Sitting in front of YouTube last Thursday, my heart sank – and not just because that “due to unprecedented demand” I couldn’t register my e-mail address on Pottermore. JK Rowling has decided to sell the most anticipated e-books in the history of… well, e-books, directly through the site, skipping the likes of Amazon, iBooks and other retailers.
“JK Rowling is self-publishing!” Twitter said, collectively and breathlessly, as soon as the announcement was made. It was, apparently, “a watershed moment for e-books.” It proved that the “stigma of self-publishing is finally over.” This was “publishing’s Radiohead moment.” The death knell of books and the publishing world as it is now was suddenly ringing louder and more frequently. Surely the end of it all – print books, agents, editors, booksellers – was now only days away.
So why did my heart sink?
Because ignoring the gaping black hole of distinction between Rowling’s situation and everyone else’s on earth without exception, the self-publishing evangelists could now claim her as one of their own, and they were wetting themselves with glee at the prospect. But JK Rowling is only the new John Grisham: a self-publishing success story that’s regularly trotted out to validate self-publishing as a choice, but is in fact about a writer who never self-published.
Because Rowling is not self-publishing.
She is not self-publishing because she is not self-publishing. The Harry Potter e-books may be on sale from a site owned by the author and not third party retailers, but she is doing this in partnership with her print publishers and Sony, who will presumably do the techie bits. (They already have their logo on the Pottermore home page.)
As the Wall Street Journal reports:
“Ms. Rowling isn’t entirely pushing aside her publishers. Bloomsbury and Scholastic both said in statements Thursday that they would receive a cut of Pottermore’s e-book sales. “It is because J.K. Rowling wanted to be in a partnership with her print publishers on this project,” a Bloomsbury spokeswoman said. Both Bloomsbury and Scholastic said they would provide marketing and promotional support for the Pottermore site.”
But Rowling is also not self-publishing because there is a difference the size of the Grand Canyon between a billionaire author who has the most successful series of books in the history of paper and is responsible for movies, merchandise and theme park attractions starting to sell directly to readers, and you or I uploading a 99c book to Amazon KDP or Smashwords.
Her “self-publishing” is not the same as our “self-publishing.” I would even go so far as to say one has absolutely nothing to do with the other.
Why do authors self-publish?
- Plan B after rejection
- Higher royalties/profits
- More creative control over covers, etc.
- Less time between project completion and publication
- No need for publisher’s help due to existing readership.
Do you think Rowling is motivated by any of those? (Remember she can’t be by No.5, because she is getting help from her publishers.) Hardly. Pottermore is a new experience for Potter fans that will help drag Harry into the digital age, and selling the e-books from there is just one facet of it. If I was Rowling I would do the same thing, but I would do it solely as an antidote to piracy. The Potter e-books will reportedly be inked with a digital watermark so any pirated copies can be traced back to the original purchaser but they will be DRM-free. If the books were sold through stores like Amazon, iBooks, Sony, Barnes and Noble, etc. etc., I can’t imagine that would work.
But that’s all beside my point, which is JK Rowling is nothing to do with you. Or me. Or any self-publisher.
It doesn’t mean that traditional publishing is dead, that you should forget submitting that novel you’re working on to agents and take it straight to Smashwords instead, or that the fastest way to the millionaires’ club is a series of thriller novels priced at just $2.99. All it means is that what surely must be the most successful writer in the world right now (at least in terms of revenue) has found a way to bring her books into the digital age, to introduce them to a whole new, younger audience and to give something new to the existing fans who may have started reading them nearly fifteen years ago.
And she has already been traditionally published. She is a traditionally published author. She has submitted her work to agents, got an agent, had that agent submit her work to publishers, got rejected, got rejected some more and finally got an offer of a book contract. She has done her time, so to speak. She is not sitting at home, tapping her fingers on the desk while she waits for her 385,000-word novel, Zodiac Goldbottom and The Enchanted Fairies of Realm Number 6 (Volume 1), to finish converting on Smashwords so she can go into work on Monday morning and tell her colleagues that since she last saw them on Friday afternoon, she’s become A Novelist.
You don’t need anyone but yourself and your work to validate your decision to self-publish. The best way to prove that self-publishing isn’t just for deluded losers is to self-publish a good book professionally, and do it without making grandiose claims that make me want to slap you repeatedly on the head. (With your own book, for added effect.) Let your success speak for itself, and let that success say, “I’ve successfully self-published and I’m proud – but that doesn’t mean every last bookstore in the world will be closed forever by 5pm tomorrow and dead trees will have to go find something else to do.”
I was lucky enough to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Orlando last October. I was utterly blown away. And as I walked through Hogsmeade, queued up to enter Hogwarts, flew across the Quidditch pitch, peered in the window of Ollivander’s, eyed up cups of Butterbeer (and ultimately decided against it) and finally strolled through a gift shop that had a whole host of items adorned with Harry Potter images and logos – and there, in the corner, the books themselves – I felt a little emotional.
All this because of an idea that popped into a woman’s brain while on a train, I kept thinking. Look what books can do.
Books and Bloomsbury, the house that first published them.
Self-publishers, I will give us one thing: this is good news, although not for the reason you think. As Steven Lewis pointed out on Taleist yesterday, the release of the most highly anticipated e-books ever to grace the publishing world will surely result in even more people purchasing e-reading devices, especially if the Potter e-books have some added value (like an enhanced reading experience), which they surely will. And the more people with e-readers, the more people who can potentially buy your book.
UPDATE: I didn’t think I could agree with anything in a post called “JK Rowling Really IS Self-Publishing” (!) but this post by David Gaughran makes a lot of sense. Follow it down to the comments where I weigh in, and David says this golden nugget of common sense:
“Funnily enough, I think this will have a lot more impact on successful trade published writers than it will have for self-publishers. The big publishers will be working even harder now to keep their stars.”
To which I say: YUP.