Transcript: A Golden Age for Self-Publishing?

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Interview with Keith Ogorek, Sr. Vice President Authors Solutions (Booktango.com)

For podcast release Monday, July 8, 2012

KENNEALLY: Bowker, the official ISBN agency for the United States and a leading provider of bibliographic information, released its annual estimate of title production in time for BookExpo America in June.

As widely reported in the media, annual traditional print book production in 2011 climbed to over 347,000 titles, a rise of 6% over 2010. Including so-called nontraditional books, such as public domain print-on-demand titles, the total was 1.5 million – half as many titles as were reported in 2010.

Welcome, everyone, to Copyright Clearance Center’s podcast series, Beyond the Book. I’m Christopher Kenneally. For the first time this year, Bowker’s numbers included self-published titles. By their count, ISBNs were issued to 124,000 such titles, 36% of the total traditional output. When self-published e-books are added, the title climbs to more than 211,000.

The wild growth in e-books and self-publishing has spurred a debate over the future direction of the industry. While some argue that the growing mountain of books makes it harder than ever for any single title to succeed, people like Keith Ogorek, author of 7 Secrets of Successful Self Published Authors, says that this time, our time, is the best time ever to be an author. And Keith joins me now from Indianapolis, in the offices of booktango.com. Keith, welcome to Beyond the Book.

OGOREK: Thank you, Chris.

KENNEALLY: We should tell people, Keith, that booktango.com is a new e-publishing division of Author Solutions, a name they may recognize, otherwise known as ASI, which has worked with more than 140,000 authors in the US and Canada, and published more than 170,000 titles through its various self-publishing imprints – AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Trafford, and Xlibris – as well as through strategic alliances with leading trade publishers, such as Thomas Nelson and Hay House.

ASI also has self-publishing imprints in the UK, Spain, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. Keith Ogorek is the company’s senior vice president, global marketing. He writes ASI’s Indie Book Writers Blog, and he is the author of three books, including the aforementioned 7 Secrets of Successful Self Published Authors, which he published with Booktango in April.

So Keith, with all of that as background, give us your view of things. I mean, why is now, 2012, the best time ever to be an author?

OGOREK: Well, I think that this is the best time to be an author because if you have a manuscript, you do not need to die with that manuscript in your drawer. You have more opportunity than ever before to get your manuscript into the hands of readers.

It wasn’t that long ago that the only way that you could get your book out into the marketplace is to work through an agent and then try and find a traditional publisher. And if they picked it up, you might get an advance, and then it might find its way into the market. And usually that process took quite a while.

But as new technologies have entered, and the Internet became an online distribution arm, and e-books just have proliferated, now as an author you really have three different opportunities, depending on your goals, your budget, and your talents, to get your book into the hands of readers.

You can choose a DIY option, like Booktango, and do it only as an e-book. You can choose an assisted self-publishing option, like some of the imprints that you mentioned that we are responsible for, like AuthorHouse or iUniverse or WestBow Press or Balboa Press. Or, you can still pursue the route of finding an agent and pursuing a traditional contract.

And the beauty of this is they’re not mutually exclusive. So we have examples of authors who have chosen first to self-publish, and then, as they built a platform and began to develop a following and generate sales, agents were attracted by that, found the book, repped it, and then actually they found a traditional publishing contract after that.

KENNEALLY: Well in fact, we heard about that from no less of an agent than Robert Gottlieb over at Trident, the major agency based in New York there. I mean, he goes through the titles on Amazon and elsewhere, the self-published titles, to look for his next authors. It’s kind of the slush pile, to use the old expression.

OGOREK: Yeah, it really is. And what we have found is, from my perspective, the change started to really take place among agents around two years ago. You know, we’ve been talking about the next indie revolution. And that’s how we’ve described what self-publishing is for authors and publishing, indie being i-n-d-i-e.

And we saw that first take place in film, where independent film producers and directors began, because of changes in technology and opportunities for distribution like Sundance, to get their films made and into the hands of viewers so that they might somehow develop a following. And then, as you know, traditional studios, which, you know, 20 years ago ignored Sundance, now go there with great fanfare, hoping to find the next great director or the next great story.

We saw the same thing happen in music, with Napster and iTunes and things like NoiseTrade, where bands began to develop their own albums, mix their own albums, and release them out and develop a following that way. And now we’ve seen the same thing happen in publishing. And that’s why we call this the next indie revolution. So it’s really an exciting time.

And what we’ve found is, a couple years ago – we have an opportunity, and I do, personally, a chance to speak at many of the leading conferences, and I really started to notice a change in view from agents about two years ago, when they began to say, you know, self-publishing isn’t going to kill your career. It wasn’t that long ago when they would tell an author, if you self-publish, you’ll kill your career.

And that is absolutely not the case. In fact, they look for authors who can build a platform, develop an audience, and write a good book. And that gives them even more powerful information when they’re going and trying to sell that title to a traditional publisher.

KENNEALLY: Right. I mean, if self-publishing is going to kill your career, I guess you have to tell that to Amanda Hocking and E. L. James and others like that, who have become bestsellers as self-published authors, and then moved on to working with the trade publishers.

We’re talking to Keith Ogorek, who is with booktango.com, a new e-publishing division of Author Solutions. And before we talk about what Booktango is up to, Keith, I want to ask you about where the publishers come in on this. Because indeed, ASI, Author Solutions, works with publishers as well as authors.

And you just laid out the case for why authors should rejoice that all these options are available to them. What’s the view of the publishers you work with? How are they handling this tremendous change?

OGOREK: Well, you know, like any business that’s going through a change, there’s both excitement and fear, I think is how I would describe it. But one of the things that we (inaudible) early on is the opportunity to have publishing agreements and self-publishing imprints with trade publisher Thomas Nelson. We did that in 2009. And what they have found now, as they’ve worked with us and developed these self-publishing imprints, like WestBow Press or Hay House and Balboa Press, is that it’s a great opportunity for them to expand the potential options they have for pickup.

And so they’re able to have the author make the investment initially, and in fact, just recently, we just announced – actually, announced yesterday – a fifth book from WestBow Press has actually been picked up. Nelson has actually picked up three of them. Actually, it’s the sixth book. And now Zondervan’s picked up one, and yesterday we announced InterVarsity Press picked up one.

So what traditional publishers are finding, and you used the term farm team, it really is becoming that. It’s a farm team for them to screen and vet authors, and for them to develop their craft. So I think you’re going to see more and more publishers become more interested in this. Because certainly, things like even Fifty Shades of Grey have woken up the publishing industry, that great books can come from a lot of different avenues.

KENNEALLY: Indeed. And as you say, the examples abound at this very moment. And I guess the question, then, is, in a market that’s exploding the way this is, with so many different offerings, what’s Booktango up to? How is it different? How is it approaching the challenge differently than others may be?

OGOREK: Well, Booktango really was born out of a need that we saw in the marketplace. Clearly, we’re a leader in assisted self-publishing. But what we saw is there was a certain type of author who really was interested in just doing a do-it-yourself e-book to start out in their publishing career.

And as we did our market research, what we found is that there were applications out there that allowed that to happen, but they had some frustrations and limitations. They either were very difficult to actually upload your document and really see that it’s going to turn out as a great file, or the second thing is, is they had limited distribution.

And so what we thought is we could build an application that was easy to use, and made it very, very fast, for someone to actually correct the errors that they might have in their document prior to submitting it to publication on their own, or they would be able to have us do that for them very quickly and very inexpensively. And then the other thing is, then once your book is done, rather than just have it limited to one device, we distribute to every e-reader, and so your book gets the widest distribution. It’s the fastest, easiest way to get it done.

And then on top of that, as we looked at the marketplace, we saw there was an opportunity to give authors the most money on all the e-book sales. And that’s what we announced recently, that that was something that we were interested in doing.

KENNEALLY: Well, let’s talk about the business model, so everybody listening can understand. If we’re going to use the app, as I’ll call it, for Booktango, as an author, or anybody for that matter, that’s all free. Where does Booktango make its money? What kind of offerings do you have?

OGOREK: Well, one of the things that we’ve learned also in our research is that you can have an e-book, but if it’s buried on the Kindle Store and no one can find it, it’s like a tree falling in a forest. It doesn’t make a noise. So what we’ve done is we’ve created a range of services that allow e-book-only authors to really do a couple key things. One, we offer services that allows you to do whatever you want to pre-publication. So if you want to fix your errors, it’s a very easy application to do that. But if you want us to do it for you, we’re glad to do that.

The other thing is we have editing services, copyright services. And one of the things that, if you read my book 7 Secrets of Successful Self Published Authors, you’ll find, is I really, really highly recommend, no matter how you publish your book, you get it edited. Because one of the criticisms that’s been leveled at self-published books is they’re bad books. And they might not be badly written, but they certainly, in many cases, are badly edited, because a lot of times authors don’t think they need to have that expense. But I highly recommend that.

So Booktango offers that full range of pre-publication services, but then we offer services that allow you to promote your book. And we have some what you would think are pretty standard things, like press releases and things like that. But we really have some unique things that no one else offers.

We introduced recently something called BookStub, which is actually a way for you to do a book signing or promote your book to someone that you might be next to in a grocery store or on a plane, because it’s a little card about the size of a credit card. It has the cover of your book, and on the back side, there’s a code that allows someone to go to booktango.com/bookstub and put in a code, and download a free copy of your book.

And then we also have introduced an online book-signing event, which really, I think, is going to be an exciting thing for authors. We’ve actually, in our normal product launch process, done some tests with authors, and it works out really well. And how that works is, you would be one of four authors featured on a online book signing.

And in that event, you would participate as you would in a go-to-webinar or go-to-seminar environment. People would register, they would sign on, they would watch the webinar, and in that, the moderator would interview the authors. And so you’d learn about the authors, and their books, and why they wanted to write. And then, through a chat window, you have the opportunity to ask the authors questions. And at the end of that time period, which is usually about 45 to 60 minutes, everyone who attends the online book signing gets a free copy e-mailed to them, a BookStub of the authors who are on the event.

So it’s a way for you to very economically develop a following, and develop a groundswell for your book. And as I said, we’ve done some tests with some authors, and what we’ve found is they’re just thrilled. And, you know, if I go to the L.A. book fair, the Miami book fair, I can do book signings and meet people. But how do I do that if I have an e-book? Well, an online book signing with BookStub allows that to happen. And it really gives you all the great things that you would experience in an in-person book signing and just translates it to an online event.

KENNEALLY Yeah, I think that’s the point, which is that people need to start thinking about how to take what we know from the brick and mortar world of bookselling and apply it to the online world.

OGOREK: Right.

KENNEALLY: And there’s one way of doing it. The other thing that happens for authors, Keith Ogorek at Booktango, is they find themselves in business now, when they become self-published authors. They’re not just writing. They actually have to do the publishing piece, and that’s real work. So I understand that Booktango has just released a new sales tracking and royalty reporting suite. And I guess the point there is that this is the kind of information that’s going to help the marketing program as it rolls forward.

OGOREK: Yeah, exactly. So one of the things that we think we have – and again, competition is always improving things at the same time we are, but the book reporting suite is really a great and easy way for authors to track where their books are being sold, and what their royalties might be, and if they’re selling more through one particular distributor or not. And it’s very simple to log on. There’s an author center, you can just do it online. You can check it literally 24/7, anywhere you can get an Internet connection. So it helps an author to stay informed.

And the point you made earlier about the authors being in business is a really important one. And again, I touch on this in my book, because I’ve just had so many conversations with self-published authors, and one of the things that they often don’t realize is your marketing plan is as important as your manuscript. And so you really need to think about that, even as you’re writing, beginning with who’s the audience for your book.

And what I’ve found is authors who have that mindset going in, knowing who their audience is and how they might connect with them, and where they might find them, and then have a plan to do that and connect with those people, usually find self-publishing to be a very satisfying experience, whether they use the DIY option or whether they use a assisted self-publishing option and end up with a print book.

That, I find – assuming you’ve got a good book and it’s well written and edited and things, and it’s a subject matter that’s interesting, if you have an audience and a marketing plan, you’ve got a good chance for being successful.

KENNEALLY: Finally, Keith Ogorek, as author of this 7 Secrets of Successful Self Published Authors, can you tell us one of the secrets?

OGOREK: Sure. Well, I’ll tell you the most important secret. I’ve given you two already. The first secret is – I’ll give you three – the audience. You got to define your audience. That, I find, is the most important thing for an author. One of my favorite examples is I asked a person one time, an author, who’s the audience for your book? And he very seriously answered, every man, woman and child on this planet. And while I appreciate his ambition, there’s no way that he can ever develop a plan to do that.

And then the other thing that I will say, the difference between traditional and self-published authors is – and none of these things are really that phenomenal when you think about them – but the other thing is, set a deadline for yourself. Believe it or not, when you work with a traditional publisher, an acquisition editor’s going to give you a deadline, you’re going to write to that. One of the things I find is, self-publishing authors, their books linger and their manuscripts linger because they haven’t set a deadline for themselves.

Sometimes it can be an artificial deadline, like a birthday or an anniversary or a family reunion. Or sometimes it can be something like a speaking engagement, or a book signing that you want to get scheduled around a holiday or something like that. But that’s real important.

And the 7 Secrets book, it’s 99 cents on Booktango. So if your listeners are interested, they can definitely get a copy, and I think they’ll find it helpful.

KENNEALLY: I like the idea that setting a deadline is as important as anything. And as a former freelance writer, I know that deadlines were what really got me to the desk. So Keith Ogorek from Author Solutions and Booktango, he’s the senior vice president for global marketing there, thank you so much for chatting with us today.

OGOREK: Thanks a lot, Chris. Appreciate the opportunity.

KENNEALLY: Beyond the Book is produced by Copyright Clearance Center, a global rights broker for the world’s most sought-after materials, including millions of books and e-books, journals, newspapers, magazines and blogs, as well as images, movies and television shows. You can follow Beyond the Book on Twitter, like Beyond the Book on Facebook, and subscribe to the free podcast series on iTunes, or at our Web site, copyright.com/beyondthebook.

Our engineer is Jeremy Brieske of Burst Marketing. My name is Christopher Kenneally. For all of us at Copyright Clearance Center, thanks for listening to Beyond the Book.

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