7-year contract term.
We focus most of our energies on eBooks for one simple reason: we believe that’s where the greatest financial potential exists for us. Print books are dying a slow death, as the “Star Trek-ification” of America, and the world, is well underway – there’s simply no turning back technology. Nonetheless, so long as there’s a demand for print books, we’ll continue to produce high quality POD books, as paperbacks and/or hardcovers, which are available worldwide through Ingram and through Baker & Taylor. Of course, we’re also producing those audio books and foreign translations I mentioned earlier.
More information is available about us through various pages in our ABOUT menu at the top of the page, and throughout this website, which seems to expand weekly. We try to be an open book (no pun intended) about who we are and what we do, providing as much detail about what we do as we possibly can. We have nothing to hide. Indeed, we’re rather proud of the business model we’ve built here. So please… browse around.
Why Evolved Publishing instead of Self-Publishing?
Now I’d like to revisit a subject I’ve talked about in some length in the past: Evolved Publishing versus the Self-Publishing option. It’s possible some of you have already seen portions of what follows, although I’ve updated it to reflect changes over the last year, when last I spoke of it.
In all candor, we think of our primary competition as the self-publishing option, and we’ve modeled our business in such a way that we can compete fairly and attractively with that option, in order to attract the most talented authors. We have always recognized that we’d ultimately achieve success based on the quality of our team, and on the quality of the work that team produces. We’ve focused on building that quality catalog as quickly as possible, all the while remaining mindful that we must not compromise on quality… ever.
More than that, however, we gaze constantly into that crystal ball, opaque though it may be, to get a sense of where things are going, and to position ourselves out in front of the next wave. We try (the entire team) to keep our finger on the industry pulse, to identify new challenges and opportunities, and to determine the best way to adjust to the constant evolution of our industry.
Yep, we chose our name for a reason. The industry has evolved significantly over the past few years, but while the breakneck pace of that evolution may have cooled a bit, the changes continue to come at a fair pace. We believe that a perpetually evolving industry requires an open mind and a willingness to adjust rapidly. Publishers who fail to do so will suffer greatly, as will all who are affiliated with those publishers. This includes self-publishers.
Self-publishing enjoyed a boost in credibility after the eBook revolution made it easier, even financially attractive, to self-publish rather than pursue traditional methods. Some reputable authors chose the self-pub route with fair success, and soon everyone followed suit. No… really… I mean everyone. Based on the 8.2 trillion blogs to which I subscribe, the comments left there, the social media buzz, and the latest gossip from my neighbor’s poodle (he’s having a hard time selling his book), there are now approximately 4.3 billion self-published authors. Okay, maybe it only seems that way.
This David versus Goliath picture does not, as you might expect, represent us (small press publisher) versus them (the so-called Big 5 [used to be 6]). In fact, I intended it to represent them (self-pubbers) versus them (self-pubbers). Yep, individually, a self-pubber is the underdog, David. Collectively, they are the brute, Goliath.
As tens of thousands upon tens of thousands of self-pubbers flood the book markets with a tsunami of new material, authors and readers alike are shaking their heads and wondering, “What the devil is going on here?”
I’ll confess to something of a love/hate relationship with self-pubbers. I love their entrepreneurial spirit (for those who actually treat it like a business, which it is), their willingness to say, “Go spit!” to the train wreck that is traditional publishing (Hey, this is just me editorializing.), their daring attempt to walk the tightrope from which 99% plummet to their deaths. Yet I hate that such a high percentage of self-pubbers give short shrift to their profession, and publish substandard work.
I particularly love the self-pubbers who do it right: professional editing, professional covers, professional websites, professional self-promotion and marketing. Are you noticing a theme here? Unfortunately, even the professionals, given their self-publishing label, must suffer under the reputation driven mainly by the non-professionals. The early pioneers, and the traditional mid-listers who made the jump, have been able to defeat that reputation to some extent. The John Q. Nobodys lost in the sea of fellow John Q. Nobodys, however, have had less than stellar luck at combating the label.
Indeed, one of the reasons we formed Evolved Publishing in the first place, with an unwavering insistence that Quality is Priority #1, was that we didn’t want to be lumped in with people taking shortcuts. Let’s face it: a significant percentage of self-pubbers take shortcuts, and the people they probably hurt the most – aside from themselves, of course – are the self-pubbers doing it the right way: professionally.
Well, technically savvy book consumers have been figuring all this out, and their frustration has grown. Yet what is an indie author to do?
Don’t Rely on Fads
Well, we’ve learned a bunch in the past two and half years, not the least of which is that last quarter’s brilliant idea is this quarter’s old news – and next quarter’s Dodo Bird.
It has always struck me as ironic that in an industry driven by highly creative individuals, the business aspect of the industry is one giant exercise in, “Hey, let’s do what that guy did.” Someone finds something that works, and then tens of thousands – nay, hundreds of thousands – of people rush in to do the exact same thing.
We saw it with social media: Want to be a successful author? No worries. Just build a strong social platform and you’ll sell thousands of books.
We saw it with $0.99 pricing: Want to establish yourself as a mover and shaker in this marketplace? No worries. Just price your books at $0.99 and watch your career soar.
We saw it with Amazon’s KDP Select Free Days: Want to develop momentum for your book, and then sell thousands of copies afterward? No worries. Just put your book up for free for a day or two or five, and then watch your paid sales go through the roof. This fad started fading just four months in.
Indeed, we’re now seeing that today’s big idea fizzles within a few months, overwhelmed by the rush of untold thousands of people chasing the same pot of gold, only to find that when they finally close in on the end of that rainbow, the sun has set. Today’s ingenious marketing idea becomes little more than a fad. And fast.
Stick to the Basics, and Be the Best
Some things become increasingly clear every day:
- Quality Catalog: that simple concept drives the train. Without it, indie authors are sunk.
- Fads come and go, offering only short-term opportunities, but business fundamentals are forever.
- No one strikes it big with one book. Few do it with two or even three books. It’s a long road. This business we call writing is a slow grind – always has been – and it requires hard work, determination, and more than a little perseverance.
- Quality Matters: this should be first, second and third on everyone’s list. Staying power requires an absolute commitment to quality.
We all got caught-up in the excitement of the eBook revolution. We saw numbers by the early pioneers and thought, “Man, I want a piece of that!” Now, that excitement has dwindled considerably, people are coming back to reality, and the marketplace is reasserting itself.
Are there sufficient consumers to support 10,000 or more new authors every single year? No. At least, not if we mean by “support” that authors earn a comfortable living as authors, or even a reasonable part-time income sufficient to the work that goes into it. Already, self-pubbers have seen their sales numbers dwindle, and many have complained that they’re losing money, falling back into the old “Vanity Publishing” mode. Even some of the “stars” have been struggling to keep sales moving.
Indeed, even long-established pros have suffered the effects, dragged down by the entire market dynamic. The difference for them, of course, is their reputation, ready-made audience, and a staying power self-pubbers don’t have. As more consumers run away from self-pubbers, those old pros will be the first to benefit.
What does it all mean, and how do we counter it?
Frankly, we counter it by doing what we do, and by grinding it out for the long haul. We counter it by becoming those old pros.
Surviving the Mad Rush
The eBook revolution encouraged a mad rush into the marketplace by newcomers – a rush that hasn’t slowed a bit. Hey, now it’s easy and cheap – really cheap for those willing to compromise on quality, meaning the majority. The result? Writers first dumped tens of thousands, now hundreds of thousands, of substandard books into the marketplace, competing for a far-too-finite number of customers, selling for $2.99, then $0.99, and ultimately free, all in a desperate attempt to be that which they always dreamed of becoming: an author.
Yet those who succeed as authors have always been few – the true professionals producing high quality work – and despite the initial excitement of the eBook revolution, this will be true again.
If we are to be successful authors, we must continue to separate ourselves by providing books that aspire to and reach high professional standards. We must continue to write, each producing at least one book per year (two is a better goal, if you plan to do this for a living). We must continue to hone our craft, to learn, to keep our finger on the pulse of the industry we hope will support us. We must be professionals.
Part of that mad rush, of course, was the expectation that we were all immediately going to start selling thousands of books, making a mint, living the good life as authors. Well, now that we’ve all been dealt a dose of reality, we have an opportunity to take a deep breath, re-examine what we’re doing, and plan for the next positive steps.
Authors who make (net) even $5,000 their first year as authors are rarer than you might like to believe; nonetheless, it’s true even in the traditional publishing industry.
Most authors kick into second gear starting in year two, and then build speed through year three and beyond. This assumes, of course, that said authors continue to produce good work. This is nothing new; it’s always been that way. The problem, if we may call it a problem, is that so many thought the eBook revolution would change that, and bring us our riches more quickly.
Not so. It remains a process.
That’s one of the toughest things for writers to settle on: to stop worrying about what book one is doing, and get about the business of writing book two. Then, stop worrying about what book two is doing, and get about the business of writing book three. And so on.
In this age of instant gratification, and where most of us are accustomed to punching a clock or working on a regular salary, knowing precisely what’s coming in the next paycheck, it’s a hard thing to say, “Never mind that. Just get back to work.”
Yet history tells us that until you get at least book three or four to market, with each of those a quality product, you’re probably not going to make a living as a writer. Even then, if you must fight to establish your reputation because of who’s publishing (or not publishing) your books, the odds are against you. It also tells us that when you hit that stride, achieving your “overnight” success, the whole of your catalog will rise at once. In other words, if book three or four is your magic bullet, books one and two will also sell better from that point on. The rising tide carries all boats.
So don’t obsess over the fact that you’re only selling a copy or two a day (or less) of your first book. Obsess over completing your second book, and then your third book, and so on. And those numbers will rise. It’s not magic. It’s just the business.
Investing in Your Profession
I tread into this section with a warning: it may sound a bit preachy. Please bear with me.
As authors, we are all businesspeople. There’s no escaping that fact, so we must embrace it. That doesn’t mean you need to invest many thousands of dollars to get your career rolling. Indeed, I have my doubts about the potential payback of huge investments, if they don’t get you to your ultimate goal of a quality catalog. No business survives for long that invests $2 in order to gross $1.
However, there are things we can all do that will make a difference in the end, and we should do some of those things sooner rather than later – a quality website, for example, with a blog that offers interesting, funny, poignant, or informative content (all of the above is a dream come true). Do you need a bunch of bells and whistles? Well, that would be nice, but so long as it’s functional, clean and professional, it’ll do. If you can do more, you should.
Learn your craft. This is a profession, like so many others, that requires a continuing education. The moment you stop growing as an author, you start dying as an author. I’ve been studying this crazy craft for 35 years, and every time I learn something new, I realize I have much more to learn. Read about writing – not only for the instruction, but for the motivation. I’ve read some 90 books on the subject, and untold thousands of articles, and any time I feel I’m slipping into a rut, I search for another piece to help pull me out of it. I love these books for the way they re-energize me and kick me in the keester. You might even consider hiring a writing coach, someone who works one-on-one with you in way you simply can’t duplicate in school.
My only advice here is that you choose your sources carefully. Just because someone has published a book (let’s face it; anyone can do that nowadays), doesn’t mean they’re an expert. Follow recommendations and trusted sources. Of the thousands of blogs out there, for example, many are valuable, many are confused, and many are just plain wrong. For books on writing, for example, you would do well to start at a place like Writer’s Digest Books. I could also make any number of recommendations, as I do in the lower right margin of my personal Home page at www.LaneDiamond.com. For a writing coach, get references and get a free sample of what the coach can do with your work.
Read your genre, of course, but reach beyond that. Stretch your wings and fly through some other genres. Don’t skip the classics. You’ll learn a lot.
There! That wasn’t too preachy, was it? I just wanted to emphasize here that part of being a professional businessperson is keeping your finger on the pulse of your industry, and being an expert in your field. Doctors do it. Lawyers do it. Accountants do it. Well… you’re an Author, so just do it.
The Long Road
The market has undergone some rather severe adjustments, and will continue to do so. Frankly, many self-published authors are feeling the terrible squeeze. How do I know? Well, lots of them are blogging and commenting about it, of course, but more than that, a high percentage of the submissions we now receive are from previously self-published authors. Even those who have produced good work – well edited, properly formatted, professional cover – are struggling to sell even a few copies a month consistently.
It’s not surprising to us, really; after all, we formed Evolved Publishing precisely because we dreaded going down that self-publishing road, fearing where it would lead. Building a brand for “you” is hard work, but might it be easier if you co-branded with a reputable publisher? We think so, which is why we work hard to build the Evolved Publishing name on behalf of our entire team.
We must all be realistic about the hard work, dedication, and patience required to succeed in this business. Historically, precious few authors – even those published traditionally – succeed over the long haul. It’s far, far more daunting for self-publishers, where for every success story there are a hundred, or two hundred, or a thousand failures.
Even in the face of that, and although it’s impossible to provide guarantees in this business, I remain guardedly optimistic. The marketplace is still trying to sort itself out, suffering the shock of that tsunami of new authors and books. I believe that it will eventually find some semblance of equilibrium, and when that happens, authors who’ve developed a strong reputation for quality work, and who’ve built their catalog nicely, will be poised to prosper where others fail.
More self-publishers will be dying off as they fail to make any money, and decide that being a vanity publisher isn’t worth the time, energy, money, or heartbreak. I say that not with glee, for I wish sad tidings for no one. I say it merely to indicate what’s happening in the marketplace. Yet for every author who throws his hands up and says, “I give up,” two more are likely to step down that path and take their chances.
The technological bubble that was the eBook revolution burst for many because, like all economic bubbles before it, it grew too fast, too big, too out of control, and with no regard for natural market forces. One cannot change the fundamental laws of open-market economics, any more than one can change the universal laws of physics. The deflation has already started. That’s not to say there won’t continue to be excellent opportunities for those who survive. Indeed, I think there will be fantastic opportunities for those who do it right.
However, the market will continue to shake off any rapid excesses that form, and consumers will do what they’ve always done: they’ll find the true values, “value” being a variable ratio of quality-to-price (Value = Quality:Price).
Want to survive and prosper on this long road? Then give book buyers the value they demand for their hard-earned entertainment dollars. That’s the proposition we offer our readers.
As for you struggling or aspiring authors considering your next move, we at Evolved Publishing happen to believe that a well-coordinated team is likely to give us a better chance at success than trying to go it on our own. However, even if you choose to be that bold, daring entrepreneur blazing your own trail, just keep your eye on the prize, and remember that you must be the one thing too many in this business fail to be: professional. Then… write! And write some more. And never, NEVER compromise on quality.