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Fair Game for Self-Publishing

Little did I know that one business trip would change everything for this shy self-publishing author.

Frank furt Buchmess Book Fair self-publishing

“It’s huge,” my friend warned me before I left. “I’ve been there, and really, you’ll need days to see it all.”  She was, of course, talking about the…

Frankfurt Book Fair

As it turned out, needing days hadn’t been an exaggeration:

  • 5 buildings with a total of 13 floors, full of stands hosted by publishers and other book and print-related companies from all over the world;
  • multiple stages with readings, lectures, interviews;
  • books of all kinds, on everything you could think of;
  • then more books…
  • …literally millions of books!
Good thing I arrived early that first day, because it took me hours to stroll the enormous halls, take in everything, and locate the stands I wanted to visit.

And to see where The Devourer had been put on display! 😀

Meetings of the Mind

Day 2 was for meetings. Some were planned, but as so often, the most precious contacts are with people you meet by accident. Sharing a Bed&Breakfast led to an evening discussing books, storytelling, and business in general with a very kind French literary agent lady. I also had a wonderful time chatting with German photographer Gaby Ehringshausen, who self-publishes her gorgeous photographs of abandoned places.

From a practical perspective, I conducted several short interviews with publishers I had selected after the first day. Not to pitch them my work, but to get a better look at the inside of the traditional publishing business.

I was stunned by their answers. What these editors, marketeers and other publishing professionals told me about the industry’s developments left me wondering if I understood them correctly. Or had I perhaps been unclear in my questions? Surely my view of the traditional publishing industry couldn’t have been that far off?

Toothless

The last day, I took time to enjoy the pleasant atmosphere – and admittedly to do a little shopping. But above all else, I needed time to put things into perspective.

Yesterday, I had asked numerous English-language publishers from both sides of the Atlantic, among other things, the same four questions. Their answers were all exactly the same!

  • Q: “What do you look for in new titles? What makes you decide to accept a manuscript?” A: “It has to be well-written, of course. Other than that it has to, I don’t know, resonate with us somehow?”
  • Q: “What trends do you see in what readers like? What kind of stories are growing more popular?” A: “Hard to say. Nothing in particular comes to mind.”
  • Q: “How do you market your titles?” A: “We send them to our email list. We try to get reviews, but that is hard. We try some advertising, but it’s hard to be seen.”
  • Q: “How does the increase of self-published books flooding the market effect your company and its strategies?” A: “Self-publishing? Don’t know. I doesn’t really affect us, I think.”

Staggering!

Here I was, believing as so many self-publishing authors do, that the traditional houses know exactly what they are doing. That old-fashioned publishers have this honed radar to detect the next great literary work, and that they have the special sauce to rocket obscure titles into the bestseller lists.

They certainly did decades ago. Publishers were the gatekeepers of the industry. They made or broke authors. And perhaps as little as fifteen years ago, this might still have been true.

Now, the traditional publishing houses are toothless. Like the self-publishing authors, they are floudering in the digital world that the book market has become. They rely on the same marketing techniques, the same social media bombardments, the same guesses of whether readers will like this next book…

For better or for worse, the publishing playing field is level now.

Let’s see where that future takes us.

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