the new era of book publishing

It’s a whole new world out there in a lot of ways—but the world of indie publishing in particular is changing every single day. This week, learn how to join us on the cutting edge of publishing by making your own beautiful books.


The future of self-publishing: An interview with Karen Mender and Diane Mancher, co-founders and creators of Self-Publishing Book Expo

We're very excited to attend the Self-Publishing Book Expo this Saturday, November 9, and even more excited to have the wonderful opportunity to speak with Karen Mender and Diane Mancher, SPBE’s co-founders. Decades-long veterans of the trade publishing world, they have brought a vast wealth of marketing and publicity experience to major publishing houses and have worked with world-famous, best-selling authors such as Nicholas Sparks, Thomas Harris, Jodi Picoult, Chelsea Handler, Beth Holloway, Danielle Steel, Nicholas Evans, Maeve Binchy, and John Gray. Read on to get wisdom from two of the brightest stars in the industry.

First, Karen Mender.

You've lived and breathed the publishing industry for the past few years—how would you say the publishing industry views self-publishing? Do you think publishing houses—big and small—view it as an opportunity to easily and affordably find talent? Or do you think they view it as a threat?
I’ve actually lived and breathed publishing for over 30 years, working my way up through public relations, then as Associate Publisher at four of the “Big 6,” and for the last several years on the other side of the fence in self-publishing. When we began the SPBE five years ago, there was still a huge stigma attached to self-publishing, mostly from traditional publishers, but also from many authors. That has now been radically altered.

I do think publishers look to self-publishing for some talent, but it is a very small percentage of their focus. In no way do I think they see self-publishing as a threat—it’s quite the opposite. In fact, at least four of the largest houses (S&S, Harlequin, PenguinRandom, and Thomas Nelson) have begun their own self-publishing arms.

What would you say are the three main aspects of book marketing that are irreversibly different now than three years ago?
It began more than three years ago, but social media is a primary way to promote, especially for the self-published. Crowd funding is also new and should continue to grow rapidly as more people self-publish, self-record, and self-produce. Also vastly changed is PR in terms of what is currently available to authors vs. what was available before. Years ago there were hundreds of newspapers covering books and today there are very few. There aren’t many magazines with book review sections. Media have far fewer opportunities for author interviews than years ago.

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Karen Mender - SBPE

What would you say are the main differences between book publicity and book marketing?
The primary difference is that publicity is free coverage (reviews, interviews, press materials), while marketing has always been thought of as paid space (co-op advertising, advertising, promotion materials for sales and for point-of-purchase). The one new area that bridges the gap and falls under both PR and marketing is social media.

Would you recommend that aspiring self-published authors contract a marketing firm for their book or do it totally DIY?
That totally depends on their platform, their reach, their level of energy, and their financial resources. There are more important parts of an author’s team when needed: Editor, cover designer, and PR pro.

It took the music industry about five years to have the conversion from analog to digital reach over 50% in the US. It's been six years, and ebooks are only now reaching 15–20% of the US market, according to surveys conducted to publishers by the AAP. In your opinion, why do you think that is?
I’m not an expert on this, but I’ll take a try. It took a long time for books to become as popular as ebooks. Sales trends for ebooks began quickly spiking about three years ago but have now leveled off somewhat. For music, the move to digital allowed consumers to buy songs as opposed to albums. For books, almost all want the entire work.

Speaking to aspiring self-published authors, what would you say are the three most common goals you've heard from them? Sales to obtain celebrity status? Self-sustained income? Discovery by a publisher?
Discovery by a traditional publisher used to be vastly important but I’ve seen that trend way down. Most self-published authors do so because of speed to market and the desire to maintain control. I’d say what they want more than anything else is to be published in the formats important to them. Hard to say how many have dreams of celebrity or bestseller status since it’s difficult to know how many are truly realistic. Publishing is, after all, a gamble—no one has a magic formula up front.

It looks like fiction and non-fiction books have taken center stage in the new indie publishing revolution. Where do you think graphically rich books, such as coffee table books, fit in this brave new world?
It seems to me that more authors will turn to self-publish coffee table books as they become better educated about how easy it is to publish. The one roadblock for the self-published coffee table book author—and this holds true for traditionally published authors as well—is pricing.

What comes to mind when you think of coffee-table books?
The chance to dream, the chance to browse and or learn, a focal point of conversation and decoration.

How did you hear about Blurb?
When we began the SPBE we researched firms in existence devoted to the world of self-publishing. I read an interview with your CEO/Founder Eileen Gittins and was intrigued by her knowledge and success.

Knowing what you know about Blurb, what kind of advice would you give someone who was thinking of publishing their book through the Blurb platform?
I would highly recommend Blurb as the best in the business for this type of publishing and the easy usage of Blurb’s platform.

Here’s a similar set of questions, with equally insightful answers, from Diane Melcher.

You've lived and breathed the publishing industry for the past two decades—how would you say the publishing industry views self-publishing? Do you think publishing houses—big and small—view it as an opportunity to easily and affordably find talent? Or do you think they view it as a threat?
From my perspective, the good news for self-published authors, and self-publishing in general, is that the stigma is finally gone! No longer do traditional houses and editors thumb their noses at this segment of the industry. It is the fastest growing and most robust, and traditional houses are sitting up and taking notice. I think that point couldn’t be made any clearer by the fact that Penguin, Simon & Schuster, and HarperCollins have all added self-publishing arms to their programs.

What would you say are the three main aspects of book publicity that are irreversibly different now than three years ago?
Book publicity has changed dramatically over the years. One big change within publishing is that gone are the days of an author going on a multi-city media tour. Five-, ten-, fifteen-city tours used to be standard, but are rare these days unless you are a very recognizable name. Second, the number of media outlets has decreased tremendously. Every newspaper in the country used to have a book editor. Now there aren’t even newspapers in every market! The third biggest change has to be the decrease in the number of bookstores. If you are lucky enough to work with a touring author, chances are he/she will visit very few bookstores and the majority of them will be Barnes & Noble.

What kinds of self-published books would you say have the most to gain from contracting book publicity firms such as One Potata Productions?
In light of my answers to the last question, One Potata tends to work on primarily non-fiction titles, be they self-published or not. There just aren’t enough media outlets left that cover fiction.

Why do you think only now are ebooks reaching 15–20% of the US market?
While I personally appreciate ebooks, I also love traditional books and I suspect lots of other people do as well. I do think as the population ages, the numbers of ebooks will rise. Traditional books will always exist but will fade.

Speaking to aspiring self-published authors, what would you say are the three most common goals you've heard from them?
First and foremost, many self-published authors need to assess their goals. So many still are not sure exactly what they hope to achieve. Of those that do, I would say building an audience of readers is first and foremost, being “discovered” is next, and making a living as a writer, third.

Have you ever done publicity for graphically rich books (i.e. ones where images and graphics take precedence over text)? If so, could you name a couple? If not, why do you think that is?
In owning One Potata for over 20 years, we’ve worked on a number of graphically rich books including New York 400 (Running Press), Icons of the 20th Century (Overlook), Arthur Elgort’s Models Manual (D.A.P.), Glamour Icons: Perfume Bottle Design (Antique Collectors Club).

It looks like fiction and non-fiction books have taken center stage in the new indie publishing revolution. Where do you think graphically rich books, such as coffee table books, fit in this brave new world?
I think there are amazing things you can do now with graphically rich books that you could not do even two years ago! There will always be a place for coffee table books and the technology available now affords authors the opportunity to produce a much higher-quality work.

What comes to mind when you think of coffee table books?
I love photography books and to me, a beautiful book of photographs is the perfect coffee table book.

How did you hear about Blurb? Knowing what you know about Blurb, what kind of advice would you give someone who was thinking of publishing their book through the Blurb platform?
I can answer these questions together. I first heard about Blurb because I have a number of friends who are photographers and artists. In the past few years, many of them have decided to put their work between covers and all of them have used Blurb. In fact, it was hearing about Blurb and seeing their work that actually spurred me on to create the Self-Publishing Book Expo! Five years ago, when the economy took a turn and publishing was hit hard, I thought about having a book “fair” just for self-published photo and art books as a way to maybe make some money and help my artist friends sell their books. The more I thought about the idea, the more I thought I should open it up to a wide variety of books and also add a component so that these authors could gain more knowledge about the publishing process and the SPBE was born! So I am truly delighted that it has all come full circle and we are welcoming Blurb to the show this year.



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How to make books and influence people

A crucial element in growing and strengthening businesses and brands lies in establishing credentials and building influence—as your reputation and influence grow, so does new business.

Bookstore–quality books or graphically rich ebooks can communicate your expertise, showcase products and services, or highlight a business philosophy in ways other formats can’t. The tactile properties of physical books give your audience a very different experience than standard online content does. Books are presented, held, perused, and not easily ignored. Additionally, fixed-format ebooks that use audio and video to enrich the message and overall experience allow for beautifully designed, neatly packaged digital content that displays on an iPhone or iPad.

Whether your goal is generating leads, starting conversations, attracting media attention, boosting sales, or building a following, you can use a book for much more than simply a "new business card". Books can be cost-effective vehicles for building credentials, influence, and relationships—and allow you to create a lasting impression for your business or brand.

Take a look at some examples from the Blurb Bookstore and see how other businesses and brands are using books to elevate their profiles.

Black Sheep Postal Service
Building a story from the very start. This book simply uses Instagram images taken in the first six months of a newly launched business to begin the visual narrative of a growing brand.

Look Book 2013
When an offering is multifaceted, compartmentalizing and summarizing what you do visually is a great way to speak to prospective clients.

Reinforcing company values and commenting on the marketplace while educating and exciting clients are just a few of the ways this book helps establish MRP Webmedia as a thought leader.

How to make books and influence people


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Anatomy of a writer: The journey from inspiration to publication

Writers all over the world commit words to paper every single day. Some need silence, while others thrive on the constant buzz of music in the background. Some write by hand, others type on the computer. Some create in furious bursts and some word by precious word. But despite these different methods, all are driven by an urge to document their thoughts and feelings. To illustrate how they see the world—whether in their voice, or that of their characters. And that art of creation is what unites them all.

Whether you’re a new or seasoned storyteller, dipping into the minds of those who’ve written a book can encourage your inner scribe. So read on to learn what writing means to three successful Blurb authors, and get inspired to write your very own story.

Tara Pohlkotte, poet and author of Dreamcatcher

Tara Pohlkotte, poet and author of Dreamcatcher, and named one of BlogHer’s 2013 Voices of the Year has been storytelling since the second grade and she knows more than a thing or two about working through writer’s block.

What prompted you to become a writer?
I was introverted in a family of charismatic and charming characters, so oftentimes to formulate my own thoughts, I would sneak away to write in order to understand and to be heard. I sat with myself line by line until I was sure that I knew my own voice. This is still one of the most compelling reasons I write—to formulate and hear my own concept of the world and life that I am living.

What does your writing process look like?
Stolen moments. I am a mother of two small children, I work full time, and am completing my Masters, so time is something I have in short supply. My process looks a lot like scrolled lines of poetry on the back of my grocery list, or corners of school papers where ideas come and sit until I can transpose them later. The early morning is an ideal writing time for me too. I set my alarm two hours before my house wakes and let the words come while my subconscious-self is still dominant. It's when my conscious self is stumbling to that first cup of coffee that I can capture those unaltered universal thoughts.

What’s your earliest writing memory?
In the second grade I sat down and wrote my first story, and I remember reading it to my Grandpa, feeling thrilled to introduce him to these characters that I had grown to love. He said one thing in response to that story, which became pivotal to me as a young writer. "And then what happened?" I still hear him whisper those words to me when I sit down to write. And each day I try to answer him.

How do you deal with writer’s block or being uninspired?
If I am blocked or uninspired, it means that I have blocked another crucial part of myself, the living part, and have gotten too deep in my mental processes. In order to write about the beauty and pain of life, I have to be living it. I usually know then that I need to pay closer attention to the people in my life, or, to the way the world smells in the school pick-up line that day. I have to forget about capturing moments and try really hard to just experience it. Then I get lost in a good book. I read more than anything else. If I've stopped reading, then I will stop creating. The two processes are tied very closely to me. Reading opens the part of myself that I need to access to be able to write.

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Inner Poet

John Corby, author and illustrator of Timid Terrence

John Corby, author and illustrator of Timid Terrence, has been a semi-professional artist for the past 25 years. But writing a children’s book posed the perfect combination of personal and professional creative challenges.

When did the idea of writing come to you?
I had toyed with the idea of writing for several years, but, as is often the case, life is all about timing. With two grown-up children who recently left the nest, and considerably more time on my hands, I decided to take the plunge into children’s books. The many delightful hours spent reading bedtime stories to my little ones kindled my own desire to one day create something wonderful for a new generation of inquisitive minds.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging when writing?
The biggest challenge with children’s books is maintaining that delicate balance of tension and simplicity. If the young reader’s journey is both compelling and easily understood, the child will ask for the story again and again.

Which books have influenced your life the most?
As a teenager I read a lot of science fiction. Looking back, I can see that this was a terrific introduction into the world of fantasy and opened my eyes to the fact that anything is possible on paper.

Do you see writing as a career?
Even though I am a late starter, I would love to pursue a career in writing. After all, there is no substitute for experience and a wicked sense of humor.

Which author inspires you most, and why?
Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel) is my favorite children’s author. He was gifted in both illustrating and storytelling, which is why his books have stood the test of time. His work was a skilfully constructed tapestry of both humor and mischief.

For the illustrators out there

Rachel Friedberg, creator of Diary

Rachel Friedberg is the perfect example of why it’s never too late to become a writer. At age 80 she lost her husband after 55 years of marriage. Her newfound aloneness prompted Diary, where she explored her formative childhood memories up until age 10 in order to discover how she came to be herself before she merged her life with another.

What prompted you to create this book?
It was 2009 when I turned 80, and it was 2009 when my husband died. I was "a couple" for 55 years. Now I am me. How did I become me before I was a couple? What were the beginning seeds? I couldn’t pick up the strands of my life until I could see a whole person going forward. I felt so fractured. Studio work has always been my salvation.

How did that process look?
I did work on it every day. My usual workday is from 11am to 4 or 5 in the afternoon. It was not hard. The images brought forward all the old associations and minute details as though it was a video that I just had to put down what I saw and felt. Most of the occurrences affecting my life in a profound way all came during the first 10 years of my life. Those are sponge years. Good and bad sponge years and I was shaped by them. I speak about these associations in the introduction of my book. The work should be looked at as one piece. The images and the stories together. Only then are you able to see the taut line throughout the book and the conclusive personhood.

Is this book a personal success?
For me it is a personal success because it accomplished what I started out to do. Finding my way to the next phase of my life.

What was your hope for this book?
I would very much like to see this book with its images seen by as many people as possible so that they can find associations of their own and thereby lessen their isolation. Also, I wanted to share with others the feeling of Brooklyn in the 30s and 40s. The culture, the limitations, and the pleasure one can feel in a far-off borough of New York.

Will you continue to explore your emotions through writing?
My past experience in the world of words was different. In the 1970s I had a series of works called the word paintings where words and sentences were incised into the encaustic (wax medium) surface and was essential to the work at the time both visually and philosophically. I still interject words in some of my studies and whether they some day leave the board to be on their own, I don't know.

For the artists among us

Allie Rice, author of Narrative

Allie Rice, author of Narrative, is a creative who decided her mission was to help other creatives. Her hands-on, study-at-your-own-pace workbook can help you get your story ideas out of your head and onto the page.

How did you get started writing?
Like most writers, I can't remember a time when I wasn't writing. I "published" (or, more accurately, photocopied) my stories for family and friends even as a child, and my thesis papers in college were always over the requested page count. While everyone else was increasing page margins to 1.5 inches and setting their text in Courier, I was squeezing margins down to three-fourths of an inch and setting everything in Times New Roman. Although I wasn't an English or communications major, many of my professors encouraged me to pursue publishing my papers in journals and magazines. From that point, I knew that I would eventually bring writing into my career in a significant way.

What motivates you?
As a creative small business owner who works primarily with other creative small business owners, I hear the same struggles and challenges all the time. How can I demystify my creative rhythm? How can I leverage my time? How can I build sustainable systems that exemplify my values? How can I demonstrate care for my clients while creating space for myself? How can I establish disciplines while cultivating freedom? I want to share the techniques and truths that have helped me answer these questions for myself—and others—over the past several years.

What does your writing process look like?
For this project in particular, I had some rough outlines sitting in my files for months until I finally decided to take a month-long sabbatical from my usual work (as a designer) so I could devote my time to this book. I wrote the majority of the content in those four weeks and then set it aside for a few months while I was engaged in other projects. When I came back to it, I had fresh eyes and was able to make editorial changes that brought a true cadence and cohesion to the work. Once the content was properly organized, I was able to send it to a third-party editor while I worked on creative direction and photography for the finished product.

What are you hoping to achieve with your book?
I want to show creatives that systems aren't just for left-brained people—that the way you manage your time, projects, and relationships says something to your clients and customers, even if it isn't what you intend. Systems give your intentions a voice.

What's been the hardest or scariest thing about self-publishing?
I think the scariest thing about publishing in general is overcoming your own hesitation and uncertainty. You invest so much of yourself in a book, and it feels vulnerable to put it on display. This seems particularly true in self-publishing, where there's no mediator between you and your audience. For me, it was essential to have trusted advisors who read and reviewed my work—and gave me much-needed affirmation and criticism alike—before I shared it with the world.

For the creatives types out there


Put your best book forward: Blurb and Writer.ly

Your book deserves the best publishing help around. That’s why we think you should consider letting Writer.ly be a key member of your publishing team. Writer.ly is an online marketplace where you can find the help you need to complete, publish, and market your Blurb books. We know it’s hard to be an expert in every part of the book-making process, from design to layout to proofing and more. That’s why we suggest that bringing in a pro or two on a freelance basis might be a great way to make a good book (or book idea) even better.

Simply post a job on Writer.ly describing what you need and let freelancers bid on your job. You pick who you’d like to work with based on price, portfolio, reviews, and experience. Best of all, it’s free to register and post your job. Writer.ly’s most popular freelance services include editing, cover design, and marketing—all highly useful for Blurb authors looking to self-publish their books and make them as beautiful, clear, and error-free as they can be. You can also find someone to help you design and lay out your book—or even write your back cover copy.

Another great option for Blurb authors is Writer.ly’s Star Service. Writer.ly will match your particular book-making project with their most qualified editors, designers, or marketers. Writer.ly backs these Star services with a 100% “satisfaction or your money back” guarantee. Even better, they’re offering Blurb authors $100 to use towards an editing Star Service. Just enter the promo code BLURBBEST when you order.

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Writerly Pub Camp

Writer.ly was created by writers, for writers. We believe in your book! Let us be your publishing team. Use the promo code “friends” for $50 off PubCamp, our one-day writing, publishing, and book marketing conference in Seattle on November 22nd.



Your child is an author.

How do we know? Read on and find out.

Of course we love books written for children (for example, this one and this one and this one), but we also love books written by children. Or by children with a little help from mom and dad. That’s why we’d like to share a couple of tips for books you can make with your little ones. Make your kid the star of the show and create your own book they can show off (and you can use as a great gift this year).

First of all, make it a group project. You write the story, they draw the pictures. Set up the framework of the tale—that’s the hard part—and save the exciting creative work for the kids. Gather a supply of crayons, colored pencils, markers, and a lot of paper. Explain the story structure and then let the kids go crazy with the drawings. Scan or take pictures of the result and fire up one of our book-making tools to load the images and arrange them in sequence. Then, match them up with the story text (you may even get the kids to help you embellish the tale at this point). Voila! You’ve got a beautiful book.

Fresh out of art supplies? Just whip out your camera (or camera phone), open up the dress-up box, and let the kids become the physical embodiment of the characters in your story. Take pictures of their adventures as you talk them through the story. You can even do it in reverse: Hang back and let them improvise with their wild costumes, using their creativity and imagination to build the storyline. Upload your photos into BookSmart or Bookify (or Adobe® InDesign®, if that’s how you roll) and create a book where they’re the hero (or the villain, if that’s how they roll).

The best part of this whole project? It makes a great gift for the kids—your book will be something you can show off for years—and it makes a great gift for friends and family too. Make a coffee-table-sized 12 x 12 book for Grandma and Grandpa to exclaim over and a cute little 7 x 7 book for the kids to bring to school and show to their friends. Just like magic, you’ve created a work of art that is also a wonderful gift.

Your child is an author
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Great gifts from the Blurb Bookstore

Beards Bacon and Beer - Chris Lopez

Beards, Bacon, and Beer | Chris Lopez

As the title suggests, this recipe book is not for the faint-hearted. Particular attention should be paid to the "so why should men cook" section, which is very informative. We hasten to point out that the beer accompaniments to all recipes are optional.

Ollie and Loo - Joni Cooper

Ollie + Loo | Joni Cooper

Comical and brilliantly illustrated, Ollie & Loo will delight parents and children alike. As author Joni Cooper puts it “A funny story without a moral message which ends with a twist parents will enjoy.” How wonderfully refreshing.

Patent Pending - Jordan Natyshen

Patent Pending | Jordan Natyshen

Calling all gadget-geeks. Author Jordan Natyshen delivers a heady mix of unthinkable inventions, curious facts, inspirational quotes, and historical milestones—a book to be enjoyed by all.

Type for Kicks - Daniel Held

Type for Kicks | Daniel Held

Type for Kicks chronicles the history of three of our most iconic and revered sneaker brands. This book looks at the influence they have had—through style, materials, and typography—on culture and the people who wear and admire them.

8 Steps To Build A Potato Cannon - Andy Hernandez

8 Steps To Build A Potato Cannon | Andy Hernandez

An air-powered potato cannon. Honestly, how have we survived so far without this book? 8 Steps makes a great gift for older children and teenagers, as well as those of us who consider themselves "adult children" and "eternal teenagers".

Spirit of the Street - Jonathan Lucas

Spirit of the Street | Jonathan Lucas

Photographer Jonathan Lucas invites us into the largely unseen world of Parkour in his high-octane book. Urban sports enthusiast or not, this intimate glimpse into the lives of those who practice Parkour is nothing short of thrilling.



How to make a custom cookbook, step by (simple) step

Looking for a great present this year? Need a little help getting started? We’ve put together a quick tutorial that shows you exactly how to put a one-of-a-kind cookbook together, from coming up with an idea to actually publishing your book. Illustrated with helpful screenshots, the tutorial guides you step by step through the entire process of making a wonderful custom cookbook with BookSmart, our free downloadable book-making tool.

So with our know-how and your recipes and photos (sorry, we can’t do that part for you) you’ll become a cookbook-making expert before you know it.

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