For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.
For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.
June 17, 2010 - self-publishing on the rise
I went to library school at the end of the 1970s. A big change was taking place in the world of book publishing.
The old bookmen, proud of their ability to find promising new literary voices, were giving way to a new breed: the MBA. Forget the gamble on the unknown. The future of publishing was the blockbuster. A book deal came with a big advance, established authors, and paperback and movie rights all sewn up.
Then began the round of acquisitions and mergers. HarperCollins. RandomPenguin (I love that). TimeWarner.
The upshot? New writers, particularly the ones with something a little different to say, didn't get picked up. Last year, one major American publishing house announced that it was accepting no new manuscripts at all.
But we have to factor in the PC and Internet revolutions. Using a combination of commodity hardware and sophisticated software, almost anybody could produce a respectable looking text. And offer it to the world.
This isn't quite the same thing as "vanity publishing" -- where an author pays a publisher a lot of money to both crank out a book and push it. (In fact, few vanity presses do much pushing). Rather, it was closer to true self-publishing, where the middle-man (such as Lulu.com and many others) just printed books on demand, at a cost that was truly affordable.
Some of these new companies charge only $3 to $4 to print a single copy. A commercial publisher might offer 8 to 10% royalties on sales to the author. The self-publisher just deducts the cost of the copy. For print, that's a royalty of 50%.
With the rise of the ebook, Amazon will even help you sell your book online, as a download. Then you get to make even more money - providing, of course, that somebody actually buys it. But your take is closer to 70% of the sale.
So the business case looks promising. But what's actually happening in the publishing market?
Well, back in 2004, an estimated 19,000 titles were self-published.
By contrast, in 2009, commercial presses published 288,000 titles. But in the same year, self-published titles rose to 764,000. That's over two-and-a-half times the mainstream commercial output.
Meanwhile, Amazon, Barnes and Noble (their PubIt service), Lulu.com, and such sites as Scribd.com, are early leaders in helping authors both get their books online and sell them.
A recent Wall Street Journal quoted Mike Shatzkin, a publishing consultant, who estimated that e-book sales could climb from 5-10% of the total book market today, up to as high as 20% to 25% by 2012.
This significant publishing trend has many implications for libraries. Yet right now, most of those self-published books do not show up in public libraries, in any format. Why?
Simple. We don't know about them. Most library books are bought because some credible source reviewed and recommended them to us.
Recently, I met with Patti Thorn, former book editor for the Rocky Mountain News. She and some others are launching a new service that reviews self-published materials. It costs to get a review. (If there's anything an ex-newspaper reporter has learned it's that a business has to be sustainable).
Caution: paying for the review gets you a real one, not an advertisement. If you didn't bother to edit your book, if it's riddled with poor grammar, misspellings, and major factual errors, if it is in fact terrible, the reviewers will say so.
But if you've done something unique, well-conceived, and professional, this just might be your ticket to fame and fortune.
Interested? Check it out at http://www.blueinkreviews.com.
And look to hear more about this topic in the future.
LaRue's Views are his own.