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How Will We Read: A Book by You?

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"There's never been a better time for an author to publish a book."

-- Kevin Weiss

Write, edit, design, publish, market, sell your own book and book rights with highly experienced publishing staff assisting you? The self-publishing opportunity has changed significantly.

Book formats and channels of distribution will continue to evolve, but one thing remains constant in book publishing - it's a hit or miss business. Even the most experienced editors and publishers agree you often can't predict where the next hit is going to come from. The high risk of book publishing - the advances, promotion and printing in a market where brick and mortar chains are disappearing and thousands of new products are released every month -- explains why fewer new authors and even established authors are simply not getting book deals anymore. But everyone has a story to tell and everyone should have the chance to have his voice heard.

Kevin Weiss, CEO of Author Solutions, is one of the major game changers helping to spur the fastest growing segment in the publishing industry today -- the self-published author. I had the pleasure to talk with him about the new technologies and services that are helping more authors achieve their personal publishing goals, as well as helping traditional publishers and passionate readers discover new talent.

How large is the self-publishing business in the US market today? Can you break it into print books and ebooks?

I'll give you a few numbers, and then I'll discuss them in more detail. Last year, there were approximately 225,000 ISBNs created for traditionally published books. In addition, there were approximately 2 million ISBNs created for non-traditionally published books (including ebooks) that found their way into the distribution channels. Many of those ISBNs were issued to authors who were bringing books back into print. Because of that, we can't say for sure what the actual new self-published book numbers were, but it is safe to say that number has likely increased significantly over the past few years. Also, the current industry tracking doesn't enable you to identify the split between new print and ebooks. However, I estimate the self-published book market is probably around 150,000 titles in total per year. Of those titles, Author Solutions will publish about 30,000 titles this year, and all of our titles will be published as paper and electronic books for all platforms. The other main players are Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes &Noble, and Lulu.

What's your forecast for ebooks over the next few years?

Ebooks will eclipse print books. Our authors' revenue from ebooks is up tenfold from last year. I would expect that to go up another fourfold during the next twelve months. I would not be shocked if in the next couple of years we will see ebooks at 40% of the entire market. Look at all of the ereaders and tablets that we are seeing in the market today, plus the fact that the prices are starting to drop on ebooks. In addition, this Christmas, there are going to be millions more devices given as gifts. What's the first thing you do when you have one? You buy a couple of books.

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"We hire editors from traditional publishers, and they are very good at what they do."
-- Kevin Weiss

Why should authors choose to publish their print or ebooks with Author Solutions?

There's never been a better time for an author to publish a book. There are so many options available today, starting at publishing for free, using assisted self-publishing, and even getting picked up by traditional publishers, although that market is shrinking. Where Author Solutions fits in the continuum is we are an assisted self-publishing company.

Have you ever tried to upload Word documents to some of the ebook platforms that are out there? In many cases, it is a back-and-forth process. This can be very frustrating. In addition, some authors need help with cover design or creation of the galley. In other words, they want the added services that we bring to the table.

We also offer every form of editorial service currently on the market, including content and developmental editing. We have twenty people on staff in our editorial group, but we also have an extensive freelance editing group. We hire editors from traditional publishers, and they are very good at what they do. It's a service that's there for our authors if they wish.

We also offer marketing services for authors that want to build a platform around their book. Approximately 50% of our authors take advantage of some form of marketing service. One example is Hollywood. We have built an organization out in California that has deep connections in the film industry. We created a forum that we call Pitchfest where we teach people how to pitch their concepts to Hollywood executives. We have helped about 300 of our authors pitch their books. This is one example of a service, but we offer over 200 unique services across the marketing spectrum.

One secret of the industry is that the traditional publishing companies do not extensively market every book they publish. They expect the author to build the platform and bring it with the book. No-one is able to sell a book better than the author. The author is expected to invest in marketing. Self-published authors are no different - they have to invest in marketing.

Amazon has entered the hit or miss business with its Encore imprint. Is a traditional imprint in your plans for the future?

My boss asks me that on a regular basis. I don't think we are equipped to pick what will be a hit in the marketplace. I don't think that's something we will get into. I'll tell you what we do instead. We have publishing partnerships with six houses: Thomas Nelson, Hay House, Harlequin, B&H Publishing, Writer's Digest and Guideposts. With these partnerships, we have created self-publishing imprints where authors make the initial investment, but the publishing partner watches the titles for those that may be worthy of being picked up. A number of them have already been picked up.

What about an author who is selling well? What capabilities do you have to further increase sales of those titles?

We have pushed some of our authors with increased marketing from time to time. There are a lot of great self-published books out there. When we see them we do our best to get them in front of the right audiences.

What are the major changes for Author Solutions in the future?

We're seeing a huge explosion in our international business. The UK is seeing resurgence in growth. We launched in Australia and New Zealand about a year ago, are about to launch in Singapore and are currently doing final stages of due diligence for South Korea and Japan. We're also seeing a lot of growth in our publishing partnership business. In the future, you will see us get into ebook-only kinds of imprints.

A lot of electronic books that come out today are not properly formatted. We want to come up with a better model for the electronic book that helps authors create better products. We're also working on things in the audio area. I think there's potential for DIY audio books. And finally, we want to build tools that help authors get discovered in this new world of eBooks.

I also believe that we are the largest self-publisher of children's books in the world. We've done over 24,000. Children's books allow you to do fun and interesting things with tablets, including using audio to prerecord parents or grandparents reading the book to a child. We've been able to turn pictures into puzzles, which then enables kids to interact further with the product. I think all this transforms the reading experience for young children. What we have also discovered is that kids are more engaged with the book for much longer and even learn new things.

Any special message to authors for the holidays?

There has never been a better time to be an author. You have more opportunity and choice than ever before. If you have been considering writing a book - do it! As Lisa Genova, author of Still Alice, who published with us because she could not get a traditional publisher to pick her up, said, "It just doesn't do any good to leave that manuscript in the bottom drawer." Thank goodness she didn't because nine months after publishing with us she was picked up by Simon & Schuster and debuted at number 5 on the NY Times Bestseller list.

Finally, a message to all of the readers out there, support Indie authors. Encourage them through your purchases and comments. You will find some incredible reads out there.

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Kevin Weiss and C. M. Rubin

(Photos courtesy of Author Solutions, Inc.)

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