Are poets better off self-publishing?

How self-publishing has changed readers, authors, and publishers

How has self-publishing changed the fiction market? Hannes Monse asked me the question. I will soon give in to this question at the 3rd Stuttgart Publishing Group and this coming weekend it will be asked at the seminar for the Association of German Writers.

I am trying to find an answer. What has self-publishing brought to the world of books, what has it done for publishers, what for authors, what for readers?

Not having a publisher is no longer a stigma

Self-publishing has been around for exactly 5 years. Before that, it was called "self-embarrassed," which was pretty uncool. These were texts that couldn't find readers because nobody wanted to read them. Boring memories that only the author found important. Reports of recovered illnesses that should encourage others and yet only bored them. Self-publishers mostly had a sense of their mission, but nobody was interested in it. Some ended up naively in the traps of grant publishers.

Amazon has made "self-publishing" into "self-publishing". Five years ago the Kindle came onto the market in Germany and the KDP platform was launched at the same time. The publication there was and is to this day free of charge, not exclusive and without a long contract. Nobody had to deal with PDF files and formatting for printing anymore. With the e-readers and the reading apps, a reading infrastructure was created from one day to the next, for which e-books could be made available comparatively easily.

The Amazon competition fortunately revived the business of the competition here and did not flatten them. Print-on-demand service providers lowered their conditions, distributors and other platforms emerged or adapted to the market. And last but not least, the Tolino and Tolino-Media created a competitor on an equal footing. Even alternative forms of financing such as crowd funding benefited from this. Not having a publisher is no longer a stigma.

These are and have been a lot of changes that self-publishing brought with it. However, the most important ones have not yet been mentioned:

1. A market for the inferior

The biggest change that self-publishing has brought to fiction: A new market for the inferior has emerged. Texts that had previously been rejected by publishers and that could only be found in bookstores as "neck biteers" found authors and buyers. Adjective-soaked cheesy fantasy with predictable phrase-driven plots, find enthusiastic readers and fans. Thanks to self-publishing, new authors and new readers have established themselves in romantic regions, where until now you could only find the magazine novel. Not only in terms of content, but also in terms of price, self-publishing is clearly downwards. If there is such a thing as a YouTube for texts, it is self-publishing. Without the fast and uncomplicated digital form, this market would not have emerged if it had not become visible. If self-publishers complain from time to time that they are not present in the book trade, it is precisely this non-existence that is the factor that made them great. Exceptions and text pearls - mostly bought away by publishers - confirm this.

2. The overexploitation of prices and formats

Perhaps the e-book format and the cheap reading material of the self-publishers has also reached previous non-readers. But their number should be limited.

Instead, the new market segment unfortunately doesn't mean new readers or even more time to read. Budgets and reading time are just distributed differently. Instead of a publisher's title, it is better to buy three or four e-books from self-publishers. In addition to this downward price orientation, Amazon's royalty regulation also ensures that self-published e-books over 10 euros are unattractive for authors in terms of earnings. An attack on the e-book prices of the publisher's titles, which readers have always considered too high.

The e-book format and the cheap titles from the self-publishers are driving overexploitation, especially among publishers and publishing houses that were previously at home in the entertainment sector, especially in the paperback sector. It was with these publishers that the greatest unrest arose. They tried to counteract the overexploitation through their own self-publishing platforms (or their acquisitions) or imprints.

3. Strengthening of authors, weakening of authors, demotion of publishers

In addition to the overexploitation of the existing product segments, self-publishing led to publishers fishing in the pool of self-publishers. In the best-case scenario, self-publishers were lifted into the publishers' print program and thus even into the bookstores. Self-publishing became a talent factory and the better alternative to unsolicited manuscript submission. In the worse case, imprints and e-only book editions led to the formation of a new author precariat in some publishers: no advances, lower royalties, little to no marketing. Authors can "book" additional services such as cover, editing or marketing from these publishers - of course with a corresponding royalty deduction or other worsening of the conditions.

“Publishers have to see themselves more as service providers for the authors”, this requirement of some self-publishers has sometimes been misunderstood by publishers. Due to the mentioned imprints with cheap conditions and quasi-buyable publishing services, some publishers have degraded themselves. Even reputable houses are trying to adjust their book level downwards in order to tap readers from the self-publishing market. A sad picture - you can also read it on the book covers. The supposed empowerment of the authors is not always one.

And yet self-publishing has boosted the self-confidence of the authors enormously, because there is now a serious alternative to publishing. An alternative that even publishing authors use. The terrible word of Hybrid authors was created, who are both a publishing author and a self-publisher.

The hourly accurate evaluations of sales and royalties on the self-publishing platforms meant that publishing authors suddenly asked why there was only one or two royalties a year and what the marketing department really did for their own book. Without self-publishing, the author portals that some publishers have now introduced for their authors would not exist.

And last but not least, the jubilation over the VG-Wort judgment in some groups of authors should not have been so great and self-confident if self-publishing did not offer an alternative.

4. Readership, drug addiction and MAKE! MONEY! NEARLY!

Self-publishing has reduced the proximity to the reader incredibly. Because the fanbase is the most important thing that self-publishers have. Maintaining and building fans guarantees long-term success. Self-publishers are more tangible and present for their readers. Not only on Facebook and Instagram, but also in real life at book fairs, conventions and barcamps. That rubs off on publishing authors and is also required of them. The reader is involved in plot or cover decisions, is not only a consumer of the end product, but becomes a constant fan who follows the emotions and the real or staged life of the author.

But as with some Hollywood stars, this sometimes leads to addiction and massive psychological stress in self-publishers. The reader and the money she earns become intoxicants. Your love must not be lost. The publication cycle has to get shorter, new text, new sequels, new stories have to be brought onto the market. When is the best time? How are the reviews of the new book? What does the reading group say? Why was there a 1-star rating? What is the blogger writing? And a new text has to be published in a few weeks! Tips and tricks on how to write the optimal plot, how to trick algorithms and retain the reader, rush through on Facebook and the relevant portals. The proximity and transition to the make-money-fast scene is fluid with self-publishing. Copied texts, copied plots, clumped piles of text and tricks that even Amazon cannot counter quickly enough are the inglorious dregs of the self-publishing boom, from which honest and successful self-publishers are also suffering.

Seasoned, successful self-publishers who have built a new life for themselves by writing are caught copying and you ask yourself: »How did that happen? She was actually a very nice woman. You never would have thought that. «Addiction is no longer controllable.

5. The rest is literature and its business

In Germany, all of these changes only affect what is often referred to as "entertainment literature". They are genre texts that are easy to read: crime, thriller, romance, erotic, science fiction, chicklit, fantasy ... Hence the proximity to the e-book. They are not works that you have to put on the shelf in print.

When talking about the effects and changes through self-publishing, for the sake of completeness it must also be said where these effects are equal to zero: With everything that is not mainstream, that is not simple entertainment, that is not genre what can be called "literature". This should not be associated with a qualitative evaluation. There is also bad literature and great entertainment. And there are wonderful books that combine entertainment and sophistication. Every now and then there are titles that are on the SPIEGEL bestseller list - but never in the self-publishing sector.

The unexpected, the new does not take place in self-publishing, it is only found in the publisher's program. Will that be different in five years?

We will see.

Wolfgang Tischer