Sunday, November 20, 2011

I'm a vanity publisher but not a backyard money manager.

Traditional bookstores received another death knell with the closure of Clementi Bookstore, Funan computer bookstore and, of course, Borders in 2010. With the launch of Skoob books that sells ebooks from local authors, publishers are in serious trouble.

I think on the whole publishers deserve the mess that they are in.

In the Singapore Writer's Festival, I met quite a lot of obnoxious local publishers. One guy, who knew that I wrote financial books, asked me if I was a millionaire. That left a bad taste in my mouth because even a job interviewer had no right to ask such a question.

The truth is that for most investors, you read, do your own homework and then get into the markets by making your own trades. Other people will react by giving you a fair measure of respect. Some labels can be kind, like self-made man or independent investor.

If you switch the context to publishing, invest your own money to create a product that people would buy, you are labelled a vanity publisher. You are self-indulgent, possibly narcissistic and lack standards.

That's the equivalent of calling an investor a backyard money-manager.

I think at the end of the day, publishers miss the whole point. An author subjects himself to market forces and is no different from an investor. If his books sell, then he has the results to prove that he's created a superior product. A publisher is only helpful if he has the marketing muscle to move your goods.

Sales are everything. Publisher's attempts at maintaining standards means squat if there are no royalties. I fail to see to how a published author can pooh-pooh a vanity publisher if he doesn't have sales to speak of or is not ranked in the best-seller lists.

It works in practice too.

There is one thing that no publisher can explain to me.

My first book, Growing Your Tree of Prosperity, was on the best-seller list in the Strait Times and broke-even within two years. The book lacked proper editing and when it launched, it even did not have a decent distribution contract.

Anyway, maybe local publishers are being a little defensive and have genuine concerns about the industry they are in. Hopefully more writers will hop onto the e-books bandwagon, and I hope to catch SWF next year with some new technical skills like HTML 5 formatting which will herald a new generation of personal financial books on the Kindle Fire.

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