Transcript: Book Business Set to ‘Transform and Roll Out’

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The Four Paths to Publishing
Interview with Keith Ogorek, Author Solutions

For podcast release Tuesday, December 25, 2012

KENNEALLY: You can almost hear Optimist Prime making his call to action: transform and roll out. Across publishing, once an industry virtually unchanged for centuries, revolutionary transformation is under way. Instead of an industry reliant upon middlemen and suppliers, publishing is becoming a service consumers can purchase.

Hello, and welcome to Copyright Clearance Center’s podcast series. My name is Christopher Kenneally, host of Beyond the Book. As part of our continuing coverage on the upheaval and innovation that digital self-publishing has brought to the book world, we turn again to Keith Ogorek, senior vice president, marketing for Author Solutions based in Bloomington, Indiana. Welcome back to Beyond the Book, Keith.

OGOREK: Thank you, Chris. Good to talk with you again.

KENNEALLY: We’re happy to have you join us. We’ll update people on Author Solution, which has a variety of self-publishing imprints, AuthorHouse, AuthorHouse UK, iUniverse, Palibrio, Trafford Publishing, and Xlibris. You’ve helped more than 150,000 authors to self-publish, promote, and bring their works to market, totaling over 190,000 such titles. And through strategic alliances with leading trade publishers, Author Solutions makes it possible to develop new literary talent and provide authors with a platform to bring their books to market.

In June 2012, Penguin acquired Author Solutions from Bertram Capital for $116 million, and according to a company statement reported at that time, Author Solutions generated $100 million in revenue in 2011 and has grown at about 12 percent per year for the past three years.

So, very much a growing concern and at the center of this revolution that we’ve been chatting about on Beyond the Book so much this year, 2012, which is the self-publishing revolution, and Keith, you say that this is one of the best times in history for authors and readers. Before we talk about a new white paper you just published, what do you mean by this is the best time for authors?

OGOREK: If you were an author even as recent as maybe 20 years ago, the opportunity you had to get published was very limited in the sense that you had one path that you could pursue. You had to find an agent, and that agent had to be sold by you to represent you, and then that agent had to resell your book to a publisher, which meant that there was more supply than there was demand.

I remember 10 years ago I was at a writers conference and the keynote speaker, who was herself a very successful published author, stood up and said to the audience, you know that most of you will never get published. And you should have heard the just deep sigh in the room.

Well, roll forward 10 years later and I heard a similar author in terms of experience stand up in front of a room and say, now, every one of you can get published because of the opportunities that have been created through self-publishing and still through traditional publishing.

KENNEALLY: Right. That is really remarkable. Those 10 years, as you say, have seen such a tremendous amount of change.

You’re the author of a new white paper, The Four Paths to Publishing, and you’ve just spoken about one of the paths we’ll get to in a minute, traditional publishing, but there are four that you identify, and I wonder if you could kind of walk us through those four and what the pros and cons are. In the paper itself, at least, you start with what you call DIY publishing, do it yourself.

OGOREK: Sure. And one of the things I think is important to remember is that right now, there’s a lot of confusion out there for authors, so one of the reasons why I wrote the white paper is this is a way to sort of frame up what options you have.

The first option is what I would call DIY, which is there are upload tools out there. Booktango is an example of one, Smashwords is an example of one, Lulu’s an example of one, where all you have to do is upload your manuscript and use their engine to create some kind of format that will be distributed.

It’s DIY because really, you’re doing everything yourself. There’s an illusion that that option is free. It is free, actually, to upload, but it’s very rare that a free book is going to be very good, because you’re going to have to invest in some editing, usually, and some marketing.

A key thing that you want to think about there is that it is an opportunity for you to get your book into the market fast, and usually it doesn’t require a lot of investment. It will require some. The downside is, you really want to consider your distribution options when you do DIY because depending on which tool you use, you may not be able to get your book distributed to all the platforms.

The other thing that you’ll want to be conscious of is if you need to find some incremental services to help your book get better and make it as good as it can be for the market, a lot of the suppliers don’t have those kinds of services, so you’re going to have to go outside of that upload tool to find what you need.

So that’s the DIY option.

KENNEALLY: Right. And what’s interesting about this is it really does come down to what the author’s goals and expectations are, and that will determine, I think, how much time, how much money they care to invest in the particular project.

OGOREK: Correct. And that’s one of the things at the end of the white paper that I make clear is that you really want to be clear on what your goals and expectations are, which is one of the things you touched on. You really want to be mindful of what your own skills and experiences that you have, because one of the scariest things I often hear from authors is when they begin the sentence, my daughter is an illustrator, because usually that means they’re going to probably maybe try and use their daughter’s artwork for the cover of their book, and I’m sure there are some people who have children who are great artists, but many of them are probably not book designers. So you want to invest in someone who knows what they’re doing in that particular market.

The other thing you need to really consider is what time commitment can you make, and I think there’s a tradeoff. You can do things much cheaper certain ways because you can invest the time. I always use the analogy that you can build a deck yourself on the back of your house, or you can pay someone to do it. You better know what you’re doing from a skills and experience standpoint, but you also need to have the time to be able to do that.

And then obviously, the last thing is budget. You want to be realistic. Publishing is not a lottery ticket. It’s a commitment that you make to impact people through your writing, so you want to be wise in terms of the money that you have to invest.

KENNEALLY: Right. And as we talk about the other paths to publishing, as you call them, there is no correct path. There is no one true way. It really does come down to how you weigh all those various factors and how much time you have and how fast you want to see something published. So, DIY could work in one instance for one author. For the same author, it could be better to go down the traditional publishing route.

OGOREK: Absolutely. And the other thing that I think that’s really important to remember is different projects may require different paths.

There’s one example that I often think of. There’s an author that has used one of the self-publishing imprints of Author Solutions to publish a book on how to work with middle school children. He’s actually been a very successful teacher and he does training all over the place based on that book.

When he does his training, he created a workbook that essentially is just a bunch of Word documents that needed to be bound together. So he published the book through one of the imprints so the book was as good as it could be. He actually used a DIY solution for the workbook because it just doesn’t need to look that great. It’s sufficient for it to be able to come out of a DIY solution.

Again, I always think of him because he used two paths to accomplish two different goals, both of which have made him very successful in that market.

KENNEALLY: That’s interesting. We are chatting with Keith Ogorek at Author Solutions, and path number two in your white paper is to act as a general contractor and hiring specific individuals to handle some of these tasks. Take us through that.

OGOREK: Yes, that’s what I consider the second path. The great thing about this path is that even 10 years ago, this didn’t exist. The only way that you could really get access to really good design talent or really good editors or people who were building websites was if you worked through a traditional publisher.

But as traditional publishing has changed and evolved, a lot of these people have now begun to become experts in a particular area and their services are available for hire. You yourself can serve as a general contractor, or there are even people who are becoming what I would call general contractors themselves. They’re billing themselves as publishing consultants and they’ll coordinate all that activity for you.

Again, there are a lot of really talented people out there that you can access, but again, you’re going to need the time to be able to coordinate all those activities.

One of the things that I think is interesting and I wanted to come back to, which is a point you made just a few moments ago, Chris, is that this is the time where you should choose the best option based on the project you have. What sometimes is happening in the culture right now is there are people who are strong in DIY or they’re strong a general contractor, and the way they portray it for authors is this is the only way to do it, and if you do it any other way you’re foolish and stupid and I’m the smartest person.

I’ve seen this attitude sort of pervade in writing conferences, and I completely see it differently. I think in some cases, DIY is the best option. If you have the time and you know exactly what you want for your project and you know how to get talent organized, then a general contractor path can serve you well in helping you accomplish your goal.

KENNEALLY: Right. And the point you make about the general contractor role and hiring these various individuals reminds me of a guest we had on the program back in the summertime who described the way publishing is changing as a parallel path with the way that the film industry changed. At one point, there were big studios and back lots and lots of people waiting to be put to work for any particular film that came along. Now in a movie project, they bring together the talent – the designers, the prop and set designers, obviously the actors and the writers and so forth. They all come together for that one project, and then they go away again and they might come back together in a different set for a different film. So it’s really interesting to see how across media this is a familiar pattern.

OGOREK: Yes. And if you’ve looked at any of the other white papers we’ve done – in fact, the first white paper I ever wrote was called The Next Indie Revolution, I-N-D-I-E, and it made the point that you’re making right there, and that is that what we’re seeing now in publishing first took place in film, then in music, and now it was just publishing’s turn for that. I wrote that back in 2009 and we’ve seen the same process that we saw in film and music now taking place in publishing.

But the interesting thing about that is, while the industry is transforming, the opportunity for authors is exploding. And the reason I say that is, when that change took place in film, it didn’t mean there was less opportunity for filmmakers. In fact, it created more opportunities and created more opportunity and choice for consumers.

The same thing happened in music. It didn’t mean there were less musicians and less bands available for consumers. It meant there was more opportunity for them to do that. And that’s what I think we’re seeing in publishing right now.

In some ways, we shouldn’t be surprised, because we have two models already to observe in terms of how this plays out into the marketplace.

KENNEALLY: Right. We’ve still got two more paths, so there’s quite a lot of choice here. There’s the publishing package, and finally, traditional publishing, which I guess we’re all rather familiar with. But tell us about the publishing package. That’s working with so-called author services companies, rather like Author Solutions.

OGOREK: Right. Again, a publishing package really is making it convenient for you to find all the services you need to make your book as good as it can be in one location, whereas DIY, you can probably get published, but you’ll have to find the services on your own, and general contracting, you have to find all the services and manage it by yourself.

A publishing package makes it convenient for you. You choose among a selection of options to find the best package of services that fits you. Price is always transparent, it’s not customized, and it allows you to get to market in a very quick and efficient way.

One thing that I find fascinating again, as I mentioned, is I sat on a panel a few months ago with a person who was a strong general contractor person and another person who is very strong and actually was the president of one of the DIY tools out there. Then it was myself, and then there was an author on the panel. The author on the panel was a woman who actually has three kids under 5 or 6 or some amazing task that she’s accomplishing. She was a stay-at-home mom. For her to find time to be a general contractor or to go find sources was just not possible, so she used a publishing package option, because it was the quickest efficient way for her to get into the marketplace.

Now, typically, you’ll pay more in a publishing package option than you would if you do DIY, but you might not pay any more than if you do it with a general contractor. It’s really a question of convenience and opportunity to get into the market quickly.

KENNEALLY: Finally, there is the tradition publishing path, the one that people are most familiar with, at least from the past, and there’s obviously some upside there of course, big names and big distribution and so forth. But that’s a business that, as you point out in the white paper, is also undergoing transformation and is shrinking so that the odds are diminishing of actually winding up with one of the Big Six, for example.

OGOREK: I think they are transforming and I think the opportunity is going to continue to exist in traditional publishers just like we saw where film studios continue to exist and big record labels continue to exist. It’s the way that they got their content and did their business model that changed.

And I think what has changed dramatically is these first three paths are all self-publishing paths. It’s an author investment of time and money that makes it possible, whereas before, the only way to a traditional publisher was through an agent. Now we know that agents and traditional publishers are finding books that they want to bring into their fold through these other three paths.

So the opportunity for an author to get picked up by a traditional publisher is changing as well. There may be a reduction in titles, but I think over time when you see things level out, you’ll see more opportunity for authors to get into the market, even through traditional publishers.

KENNEALLY: Certainly, as we said at the top, this is a good time to be an author. You’ll see your book out there in the world a lot faster and in a lot more different places than you ever might have only a few years ago.

We’ve been chatting with Keith Ogorek, who is senior vice president of marketing for Author Solutions, and we appreciate your joining us again on Beyond the Book, Keith.

OGOREK: Chris, I always enjoy having the opportunity to speak with you and address your listeners, and I hope this has been helpful to them. I know in the last few months as I’ve talked to people about the four paths, it’s helped them get some clarity in terms of at least what their opportunities are out there and then helped them make a decision about what’s the best way to get published.

KENNEALLY: Well, clarity is a good thing certainly at this particular moment when so much change and confusion is pretty rampant. Again, thank you Keith Ogorek.

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, find us on Facebook, and subscribe to the free podcast series on iTunes, or at the Copyright Clearance Center website, copyright.com. Just click on Beyond the Book.

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.