Coming from a family of authors and editors, Grael Norton has always had writing and publishing in his blood. His dad has worked as a freelance writer for more than 30 years, ¬the last 20 of those years as a travel writer. His mom is an editor at Highlights for Children, and his sister edits publications for the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. But what really gets Norton’s blood rushing is the revolution that is happening in publishing today.
Now a publishing consultant at Wheatmark, Inc. in Tucson, Arizona, Norton says, “The center of power is shifting away from traditional publishing into the hands of individual authors. How do I know? The proof is in the pudding, as it's said.”
According to Norton, today’s trade publishers in New York are mainly looking for writers who have an existing "platform” -- in other words, authors who can sell lots of copies of their books because they are a recognizable brand. “It's the author who drives book sales, not the publisher,” says Norton. “These trade publishers cannot continue to be successful without savvy authors.”
As a result, more and more authors are deciding that they could just as easily publish their own work. Norton explains, “Since the author is already in charge of the marketing, the feeling is ‘Hey -- why don't I keep a bigger share of the profits?’”
Norton points outs that in an attempt to stem the tide of authors who are flocking to self-publishing that many of the large trade publishers are trying to scare authors away by telling them that self-published books carry a “debilitating stigma.” “Yes, it is more difficult to sell books as a self-published author,” says Norton. “It is also difficult to sell books as a traditionally published author. It is difficult to sell books. Period. It doesn't matter if you publish with Random House or through Lulu. It can be an uphill battle if you aren't already famous. And even if you are famous ... it is still work. Beware of publishers that make it sound like publishing is a cake walk.”
Nonetheless, Norton maintains self-publishing is not a panacea. This choice provides a new set of challenges--both for authors just starting out and for people who've had many books published already.
“Today, all writers need to learn more about some of the areas that have traditionally been regarded as areas of publishing expertise: marketing, distribution, sales, platform building, etc.,” Norton says. “Whether you're a writer looking to self-publish or to get picked up by a major trade publisher, you're going to need to know how to market. That's reality.”
In his current role at Wheatmark, Norton specializes in teaching writers the ins-and-outs of selling their work using the twin powers of print-on-demand technology and the Internet. “The good news is that marketing or "platform building isn't nearly as scary or as complicated as most writers make it out to be, says Norton, “though you do have to actually do it!”