While at the San Francisco Writers Conference I had the pleasure to hear Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, speak about writing and distributing e-books. I've been piddling around about getting my short books, which are available as pdf-type ebooks on my websites, loaded up to Smashwords so they will get broader distribution, so I was excited to hear any tidbits of information that might get me moving faster.
Among the many things I took away, Mark said one thing that really left an impression. He said writers need to ask the question, "Will it hinder my ability to reach readers if I work with a traditional publisher." Wow.
Until that moment I'd been thinking that working with a traditional publisher would help me reach readers. Why? Because they have the ability to distribute my book more easily than I do. Mark made a great point, though. He said that publishers don't always get your books into stores--they don't distribute as well as you think, and they don't publish your book if they don't think it will sell to enough people--which we all know. Plus, they may not want your book in all the e-book formats--if any. They may not want your book to be recorded in audio formats. They may have restrictions on how you promote it, such as using videos or podcasts. So, by working with a traditional publisher, you may not be able to reach all the people you want to reach.
And if you have a book with a small market, that doesn't mean it doesn't deserve to be published. As Mark pointed out, you can still impact lives even if your market is only 300-500 people--or your immediate family and their descendants. That's what we as writers want to do--impact lives. We want to fulfill our purpose or mission as writers (and as people). We want to pursue our passion. We want to follow our inspiration and produce published products that achieve results not just for ourselves but more importantly for others--for our readers.
I have a book with a small market--boys who dance and want to become professional male dancers. I pitched the book briefly to a few agents and publishers; no bites. I've built a platform around this book by blogging at My Son Can Dance. I even write a monthly column for danceteacherweb.com and have written for some of the dance magazines and provided guest blog posts for other dance bloggers. I've decided I will produce my book (actually two now...) via self-publishing. I can reach this market better on my own. I can do it directly, more efficiently and make more money doing so. I can do it with a POD book and an e-book.
That said, I have two other books that I would like a traditional publisher to pick up. I think the credibility a traditional publisher has to offer lends something to the project and to me as an expert on the subject. I think the right publisher will extend my reach. The right publisher will have enough of a presence on line and in the marketplace that it can help me promote the books and contact my target audience. This author/publisher relationship should help me reach my readers.
In this day and age, you really do have to ask yourself what a publisher can do for you that you can't do for yourself. We all know the promotion job has fallen to the author. Looking at this from a broader perspective, will a publisher help or hinder your ability to reach your readers? When you answer that question, you'll know what publishing path to take: self-published or traditional.