TIPM Weekly Brief: Let’s Get Erotic, Aggregated and Avoid That Self-Published Look!

(pic via Daily Mail UK)

Let’s Get Erotic – NOT!

The one dominant story over the past week has been the reaction by a number of e-book sellers to remove self-published books, or in the case of WH Smith in the UK and WhitCoulls in New Zealand, to entirely suspend operations. WH Smith’s online is now back up and running, though the consequences of the original Daily Mail and Kernel articles will, no doubt, continue over the coming weeks. The issue came to prominence when Kobo, an e-book content provider for many e-retailers and self-publishing platform, was discovered to be including questionable books on subject matter like rape, incest and abuse. Early last week TIPM reported that Kobo had identified material originating from Draft2Digital, itself an online upload and publishing platform for self-published authors, as one source of the books. Kobo are continuing to carry out a review of book vetting and has advised authors that non-offending books will eventually return to their distribution catalogue. Perhaps the most disturbing fact in this whole affair is the heavy-handed manner Kobo and other e-book retailers and distributors dealt with this matter.
It highlights that companies at the top level of the e-book distribution chain have less than adequate checks and mechanisms to filter e-book content without the immediate need to throw the baby out with the bathwater when something goes wrong. This kind of knee-jerk approach ends up harming and affecting authors adhering to terms and conditions as well as those clearly openly flouting retail and distribution terms.
It also raises another issue, and it is an equally important one. Exactly how independent are indie and self-published authors? I think the term ‘indie’ or ‘independent’ author is a much misused term, and I’ve previously questioned its relevance and accuracy when it comes to self-publishing, or what Orna Ross, founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), suggests should now be called author-publishing.
Victoria Strauss, of Writer Beware, and also an advisor to ALLi, tweeted the most pertinent comment this week on the whole panic around the availability and distribution of e-books.
“IMO, Kobo shutdown points up an impt issue for self-pubbers: you’re only as independent as your publishing platform will allow you to be.”
— Victoria Strauss (@victoriastrauss) October 16, 2013
Whether an author chooses to go with an assisted publishing program and service or truly self-publish and contract individual services, including distribution, every author is anchored to some third party’s terms and conditions. Unless, of course, an author is happy to sell books directly from their own website or out of the boot of their car.
The erotica panic also highlights that many e-book distributors and retailers still have a long way to go on developing systems of discoverability and filtering right from the get-go when an author supplies and loads content. Mike Shatzkin has an interesting post on this very aspect. Some further pieces covering this story over the past week include Juli Monroe’s post on Teleread, reacting to Michael Kozlowski of Goodreader, and his rather ill-conceived notion that self-published books should be segregated from traditionally published ones. Independent author and founder of the Let’s Get Digital website, David Gaughran, also weighs in on the Teleread site on the issue.
There is one thing clear in this whole debate, and it is that a solution will be found by distribution and retail platforms, whether it proves to be to the satisfaction of self-published authors or not. The erotic genre represents a sizeable revenue stream for publishers and retailers, and not just authors from the self-publishing community. I think it has been far too easy for the mainstream media outlets, like the Daily Mail, to make this an issue solely about self-publishing and renegade authors. This is an issue that affects the whole of the publishing industry.
It’s not hard to find articles on this subject at the moment, and I can appreciate that US authors must be getting rather bored of the issue with the wholesale coverage on both sides of the big pond. I think when this news story is covered by the publishing media, it should at least set out to add something to the debate. Today, Digital Book World did exactly this. There some great analysis on this piece – The Literary Darknet of Independent Publishing – put together by Aaron Stanton and well worth checking out.
What Percentage of Self-Published Books Are Erotica? 
Now, let’s look at books that have sexual content to a degree that they’re likely to be considered erotica. These are self-published books that contain an amount and type of sexual content that puts them statistically in the erotica category established by traditional publishers. In our observations, roughly 28.5% of the self-published content falls into this category. This is based on a “slice of life” sub-sample of data; I would not consider it necessarily representative of all self-published content, though I believe it’s relatively typical as self-published content goes. I have no concrete way to estimate how representative our sample is of all self-published content, though it represents several tens of thousands of books — I can only speak to what we’ve observed.

Let’s Get Aggregated

Instead of getting aggravated, maybe we should follow author Gary McLaren’s lead, and get aggregated, in the shape of a comparison chart on e-book services for author-publishers. McLaren is author of The Indie Authors’ Guide to Publishing Ebooks and this week he produced a simple but effective chart on a selection of e-book companies. The chart is a quick comparison of some of the main e-book aggregators and shows who they distribute to as well as their fees charged and royalties paid.

Let’s Avoid The Self-Published Look

Book publicist and marketing expert, Paula Krapf, continues her series of impressive blog posts on how authors can avoid the dreaded self-published look. You know, the look of a book that screams it was designed by the author in MS Paint, using poor quality images pulled from the Internet, and is devoid of editing and professional interior layout. Well, Krapf is already up to part four of her blog post series, so there is plenty to read up on. You can read part four here and also find the links to the other parts at the bottom of her current article.

Mick Rooney – Publishing Consultant

If you found this review or article helpful, but you’re still looking for a suitable self-publishing provider to fit your needs as an author, then I’m sure I can help. As a publishing consultant and editor of this magazine, I’ve reviewed and examined in detail more than 150 providers throughout the world like the one above. As a self-published and traditionally published author of nine books, I understand your needs on the path to publication and beyond. So, before you spend hundreds or thousands, and a great deal of your time, why not book one of my personally tailored and affordable consultation sessions today? Click here for more details.
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