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The Coming Catholic Book Revolution

March 6, AD 2012 17 Comments

It’s common wisdom that people who self-publish books are hacks that couldn’t write well enough to get published by a real publisher.

I’m one of those hacks.

And I’m going to tell you why this wisdom, which used to be fairly accurate, is now mostly wrong, and how you can now get your writing out to throngs of people like never before.

The Old Way of Publishing

A writer writes something, then shops it around to publishers. One of them bites, works with the author to hammer out a workable book idea, then edits it with the author and publishes the book. The publisher is indispensable because 1) they print the physical books, 2) they market them, and 3) they have the relationships and clout with the bookstores to get the book in front of customers.

This paradigm is being fundamentally changed as we speak by the e-book revolution, social media, and Amazon, the digital monster.

The New Alternative

A writer writes something. Publishers reject it. Writer self-publishes and sells thousands of books anyways.

Sound unlikely? I thought so too, but this is exactly what happened to me and my book.

The publisher can now be bypassed because 1) print-on-demand services like CreateSpace and Lulu allow authors to self-publish and still get books printed, only as many as are ordered at the moment, 2) blogs and social media allow the author to market her book and reach thousands of people easily, and 3) the bookstores are (sadly) becoming less and less important as readers can buy books over the web, usually for a cheaper price.

This revolution is already occurring in the secular book world, and the casualties include the giant bookseller Borders. The Catholic book world is several years behind the secular trend but is heading the same way.

New Pitfalls

I am not an editor. Nor an artist, much less a graphic artist. If I had designed my book’s cover and done the editing, it would not have done nearly as well. So I hired a freelance editor and graphic artists to do the work they’re good at. And I paid them well for it, hoping that the finished product would more than pay back their fees. And it has.

With self-publishing, you can stumble easily on any step and hurt your book’s chances. Poor editing, ugly cover, weak theme or topic, no marketing, no platform, and bad pricing are some of the bigger pitfalls that can and have occurred. Know your strengths and be willing to pay people to help you complete the areas you’re weak in.

The marketing step is key. You need a platform, which should almost certainly be a blog, or a website with a blog. You need to make connections with people, not for the sole purpose of using them to promote your book, but because you want to network with them, get to know them, and have a mutual digital relationship with them. Long before I even thought of writing a book, I had started making friendships and getting to know other Catholics, and that made a big difference as my book got several reviews from friends’ blogs.

The Killer Kindle

I have a love-hate relationship with the Kindle. I published my book and formatted it for the Kindle long before I ever owned the device. The trend is that people are expecting a lower price for the e-version of the book. I priced mine at $2.99, and this had treble benefits: 1) many people impulse-purchased it because it was cheap, 2) this led to Amazon advertising the book when customers looked at other Catholic books, and 3) the sales volume has kept the book in the top twenty of all Catholic books sold, giving it higher visibility.

The e-sales have helped promote the paperback sales and vice-versa. Like it or not (and truth be told, I don’t like it or at least don’t want to like it), e-readers are the future because digital books are the future. My e-book sales have been easily double my paperback sales.

Catholic Traditional Publishers Still Matter

Catholic bookstores are not owned by one huge conglomerate. They are mom-and-pop, individually owned businesses. If you self-publish, you have to connect with each of these on your own. Unlike big Catholic publishers, you don’t have a catalog of books you are offering. You have one, or maybe two. Why should they pay attention to you? How do you even reach them all without thousands of phone calls? These are high hurdles and are one reason that Catholic publishers still matter. They have the relationship with these stores, have booths at the tradeshows they attend, and are tapped into the marketing networks that reach them.

A publisher also offers editing, proof-reading, cover design, e-book formatting, printing, marketing, and credibility. You also get the benefit of making connections with a publisher, which could lead to more books or talks or radio appearances. Publishers have wisdom and know what their audience or customers are looking for. They can help make your book a lot better, and usually do.

The Way Forward

Writers need to realize that the onus of marketing and building a platform falls more and more on them, even if they go with a traditional publisher.
Publishers need to realize they are in the business of connecting their customers with the information they need, and not with selling paper.

A new role is going to be demanded: self-publishing consultant. This consultant, whether at a traditional publisher or a free-lancer, will help an author to get his book out there, offering services and wisdom to make his book a success. Some books just aren’t going to have a wide enough appeal to warrant a publisher spending the time and money on it, but for some authors, selling five hundred or a thousand copies might be a goal that thrills them. A consultant can help them do this, taking a one time fee or a small percentage of the royalties.

My hope is that Catholic publishers (and bookstores) will not go the way of the dodo, but will figure out how to adapt to the changing landscape of digital books and e-readers. This is possible, but we’ll have to discard or modify the old ways of doing things and embrace the new trends. There’s much more to self-publishing than I’ve gone into here, but hopefully this whets your appetite and has given you inspiration that it can be done!

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.ignitumtoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Devin-Rose.png[/author_image] [author_info]Devin Rose is a Catholic writer and lay apologist. After his conversion from atheism to Protestant Christianity in college, he set out to discover where the fullness of the truth of Jesus Christ could be found. His search led him to the Catholic Church. He blogs at St. Joseph’s Vanguard and has released his first book titled “If Protestantism Is True.” He has written articles for Catholic News Agency, Fathers for Good, Called to Communion, and has appeared on EWTN discussing Catholic-Protestant topics.[/author_info] [/author]

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About the Author:

Devin Rose is a Catholic writer and lay apologist. After his conversion from atheism to Protestant Christianity in college, he set out to discover where the fullness of the truth of Jesus Christ could be found. His search led him to the Catholic Church. He blogs at St. Joseph’s Vanguard and has released his first book titled “If Protestantism Is True.” He has written articles for Catholic News Agency, Fathers for Good, Called to Communion, and has appeared on EWTN discussing Catholic-Protestant topics.