DIY Publishing: Vanity or Good Business?

DIY photo

Growing up in a publishing family, I’ve always been deeply immersed in the stories of the business. One that my mom loved to tell me is that before she became an editor at Random House in the 1960s, her first job was answering phones at a “vanity” press, the kind of publishing house where people paid to get their work published. She was young and naïve and didn’t know that if you were trying to make it as a writer or editor in New York, then this first job was the equivalent of being dressed up as a large fuzzy animal handing out flyers advertising a used-car lot.

Almost fifty years later, the only vestige of that time is the power of a good story. No industry disruption will ever kill that. But as for the business: it’s evolved dramatically for both the good and the bad. In my parents’ era, if you got the attention of a publishing house you actually got attention from your editor, unlike today, where the big houses reserve their attention for their solid money-makers, which we all know makes up a shorter and shorter list. For the many aspiring authors and those published by big houses—those who are often referred to as “mid-list,” authors—self-publishing today has nothing to do with vanity – or self, for that matter – and everything to do with doing smart business.

A few factors explain this shift. One is a direct impact of the Internet and technology on culture and business in general. I can remember back in 1997 when I was working as an intern at Wired magazine, and I read the now classic story published by Tom Peters in Fast Company called The Brand Called You, about how the Internet has made it possible for anyone to become a free agent, and establish his or her “own micro-equivalent of the Nike Swoosh.” This shift gave way to millions of authors becoming their own publishers as book authors or bloggers on every micro-culture under the sun, gaining followings and building the now all too familiar concept known as “platforms.” Many of these bloggers, some of who have some writing talent, have paradoxically become the bestsellers of the big five publishers, further hurting those on the mid-lists who often have more talent. Many more have instead invested in self-publishing–-not out of vanity, but because they also figured out that they can actually make more money as writers that way.

High Howey, a science-fiction writer, recently collaborated on a report with another author who also had some advanced coding skills. The coder built a software program that can crawl online bestseller lists, and they used it to generate a report showing for the first time some hard numbers. The big shocker of the report was that indie authors are actually outselling the big-five publishers. The entire group of them! According to the report, Indie and small-press books account for half of the e-book sales in the bestselling genres on Amazon. This means that the “average” author earns more from a self-published book than if he or she was to be published by one of the big five publishers. It also means that these authors have more ownership and more control of their work. Publishing on your own often means spending less time writing and more time hustling, but those doing it argue the freedom is worth it. They can choose their price. They can release as many books as they want, as often as they want, and in more than one genre, and they can work with a pool of talent and services of their own choice.

There is now an entire ecosystem of free agents out there who can help make publishing happen for an author. This includes cover-artists, packagers, and hundreds of new Internet companies that support them. Its include authors like Holly Payne, who is also a writing coach and runs an award-winning indie publishing house called Skywriter Books; Girl Friday Productions, which offers everything from editing to production services, and StoryMade Studios. Best of all: this new model means authors can have a direct relationship with their readers. This new eco-system explains why doing it yourself and hiring people to help is no longer the horror my mother saw it as she worked her way up the old-school ladder. If you’re interested in disrupting the way that stories are produced, published and distributed, there is no ladder anymore. The only constant that remains is the power of a good story.

Selling Your Company Means Selling A Story


In our content driven world, marketing expert Jennifer Aaker believes a good story will get you closer to your business and career goals.

By Rachel Lehmann-Haupt (West Coast Creative Director, StoryMade)

Have you ever noticed that the best founders and CEOs always have a dramatic story to tell about how their company came to be and it’s Raison d’etre. They’ll draw you into their “founders” story in a way that pulls on your heart strings and inspires you to want to be a part of the product or service they’re selling.

Jennifer Aaker, a marketing professor at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and author of The Dragon Fly Effect: Quick, Effective, and Powerful Ways To Use Social Media to Drive Social Change says that neuroscience studies show that our brains are wired to better remember stories more than data, facts, and figures.

“When most people advocate for an idea we think of a compelling argument, a fact or a figure,” she explains in a video on “But research shows that our brains are not hard-wired to understand logic or retain facts for very long. Our brains are wired to understands and retain stories.”

Aaker describes how a marketing researcher asked students in her class to make a 1-minute pitch. Only one out of ten students actually used a story in their pitch. She then asked the class to write down everything they remembered about each pitch. Five percent of the students cited a statistic while 63 percent remembered the story.

People respond much to emotion than to analytics, and this is often where business leaders go wrong. Today a company can’t exist without content, which is the buzzword du jour that basically means stories. Every company needs to be engaged in storytelling.

“A story is a journey that moves the listener, and when the listener goes on that journey they feel different and the result is persuasion and sometimes action,” says Aaker.

All businesses today need to take their customers on journeys that will engage their audience and customers. This could be a tweet, a website that describes the origins of the product, a blog that continuously engages customers with posts that emotionally connect them to the product or service, or even an e-book or e-magazine that offers a narrative and visual glimpse into the market that the company serves.

Aaker offers three reasons why stories are important:

1. Stories shape how people see you. Research shows that stories that other people tell about you influence how they see you, whether they want to hire you, or whether they want to buy something from you.

2. Stories are tools of power. “When you tell a story, people slow down and listen,” says Aaker. “Listening is a form of power as well.”

3. Stories persuade and move people to action. They’re a tool to advocate for your idea, your cause, or your company.

Aaker also explains that you should ask four questions to make sure you’re telling an effective story:

1Goal. Why you’re telling the story in the first place and what you want the audience to do, think, and feel after they hear the story?
2. Grab Attention. Why the audience would want to listen?
3. Engage: Why the audience cares?
4. Enable Action. Why would the audience want to share the story or co-create it with others?

“Everyone needs a signature story,” says Aaker. “The most powerful signature stories are those that take the audience where you want them to go.”

Originally published at Women 2.0