Transcript: Self Publishing Across Multiple Formats

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Presented at MediaApp Summit, December 2012

With
Jason Boog, Editor, Mediabistro Publishing
Amy Martin Product Marketing Manager, Wattpad
Christopher Kenneally, Copyright Clearance Center

BOOG: I’m Jason Boog, the publishing editor at Mediabistro, and for this talk, I’m actually going to be exploring some of the research we’ve been conducting for about the last six months. It’s called our self-published bestsellers list. When we started it six months ago, nobody had really been collecting this information, because mainly, it’s hard. It’s really hard to separate the self-published authors from the indie authors from the small publishing houses. It’s all a big mix on these marketplaces, so once a week, we go in, sort through all of the different marketplaces and pull out the self-published bestsellers.

I’m just going to give you a brief introduction to our self-published bestsellers list, and then also, I’m going to show you case studies of successful self-published authors. I recommend that you, if you’re a self-published author or an indie publisher or someone interested in this space, you should actually go and check out all five of these authors, because they’re doing something different. Each one of them has a different role and has found success in a different way. So you should check out these books by all these writers. They’re very affordable and you’ll learn a lot.

The self-publishing marketplace. Bowker counted 235,000 print and digital self-published titles being released annually in the United States. That’s this year. And that number is only going to go up. It rose astronomically this year and it’s going to keep continuing to grow. Compared to 2006, that’s a 287 percent increase, so it’s a big, big field.

I’m going to put up this slideshow on GalleyCat, so all of these yellow links you can follow and find out more. It’s going to be at galleycat.com.

We collect the list every Monday afternoon. None of these companies – Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Smashwords – none of them reveal actual sales statistics of these books. We are actually going and looking at the books they say are the bestsellers and pulling out all of the self-published bestsellers from that list. The rest of the methodology is described there, but we’re basically just plucking self-published books out of their lists and ranking them in the same order.

If you are interested in selling a lot of copies of books, there are four genres that completely dominate self-publishing. Literally every single self-published bestsellers list that we have made over the last six months has contained one of these books. We’re looking at the top 10 books. Month after month, these are the leading ones, and I’ve put them in order of how many times they appear.

Romance is by far the leading category. Erotica follows very closely. E.L. James and Fifty Shades of Grey have really spawned an entire cottage industry, and this real revolution in erotica has happened over the last year, so every list, we see about two or three erotica titles. New adult is a genre that I’m going to explain in just a minute, but it’s probably going to be, by the time next year, a much more dominant force on the list. It’s a really growing genre right now, and people should pay attention. And thrillers, that’s the final one, and we see probably about one to two at the absolute most on the self-published bestsellers list every week, thrillers. But definitely romance and erotica are dominating.

Here’s a new adult fiction writer, Colleen Hoover. She’s my first case study. The cool thing that she did with her career is she got permission from the band the Avett Brothers to use their lyrics in her book, and so she has this kind of love story interspersed with quotes from her band. She had all these Avett Brother fans who were really excited about the books. And then coincidentally – maybe not coincidentally, the Avett Brothers blew up this year and are very popular, so they kind of fed each other.

Her book became very popular. It’s been optioned for a movie. She signed a book deal with Simon and Schuster, and she dominated our self-published bestseller list for a few weeks, and now she has to come off because she has a traditional publisher. You can follow those links to see more about her career.

What is new adult fiction? St. Martin’s Press kind of launched the genre in 2009. They were looking for stories that could be marketed to both YA readers and adult readers. They said they want protagonists who are slightly older than YA and can appeal to an adult audience.

In Colleen Hoover’s case, it was about a young woman who was out of high school, kind of fending for herself, trying to figure out what to do with her life. She falls in love with someone. They go back, they go forth, and they end up having his tumultuous relationship that is mediated by Avett Brother songs. That’s a good example of the genre.

We’re just seeing a lot of stories there. Teenagers can read it, the people that loved Twilight and things like that, but it also has a more of an adult appeal. I think we’re going to see a lot more of it.

Cora McCormack landed a three-book deal earlier this year for her new adult books, and that was the absolute first time that I saw the phrase new adult being used in a New York Times headline. You know your genre has arrived when The New York Times puts it in a headline.

C.J. Lyons is an example of a thriller writer who made it. She was on our list for a few weeks. She ran a 99 cent sale on basically her whole backlist. She’s a writer who straddles both worlds. She traditionally published for a while. She still traditionally publishes, but she also has kept the rights to some of her books and self-publishes them, so she’s a mix, so we’ve allowed her books that are self-published to be on the list.

Through a 99 cent Kindle Gold Box Daily Sale, which is when Kindle – they put your book at the top of the Kindle store in a little gold box, literally, and it drove a lot of sales for her and we saw her on there. If you follow that link on the slideshow, which I’ll put up later, you can actually see how many times she appeared and which books hit the list.

Science fiction writer Hugh Howey, he’s a completely self-published writer. He wrote a book called Wool. I completely recommend it. It’s science fiction. It’s really unexpected. It was a series of novellas that he published online and then collected into a single book that you could buy. Ridley Scott, the director of Blade Runner and Prometheus, lots of great movies, he acquired the film rights and he got a book deal with Random House U.K. He’s a real success story. He’s the only science fiction story that has really cracked the Amazon bestseller list for self-published books, so definitely check out his work.

Romance novelist Barbara Freethy is interesting. She’s also a traditionally published author who has some of the rights to her books and self-publishes them. She mainly uses Barnes and Noble’s PubIt program, which is a little different, less crowded of a marketplace than Amazon’s indie publishing center. She used it to publish 17 books from her backlist and then three new digital books. She has sold 2.7 million e-books since January 2011 across six different digital marketplaces.

But the place where she’s really been successful, according to the statistics we’ve been collecting for the last six months, has been in Barnes and Noble’s PubIt. That’s where she cracked the top of the list. She’s usually on the list, almost every week.

Then finally, this is a techno-thriller, which is something that’s kind of taken off in the Amazon marketplace. Ray Gorham, he wrote a book called 77 Days in September, which is about an electromagnetic pulse attack in our country, which basically knocks out all of our electricity and all of our devices that we use to run electricity. It’s kind of what happens for 77 days after this attack. He sold it for $1.99 on Amazon, and he just shot up the list. I showed you the two thriller writers who’ve managed to break this list that has been completely dominated by erotica, romance, and new adult fiction. He was the other successful writer.

I think it’s really important to look at all five of those writers and get a better picture of how this space works.

Those are the case studies I wanted to outline. I have two other guests who are going to help kind of outline a more practical look at how authors can use it. I want to welcome Amy Martin, who’s the product marketing manager at Wattpad, which is another great community for writers to self-publish, and she can talk about the nuts and bolts a little bit more.

And then we have Chris Kenneally, who’s the director of business development and author relations at the Copyright Clearance Center, and he’ll have a lot to say, too.

So a big round of applause for them. Thank you.

[applause]

MARTIN: Hi. I’m from Wattpad. We’re a startup based in Toronto. I’m going to tell you a little bit about where we fit in the publishing ecosystem. We’re not really anywhere near the traditional publishers and we’re not sort of really fully in the self-publishing space. What our company’s mission is is to change the way people read, share, and interact through stories.

Last month, people spent 2.4 billion minutes on Wattpad, and that puts us in the same ballpark as a platform or a community like Pinterest. You can kind of think of us like the YouTube of stories or storytelling. When I say stories, I mean everything from science fiction, romance, thrillers, fan fiction, mysteries, poetry – basically any kind of fiction.

Right now, we’re at 11 million monthly active readers, and our community is super, super social. We’re connecting people with 10,000 new stories every single minute. We see about 30,000 stories uploaded every single day, and we’re on track to cross 10 million total stories by the end of the year, so we’re super pumped up about that.

What does this mean for a writer? Traditionally, up until now, book publishing has always been really closed, complicated, and basically just a one-way street. But today, we have all kinds of people using our product. It’s fun, it’s inclusive, and it’s accessible to people all over the world. It’s working for both aspiring self-pub writers as well as established authors.

Basically, we see the future like this. It’s where readers are discovering, sharing, recommending stories as easily as they would a song or a video. New stories are streamed to readers just like episodes based on what they like and who they follow. This means for me, as a reader, I’m interacting with fans and the writer as I’m reading the story. It’s a new social dynamic that hasn’t really existed in publishing before. For a writer, it’s a way to build a loyal, emotionally connected relationship with the people who are discovering my work.

We think we’re more like these guys. Our tenets of our platform are free, social, mobile, user-generated content, and we say writers can look at it as a new form of marketing. One of our favorite stats is that we have over 650 Wattpad writers who’ve reached one million-plus reads of their stories.

Most Wattpad writers choose to publish serially, one chapter at a time, so like I said, stories are basically becoming episodic. We think that’s because it fits with how people are consuming their stories. Seventy-five percent of our usage is on mobile phones, and people are reading in bite-sized chunks. We see this as an opportunity for writers to experiment with concepts like minimum viable publishing, the borrowed term from the startup ecosystem.

The requirements are really low. Basically, as soon as anyone can dream up the concept for a story, you can write up a chapter, you can test out that idea and get it out there in front of people. You can see how the audience reacts pretty much instantaneously.

But I just really want to be clear that we don’t think of ourselves as a writing community. We’re a community of readers and we have a whole bunch of people who are looking to be entertained. But as a writer, you can think of it as a great place to experiment, having access to a community of 11 million actively engaged readers.

We’re also global, and we hit a lot of markets that traditional publishing houses don’t hit. We see ourselves, basically through the distribution and app stores, reaching a lot of markets where print books don’t always go.

A couple of super-quick case studies.

This is Jordan. She just graduated high school. She lives up in Boston. She’s written a few stories on Wattpad, and they have over 64 million reads, collectively. She’s also received over 100,000 comments.

Just like YouTube enabled the rise of stars like Justin Bieber or even this past summer, Carly Rae Jepsen, Wattpad’s enabling a new form of basically (inaudible) of literary pop stars.

This is Abigail Gibbs. She was just signed by HarperCollins in the U.K. Youngest ever writer in England to be signed to a traditional publishing deal, discovered after 17 million reads for a story on Wattpad.

Same thing with Brittney. She’s from here in New York. She was discovered after a Publishers Weekly article profiling her self-publishing journey and her marketing success on Wattpad. She had been rejected by agents for like a decade, rejected by publishers, but ended up auctioning the rights to her series and getting picked up by Simon and Schuster.

I just saw this one on Thursday evening before I left to come here. I’m not sure really what the deal is or how this lady who lives in the middle of Brazil somewhere was picked up by Random House U.K., but I think it speaks really to the global power of our community, so we’ll see where it goes.

Just in general, there’s many, many levels of success. We’ve got self-published writers who are taking their strategic approach to their digital marketings, actively engaging with the Wattpad community the same way you would on Twitter, the same way you do on Facebook, to basically join and be a part of the conversation. We think those guys are going to be the ones who are best positioned for the future.

I picked out the examples here of Bill and of Romi. They’ve got some really, really high read counts, and they’re building fan bases and finding really creative ways to drive sales on other platforms. Essentially, they’re doing things on their own terms, and that’s basically our takeaway for writers who want to be successful in the new age that’s being invented right now.

That, really quickly in a nutshell, is Wattpad.

BOOG: Chris, do you want to?

KENNEALLY: Thank you, Jason, and good afternoon, everybody. It’s fascinating to me to listen to all these numbers. I hear all kinds of numbers – 900,000 stories a month, 2.4 billion minutes. Jason mentioned 235,000 titles this year. I’d heard a number even higher than that, so that means in the time we’re sitting here talking about self-publishing, something like three dozen titles will appear, all of which makes me think of a line from Mae West. She said, too much of a good thing is simply wonderful.

I think that what we are seeing with the self-publishing revolution – and indeed, it is that – is something that’s going to change publishing more than Amazon, more than the arrival of the Kindle and the iPad. This is going to remake the business, the consumption of the written word, or even just media, in a way that we can’t even begin to imagine today in 2012.

The perspective that I want to give you very briefly is from Copyright Clearance Center. You might think, well, what’s a guy doing with a bowtie and a print copy of The New York Times working for a company called Copyright Clearance Center doing up here at the MediaApp Summit? I might as well have a powdered wig and buckled shoes, right?

But in fact, copyright is something that I think connects all of these platforms, all of these endeavors, and I’m in here to put in a good word for it and to tell you about some of the things that I have learned holding a variety of small symposia like this on self-publishing, just most recently at the Miami Book Fair. The Miami Book Fair is the largest public book fair in the country.

I’m often attending events like this one, which are essentially for the trade, and I’ve come to the conclusion that if there is a future for book publishing, it’s conferences about the future of book publishing. Most of those conferences are people in the profession talking to each other.

At the Miami Book Fair, we had a panel that featured Mark Coker from Smashwords, Matt Cavnar from Vook, who you saw earlier today. We had Jennie Pedroza, who’s a story in herself. She’s one of the co-founders of something called The Writer’s Coffee Shop. If you’re not familiar with it, you surely are familiar with one of their authors, E.L. James. They were the first publishers online and in POD version of what became Fifty Shades of Grey. And we also had M.J. Rose, who’s probably the first self-published author. She published a book online in 1997, long before any of the sort of ecology that we think of in self-publishing ever existed.

Throughout all of this, copyright is the most important piece of it because it is about ownership. Those deals that you saw Amy describe for the various authors, as young as they are, are possible only if those individuals have maintained copyright to their work. And indeed, just because they are publishing online, it does not mean that they’ve lost copyright. I’m afraid that a number of people – perhaps some people in this room – may even think, well, if I put my work up onto Wattpad or wherever it is, I don’t have ownership of that anymore. That is not the case. Clearly, these authors maintain control of their work.

And that revolution I talked about at the beginning, which is the one that’s going to sweep through publishing, is about authors taking over. It’s a bit like that moment after the comet smashed into the ground about 65 million years ago, right? I think the dinosaurs looked up. They might have noticed, but they just kept on eating until finally, it got darker and colder and there were no more plants. But those little creatures underneath that were there the whole time, they were the ones who had some survivability.

I think in this new ecosystem, it’s the authors who are the ones who are about to take control, and as a former author myself, I think that’s very exciting.

BOOG: Thank you guys very much.

MARTIN: Thank you.

KENNEALLY: Thank you very much.