Can we float more indie boats?

Can we float more indie boats?

With the news of The Bookseller's Independent Author Previews -- an arrangement with the Barnes & Noble self-publishing platform Nook Press -- self-publishing authors gain a store window on a long, virtual high street that's swarming with competition.

For those books and authors chosen to be featured, Independent Author Previews has the potential to be a game-changer. The new programme will see an average of 10 Nook Press titles selected monthly for the Previews section, in a partnership timed to run through next April.

Those titles chosen for the Indie Author Previews section might also be featured in The Bookseller's We Love This Book magazine, a consumer-facing books publication, and that could entail online placements and customer emails.

Philip Jones
Philip Jones

What's more, the deal should see Nook Press promote titles from Indie Author Previews in its promotional Nook First and Nook presents promos, along with customer emails and social-media work.

As our colleague Philip Jones at The Bookseller notes in his announcement today:

Our goal here is to discover the best new books published independently and made available to customers in the UK and we’re thrilled to have partnered with Nook Press. This is a new spin on what we have been doing for more than a 100 years, and recognises that some of the best new writing now comes through non-traditional channels. The Bookseller’s job remains the same, however, to shout about these books and bring them to the attention of our audience.

The key phrasing for many independent authors in that comment is: "some of the best new writing now comes through non-traditional channels."

This is the point of the Alliance of Independent Authors' (ALLi) "Open Up to Indies" campaign, launched during London Book Fair in April.

Orna Ross
Orna Ross

ALLi's founding director Orna Ross wrote prior to that launch:

The books infrastructure lags behind the reality that is this vibrant sector of the literary community. Self-publishers regularly find their books excluded from all sorts of opportunities, often on dubious grounds.

"Open Up to Indies" includes a petition at Change.org, signers of which are calling for "literary organisations, events managers, book stores, libraries and review outlets [to] now find ways to include [independently published books] based on the quality of their work. "

And ALLi has produced  a guidebook written by Debbie Young and Dan Holloway, Opening Up To Indie Authors: A Guide for Bookstores, Libraries, Reviewers, Literary Event Organisers ... and Self-Publishing Writers, to elaborate on the issues and suggest approaches to the kind of recognition reflected in The Bookseller's move.

Colin Eustace
Colin Eustace

Needless to say, an arrangement of this kind is good for Nook Press, giving it a key incentive with which to attract independent authors. Barnes & Noble's Colin Eustace speaks for the Nook Press side of the programme:

We are constantly looking at new ways to help Nook Press authors get the exposure they deserve, which is why we’re thrilled about this new partnership with The Bookseller. It will give our self-published authors a new outlet to showcase their work, while giving Nook customers another resource to discover their next great read.

Indeed, Eustace is wasting no time getting out the "call to action," as marketers like to say:

We also encourage self-published authors who are not yet on our platform to sign up today to be considered for this great opportunity and discover all of the great promotions available to Nook Press authors.

Still, one of the main questions for independent authors is how they can increase their chances of being found in the mountain of content now being unloaded onto the market each month. Is signing on to a platform like Nook Press -- and hoping to catch the attention of such folks as The Bookseller's Caroline Sanderson and her cohorts overseeing the Indie Book Preview -- simply too passive an approach in such a scenario?

At least one blogger this week thinks so.

"Discoverability dependency"

If your primary marketing strategy is waiting for people to finally come around your way, then you have discoverability dependency. And that’s bad news.

That's Jason Kong, a regular writer at Joel Friedlander's The Book Designer site. In Warning: Discoverability Dependency is Hazardous to Your Fiction Marketing, Kong offers what he says is "the brutal truth about discoverability":

Being found is a crucial step, but it’s just the first one.

Many newcomers won’t care about your offerings at all. Others might be curious, but not enough to proceed. Still others are truly interested, but life gets in the way and they don’t take action.

If you’re fortunate enough to get a small percentage to give your fiction a try, you’re at least on the right track. One reader at a time is progress, slow as it may be.

Jason Kong
Jason Kong

Kong's recommendation is that authors move aggressively to find "connectors." This goes by many names, too -- some refer to "adjacent markets" (potential audiences with interests in common with an author's work), others simply to "networking."

It can be surprising, however, how many authors find this difficult. Having spent so much time with their own material, it would seem fairly easy to identify what Kong refers to as influencers, fans, and peers relevant to almost any subject matter. And digital communications make it possible to be in touch with such influencers all over the world, quickly.

And yet, we may all know authors who seem paralyzed when it comes to such outreach.

This is a bad time to be frozen in the marketing headlights.

A major publisher's campaign chief in New York this week has told me that even for an office and staff of his company's power, it takes many more impressions these days to seize the attention of the readership. The hand-over-fist torrent of messaging coursing through the media is so rich that getting above that noise becomes a major challenge.

Opening up to indie authorsAnd as traditional publishers use pricing that at times is competitive with the super-low brackets associated with many independents' work, the self-publishing author's options can look pretty thin at times.

Clearly, such initiatives as The Bookseller's Independent Author Preview can help lead the way in encouraging other parts of the industry to "open up to indies."

But where is action most needed? Most urgently? By the most writers?

And who can most easily make that action happen?

Howey sees "the tankers turning"

Among the most significant recent commentary, the author Hugh Howey has written this week of how The Tankers are Turning in terms of some promising moves by major publishers. These don't all apply to independents directly, but the wider tide does make many things float and is well worth watching, as Howey is doing.

Among indicators he calls out: community-building among authors at Random House along with that publisher's launch of what Howey considers a very strong author portal; HarperCollins' launches of its retail sites (US and UK); price experimentation; signs that contractual constraints could be loosening in some cases; and this:

There were indie winners at both the RITAs and the Hugos this year. And several conventions saw modest progress in becoming more inclusive to self-published authors.

Hugh Howey
Hugh Howey

If anything, Howey makes the point -- and graciously -- that such forward movement is often overlooked.

"The tankers are turning," he writes. "We're just zipping around too fast to notice most of the time."

As we discussed in #FutureChat last week on the topic of innovation, even the biggest powers, sometimes denigrated as dinosaurs, are working on efforts such as, per Howey, "crowdsourcing the slush pile and opening themselves to general un-agented submissions."

What's more -- and welcome news to almost everyone -- he writes:

Release schedules are picking up, with books and sequels coming out in the same calendar year. The hesitation to publish two books by the same author in a 12-month span has rapidly deteriorated.

Taking a cue from Howey for Friday's #FutureChat, it was easy to think about positivism -- looking for where things either are "opening up to indies" or may be about to do so.

And going forward, Pollyanna need not apply. We don't want to overlook or dismiss areas where improvement still is needed, and there are many, certainly.

But the upbeat tone of Howey's post is energetic and instructive, as is his acknowledgment of how big and complex the corporate publishers are in a sea busy with the Jet Skis of independents:

I think it’s important to remember that there are visionaries on the decks of those other ships as well. A lot of smart people see where we need to go. Some of them have even turned over the wheel. It just takes longer for these behemoths to bend their wake.

And with viewpoints from the seats of those Sea-Doos and the decks of those tankers, a fine, engaged group joined us Friday for #FutureChat. Our upcoming recap will tell you they saw as a new opening for independent work and where they felt the next breaks for indies might be needed.

  • Jones, Sanderson, and The Bookseller staff are making the point in this new arrangement with Nook Press that good work can and does come from the non-traditional sector -- and that there are ready ways to surface it.
  • Kong warns that waiting for one's ship to come in could mean a lifetime on the dock.
  • But that schooner captain Howey sees progress in the fleet, enough to have stopped and run up some flags to signal appreciation and encouragement.

The week ended on a good note.

 

The FutureBook basicRegistration now is open for The FutureBook Conference 2014 -- 14th November at Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, Westminster. (#FutureBook14)

Main photo - Shutterstock: MarVil