Interview with Jane Friedman
For podcast release Monday, June 29, 2015
KENNEALLY: The lines have blurred recently in publishing, and the consequences for authors are considerable. Welcome to Copyright Clearance Center’s podcast series. I’m Christopher Kenneally for “Beyond the Book.” Blurring lines means the freedom to move beyond once heavily constricted roles. Authors today also act as publishers and distributors of their works. Blurring lines can mean confusion, too. Vendors vying for attention and business from authors don’t always make it easy to see the value of their services.
Jane Friedman specializes in educating authors about the publishing industry without, she says, either drama or hype, and she aims to help authors make the best long-term decisions for their careers. She joins me now from her office in Charlottesville, Virginia, to sort out of the growing family of hybrid publishers. Welcome to “Beyond the Book,” Jane.
FRIEDMAN: Thanks, Chris. It’s a pleasure to be here.
KENNEALLY: We’re looking forward to chatting with you. You currently teach digital media and publishing at the University of Virginia and are a columnist for Publishers Weekly. People may know your name as, from 2001 to 2010, Jane Friedman was at Writer’s Digest, where she ultimately became publisher and editorial director.
Jane Friedman, you write frequently about the dilemmas facing authors in this exciting new digital world for Publishers Weekly, and a column recently caught our eye. It was headlined “Not All Hybrid Publishers Are Created Equal.” I guess a point that you make at the opening there is just about everybody these days is a hybrid of some kind.
FRIEDMAN: That’s right. Everyone’s putting out their shingle, whether they’re a single author acting as a publisher for their own work, or it’s a collective of people putting out work, or very formal companies or startups.
KENNEALLY: Right. That leads to confusion, doesn’t it? The thing about authors is they know books. They know writing. They may know the local library. But they don’t often know a lot about publishing. The offers that various types of hybrid publishers are making are very distinguished, and the differences are important. I’d like you to help us sort all this out and tell us about some of the important questions that authors should ask as they’re evaluating the choices they have now.
For example, we think of self-publishing these days in its electronic form, but self-publishing, of course, still works hand in glove with traditional print. So the question is, about that traditional print run, if you’re working with a hybrid publisher, should you wonder who’s going to pay for the print run?
FRIEDMAN: Oh, definitely, and what kind of print run we’re talking about, as well. With the advent of print-on-demand, it’s very easy to make a book available in print, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be stocked anywhere or appear on a shelf. Usually that’s just to make it easy for anyone to order online, rather than for it to appear in a store. Sometimes authors get very confused about what it means to offer a book in print. They sometimes think, oh, it’ll be in Barnes & Noble if this hybrid company is doing a print edition. But that’s usually not the case, and it’s pretty rare for a company to invest in a formal print run, where you’re actually investing in 500 copies or 1,000 or more.
KENNEALLY: Just as authors probably shouldn’t pay for a literary agent to review their manuscripts, they likewise shouldn’t pay for their own print runs.
FRIEDMAN: I agree, although with some of these hybrid publishers, they suggest they’re in partnership with the author, and so the risk is distributed equally. So the author may end up paying something out of pocket, which may or may not be OK. Everything depends on the value that the hybrid is providing, and that varies so much.
KENNEALLY: Indeed. One of the attractions of hybrids would be to help authors get through all the various chores that they’ve now kind of brought onto their plate. One of those is distributing works. You mentioned about books appearing on Barnes & Noble shelves. That doesn’t happen by magic.
FRIEDMAN: No, not at all. I think what’s important for everybody out there to acknowledge, understand, realize is that distribution is not a challenge. Anybody can distribute a book. It’s more about getting either retail placement or attention or visibility throughout retailers. Anyone can go to IngramSpark or CreateSpace and distribute their book the same as a publisher might distribute. It just doesn’t mean the book is in front of consumers.
KENNEALLY: If you’re thinking about that question, what are the things you should be looking at and really maybe even raising an eyebrow over?
FRIEDMAN: Check the hybrid’s services and see what their marketing and promotion plan is like. And before they even get to that point, what are the resources they’re investing in the development of the book itself? While I know authors can be very confused about what it takes to distribute, that shouldn’t be their primary concern when looking at these companies, since that’s kind of equal access, everyone has that opportunity. Their value should either be on both of these or one – the quality of the product and developing something that’s going to hold up in the marketplace and then being able to package it and merchandise it and place it and help get it some attention.
KENNEALLY: Right. You say the quality of the work – obviously, that’s critical. That’s most important in two particular areas. One, the editorial piece of it. The other side is the marketing, which includes things like book design. Talk about that.
FRIEDMAN: I think a lot of authors right now, or at least the trend that I’m seeing, is they think that they can design their own covers or use templated interiors. I think that is OK for some projects. But if a hybrid publisher is really just slapping on a template cover or design, and they’re not really going through a formal design process, you have to ask, what is that you’re paying for, if not for something that’s truly custom and suited to your work?
I know that there are a range of publishers – it’s kind of like a sausage factory. (laughter) They’re just pushing the books through this templated system, rather than doing what an actual publisher would do, which is treat each book as a unique product in itself.
KENNEALLY: Right. Jane Friedman, you speak to author groups quite frequently. I see from your website, janefriedman.net, that you’ve got quite a busy summer speaking schedule. I wonder if you can give us a sense of just how far along we are in that educational curve that self-published authors really need to be on. It’s become commonplace to think about independent publishing and self-publishing as a choice that authors have, but are they learning? Are they asking the questions they need to ask? Or are they possibly putting themselves at risk, exposing themselves to offers that might not be in their interest?
FRIEDMAN: I think what’s so fascinating is that, let’s say, 10 years ago, you had to repeat again and again that self-publishing wasn’t going to harm your career. Even if it didn’t go that well, you could still get traditionally published. Now I feel like we’ve reached the other end of the extreme, where people aren’t even considering traditional publishing. They’re straightaway going to these self-publishing or hybrid options. I think part of that is impatience and just a desire to get things done quickly, and also no one likes the rejection process.
I think there’s still a lot of education that needs to take place around, OK, self-publishing is a viable option, but you need to commit to it from a professional standpoint, not just as a stopgap measure or as something that’s going to give you instant gratification. The number one request I receive by far, as far as consulting from authors is, oh, I self-published. It didn’t go the way I thought. Now how can I find an agent? (laughter) Well, you can try, but just because you self-published doesn’t mean it’s more likely you’re going to have success on the traditional path now.
KENNEALLY: What’s interesting – people would take great care before buying a book or buying a home in a new neighborhood. They should take the same kind of care with the work they intend to publish. Their reputation, their careers will benefit from that kind of care and attention.
FRIEDMAN: Right. Absolutely. Especially for those people who are looking for a very long-term career of writing and publishing any kind of content, they want to look at this from a much more strategic perspective than what I’m currently seeing.
KENNEALLY: Yeah. You mentioned hybrid publishers, Jane Friedman, but at BookExpo just recently, I helped to moderate a panel at the uPublishU session on hybrid authors. This hybridization, this blurring of lines, is happening in so many different directions. I like your point that there should not be this black or white rejection of one or the other. Authors who expect to be in it for the long-term will need to think of themselves in a much more broad way.
FRIEDMAN: I totally agree, and I think the beautiful thing is that we’re now coming to a point in authorship that you can choose on a project-by-project basis which one is best suited to that particular book or content. With hybrid authors, I think they’re in the ideal position of saying, OK, this one I’m going to work with a traditional house. This one I’m going to self-publish.
Unfortunately, the way the term hybrid gets used now in application to authors and publishing, it’s not apples to apples. They’re being used in very different ways. That just increases the confusion for people. But yeah, I think hybrid authors are the most probably entrepreneurial and savvy that I witness – authors like CJ Lyons or Hugh Howey or Barbara Freethy. They do a better job than traditional publishers when it comes to digital marketing.
KENNEALLY: Finally, I guess one way to look into the offerings that various hybrid publishers are making is to call somebody who knows, see whether you can speak to someone who’s worked with them recently.
FRIEDMAN: Absolutely. Talk with recent authors and also look at the products themselves. You should look at how they’re presented online, look at what’s happening with those titles on Amazon or Goodreads. Look at the reviews. Order one or two copies. Ask yourself, is this a community of authors that I would feel at home in, that I would feel proud to be a part of?
KENNEALLY: We appreciate welcoming you to our community here on “Beyond the Book.” Jane Friedman, thanks so much for joining us today.
FRIEDMAN: Thank you, Chris. It’s a pleasure.
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, find us on Facebook, and subscribe to the free podcast series on iTunes or at our website, beyondthebook.com.
Our engineer and co-producer 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.”