Wannabe writers and current writers who’ve been trying to make their fortune with the word craft for some time already, prepare for a shock: Up is down, left is right and dogs are hanging out with cats, because, yes, everything you know about publishing is yet again turning out to be wrong. More specifically, in the wake of the uber-successful 50 Shades of Grey series, it appears that the way to a mass audience’s heart is now… self-publishing online. Yes, really. Take that, everyone who said that eBooks were never going to go anywhere!
Outside of the phenomenal success of EL James’ Twilight-fanfiction-turned-beloved-BDSM series, what has prompted new interest in the digital self-publishing space is the Penguin Group’s purchase of Author Solutions, a company that offers independent authors the tools, technology and advice necessary for them to self-publish their work (According to the company’s site, Author Solutions has “helped more than 100,000 authors publish more than 170,000 titles and reach their publishing goals” via its multiple imprints AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Trafford and Xlibris, as well as strategic partnerships with existing publishers; by mid-2012, the company estimated it would have an impressive 150,000 e-books in circulation). News of the purchase came at the end of last week, with Penguin’s corporate parent, Pearson, announcing that it had paid $116 million for the company, adding that Author Solutions would be “folded into” Penguin.
Speaking about the acquisition, Penguin chief executive John Makinson implied that the move was a necessary one, citing the sales of 50 Shades of Grey as “exceptional, [but] it is not unusual now,” and adding that Penguin “as you know, try to keep up with the game in terms of digital innovation.” That may be a reference to the publisher’s launch last year of Book Country, a site that describes itself as “a creative and supportive space where fiction writers and readers can give and receive constructive criticism, discover new and entertaining books, discuss and share tips and experiences, and learn about the publishing industry” – as well as one that offers writers “a convenient and affordable way to self-publish eBooks and print books.”
With both of these tools, Penguin has built itself an impressive mechanism to be able to spot the next potential 50 Shades as soon as it’s released – if not before, depending on how eagle-eyed its editors are – as well as giving itself a prior claim benefit when it comes to negotiating print publication rights from the authors.
Of course, that’s presuming that Penguin will be able to find the good stuff. According to the Guardian, self-publication of eBooks rose by 50 percent last year, with 211,000 titles released last year alone going by recent estimates. With those kinds of numbers, it’s no surprise that publishers are considering the potential for another break-out hit (or several) coming from self-published work. The problem really will be finding the quality signal within the noise.