Thoughts on Publishing, Self-Publishing, and Books

Here's an interesting article from The New York Times about how the internet and people reselling their books online is hurting publishers and the book industry.

"Book publishers and booksellers are faltering. But don't blame the recession - it's all the fault of the Internet used books market. "

Be warned though, the article kind of peters out at the end of page two. I really thought it should have gone on one or two more pages, but I'm wondering if the newspaper only gave the author so much space. Anyway, just realize that before you read--there will be no resolutions, ideas, or thoughtful considerations to this article--it ends, but kind of quickly and with me wanting to find page 3 (there is no page 3).

But that said, it's a good article for you to read if you're a writer and it brought up some thoughts in my mind, I thought I'd share. And be warned, like the article, my thoughts don't come to any sort of conclusion and rereading them they are a little random, what can I say, it's morning and I'm still on my first cup of coffee.

But anyway, some thoughts after reading the article--

1) If you are in the book industry or an author, you need to have an online presence that allows people to find the info they want about you and your books. I cannot tell you how many times I have been disappointed because I have googled a poet only to find a few random poems online and maybe a blip about their book on the publisher's page.

2) The publishing companies need to think out of the box. Remember "Video Killed the Radio Star?" We now have "Internet Killed the Newspaper Stand." So with people turning to the internet to get their information or find their books, what can a publisher to do to be competitive?

--POD (Print on Demand) - I think this is may be where publishers need to move to and it's even better for the environment. Books printed when they are purchased.

Of course, not all books could be purchased that way, but instead the huge inventory printed then not selling, print a good amount and allow readers to have books purchased directly from the publisher and mailed right to our front door. Many of us do this through Amazon already, but if the publishers offered the option of ordering directly from them for a lower price, I'd be right there. Especially if they had say gift subscriptions I could order for gifts for people, something like $30 a year = X numbers of books mailed directly to your home. I love that idea.

I do try to buy my poetry books directly from presses like Tupelo Press (one of my favs) because I know they earn more money that way. But I'll be honest here, when it comes to the big publishers, I watch out for my own pocketbook, not theirs. I'm always very considerate with the small press, but I am definitely less likely to order secondhand books or use the library when it comes to major presses.

BTW, I think poetry presses can get away with having an inventory because they usually only print 500-1000 poetry books on the first printing. (Amazing, it's it?)

3) I do think we'll see more writers self-publishing too (especially if publishers are accepting less manuscripts). And I think that can be a good thing. Since with poetry, 3000 books published is concerned excellent, with the technology available, we could easily publish our own books and get them out via the internet and consignment at various independent bookstores (another reason to support your indies!) You would really only need 500 to start out with a poetry book and it's a great thing to sell at your readings. But there are always a few concerns with self-published books.

One reason I have concerns with self-published books is that there isn't that filter of another's eyes or opinions. For example, if you have a new poetry book published at Pitt Press, I know that your book has gone through the editorial process, errors and grammatical mistakes have been removed; I know that Ed Ochester has said "I like this!" If you were to publish that same book on your own, I wouldn't have that extra recommendation and know that the same process was in play--your books are edited well and only what needs to be in there is in there.

Though I think some of this is getting to know the author or poet (and again, I'd be much more open to buying a self-published poetry book than a self-published novel, which seems open to have many more mistakes). If I bought a self-published book from PoetX and I liked it, then I'd be there for book 2 with no concerns about where it was published.

And I have many self-published or self-made poetry books I've purchased and some of them are even better quality than published books (some are hand-stitched or have individual details that publishers can't do). Also, these tend to be purchased at a reading, so if I like the poems I heard and want to return to them, I buy the book. Honestly, when it comes to poets, I really don't care who publishes their book as if I like a poet's work, then like her work.

As you can see, I've moved from helping the press to helping the poet. So be it.

But maybe the presses just need to figure out new ways to do business, production, maybe different advertising. I can count on two hands how many times I've seen a commercial for a book, I guess they assume that people who watch TV don't read. But what about internet ads, I mean, when you're on the internet, all you're doing is reading.

I don't have the answers, but these are some thoughts that the article raised in me.

Do I think books will be come obsolete? No. I cannot curl up with my laptop on the couch. I could see something like Kindle (Amazon's reader) being used by many readers (though I think they will need to lower their price a bit and sell it with a library books already downloaded for the reader, but that's another post...) But I still think there will be people like me who love the feel, smell, sight of a good book. I know I love my slender poetry books I have around me, even when they are overflowing off the shelves. I do see them as little works of art.

And I love browsing the library. During the snow days, it was the only place I risked the snowy roads to visit. It was open 1-4 on the Monday before Christmas and there I went in our dirty Beetle because I was having library withdrawal and had read all my books from the previous checkout. The librarian said a lot of people were feeling that same need to get to the library. Just as there are people who will line up to see a monster truck show, there are people who will line up at a bookstore or library. And I'm comforted by that.

But I do think the publishers have a challenge right now, as do most all companies trying to stay competitive in a tight economy. So we'll see what happens and maybe smaller presses will emerge, maybe not. Maybe new ways to get books to readers will be available, maybe not. But I know there will always be readers who wants books. And I know, I'm always searching for that next great poetry book.

Hopefully, we can all help keep each other afloat for another year...



  1. The book business is dying for the same reason giant banks and investment houses and mortgage firms are dying: their model is unsustainable. When I worked in the new book business, we relied on the top 20 or 30 best sellers to allow us to stock the thousands of other titles that let us kid ourselves that we were, in fact, a book store. When I worked in the used book business, we bought with the small group of regular patrons, both in the community and online, foremost in our minds. It's pretty clear which model works best. Every stinking celebrity memoir could be burned tomorrow and their ilk never published again, and used book stores would be able to eke out a living. And as big publishers disappear (they will; technology will not save them; the Kindle and its like are fantasies), small publishers who publish for small audiences will flourish. Nobody will get rich, least of all writers (poets in particular), but readers will again become more important than book distributors and the hacks who review for most of the high visibility commercial and industry publications.

    Of course, I haven't had my medication today....

  2. Joseph,

    Thanks for your thoughts. I had to smile a bit as I came very close to going on a rant about celebrity memoirs. Of course, I did check out Brooke Shield's on post-partum depression from the library, so I'm not to say I've never (or wouldn't) read them. ;-)

    Anyway, thanks for your comment. I agree about the small pubs/small audiences. It is these loyal niches and groups that will succeed. I know that if one of the big publishers (or all of them) fail, I will still be able to buy my poetry books.

  3. I have long been an advocate of POD and self-pub, but I always advise everyone to find a good editor(s) before moving forward. I also try to buy all my poetry books direct from publishers or the poets themselves. Most of my book purchases in Atlanta come from indie stores. I have to admit, I've played with a Kindle and it's pretty damn cool. Not what I was expecting at all, mainly because it felt like I was holding a hardcover book.

  4. I think a Kindle would be great for travel (for fiction and memoir) as it's kind of joke when we go on vacation because of the security blanket of books I pack. I have almost tweaked my back carrying them to the car.


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