uPublish U at BookExpo America
Robert Gottlieb, Founder & Chairman, Trident Media Group Agency
Cindy Ratzlaff, President, Brand New Brand You Inc.
Jon P. Fine, Director of Author and Publisher Relations for Amazon.com
Christopher Kenneally, Director, Business Development, Copyright Clearance Center
Recorded at Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, New York City
Saturday, June 1, 2013
For podcast release Monday, June 17, 2013
KENNEALLY: Thank you indeed, Sally Dedecker and everybody for joining us today for uPublishU. Have you read the latest reports on the book publishing industry? You probably see news articles appearing in the media within the last week. BookExpo tends to generate plenty of copy, but no matter who’s doing the reporting, the headlines are always the same: Upheaval Predicted.
And the book business has you, the self-published author, to thank for that, I would say, so when we promised you with this opening keynote session that it is all about you, that’s what we’re going to deliver on.
According to Bowker, self-publishing is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the publishing industry with 211,000 self-published titles, based on ISBNs, released in 2011. That’s the latest figures, up more than 60 percent from 133,000 in 2010. So if my math is right, in the hour ahead, more than two dozen new books will appear and two dozen again an hour after that.
Even David Mamet the playwright is about to self-publish his next book. His last book, The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture with Sentinel sold well enough in 2011 to make the New York Times bestseller list. So why would he switch to self-publishing?
This is what he said. Publishing is like Hollywood. Nobody ever keeps their promises.
Figures are hard to come by as far as the ratio of self-publishing within the industry as a whole, but I want to recommend reporting that’s done by a colleague and friend of mine, Jeremy Greenfield at Digital Book World – you can check out his blogs and reports on Digital Book World – as well as another author who is self-published, a veteran self-published author, David Gaughrin. He has estimated that 25 percent of Nook sales are self-published e-books. This is figures he’s divined from reading between the lines of various press releases, and that according to Kobo, the international e-book device maker, self-publishers may have even grabbed a bigger piece of the market in some other countries outside the U.S.
And although Amazon is notoriously cloudy around sales figures, again, David Gaughrin has divined that probably something like 30 percent of the top-selling e-books on Amazon are self-published. Now, we’re talking unit sales there, so I want to make that distinction. But you get an idea of how important a segment of the industry self-publishing is.
To talk about all of this, I want to turn to my panelists. I’ll introduce them first. To my left is Jon Fine. John, welcome. Jon is director of author and publisher relations for amazon.com. He also directs Amazon’s Author Grant Program, which supports a diverse range of not-for-profit author and publisher groups.
Prior to going to Amazon, Jon served as VP and associate general counsel for Random House where he directed legal affairs for the Alfred Knopf division as well as Random House of Canada. He’s previously served as senior media counsel at NBC handling content and associated issues for NBC News, Saturday Night Live, and other divisions.
To his left is Cindy Ratzlaff. Cindy, welcome. Cindy launched her own consulting firm, Brand New, Brand You in 2007, and she works with publishers, authors, and Fortune 1000 companies on integrating social media into their brand-building strategy. She was named to the Forbes 20 Best Branded Women on Twitter list. Quite a list, I would imagine. And Forbes Women has called her one of the most influential women tweeting about entrepreneurship. She’s a 25-year publishing industry veteran and created the launch campaigns for over 150 New York Times bestsellers including famously The South Beach Diet.
And then finally at the very far end is Robert Gottlieb. Robert, welcome.
GOTTLIEB: Thank you.
KENNEALLY: Robert is founder and chairman of the Trident Media Group agency and well-known as an author, career builder, brand developer, and a passionate advocate for authors. Trident Media has earned the rank of the number one literary agency in North America according to number of transactions for authors. And most recently, Robert oversaw creation of Trident’s new e-book operation.
I want to start, though, with Jon Fine, if I can turn to you first, because I think it’s remarkable the presence that Amazon has at this program today and throughout BEA, considering that maybe five years ago, you would have needed a security escort to get through here.
FINE: I did. I was here five years ago, actually.
KENNEALLY: OK. But I want to get some of your insights from the author’s perspective about dealing with Amazon, and one of the things that I think you are particularly keen about is to understand better as an author how people shop at Amazon and to use what you know to make your book more successful. Can you tell us about that?
FINE: Yes. First of all, can everybody hear me? OK. Thanks for coming out. It’s an early morning. Lots of things you could be doing, so really appreciate your time.
I think a couple of things just to take note of off the top. As I said this morning when I saw Robert, it’s amazing and really an endorsement of the strength of the self-publishing industry or the indie author industry today that Robert is here, because five years ago, I don’t think he would have been at this panel, and I think that’s awesome and it demonstrates, I think, in a real way, how much and how important this sector of publishing has become.
A couple of things just to add to that. One is, to us, it’s never been about self-publishing or traditional publishing or legacy publishing. It really is about just different ways that people can tell their stories. And in that sense, the growth of self-publishing as a legitimate venue I think almost can’t be overestimated, as the numbers say.
Of course, everybody can be an author, and that’s amazing. Particularly from my background as a First Amendment lawyer, the idea that anybody can tell their story is just an awesome fact.
KENNEALLY: The point there is there can never be too much free speech. Mae West said that too much of a good thing is simply wonderful, and I think that applies to free speech.
FINE: But I do think the great thing about this is anybody can be an author, and I think the challenge is anyone can be an author. I think that’s an important thing to remember and it’s only one step is getting your book out there.
Obviously, the first and most important thing is writing a great book, and I can’t emphasize that enough, particularly as this wealth of, this tsunami of content sort of engulfs us. You really have to write a great book.
But then, that isn’t going to be enough. You are going to need to do more, and you’re going to have to think about how your book can surf that wave, to torture the metaphor completely. You have to think about who your audience is going to be and how they’re going to shop for books.
To Chris’ point and to get to specifics very quickly, think about the way you and your friends shop for books these days as opposed to 10, 15 years ago. Ten, 15 years ago, you had newspapers, you had friends, you had bookstores you’d go in. You’d see something that interested you and you’d buy it.
Very often these days, people who are looking for books don’t know your book is out there, and they are on Google or they are on Amazon and they are looking for books about mountain climbing in Patagonia or paranormal romance. And one of the ways they’re finding them is by plugging words into search engines. This is why you hear people – and I don’t subscribe to this completely, but I think it is true in a broad sense. Metadata – and I’ll talk about that for a second – is in many ways becoming the new cover image, if it hasn’t already.
KENNEALLY: What do you mean by that, Jon, exactly?
FINE: Metadata is all of the information about your book that you might see on Amazon or you might see on Barnes and Noble, on barnesandnoble.com. It is your name, the title of the book, the synopsis, oftentimes the table of contents, the publisher, the price, the ISBN number, your biography. All of that is part of this wealth of data. We call it metadata, but it’s really information about you and your book, and its import in this age of Internet buying is hard to underestimate, because people are looking for books by using keywords.
So the more information there is about you and your book, the more likely that people are going to find your book or your book is going to find its people. So you have a range, and I think we will hear all day today about all the great ways you can make more information about yourself and your book available.
I think one of the most powerful tools, and I think we happened onto it, to some degree, but it’s really become a powerful tool for authors on our site is Search Inside the Book. You can imagine that you might have a book that talks about a range of things, and it’s hard to capture all that in a synopsis or even in the table of contents. So what Search Inside the Book does is it takes the books and virtually – in a huge number of books, and anything that’s self-published through us automatically enters into this program – takes the entire text of your book and makes it available for searching.
Not for reading. There are small portions that people can read, but it means instead of this limited envelope of data around your book, your entire book is now out there for people to help find.
It’s just one example of the ways that people shop has influenced the tools that help people find those books. Search Inside the Book was originally built to emulate the bookstore browsing experience. You could leaf through the pages virtually. But really what it has done is made it more possible for your books to be discovered.
That’s just one example of how I think things have changed.
KENNEALLY: Absolutely. A lot has changed, and discoverability is a key point, and I think it’s going to come out throughout this discussion how authors can be discovered and how they can build a platform, that overused word.
I want to turn to Robert Gottlieb, the other member of the panel here who is an unexpected guest. A super agent, but somebody who’s become very much on the vanguard of what Jon is correctly calling, I think, not self-publishing, but independent publishing.
Robert, I wonder if you could help people understand, because we’re seeing in the media a lot about agents getting into publishing. For someone who is an author, what should they be aware of if they hear about an agent going to be in publishing? There are some things that are potential pitfalls, are there not?
GOTTLIEB: There are. I think that I’d like to start by saying that Yogi Berra once said that good hitting beats good pitching, and good pitching beats good hitting. And that’s a good metaphor for publishing.
The agencies in publishing have all developed a variety of strategies in the e-book space. At Trident, we have a dedicated e-book division of people working in that group who are not traditional publishing people, because we didn’t want any of the traditional publishing baggage to be brought into that area. We wanted people who were forward thinking, innovative, open to new ideas, did not –
KENNEALLY: Robert, can I just pursue that, because I think it’s an important point. Attitude and that notion of forward thinking is critical to where publishing is and where it’s going. Talking about an industry being disrupted like this, it’s not going to stop, that disruption. It’s going to continue, and so really being forward thinking is critical.
GOTTLIEB: This is what I think. I think that the forward thinking means that when you look at an author who you’re considering for representation, you don’t just want to look at the comps. Publishers traditionally look at comps. They look at what the author’s last book sold or they look at what a book sold that’s similar to the author’s book in the marketplace, and then they start running numbers and making a judgment about whether or not they want it, whether or not they want to make an offer and at what level.
That is how most books are acquired in publishing. We wanted to get away from that kind of thinking in the e-book space.
The other thing which is important in terms of innovation – and I do fully agree that it’s had a big impact on publishing, but I think in a very positive way, because when I started publishing, there was what we called the midlist space in publishing where publishers like Scribner when they were independent of Simon and Schuster, or Lippincott, they would buy a book and spend $10,000 on the book, and they expected to sell the paperback rights for $25,000 and the book club rights for $10,000, and it made it worthwhile for them to print 7,000 copies, three of which would go into libraries.
Out of that midlist publishing space came a lot of very successful authors, because it was very fertile ground to grow new talent. Now, with the takeover of companies by big media companies that are publically held firms that have stockholders and they require – for instance, at Bertelsmann, they require a return of 15 percent or more on every book that they publish, which is unrealistic really, because a lot of books don’t work. So you then are depending on a handful of books, and it kind of becomes like the movie business.
So what Amazon has done as a leader in this area is allow for people to publish, allow for people to publish in a way where there is a low cost to entrance because a traditional publisher, they have to spend a lot of money to produce a book and to physically carry that book and have that book shipped, from gasoline cost to warehousing to production and distribution.
FINE: And then back again.
GOTTLIEB: And in the e-book business, you don’t have that.
KENNEALLY: You don’t have returns.
GOTTLIEB: You don’t have that. What you have is a lower resistance to entry into the marketplace. So now we have authors, and as I was saying to Jon a little earlier, over a million authors on Amazon, but we have a lot of authors publishing works that historically and certainly presently could never find a home otherwise. So out of this bullpen, there are going to be a lot of authors who break out and do very well.
But I think one of the crucial things for authors is to understand the business that they’re in, because the e-book space alone is not the only part of the business, and if an author wants to be well-known and grow their business, they’ve got to be in all the tributaries of the great Amazon river, no pun intended.
But that’s the way good business is run, and as an author who’s publishing yourself, you’re much more dependent on yourself than any author-to-print house who has all the assets of that print house.
KENNEALLY: Robert, let’s talk about that. Jon raised the whole notion of discoverability, and your agency has been discovering new talent a great deal from the self-publishing world.
GOTTLIEB: Sylvia Day is a good example.
KENNEALLY: I was just going to bring her up. It’s remarkable the banners are as tall as the building facility at Day’s books. I’ve got some figures here. Let’s see. As a self-published author, she sold more than half a million copies of Bared to You before it went on to be sold to Penguin. That series has gone on to sell nearly nine million copies in all its formats, so you’ve done very well.
GOTTLIEB: In 44 languages.
KENNEALLY: Right. But what was interesting to me was, just this week it was reported that Sylvia defended publishing. She talked about the reasons that she feels publishing should continue as a constitute. So she’s not against publishing, and I think that’s an important point.
GOTTLIEB: Listen, it’s not either/or.
FINE: Yes, exactly.
GOTTLIEB: It’s not either/or. If you want to be in the game, you should be in as much of the game as you can be in. It’s not either/or. It’s not one is different than the other. In my view, some of these authors – and not all authors, but some of these authors – have been able to break out into extraordinary numbers because they are in the big game, and they’ve gotten into the big game because of loyal fans who read their books and buy their books in good numbers, and also because good agents pick them up and know what to do with them.
In this age, a lot of authors are going to make good income and don’t need agents. But agencies like mine are very selective at who we choose to work with out of the e-book space because it’s not an easy task to break a successful e-book author into other space. It’s a challenge. With commercial fiction, it’s less of a challenge. With nonfiction, it’s a big challenge.
We’ve done it with authors like Colleen Houck who is a YA author whose first book on Amazon sold 250,000 copies, rejected by every publisher in New York.
KENNEALLY: And there’s going to be a movie. You’ve actually sold the movie rights.
GOTTLIEB: That’s correct. And now there’s a continuation of the series. She’s now published by Random House and she’s a number one New York Times bestselling YA author after we picked her up and after a lot of houses turned her down.
So, we’re very selective about who we’re going to work with because not everybody needs an agent and not every agency can work with every author.
KENNEALLY: Cindy Ratzlaff, I want to bring you in because one of the points that I think you’re concerned about is helping authors develop careers, so the question that people should ask is a question that I think relates to what Robert was just saying, is how many books do I have in me? Am I a one-hit wonder or do I intend to build a career? Why does that make a difference?
RATZLAFF: I want authors to think of themselves as a business, as a brand, as Robert was talking about, and think beyond your first book. Part of your job is creating amazing works, writing beautiful books, writing informative books. And the whole second part of your career is marketing those books.
You are your own marketing director. You are your own publishing director. You’re your own PR director. And to Jon’s point about metadata, you need to be grabbing those little pieces of metadata that are not only on the sales platforms, but are on the social platforms through blogging, through Facebook, through Twitter, through Pinterest. Pinterest is remarkable right now for metadata.
Every single thing you write in social media ends up being a piece of data that leads back to the brand of you. So if you are doing all that work – and that is a lot of work. Don’t let anybody tell you it takes a few minutes to do social media or to do your blogging, to be marketing yourself. But if you are leading everybody back to you, you want to do all that work for the brand of you. You aren’t one book, most likely. Most likely, you are multiple books.
GOTTLIEB: Let me ask the audience a question. When you blog, how many people in this audience put down after your name your website address? How many don’t, or will admit they don’t? Obviously, I would say about 20 percent of you do. That’s a big mistake not to do it, because that’s part of your metadata.
When you put your website down when you blog, when you’re using the Internet, that helps better position you on Google. There are things that you can do as an author individually that will help position you in search engines and elsewhere on the Internet. That’s just one piece of advice. And there’s a lot more.
RATZLAFF: And I would say on top of that that not only should you be putting your website address, but you should be adding a graphic, a picture or some sort of graphic to that so that people can pin it. As soon as they pin it, that’s another piece of metadata –
GOTTLIEB: That’s very good advice.
RATZLAFF: – that goes out into the world and leads directly back to the brand of you, which is your core base, your blog site, your website. And your blog site or your website should be on WordPress or Tumblr.
KENNEALLY: Cindy, what we’re trying to do there or what the authors are trying to do there is to build an audience, and I suppose an important activity for any author thinking about a book or a project would be to think about the audience, right? Assess where the audience lies, how well-connected you already are to the audience, and that’s going to be information that will make them successful and, if they wish to make that transition from self-publishing to traditional, they’ll be able to present that information to the publisher.
RATZLAFF: Social media is permission-based marketing. When people find you and follow you and connect with you there, they’re giving you permission to tell them about what you do. They actually have already have said – self-selected – I want to know more about you.
That’s a burden and a curse. You can’t overuse that permission. You have to deliver to them not only the marketing of your book, but you have to over-deliver to them in the sense of a relationship with you the artist.
FINE: I think one of the things to think about as we talk about all this, all this, I think, seems daunting to me, and I’m not even an author. I think one of the things to think about, and Chris just brought it up, is who is your audience and how are you reaching them? In other words, it may make sense –
Well, 15 years ago. Think about it this way. If you had written a book on crocheting, it was almost impossible for you to find your own audience. In addition to reducing the barriers to entry, the technological changes have made it possible for you to find that audience, and there are lots of ways to do that, whether it’s on Facebook, whether it’s looking for reviewers on Amazon of books like the book you’re writing and reaching out to them, one of the tools that a lot of our authors have had success with in a variety of genres.
I think knowing your audience when you start, what is the purpose, why are you writing? Are you telling a story that you are looking to build a business as an author, which I assume most people here are? That’s going to dictate a very different path, potentially, than say, the example I use is my grandmother who wrote the story of her escape from Russia really when she was 17, not for public consumption, but for my daughter, her granddaughter. All of these things are going to dictate a whole series of actions and actions following that.
The great thing about all of this at times overwhelming opportunity is there are a lot of people out there who can help you with it. One of the unfortunate changes – and I really want to emphasize what Robert said about it not being either/or – really is what is the best fit for you, understanding what self-publishing will mean or indie publishing will mean and understanding what traditional publishing will mean and what it means in terms of what you are going to have to do.
But one of the great opportunities, one of the great levelers has been – unfortunately – this revolution in publishing has constrained many of my former colleagues out of jobs, great promotional people, great editors, developmental and copy, great cover designers. These are folks that as authors working on their own, you really didn’t have access to, because you had to work through the larger firms.
These people are out there now and depending, actually, on you guys for their livelihood, which is awesome, because you now have a resource that you never could have imagined before. So I think finding a way, finding the people who can help you with some of these very big questions will help you narrow your focus so that you can be successful.
One of the things to think about is people always check their rankings on our site. This is sort of a metaphor for that. And I always tell them, do not check your general ranking because it’s going to be – millions of books is more like three million. Your book is going to be three million. But if you find your category, and that is to me the real test, and you have to I think start with that approach from the very beginning. Know who you’re trying to reach and work through that.
GOTTLIEB: Let me just go back to a question that Chris raised about what agencies are doing. Agencies are doing different things. At Trident, we have a setup where we take a 15 percent commission for North America and 20 percent outside North America, 25 percent in places like Southeast Asia where deals are $500 each. We assist authors in publishing their own books. We are not a rights holder, and because we’re not a rights holder, we’re not taking what some agencies are taking as basically a publishing portion of the book.
Waxman Agency is a publisher. Most large agencies are using aggregators. Aggregators are like the Perseus Group where an agency represents you and puts you with another party and then that party takes a big chunk of your income and the agency takes a chunk of your income. So you can actually end up making less than you would make in a traditional publishing deal on a net basis.
We don’t do that. We do all that work ourselves. We don’t outsource it.
Those are the basic models that are out there right now.
FINE: The other thing that agents have become, frankly, over the years – if you think of the four legs of traditional publishing, what would a publisher bring to you as an author? An advance, that investment up front. Then editorial work, helping to make your work better. Then building an audience for you. We call it platforms, but it’s building an audience, essentially. And then print distribution, distribution generally, getting the book out there.
I would say over the last four or five years, you’ve seen a couple of those legs start to whither. One is, I don’t see as much editing in-house as I used to, except for some exceptional places, and always, there’s a couple of great editors who are doing it at every house, but it’s just not happening at the same level. Editors are acquiring often now, rather than editing.
And then, they want you to bring your audience. What does that mean? It means these gaps have to be filled by other folks. I think the best agents these days – and I include Trident among them – are essentially becoming holistic business managers for an author’s career, helping them fill the gaps that traditional publishing hasn’t been able to keep up with. I think it’s a much larger, much tougher, and actually much more exciting role for you guys.
GOTTLIEB: A good example of that is Maya Banks did a novella with us. She’s a bestselling New York Times author. She wrote a novella, a novel. Traditionally, publishers wouldn’t touch a novella. They don’t like to do poetry, they don’t want to do novellas, they don’t want to do short stories because again, it’s not economically sensible for them.
But Maya did it in our e-book program with our team, and the book went to number 13 on the New York Times e-book bestseller list because not only was it done with the marketing capabilities of our group, but also because we did it on more than one e-book platform, or more than one e-book company. If you want to be on lists outside of the Amazon list, you have to be published by a range of e-retailers.
FINE: Made available, I would say.
GOTTLIEB: Made available, I should say. Because the bestselling lists across the country that are published look at all these different retailers’ numbers. They don’t just look at Amazon’s numbers. You can be a huge success on Amazon, and if you’re not published by Barnes and Noble, you’re not published by Kobo, you’re not on iPad or the iBook store, you’re losing opportunity because they don’t just look at what’s happening on Amazon, even though – believe it or not – Amazon controls about 80 percent of the market in e-books.
KENNEALLY: Cindy Ratzlaff, I want to bring you in because the points that Jon and Robert have been making about putting a team together, where in Robert’s case, it’s at the agency, and in Jon’s case, talking about a kind of a virtual team, possibly. It reminds me of the way that films are made today. There are no more studios and factory production of movies. A team comes together to make the movie, the movie gets made, and the team disperses.
But that may even be a bit further ahead than some self-published authors can do, but what they’ve got is, if I could put it this way, a team of technology available to them, and they should think about deploying all those pieces of the technology in the appropriate way. Is that how you see it?
RATZLAFF: Yes, absolutely. As authors who are in charge of their own brands, you need to be able to test out your concepts, and you can do that through blogging, through social media. You need to be able to find your audience.
How many people think that their book is for everyone, that they have a universal appeal? You’re the smartest group I know, because a lot of authors come to a publishing coach and say, my book’s for everyone. Jon was talking about finding your niche audience and then exploding out through that.
In traditional publishing, we used to say that first you want to become a bestseller in Denver, and then you wanted to move out because if you appeared at the Tattered Cover, you were a bestseller in Denver. So you would build, but you would build from a local base and then move out if you were a midlist author.
For you, you need to be able to put together a team that can help you. Either the team is you and your closest friends and your young intern, or it’s professionals that you hire. Your team can include your editor, your publishing coach, your social media guru, your PR person, your marketing person. Or you can do all those things yourself, slowly, doing a few consultations with people in places that you’re stuck, and then you can test through social media.
We put up book covers. A or B, tell me which you like and why. When we did that for one of my clients, a thousand people responded to tell him exactly why they liked one cover or the other.
KENNEALLY: And you probably got all the email addresses so you could be back in touch with them once you had the book published.
RATZLAFF: Absolutely. When you publish and use that team as your crowdsourcing – now, you have to know when you crowdsource, you get a broad opinion, so you have to take it for what it’s worth, but it can be really valuable to crowdsource and to bring people into the process and make them feel as though they are emotionally connected and somewhat responsible for the publication of your book.
And at publication time, you can go out to that same crowdsource group, that group that you’ve gathered through social media, and ask them if they’d like to review your book, that you’re going to give them a free download to people if they’ll blog about it.
KENNEALLY: Jon Fine, I want to ask you about an Amazon author, someone I’ve spoken with just recently, James McQuivey, who’s an analyst at Forrester, and he has a book out which I would urge people here to check called Digital Disruption. He makes a number of points, and the book was published by Amazon in e-book and print.
He talks about the way there’s a leveling of competition so that the book business isn’t only in the book business any longer, because it’s competing with so many other forms of media. How well do you think the Amazon author community thinks about things that way, that it’s beyond books now?
FINE: I think it’s always been beyond books, because what we’re talking about here is ear share, eye share, mind share. There are many things folks can be doing. Actually, it is amazing to me that books have held their own against video games and movies and music. The fact that people are reading as much as they are is remarkable to me, and I do think it’s a testament in part to the technology, not to Amazon per se, but the entire technology of availability and accessibility.
If your book is available digitally, it is always available. It will never be out of stock, and if it’s seated appropriately, available in lots of places in lots of ways. But not only that purchase is facilitated, but the technology makes that work, once you have bought it, much more accessible. And I think that has made a huge difference, and I think our authors count on that.
Jeff Bezos talks about when Kindle first launched and the ability to read Kindle books. You don’t need a Kindle to read Kindle on your iPhone while waiting in a checkout line at the supermarket. I find it hard to believe that he’s waited in a checkout line recently, but I think the idea is true. I think the conceit is true. People find it that much easier to read and they’re reading that much more.
GOTTLIEB: You have to realize that in media, and we’re talking about media here, historically, there’s always been new media that has come along. There’s always been new delivery systems and new media that have come along.
For instance, most people don’t know that actors like Gary Cooper never made a penny from the showing of his movies on television because his agent and his studios at the time never envisioned that delivery system, so it was not part of his contracts to earn any money from television.
So when e-books are here – and I realize that people like drama and great destruction and the word destruction and all these kinds of things. What I look at it as, having come from a place like William Morris, which in every – growing up, I should say, at William Morris for 24 years – I look at it as a layering effect. It’s not something that’s going to replace something else, it’s a layering effect, and in the initial stages of it, it looks like just something’s being destroyed or there’s a destructive component to it. But what it really is is in a capitalistic system, it’s an adjustment that’s taking place in the marketplace.
It’s a layering effect. You have books. You’re going to have audio books. You’re going to have e-books. But the wonderful thing about e-books is that you have a lot more options with it because you don’t have the weight of the physical book and a traditional publisher to have to deal with when you want to do things with your book.
RATZLAFF: That’s a great point. Who knew that YouTube would eventually become a producer of original content and have its own – it’s basically a television channel now. Netflix, original content.
FINE: And some of the best programming in the country.
RATZLAFF: Yes. So, when you think of yourself as a business with a long-term business strategy, you’ll be working with a team that sees you that way as well and can protect your rights, advise you of new things in the industry, and make sure that you – I hate to say it this way because I love writing, but you are content creators.
KENNEALLY: I was just going to get to that, Cindy, because there is some content that’s easier to grasp than others. Instagram, I guess we all get that. We’ve got a phone and it takes pictures and we can post to Instagram. But what do you make of Vine?
RATZLAFF: I still haven’t seen the benefit of Vine. It’s too new, but it’s really fun.
KENNEALLY: Tell us what it is, Cindy.
RATZLAFF: Vine is an app that you can download to your Android or your iPhone and make six –
KENNEALLY: It’s the most popular app on the iStore.
RATZLAFF: Yes. Six-second videos. Once you open it up, you just put your thumb on the phone and you count one, two, put your thumb off. One, two, put your thumb off. One, two, put your thumb off. You’ve got three pictures that rotate in a loop, so now you have a video loop. If you’re at a book signing or you’re at BookExpo or you’re listening to some amazing speakers and you took your Vine app and went bam, bam, bam, you’d have a little video that you could post to Facebook or to Twitter or right to the Vine app group, and you’d be able to put a little tag to it saying, I’m at uPublishU talking about my great new book.
You’ve created a little piece of metadata, and just like sharing pictures, it makes you look really authoritative and makes you look like you have an active life even though you only go out of the house once or twice. You could be an amazing poser.
RATZLAFF: But Vine is a way to just notch that up a little bit. The jury’s still out on it, but people are having a lot of fun with it, and you might as well join in.
KENNEALLY: And it’s free.
RATZLAFF: And it’s free.
FINE: The layering effect, and that’s another example of that. We’ve been talking a lot about e-books, but it’s actually not just getting your book out there in terms of a one-text form. Audible, for example, which is an Amazon company, has developed something called ACX, which is a way for authors to sort of get past the friction that prevents most books from ever becoming audio books. It’s not free. You work with an individual. The technology has made it possible, and all of a sudden, you have another format that folks can turn to when they want to listen to a book as opposed to read it.
There are other efforts to make translations, which is a very challenging area. Very hard, as Robert and I were talking earlier, to find good translators, great translators, and they really are important.
GOTTLIEB: And expensive.
FINE: And expensive. But there are ways that the technology now, in the same way that ACX is bringing audio engineers, narrators, and authors together, that you can see that same concept being applied to the translation business.
GOTTLIEB: I do want to add, though, that you should be cautious about people out there making a lot of claims about what they can do for you –
GOTTLIEB: – in marketing and promotion and social media, because it’s like the Hurricane Sandy. Everybody shows up saying, I can fix your house, and then you pay the money and they disappear on you.
FINE: But you can do your research now, at least. And you should.
GOTTLIEB: You can do research, but you have to be cautious, because there are a lot of people out there who will say they can do a lot more than they really can.
KENNEALLY: I want to give the audience a chance to ask some questions here. I think it’s been a great place to start for the rest of your day at uPublishU and see whether we do have some questions from the floor. I guess we’ll start there. Who’s it for?
BYRON: It’s for Cindy. My name’s Colleen Byron.
RATZLAFF: Hi, Colleen.
BYRON: I’ll try to speak loudly. You said there were a lot of out-of-work editors, promotional people, publicists, etc. Are they all huddled in a room together?
FINE: I think that is a great question for Cindy. No, no you have to do some work. But you’re part of a community here.
KENNEALLY: Where is everybody, all these people?
FINE: Where is this great talent you can access? It’s out there. There are tons of folks. There are probably a bunch of them walking around here today.
GOTTLIEB: I agree.
RATZLAFF: And I’d say search terms through social media. I’ve been interviewed by the New York Times, I’ve been on NPR, I’ve been asked to speak at national morning shows all through Twitter, because I find and follow people who are talking about exactly what interests me, books. I make them into Twitter lists and I filter the streams so I’m only seeing what they are tweeting, and I tweet back to them and I am interested and intrigued in what they are doing, and I have built a community of support people whose work I admire simply by finding and following them on social media. Not just Twitter, but from Google Plus and from Facebook.
KENNEALLY: Right. We have a question there.
F: Also for Cindy. You mentioned earlier about when you were starting to (inaudible) brand (inaudible). Did you mention those specifically because those are the ones you recommend?
KENNEALLY: The question was about specific recommendations around blogging.
RATZLAFF: Yes, I mentioned blogging, WordPress or Tumblr, and I do recommend those two. There are a lot of blogging options, but WordPress is very highly SEO optimized, so you’re going to get a –
GOTTLIEB: You’d better explain what that means.
RATZLAFF: SEO means search engine optimized. What we’ve been talking about is discoverability, and all the content that you are creating through blogging and social media is really all about discoverability, helping your ideal audience find you. I think both Tumblr and WordPress are well-SEO optimized.
KENNEALLY: Great. We have a question there, I think.
MARTIN: Judy Martin, worklifenation.com. I have been getting a lot of inquiries from small publishers, even overseas, because I ranked in the top 10 in (inaudible) as an online influencer. But they’re all lousy deals and they want all my content for a year and then I can’t publish anything for two years. Is it best to just do my own book and see what goes on from there?
FINE: I would say a couple of things. The good thing about being an indie publisher is almost –
KENNEALLY: Jon, I guess – repeat the question.
FINE: Are there good deals to be had, and if not, should I just do it on my own? I’m going to let Bob speak most clearly to that, but just the one thing I would say is you can get it out there without, at this point, as much risk as you might have four years ago if you do it on your own.
GOTTLIEB: Let me say that I would caution you about signing contracts when you’re not an expert in contracts. It is a big difference between putting a book up with a retailer and signing rights away.
MARTIN: I had an intellectual property attorney who said, you’re crazy.
FINE: And this is the point. The downside that you might have experienced from going out on your own is not as prevalent as it used to be. It’s not necessarily as stigmatized, the fact that you published on your own, as so many success stories who have made the move demonstrate.
And the risk is low because you’re not tying your content up. Almost every single one of the independent publishing platforms – and I urge you to use all of them, as Robert said – are nonexclusive and enable you to pull your work down very quickly if something better comes along.
I think Bob’s first point is huge, though. Get help if somebody is seeking to take your rights.
GOTTLIEB: When you’re dealing with an entity that is a rights holder, that’s very, very different than dealing with Amazon or one of the other e-retailers and putting a book up.
KENNEALLY: Right. Unfortunately, that’s all we have time for right now. We’ve reached the end of our program. I want to thank our panelists Jon Fine from Amazon, Robert Gottlieb, Trident Media, Cindy Ratzlaff, Brand New, Brand You.
As a closing thought and something you may want to tweet, I guess we have to recognize that not all these books from all these authors makes everyone happy. In fact, one traditional author put it this way. Times are bad indeed. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book. Cicero said that in the first century B.C.