The New York Times’ Sunday Dialogue: Tumult in the Book World took on the question, “Can traditional bookstores survive the digital marketplace?”
Reader Barry Brisco didn’t think so. His assessment of the situation is that the same thing which happened in the music and video business will happen with books:
…because the barrier to entry is lower than in the past and the means of distributing the content is vastly more efficient. It will be the same with written expression. Writers will still enjoy creating stories using the written word, and people will still enjoy spending time with a “good book” — regardless of the technology used to consume it.
Brisco’s view seems to represent pretty accurately the people who think that the changes in the publishing world will have few consequences beyond opening up the path to publication for authors.
There’s a problem with that view. If self-publishing and e-books have eliminated the barrier to market entry they have also eliminated the processes that created a “good book” that people will still enjoy reading.
Think about the steps involved in creating a book under the old paradigm.
- The author produced a compelling, well-written manuscript.
- The publisher provided a team of editors and book designers to turn the manuscript into a published book.
The new world of self-publishing does not eliminate the need for the two steps publishers traditionally provided (although too many self-publishing authors seem to think it does).
Guy Kawasaki in his manual for self-publishers, APE: How to Publish a Book, says, “A self-edited author is as foolish as the self-medicated patient.” He advises
Publishing a book, whether a traditional publisher does it or you do it yourself, requires two kinds of editing. First, content editing helps you make your book more appealing by changing the organization, structure, content, and style of your manuscript. Second, copyediting is what turns an amateurish book into a polished, professional one.
Asking a few friends or relatives who love you to read your manuscript is not enough. Your manuscript needs professional editing..
Similarly, the process of turning a manuscript into a book calls for professional design skills. Peter Bowerman in his excellent book The Well-Fed Self-Publisher advises, “…it is categorically impossible to overstate the importance of a good cover….Hire a professional designer.”
To reduce the costs of getting their books into print, many self-publishing authors forego professional help from editors and book designers. Unfortunately their books show it.
The problem is that these authors fail to recognize that selling books is a business. If you are selling the book instead of having a publisher who does it, you are running a small business. Cutting costs by deciding not to pay for professional help is succumbing to what the Small Business Administration lists as the second most common cause of small business failure – insufficient capital.
So if self-publish, don’t wind up looking back on the experience with the title of Clint Eastwood’s 1967 spaghetti western For A Few Dollars More running through your head. Invest the money upfront to make sure that create that “good book” that everyone still wants to read.