The Foreign Service Journal - November 2014 - page 42

Ask someone to comment on the current state of publish-
ing, and you’re likely to get this exclamation: “The industry is
dying! There is no future in publishing!”
To be sure, the publishing landscape has been turned on
its head. Marketing and pricing models have changed tre-
mendously with the introduction of e-books, and seamless
printing technologies have eliminated the need for inventory
and initial print runs.
Perhaps most notably, the dynamic self-publishing niche
has opened up unique new territory, as well as challenges,
for writers and readers alike.
A Brave New World
“If you were to take all the revenue bundled up in self-
publishing, it would be the sixth largest publishing company,”
says Arnie Grossblatt, director of the master’s program in
publishing at The George Washington University. This type
of profit is impressive considering it comes in just behind
the “Big 5” powerhouse publishers: Penguin Random House,
Macmillan, HarperCollins, Hachette and Simon & Schuster.
Until relatively recently, publishing a viable, professional-
looking publication was really only an option for the most
popular authors or the independently wealthy. Today, self-
publishing options mean that anyone can be a published
writer—whether you are writing a memoir with a limited
print run for your extended family or aspiring to a first or
second career as an author. Of the 66 books by Foreign
Service–related authors in this issue, about half were self-
Today writers can send their completed manuscript to a
print-on-demand vendor and have a physical (or electronic)
book in hand quickly, usually within a week. Many POD
services will automatically list books on distribution sites
like Amazon or Barnes & Noble. And the best part is that
authors no longer need to navigate major business deals
and can potentially reap a greater percentage of profit from
their work, because they don’t have to share nearly as much
of the earnings.
The operative word, however, is potentially. True, authors
can avoid the costly process of securing agents or sending
out manuscripts and waiting for responses that may never
come. But because self-publishing allows anyone and every-
one to be a writer, the competition for readers increases
How to Be Discovered
“The mere act of getting something self-published is
fairly easy,” explains Grossblatt. “What’s difficult is figuring
out how you cut through the noise and get discovered.” This,
in turn, has a lot to do with utilizing technology effectively.
Some of the most successful self-published authors have
done well by establishing a strong platform and active social
media presence.
Young adult author Nikki Kelly enjoyed great success self-
publishing her series on Wattpad, one of the largest online
reader/writer communities. She was able show agents that
she had an existing fan base and proven popularity, and has
since secured a three-book deal with Feiwel and Friends, an
imprint of Macmillan. In this case, self-publishing was the
catalyst for acceptance by a traditional publisher.
AFSA’s popular book,
Inside a U.S. Embassy
, is a good
example of an unusually successful self-published book.
AFSA declined a half-dozen offers from publishers in order
to maintain the rights and most of the revenue from the
book program. At 100,000 copies and still going strong, the
book has been a great investment for the association, as
well as one of its strongest outreach tools.
Sometimes, though, even successful self-published
authors don’t make as much money as they initially
expected. As Patrick Wensink relates in a March 2013
article, after becoming the sixth bestselling novel in America
and being featured in the
New Yorker
, his
Broken Piano for President
only brought in some $12,000.
“Even when there’s money in writing, there’s not
money,” he says.
While few authors are likely to earn enough money from
book sales to quit their day job, self-published works can
serve as a source of secondary income for many. A 2013
survey from
Digital Book World
reported that of approxi-
mately 5,000 respondents, the median income range for
self-published authors was about $5,000. The July 2014
Authors Earnings report found that romance, science fic-
tion and fantasy categories, in particular, have found great
success with self-publishing. Another finding: self-published
Self-Publishing: An Up-and-Coming Industry
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