Why Most Authors Should Not Emulate Seth Godin

Seth Godin is one of my heroes. I have read nearly all his books. I subscribe to his blog. I am a fan. I also consider him a visionary and a friend.


Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/FabioFilzi

Yesterday, he wrote a very provocative post on why he is “Moving On” from the traditional world of book publishing in order to connect directly with his readers. This has created a stir on the Internet.

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For example, Mike Shatzkin said, “There’s only one Seth Godin, but there are other authors who might emulate him.” Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Work Week, also commented, as did the Wall Street Journal. Several of my readers have asked for my thoughts about Seth’s decision, so I thought I would respond here.

The short answer is this: While I think this might be the right answer for Seth, I don’t think it is the right answer for most authors. I can think of four reasons why most authors should not follow his lead here:

  1. Most authors can’t get directly to their readers. Sure, Seth can. His blog attracts an estimated 438,000 followers. But he is the exception. Most authors aren’t directly connected to their readers. Without a platform, an author is like John the Baptist: “a voice crying in the wilderness.” With more than one million new book titles published last year, getting your voice heard is a challenge. I am not arguing that traditional publishing is the answer, but I don’t think going-it-alone is either. It might just be tougher than it looks.
  2. Much content doesn’t lend itself to alternative forms of distribution. Some does, to be sure. Seth, for example, writes short, pithy, stand-alone non-fiction. It’s perfect for blog posts. In fact, many of his books feel like collections of blog posts. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. It’s a great way to write. (I know many authors who first posted their book online, one segment at a time, and then published it conventionally.) But it doesn’t work for all genres, particularly fiction and the kind of non-fiction that requires a longer, more sustained argument.
  3. Most authors still have need to monetize their content. Seth might be the most generous person I know. He happily gives his content away because he wants to get his ideas out as broadly as possible. But most authors don’t have this luxury. They have to be compensated for their effort or they can’t afford to invest the time it takes to create truly great work. Sure you can sell Kindle, Nook, or iBooks editions (provided you can figure out the different formats), but despite what you may read in the press, it is still a very small part of the publishing business. Tim Ferriss points out, for example, that digital book sales (all formats) on his last royalty statement were “a mere 1.6% of total units sold.”
  4. Most authors aren’t prepared to setup an alternative publishing infrastructure. Getting into print is the easy part. You can find a hundred companies via Google that will help you do that. Or you can just publish online. But what about getting a cover designed, editing the book, writing the jacket and marketing copy, and getting it designed and typeset? Worse, what about formatting the book for the 20-plus online etailers (many of whom have their own proprietary digital formats), distributing the content via your own Web site and others, collecting the money, and fielding customer complaints? This is what Ingram CEO Skip Prichard calls “the ugly stuff” that still has to be done to get your content in circulation and ultimately get paid.

In the final analysis, why does this have to be an either/or decision? If authors have a timely message that needs to get out fast, they can disseminate it on a blog or create an eBook. If they simply can’t find a publisher with the vision or the willingness to take a risk, then by all means, they should bypass the publishing machine, and do it themselves. But if they have the choice, why not do both?

Question: What do you think? Agree? Disagree?
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  • http://www.brookemcglothlin.com Brooke McGlothlin

    I think any would-be author can feel Seth's pain, but as a book-lover AND writer I don't wish to see all writers follow his lead. I still like to have a cold hard book in my hand. All the more wonderful if it were mine. I like the concept Lysa Terkeurst shared about her blog at the recent She Speaks conference. She views her blog as the testing grounds for future books. She doesn't consider it her best work, reserving that time and energy for her books, but still views it as an integral part of her total publishing package. That's the example I'm following.

  • http://www.christopherhopper.com Christopher Hopper

    I have a blog with about 600 readers a day that hit it. I have an email mailing list of about 2,000 people (whose email addresses constantly change; what a pain). I have over 3,000 friends on FaceBook and 1,500 followers on Twitter. I have sold at least a 1,000 units of all 9 albums I have ever cut.

    But having my second YA fiction novel series printed with TN let me see numbers I couldn't have imagined. And that equals one thing: lives.

    I don't care who you are. Having a healthy online presence is essential today, but it is no excuse for getting a larger company behind you and helping kick the door down.

    Sure, ebooks have a place. And I'm considering it for a series that I'm having a hard time getting a larger company to pick up but that my readership is begging me for. But I still won't touch the reading base that TN was able to launch me into.

    *This comment was not solicited by TN even though I'm signed with them. There are plenty of things that bug me about larger publishers, but on this account, I had to chime in.

  • http://www.facebook.com/TimothyFish Timothy Fish

    I disagree on the basis that I don't believe what you say about "most authors." Most authors have a day job or a husband who will support them, so anything they make from book sales is extra. Because money isn't really an issue, most authors care more about being read. While few of us attract the following that Seth Godin has, people are much more willing to read our work when we place it in an electronic format, such as a blog post than in book form. So while I personally have no interest in following his example, I can see where many authors might benefit from it.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      But again, I would ask, why does it have to be either or. Go ahead. Blog your book. When you are done, stitch your book together into a book and publish it. Repurpose the content and monetize it.

      • http://www.PrincessWays.blogspot.com Connie Brown

        I like this concept. I'm trying it. Does it really work? Can you give examples where it worked?

        • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

          Yes, two: John C. Maxwell’s latest book, Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, and Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson’s Rework.

          • http://www.sequoiathoughts.blogspot.com Connie Brown

            Both these authors have big platforms (from what I can determine of the second example's Web copy). So, you have an interesting point, but it seems like a long shot for writers without big platforms (yet). So how do new authors break in and build a platform? This could be a vicious cycle. I agree with Timothy Fish's points that some authors don't rely on publishing to pay many bills and they publish elsewhere, even on blogs, so they can communicate with whoever will listen. (I realize houses have to make profit-related decisions. However—-) Writing to communicate is more satisfying than watching the trend of the same author names on books and in distribution channels year after year. It's not just about money for many writers.

      • http://www.facebook.com/TimothyFish Timothy Fish

        There's no reason it absolutely has to be either or, but I'm thinking more in terms of the typical author. The typical author will have an easier time doing all the things you mentioned in #4 than what he'll have obtaining a traditional publishing contract. Besides, he can do it for less money than what he would spend attending conferences and all the other recommend stuff. It wouldn't be hard to make an argument for refusing to do any of it and just publishing electronically.

        • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

          I disagree, but, the best way to find out is to test it. Go for it! Thanks.

  • http://www.seedmin.com James Castellano

    Depends on the goal of the writer. My path is to go the traditional route while building a platform through articles and blog posts. If i don't breakthrough the barriers and secure a publishing contract, I'll publish on my own when the time is right. I would like to make a nice income from my work, but right now it is not top priority.

  • http://www.danieldecker.net Daniel Decker

    Seth’s choice has certainly created a lot of buzz but that’s not surprising considering his platform and the ongoing debate on the viability of traditional publishing. In my experience being on the “marketing” side and having worked with a number of authors (from entry level to best selling) over the last 10 years, I agree with your thoughts 100%. It’s much harder than it looks for most authors and most authors aren’t as savvy as Seth Godin (technically speaking) nor have they amassed anywhere near the type of following he has.

    I have many thoughts on this too but will point out 3.

    To me it really boils down to the things you mentioned and DISTRIBUTION. Publishers give an author access. Access into distribution channels they might not otherwise get into on their own, at least very easily. Sure, one can self publish and go through a service like Green Leaf Book Group to get distribution but it costs a pretty penny to do it right. Self publishing and self distributing CAN be done and CAN be done effectively but it requires a sizeable upfront investment of $ that most authors just don’t have (again, to do it RIGHT). Now I will admit that distribution channels are changing but not in overnight leaps.

    Then there is RISK. In either scenario (self publishing or traditional) there is risk. When you get picked up by a traditional publisher, they assume most of the risk and normally the author gets some sort of advance $. Sure it may take a long time to get a book out (which I think is the biggest hiccup in the traditional model) but for now it is what it is and it’s pros and cons need to be weighed.

    Finally there is STRATEGY. It never works to issue blanket statements and people should never make a decision just because someone else is doing something. It’s like being in high school and saying, “well… all the cool kids are doing it.” I think each author has different goals and the road to get to those goals may look different. Your individual goal should determine what path you take to get there. If anything is changing these days it’s that a one-size-fits-all approach is no longer the case.

    (Sorry for such a long comment, haha). :)

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I agree with you, Daniel. Each situation is different. However, I could see a lot of authors attempting to emulate Seth and suddenly discovering they don’t have the necessary platform, technical skills, or resources to handle the myriad details that are required.

      • http://generatornetwork.com Mike Rapp

        Godin has amassed a following by combining all aspects of publishing and distribution. But one must also note that he has a very unique market niche, one that by definition and design is as tech-savvy and intuitive as can be.

        Godin is also crazy like a fox. He, like <a href = "http://www.wired.com/techbiz/it/magazine/16-03/ff_free">Chris Anderson before him, uses the press he gets by appearing cutting edge and magnanimous as a means to sell other monetizable items, namely his public appearance fees.

        But make no mistake about it, these guys are not generous, they are savvy. They know that doing these radical things will get them onto stages all over the world, getting paid six and seven figures to tell their story.

        Kudos to Nine Inch Nails for literally writing the book on how to make money online in the music world, but somehow people forget that it took more than a decade of "traditional marketing", paid for by their record companies, booking agencies, management firms and promotional partners, to build a fan base that allowed them to sell directly to their customers.

        Godin is the next in an increasingly longer line of authors and artists who "made it" in the traditional world, and then "make headlines" in the digital world. More power to Seth and Chris, but they both are disingenuous by selling their radical ideas as the wave of the future. It's literally nothing more than a marketing angle designed to get us to blog about the concept…and, of course, get Godin onto the stage at the next big leadership conference.

        • http://www.danieldecker.net Daniel Decker

          Mike: Hummm… while I certainly think you are on to something in this comment and have brought up some very good points… I have to disagree that the ONLY motivation here is disingenuous and crafted to work the system. No doubt that Godin and others like him are savvy, have a plan and excel in making their radical ways pay off but they also assume a lot of risk in being the firsts to jump off cliffs. I've interacted with Seth many times over many years I am 99% confident that his motives are not disingenuous. I think he really is a generous person but is certainly working the opportunities that his success has provided. Each is entitled to their own perspective but my take is that Seth is the real deal, a genuine giver and one who is just willing to buck the system (often the broken system) to do whatever he feels called to do. That's part of what attracts so many to people like him. That maverick style, regardless of motives, gives others the sense that they too might be able to jump off the cliff as well and not only survive but thrive.

    • http://www.facebook.com/dee.stewart Dee Stewart

      I agree. I have indies, come to me with big expectations and no platform, no marketing or distribution plan and or no clue how much is involved. The thought of cutting out the current distribution challenge–money– is attractive. These authors believe that going digital will cut that cost until they realize that the ebooks must be published in various formats, which may not be economical or even good business sense to do right now.

      Godin is great. I am a fan and agree his statement isn't a Seth Says/Simon Says type thing. It's a decision he made after self assessment. Authors have to do the same. They need to assess their current platform, budget, P & Ls, outcomes, etc before they make any decision, especially a total digital conversion.

      • http://www.danieldecker.net Daniel Decker

        Well said Dee.

  • http://www.maurilioamorim.com MaurilioAmorim

    Self publishing is not for everyone for sure. And your reasons above are the reality for many first-time or new authors. But for the writer who already has his own platform or audience, it offers them the ability to make 3 times the amount of money in royalties, to keep the rights of their content which can be re-purposed quickly in different formats and the ability to go to market in months instead of a year or even close to 2 years as is the case with New York publishing houses. For example, my team just helped Dr. Tim Elmore to release his new book, Generation iY. We did it in 6 months. The financial risk in on Tim, but so is the reward and the freedom to own his content.

    We work with authors, however, who, for even different reasons than you've mentioned here, like accountability for example, need to be in a traditional publishing environment. The democratization of the publishing process is creating new opportunities for authors for sure. The digital frontier feels like the wild west. However, there's gold there for those who figure out how to make it work.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      But in a real sense, you are kind of acting as his publisher. I’m sure you didn’t do that for free. In addition, what access does he have to the still-huge physical distribution system? Maybe the book will get Ingram’s system, but how will it get into Barnes & Noble, Borders, Family, Lifeway, etc.? You will have to sell more than three times as many copies through non-traditional channels—channels you or Tim have access to—in order to make up for the loss of sales in the traditional channels. Again, I ask, why does it have to be either/or?

  • Travis Robertson

    Great post, Mike! Having nearly half a million followers and readers who you can access directly makes decisions like this wiser for Seth Godin than for someone who is starting out.

    It also points out the need for authors to work on developing their platform as you suggested in one of your previous posts:

    While I'm not in the publishing world and have very little to do with it, I do think Seth brings up a good point which is the time-to-market problem. I know that producing a book takes time, but it seems that the entire process works against writers who deal with the sale of timely ideas (those in business and self-help) versus those who are predominantly authors of fiction and other less time-sensitive works.

    How do you see time-sensitive needs like this impacting how the publishing world will adapt? Do you think they need to?

    Great post!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Great question. It’s important to understand why the time-to-market process takes so long. It really isn’t the publisher so much as the retailer. We can turn around a book in a few months. We can print a book in a week, but most of the time delay is setting up the marketing, calling on retailers, etc. The real delay is on the retailer side. They are buying 6–9 months out. I think this will have to change going forward.

      • http://musicroad.blogspot.com Kerry Dexter

        good point, Michael. care to sahre any thoughts on how you see it changing?

        • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

          I don’t really know what I think until I blog about it. ;-)

          Seriously, I think the marketplace will demand it. It’s too difficult trying to predict what the public may want in 6–9 months.

          • jonwellman

            Michael, you yourself have talked about the e-book phenomenon and how it is already beginning to impact the way publishing is being considered, especially long-term. Wouldn't it be fair to say that what Seth is doing will, soon enough, become the norm? Will we begin to see more marketers and e-book formatting firms spring up to accomodate this trend?

            I am in the ministry and have no knowledge of publishing outside the books I read and this blog, quite frankly. But tech intrigues me, and the immediacy, control, and availability of the e-book/independent route might soon be enough a lure authors down the same path. As you said, probably a mistake in the short term. But more and more authors or potential authors might try it, especially if they have "struck out" the traditional way or feel there is more earning potential going forward.
            http://jonwellman.wordpress.com – Not a Camouflaged Soul

  • http://www.therextras.com Barbara Boucher PhD

    "why does this have to be an either/or decision?"

    Spot-on, Michael. Among the range (small?) of publication options, each to her own.

  • PaulSteinbrueck

    Mike, thanks for writing this post. I was hoping you would weigh in on Seth's announcement.

    Fact is that Seth is one of a kind. If he wanted to, he could sell his next book as a PDF on his website for $20, keep the entire amount, and easily make a million dollars. Or he could give it away for free and live nicely off of speaking fees. Or he could just chill on beach in Mexico for the rest of his life. He's got options 99.99% of authors don't have. Including the option to risk a publishing strategy that could earn significantly less in his pursuit of innovation.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Correct, Paul. And, at this point, the strategy is untested. I will be watching how the experiment goes.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lynette.sowell Lynette Sowell

    I agree…it doesn't have to be one or the other. I'm one of those authors who has a full-time day job and I write for the love of it. (Someone mentioned above that most writers have someone else's $$ to fall back on. I don't.) I realize too that I don't have the capacity to reach people like Seth does. I'm just me, spinning stories and hopefully giving readers a few hours of entertainment and hopefully sneaking some Truth into it too. I'm grateful for the times when a publisher has come alongside me and said, "Yes, I believe we can sell your words to tens of thousands of people." Which is way more than I can reach on my own. For me, it's not about just being read. I'm crazy enough to dream that one day I can be a full-time freelancer. Crazy? Maybe not. But I'm not about to take a snap at the hand that feeds me and walk away from traditional publishing….

  • http://musicroad.blogspot.com Kerry Dexter

    Agree. In my case the point about non fiction which offers a sustained argument particularly applies. For those with other goals and situations, perhaps emulating Seth may be a way to go, and I expect many will. I think there's room for all of us — if we can figure out the best ways to reach our audiences.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Agreed. A book is a means to an end. Before you can determine if it’s right for you, you have to determine what outcome you want.

  • http://www.future-smiling.com Deb Owen

    I'm not a big fan of Seth, as I see him as primarily motivational-only. Having said that, I do have great respect for what he has been able to build up over the past six-seven years. He's a great marketer.

    He is, however, one of the few people I would see self-publishing as being a wise option for. I do know several people who are writing books strictly for the additional revenue or to 'establish themselves as an expert' being able to list having published a book as 'proof'. And they're choosing the self-publishing option. These also fall under the category Tim mentioned of women with businesses whose husband's are truly supporting the family. Maybe it's a good choice for them as they don't really seek it as a true revenue stream.

    However, it also could then undermine the value of the person who has actually gone the traditional route, or authors not looking to write books as a part of their marketing strategy, in the long run.

    You mention that the unbelievably slow time to market using traditional routes is largely due to the retailers. I wonder, do they see that as a problem? Do they see the trends and are they becoming concerned about moves in the industry in this direction? Are they starting to seek solutions now? Or do you think they will wait until the shift has already had such an impact that they are then in the position of struggling to catch up?

    • http://www.future-smiling.com Deb Owen

      (Another question that's unrelated really: Do authors often have the expectation of making any great deal of money on their books? It's rare for an author to see that great of a return to begin with, isn't it? I'm wondering if, from where you sit, you find that most authors have realistic expectations. And if so, might that be influencing more and more people to go this route? Thanks!)

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I think the major retailers are beginning to see that they must shorten the lead times. It’s too difficult trying to predict that far in advance what consumers will want or need. The shorter the time-frame, the greater the visibility.

  • http://donaldryan.net DonRyan

    I agree with your post. Seth Godin is a zebra as we say in the medical field. Not what you expect when you hear the approaching hoof beats. Because he's a unique animal, he can get away with this. You (or me or any number of people) aren't him. Traditional distribution channels still exist for a reason. Granted, there is less and less friction but most writers still need the helping hand.

    I'm an infrequent commenter but daily reader. Love your blog.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Don. I wish he would continue to both. I think he is in the rare position to have his cake and eat it, too.

  • jonibh

    I agree with all of your points. Let me offer a different perspective as well. As a newspaper editor and an avid reader, it is increasingly frustrating to try and sort through the piles of e-mail, catalogs and books from the mountain of available offerings. Since "self-publishing" has been popular I have been bombarded with requests to read advances by unknown sources and people who are desperate to sell their wares. Few of them understand the vetting that comes with being published by a known publishing house and the safety net that provides newspaper and others who are asked to "review" or "promote" a product. Rarely do we have to do background checks on authors or sources or read through entire manuscripts. I politely decline regularly and when I don't, I find myself the target of endless phone calls and emails asking me if I liked the product and when I will write a review about it. All because I asked for a copy of the (typically overpriced) book.

    College and graduate students are caught in this dilemma and I've had to gently advise them to at least try and go the traditional route lest they find themselves with boxes of books and no one to buy them. Or hours of work dumped onto a blog or internet page that only a few family members access.

    Sorry to ramble, but I think you said it best Michael when you said "most." Most authors are not Seth Godin. Most newspapers are not the New York Times. Most college football players are not Tim Tebow.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Exactly. Publishers will continue to play two important roles going forward, regardless of how the technology changes: curator and aggregator. I plan to elaborate on these in a future post.

  • http://twitter.com/whitebarrel @whitebarrel

    Great post. Perfect for me since I'm (one of those new authors)!

  • Rose Publishing

    One thing I like about Seth Godin is his willingness to admit when something doesn't work. I think he'll have success selling ebooks to his email list, but I imagine he will feel the loss of the physical book sales he's had in the past. Publishers are specialists at finding and marketing to hidden and difficult niches. Publishers can open doors that most authors cannot. I look forward to Mr. Godin's analysis in 2 years. –Gretchen Goldsmith

  • http://www.LinkedIn.com/in/davidandlisafrisbie David & Lisa Frisbie

    Well said. There is no substitute for a well-trained editor. Having access to a team of editors, a group of creative graphic artists, plus a motivated sales force — is not merely about packaging or marketing. It's also about crafting and improving the message itself.

    Right now blog world is a high quantity, variable quality environment. Without gatekeepers, this is what you receive — a lot of noise, with occasional meaning or value. Most of us benefit from competent review by qualified professionals (editors and publishers) before going from blog to book, e- or otherwise.

    The way forward is both-and. Perhaps WestBow can develop (or already has?) a publishing platform that is direct-to-ebook (or iBook) with varying levels of editorial participation. If so, readers would benefit.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Yes, indeed. WestBow has it—for a price. But still, you have to sell the books. It’s just one more option in a growing range of options.

  • colleencoble

    I was hoping you'd weigh in on this, Mike! I'm sick and tired of hearing how traditional publishing is going to be gone very soon. I simply don't believe it. Yes electronic distribution is on the upswing but those sales are still facilitated by my team's sales force. I need my editor, Ami McConnell. I need Kristen Vasgaard's fabulous cover design. I need the thought Allen and the marketing department put into how to reach new markets. The very thought of having to go it on my own makes me shudder. I write fiction and I don't believe self publishing is a viable option for fiction. It's just too hard to get it into enough hands to make a living. And even if it were a good option, I need the time to be creative. I don't have time to do it all on my own. Nor do I want to.

    I like being part of a team and sharing the load. It's about relationship to me as well as business. So while this might be the right move for Seth, it's never going to be the right option for me. I keep hearing authors running around shouting, "The sky is falling, the sky is falling," and all I see is a little rain. Changes are afoot, but change is good. :-) It's just another opportunity.

    • http://www.lindseynobles.com Lindsey_Nobles

      Love this comment Colleen. Hope you are doing well! We need to get together soon!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I love this comment, too, Colleen.

      I often compare it to any other do-it-yourself project. You can grow your own food, prepare it, serve it, and clean up after yourself … or you can go to a restaurant. You can draw up your own house plans, get the permits, and do the construction yourself … or you can hire a contractor. You can buy a dress pattern, buy the material, and sew your own clothes … or you can by ready-made ones.

      It’s fundamentally a question of how you want to spend your resources—time and money.

    • jondale

      Colleen, I think your comment hits the nail on the head for why Seth's move isn't right for most authors.

      I know Seth, he loves being on the bleeding edge, and he doesn't mind being there alone. However, must authors don't want to go it alone. They not only want, but need the skillset that a great publisher brings.

      I think the future belongs to whoever builds the platforms. Seth has done an incredible job of this, which gives him the right/opportunity/privilege to make a move like this. Thomas Nelson is one of the few publishing houses whose leadership is taking the time to explore what it looks like to partner with their authors in building platforms.

      I love that you said, "I like being part of a team and sharing the load. It's about relationship to me as well as business. So while this might be the right move for Seth, it's never going to be the right option for me."

      I'm guessing, if Seth felt this way about his publisher, if his publisher had partnered with him to explore new opportunities, if his publisher had been his partner rather than his printer, he'd be moving forward differently.

      Perhaps the real question is do most published authors feel like you or like Seth?

    • Rachel Hauck

      Ditto what Colleen said. I wrote something like it on Joel Miller's blog. Plus, we need publishers, book sellers and distributors to act as gatekeepers. If every author does what Seth is doing, the publishing industry will be flooded with authors who think they have something to say, but don't. And probably very poorly written, compiled (printed in some cases) and marketed books.

      Book vendors won't be able to manage the load. Readers won't know which book to buy. They trust the publishers and book sellers to present the best possible works.

      I also love, love, love the team approach. Conceiving and writing a book is about the best I can give. Doing all the conceptualizing and marketing on my own would … well, there's probably not be a product. I'd just post it on my blog. :)

      The partnership with Nelson enables both of us to conceive and produce the best possible story. Even hiring an editor, no matter how good, can guarantee Seth or one like him, of getting the best marketable, appealing book.

      I trust Seth to make the best decision for him. He certainly lit up the cyber world. But even he could benefit from traditional publishing. There are still browsers who have not heard of him and might happen on his books in a store.

      Thanks for weighing in Mike and inviting us to speak as well.


  • http://markleslie.blogspot.com Mark Leslie

    I am a huge fan and follower of Seth Godin and admire his forward thinking approaches. I agree that with his incredibly gigantic following, he'll likely succeed nomatter what path he chooses. But I have to agree with you Michael, when you state that most authors wouldn't be able to pull this off.

    I'm a fan of the "both" approach – and that's not to say that traditional publishing/distribution and retailing shouldn't evolve to meet new demands of customers, but that there is value in continuing to offer choice that has worked and continues to resonate with readers.

    One of the big challenges I had recently was I bought Godin's latest book Linchpin on my enTourage eDGe eReader – I loved the fact that I could use the reader to make notes in the margin, highlight certain passages and type thoughts and ideas his book inspired. But having bought the ebook version of the book rather than the hardcover disappointed me in two big ways recently:

    1) I wanted to place the book in a friend's hand and say "You've GOT to read this!" (but while I'm okay giving away a $30 hardcover, I'm not so fond of giving away a $500 ereading device – so I told them about the book, but didn't hand it to them . . . that lost a lot of impact the guesture usually has . . .

    2) Yesterday while blogging about this issue, I wanted to go and retrieve a couple of great quotes from Godin's latest book that I remembered highlighting, but because my ereader device wasn't charged up, I couldn't easily just pick it up and do that . . .

    Not to mention, of course, that I'm a bookseller, and one of the distinct pleasures I get to regularly experience is when a customer walks into my bookstore and is looking for a solid recommendation. Godin is one of the authors over the years whose books I have been able to place into customer's hands knowing they're going to get something really solid out of that reading experience. If there are no physically distributed Godin books, I can STILL recommend that to customers, but many times in the past several years when I've suggested a customer go online and download the author's free content (perhaps podcast, blog or video), there's no immediate connection established and I wonder at how many times they actually follow-through and end up getting to that recommended content — whereas, when I physically put the book in their hands, an immediate tactile connection is made – the potential reade can begin to ingest information about the recommended book and if they choose to, buy it on the spot. I know this seems trivial, but many authors out there who don't command Godin's gigantic built-in audience benefit tremendously from the ability of booksellers in communities everywhere to be able to hand-sell their titles.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      This is a huge point, Mark. The physical book hasn’t had a lot of recent innovation as Seth points out. But that’s because it hasn’t needed too. It is actually an incredibly portable, relatively cheap, easy-to-access and pass-along device. And the battery life is GREAT!

  • http://www.SequoiaThoughts.blogspot.com Connie Brown

    Hmm. I'm thinking. I'm thinking. Life and publishing is changing fast. Blessed are writers with platforms enough to maneuver in a carousel market.

  • http://dannyjbixby.blogspot.com dannyjbixby

    Great post, I'm sure tons of people appreciate you weighing in on this. Here's the real money shot for me:

    "In the final analysis, why does this have to be an either/or decision? If authors have a timely message that needs to get out fast, they can disseminate it on a blog or create an eBook. If they simply can’t find a publisher with the vision or the willingness to take a risk, then by all means, they should bypass the publishing machine, and do it themselves. But if they have the choice, why not do both?"

    It seems to me that for the last period of time, Seth Godin has indeed been doing both. And now he's just tired of the traditional publishing side.

    I'm curious to see if his experiment works out.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I don’t get why he has to give up the latter to achieve the former—unless, as you say, he’s just tired of the hassle.

      • http://bondchristian.com/ bondChristian

        Maybe he sees it as a safety net. Seth's built his career on fearless experiments, being the first to do the thing that others won't or can't. It's his story. I think moving on from traditional publishing just continues that story.

        -Marshall Jones Jr.

  • http://successbeginstoday.org/wordpress John Richardson

    Seth has always pushed the envelope. He was one of the first to give away a free e-book (albeit for a limited time) and has collaborated with many authors, leaders, and thinkers to produce media in many different formats such as the PDF you were a part of. Having said that, when I want to refer to Seth I usually pick up one of his published books.
    I think you are spot on that you should embrace what works for you. As a blogger and self published author, I can tell you the horrors of page layout, title page creation, getting the cover art to align properly and the ever evil Word 2007 Hyphenation engine!!! It's definitely not for the faint of heart. Add that to editing your book and then getting it distributed, you have a situation that requires lots of help along the way. While many of the tools have become easier to use, just try and get a book published on the iPad with the iBook format. Ugly stuff indeed!
    The bottom line… I was in Costco yesterday and their book section is doing marvelously well. When I got home I was able to download the first two chapters of many of the titles for free on my iPad to see if I wanted to buy them. Here is the big question… for 10 to 15 bucks, do I want the printed book or the electronic iBook? When this question is answered, we'll know where publishing is going…

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Good comments, John. I find that I am actually buying in multiple formats now. I love the portability of an eBook and having a bog library with me. (I tend to read many books at one time.) But I find it frustrating to try and go back and access them later. Yes, I can underline and index, but it is so much faster for me to just flip open the book, scan a few pages, and find the quote. I seem to have an intuitive sense of about where it was in the physical book.

  • http://www.latayne.com Latayne C. Scott

    After having 15 books published, mostly by well-known Christian publishers, I wrote a book about the single most helpful concept I've learned in my Christian life, a book that could not snag the attention of publishers. The concept– about the phases of faith– which Philip Yancey called "more profound than you can imagine," has an audience because I've been teaching it to large groups for years. Proof of that? I've decided to self-publish it and already pre-sold hundreds of copies.

    There is an alternative for people in my situation, who speak before good-sized audiences and have a decent mailing list. One that doesn't require up front investment, and will allow you to get the word out: Amazon's Create Space. (Disclaimer: I don't work for them.) The books look good and are listed on Amazon.

    I may not live long enough to get the backlog of my unpublished books traditionally published, books that people have been photocopying and emailing to each other for years. I realize why traditional publishers don't want to take the risk on these — they probably wouldn't earn out. (The Phases of Faith one would, but I'm tired of trying.) But I can put a nicely-bound book in someone's hands for a reasonable price. It's a win-win for everyone.

    Latayne C Scott

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Good point. Every situation is different. Thankfully, you now have options.

  • http://www.tianobookdesign.com Stephent Tiano

    I think you've hit the nail on the head, that self-publishing isn't for most authors. As a book designer, not a full-scale book shepherd, I don't get called upon for a great deal of publishing advice. But I do always feel, when handling design and layout for a self-publishing author, that they should be made aware that by self-publishing a book they've established a business and need to remain keenly aware of that and the need to view expenses as investments in their business. Years ago, when I started out as a freelance book designer, one of my first interior design and layout jobs–I really began solely as a layout artist–was on one of Seth Godin's book's. I no longer remember which; and I don't even have it in my archive, as formats have changed so many times since then. One thing I noticed about Mr. Godin immediately is that he had a full handle on the idea that it wasn't enough to write a book–hopefully a well-written book about something people want to read–after that the job of finding and reaching an audience is paramount. Most self-published books don't sell more than 100 copies. That's the hurdle.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Yep. Agreed. The challenge is in building a platform and getting the word out.

  • WindmillDuke

    Your advice makes me schizoid. Early stages of my own book, an admonition to fathers and grandfathers to build, together, a godly legacy. I've printed off in stacks around the study your avice about building an s-media following, prepping good proposal, et. al. I want, passionately, to have appeal enough for Nelson or a traditional publisher. I think of the "Goodin alternative" as a fallback. I've begun sliding (backsliding?) in that direction; easier, maybe? You yank me back to "going fer it," the golden ring. Question: Should a first-time author put all his energy (and hope) in "getting published" or in self-publishing? Doing both could dissipate. Wrong early choice could a one-way dead-end.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I actually think either outcome demands the same process. You still need a platform. Having one will make you more attractive to publishers, because they can leverage that into an even larger platform.

  • Larry Shallenberger

    Can't argue with this logic. I'm not considering going straight to ebook because, although it's more possible, it still doesn't resolve the obscurity challenge.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Totally agree. That’s one challenge Seth doesn’t face.

      • Larry Shallenberger

        Thank you for agreeing that I'm obscure… I think… ;)

        • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt


  • http://www.behindthemixer.com chris

    Given Seth's reach and your career, I''m not surprised by your latest blog. Seth is at a point where his blog readership permits him direct-selling of anything he writes. I can easily see why he has decided to shake up the norm in the publishing world – but it's not really that much of a change, people have been publishing ebooks, videos, and audio for years via direct sales. Cut out the middle man and all that.

    I think Seth can be successful in this area for one primary reason – his stuff is short. Even his books, with a bit of space editing could use half the paper. And, it's all short stuff. I like his writings but to be honest, when I look at the books of his I do own (one autographed), each could be whittled down to a few pages of bullet points – more like action items. The only exception to that is The Dip. To his credit, he doesn't add in a lot of fluff. Therefore, there is no benefit to carrying a book when I'd be more likely to copy out some of his points and tape them on my wall.

    The issue I see for publishers (well, authors really) is that their book is only a book on a shelf unless they can get their name recognized to their target audience.

    Write a book then start a blog isn't going to work, at least not in the non-fiction world.
    Blog and build a readership and then publish a book via standard book publishers is the better route. It's easier to get your readers sneezing and word-of-mouth spreading.

    Seth has his readers in the palm of his hand. For the first-time authors with no fan-base, if the publisher can't get enough publicity then it's one more book that Borders sends back during their next pull-down.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I love the fact that Seth is shaking things up. Even if you disagree with him, he is fueling a conversation that needs to happen on a number of levels.

  • http://www.likeafire.net Paul

    I was equally baffled by Seth's post yesterday. I agree that not many authors could follow him in the path he is taking. At the same time, though, I wonder why someone wouldn't. Seth is a visionary leader and an amazing presenter. There are other authors out there who are similar in those characteristics that could do what he is doing and might be more content doing exactly that. Certainly there are enough Seth fans out there that some will try, but your caution to them is wise I think.

  • http://www.DDScott.com D. D. Scott

    As always, Michael, I sooo enjoy getting your take on publishing's big issues.

    As an agented, debut romantic comedy author for Kindle and Smashwords, I can vouch for the fact that yes, you must tackle the "ugly stuff" Prichard referred to…but wow, as soon as you assemble your "ugly stuff" team and develop your own platform, you know you've got beyond fabulous backing every book you write.

    I'm not seeing that in today's traditional publishing world. Sure you get it, if you're a publisher's Big Book, but for the newbies on the block and those stuck in the midlist, I don't see any proof you've got an "ugly stuff" team you can count on…that or you have one on the proverbial Monday but not by Friday. Plus, the big publishers are making these kind of sweeping changes without informing their authors and in worst cases, deceiving their authors regarding the changes their making.

    The big publishers have eroded the trust authors once had in them.

    Thanks again for your fabulous insight — D. D. Scott

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Fair points and ones that publishers would be wise to listen to.

  • garydavidson

    I agree 100% with your comments. I believe Seth has missed the mark and will regret his decision. Print sales still dominate the revenue generated for publishers and authors. Your comment that "why not both" hits the mark. Anytime you limit distribution of your content to one form or another it limits your reach. It seems a bit arrogant for Seth to believe that he can be more successful by cutting off a huge percentage of his 'tribe' by insisting they receive his message his way. Not a logical decision.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      My wife is an example of someone who reads his books but not his blog. My guess is that there are others.

    • jondale

      Was Seth saying that he won't publish books anymore, or just that he won't do it through a traditional publisher?

      • garydavidson

        I was referring to a recent article where Seth was quoted…In a recent interview, Godin made no bones over his decision–"12 for 12 and I'm done." Godin's main gripe is that nowadays it takes a disproportionately huge effort to publish a book in the "traditional" hardback-to-paperback manner. He likes the people, but "cant abide" the time it takes to get the whole process to work: "The big push at launch, the nudging to get people to go to a store they don't usually visit to buy something they don't usually buy" and so on. He's also frustrated by the very medium of dead-tree publishing itself, since when consumers buy a book they're really paying for the author's ideas and a book is "a form that's hard to spread" and electronically he can reach "10 to 50 times as many people."

  • http://www.deelauderdale.com Dee Lauderdale

    I think the important part of the discussion is not that Seth Godin is doing his own thing, it's that's it's all about the content. I see the publishing/newspaper/dead tree business making the same mistake the recording industry made when mp3 players hit, they are misidentifying the problem. They thought the problem was the distribution channel when in fact it was all about quality. The reason CD sales tanked wasn't because of the iPod, it was because the music being put out sucked. 2 years ago I read an average of 2 books per month but I haven't read a book in the last 6 months. Not because I can read a book on my iPhone/Kindle/Ipad but because there's nothing good out there. Especially in the "Christian" market. All of the books are just old content reworded for today or it's a pastor bundling an old sermon series into a book. A great example is one of my favorite writers Donald Miller when he re-released an old book under a new title. Sad.

    Seth will be successful because his stuff is awesome not because he doesn't use a publisher. IMHO, if the publishing business wants to survive it needs to quit worrying about self-publishing or Kindle's and start doing the hard work of discovering great content.

    • http://www.sequoiathoughts.blogspot.com Connie Brown

      I have to respectfully disagree with why Seth Godin will be successful. I believe his success will continue to be driven by his platform and, by the way, he has interesting content. Note that he built his platform in large part by collaborating with traditional publishers and distribution networks. Now he can be free to communicate however he wants.

      An analogy that comes to mind is from real estate: Location! Location! Location! It isn't the quality of the house (the product) that makes a sale more likely, it is the location (accessibility) plus quality enough to meet the needs of a buyer. Godin's platform is his prime location from which to give away samples and sale to those who buy his ideas in some product form.

      • http://www.deelauderdale.com Dee Lauderdale

        If the real estate analogy were accurate then book/newspaper sales should be at all time high because there are more distribution channels (locations) than ever before. I still believe that when it comes to content to be consumed like books and music, the quality of the content is of a vastly higher importance than the distribution method.

        The internet has radically changed our world. Artists, writers, singers, songwriters and just the average joe schmo now have access to literally a world wide audience. Take for example Youtube, even though they have 24 hours of new video uploaded ever second, great content still gets recognized. No longer is a record label or book publisher a necessity. With a just few hours of work, a couple of hundred dollars of equipment, anybody can start putting out content. Add in twitter and facebook and the only limiting factor is how good is your content.

        I've got two websites, two twitter feeds and two facebook pages all trying to get a book published. So far I've not built a huge following but it's not because I'm just one guy, it's because my content has sucked. That's why I'm in the middle of totally rewriting my content. BTW, a guy I'm learning a lot from is Chris Brogan (www.christbrogan.com).

        Bill Clinton got elected because his campaign was based on "it's the economy stupid", book publishing and newspapers will be saved if they will keep repeating to themselves "it's the content stupid"

        • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

          Again, I don’t think it is either/or. You must have great content. No argument there. (In fact, I have written a very post on this called, It’s the Product, Stupid. However, distribution is also important. You really need both and can’t afford to rely on one or the other.

  • http://twitter.com/joeljmiller @joeljmiller

    I think your point about this being a both/and proposition is important. We crave easy and simple solutions. But publishing (traditional or non) is messy and full of tradeoffs — just like the rest of life. Not every message is a traditional book. But sometimes the best vehicle for a message is a traditional book (print or e).

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=183401248 Misty Bourne

    Mike, I think your comments here are sound on this subject. I disagree with Seth's decision, however, to completely abandon the traditional book. I think the people who are most intrigued by Seth's subject matter are probably tech savvy and aren't going to feel that he's inaccessible because of his decision. But there are people, even those tech savvy people, who would just rather hold a book in their hands than read via other media. I'm one of those people. This isn't to say that he won't continue to be successful or even that people who would rather turn the pages of a real book won't seek him out on his blog. It just feels a little bit like a slap in the face for those of us who cling to books–as if he doesn't care about those particular readers.

    Good thoughts. Thanks for posting.

  • http://joshspilker.tumblr.com josh

    "it doesn’t work for all genres, particularly fiction and the kind of non-fiction that requires a longer, more sustained argument"

    maybe fiction should be read in blog/twitter/status update/road sign format. What forbids fiction from being formatted in an interesting way?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Give it a shot. We need all the experimentation we can get. I have just not seen it work—yet.

  • Katie Hoffman

    Thank you so much for posting this Mike. I had been discussing the ideas in Seth's post yesterday and my thoughts were very much in line with those you mentioned in your post. I was beginning to worry that maybe I just wasn't "forward-thinking" enough. Your post reaffirmed that Seth's ideas may work great for some, but not for all and the traditional publishing route can still have great value for certain authors. Thank you so much for your always well thought out insight!

  • Donna Maria

    I agree with you that most authors cannot do what Seth has decided to do. For him, though, I think it's a logical next step for wherever he's going in his business. He's a thought leader, and even if it turns out to be a failed great experiment for him, he will come out a winner because he tried something new and shared his experiences with others as he went along. True, most people cannot do that. But for Seth and others who have a huge audience, and can reach them directly in the way Seth can, it's an insightful and fun decision. No matter what happens, I think he will not regret it. And neither will I because I get to learn from his success or his failure, as the case may be.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I agree. Seth has amazing courage and insight. I know he will learn a lot and, as usual, generously share it with all of us.

  • http://bricebohrer.com Brice Bohrer

    I agree with your counter arguments. But is any one addressing, to me, the crux of the argument.

    "I honestly can't think of a single traditional book publisher who has led the development of a successful marketplace/marketing innovation in the last decade. The question asked by the corporate suits always seems to be, "how is this change in the marketplace going to hurt our core business?" "

    The crux is get something new because publishers are not innovative. The counter arguments presented here are just the same ones book publishers will throw out. But they never address innovation, or how they are going to do it better, different, etc.

    Lets hash out those things…

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      No doubt, this is a primary concern for the corporate suits. (I am one!) I think we are witnessing much innovation right now. That’s what makes it all so exciting.

      • http://bricebohrer.com Brice Bohrer

        Good to hear. I guess that would be the counter then. That as one (suit, that is :) you feel Godin is in error by saying that no publishers have led or been a part of any innovation in the last 10 years.

        Or is it you think he is right and want to remedy it? All interesting. No need to hash it all out here. I get that. I am new here and you may have been offering up innovation for years and Mr. Godin is just not seeing it. Love to see what comes next. Thanks for the time…

  • http://twitter.com/KLOlund @KLOlund

    It all comes down to getting your ideas/message/story to your target readers. Usually when people want "the best of both worlds," they're disappointed with one or both of them. In today's world of publishing, authors need to decide what is best for themselves and their content. Seth thinks this is right for him, probably because the content has never been the end for him, but the means to something greater. And that's true for many who choose to self-publish–their book is not as important as the opportunities that lie beyond the printed page.

  • http://the-open-vein-ejwesley.blogspot.com/ EJ Wesley

    Hi Michael. I really enjoy your blog, and look forward to your thoughts on subjects just like this.

    My thoughts are more of an observation. It seems that most of the warnings you've suggested authors heed are related to the amount of work involved. Currently, (unless your S. King, J. Rowling, J. Patterson, etc.), traditional publishing is a boatload of work as well. Even if XYZ agrees to publish your work, you're still going to have to market it, and yourself, almost on your own. Granted, they (the publisher) eat the upfront expense/stress of editing, cover design, etc., but the author still pays for it in one way or another in the form of advance against royalties, etc.

    My point: If the only legit warning to going it on your own is, "It's hard work and there are risks", then I'm not certain there is much of a difference between the two models. Furthermore, I think it's always advisable to look ahead, not behind, especially for those of us who are just starting out. The current market might not be heavily influenced by electronic sales, but nearly every industry professional I've read (whether they are pro or con ebook) admits that the percentage is growing faster than anyone thought that it would. Most also believe that electronic purchases will account for a majority of books sold in 5 years or less.

    As a writer and self-employed business person, I want the most control possible over my IP, and I want to maximize the amount of money I can make. If that means publishing my work traditionally, fine. However, that model seems to be offering less and less of what I'm asking for.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I don’t think it’s just the amount of work: it’s the type of work. (See Colleen Coble’s comment above, for example.) You are correct that publishing in the traditional way requires a huge amount of work. But I would argue that for most authors, it keeps them focused on what they do best (e.g., writing great content and building their platform) and allows the publisher to do what it does best (e.g., packaging the content, finding new distribution opportunities, and collecting and distributing the money). It’s a question of division of labor.

      • http://www.drbilldonahue.com Bill Donahue

        Thanks Michael — I have several books out there but struggle with time to market — also exploring the online pathway for some experimentation. The key is always platform and marketing — spot on. Publishing is the easy part. Even advertising is easy for some. But marketing is a different bird. have seen the difference in impact and income when someone really understands you, your product, and the value you bring and can connect that with people seeking it most.

  • http://www.aslegal.com Jefferson

    I'm not clear on why we are treating this as an 'either/or' concept.
    I'm a big fan of Seth Godin's, but not moved 1 way or the other as far as what the market 'should' do.
    Seth has always been a big activist for alternate marketing strategies, and reaching out directly to his readers may be a form of this.
    But I didnt get the sense from his blog post that he was attempting to encourage/pursuade OTHER authors to do so. Sure, he might be positioning it as an alternate method worth considering…but I do not believe it's an "either/or" concept.

  • Pingback: Thank God Seth Godin Isn’t Writing Another Book « Geoffrey Webb()

  • http://www.danieldecker.net Daniel Decker

    BTW for those leaving a comment… might do you well to spend a few minutes reading through some of the comments of others as well. Some really interesting perspectives here. I'm looking forward to swinging back by this post later this evening and reading through all the comments more (yes, I am a book nerd). :)

  • Ben Lemery

    This is why it is important to not comment on things that you know nothing about and turn to someone like you. I learn more about potential publishing and even blogging through one post like than I would from someone who has made it like Seth.

    Thanks for being a voice of authority on this. I hope it helps others.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Ben. I think there’s a lot for all of us to learn. My crystal ball is very unreliable. I have learned a tremendous amount from Seth.

  • http://www.deelauderdale.com Dee Lauderdale

    My point, that I obviously haven't done a good job of communicating, is that I thought Michael was taking Seth to task for abandoning the traditional publisher distribution method and I think that's a mistake. It may be either/or now but IMHO it won't be in 3 or 4 years. Just ask the record companies.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I don’t see the record companies as entirely parallel. The primary driver of the revenue decline in that industry was the disaggregation of albums. Once people could buy the two songs they loved from an album, there was no need to buy the rest of the album. Books are, by and large, different.

      By the way, I am not taking Seth to task for anything. I am just saying that he is in a position that most authors aren’t.

      • http://www.deelauderdale.com Dee Lauderdale

        Gotcha. Looks like I saw a underlying point that wasn't there.

        Thanks for the dialogue but do you really think disaggregation was the key source of the decline of the record business and not Lady Gaga? :)

  • http://www.publishingreset.com Janet Goldstein

    Great piece, Michael. I completely agree that there isn't a right or perfect solution for any author–and right path can vary by book, audience, purpose, etc. I highly recommend traditional publishers for the right books (even in light of all the industry changes) AND I highly recommend the ebook and self-publishing routes.

    A few things to add that I know to be true:
    -Excellence, and having something to contribute to the paper and digital ocean of content and ideas, is paramount.
    – For most of us, it's much harder to sell, pitch, promote our own work; some learn how to do it amazingly well, but even authors with "platforms" and "tribes," find expert publishers, pr, marketers, advisors necessary when it comes to our own work. Thinking you can do it all like Seth, or like some other expert/idol in the online world, is a big stretch and something that takes lots of honed experience.
    -In terms of the money equation, for most ebook/self-publishing authors there are development and production expenses, distribution fees by way of commissions and "affiliate fees" to partners and promoters, infrastructure support staff costs. It doesn't mean you can't make "more" money self-publishing, but it's a misnomer to think there are no costs. (Seth Godin has a very strong publishing, technology, marketing, business background and skills that most authors lack–plus the ability to hire top people if/as needed.)
    -Self-publishing, when there's the audience and business model to support it, does work (but most titles will sell under 200 copies, or maybe under 50???)
    -I'd like to think that ideas and entertainment are best when they are available in their ideal forms and in the ways that the largest possible audience can experience it. (Is it a live event/experience? A reading experience? A video, podcast, or ear bud moment?)

  • http://www.blog.conferencedepartment.com Roger Wilson

    Authors don't have to be self-publishers but they absolutely have to be self-marketers, selling themselves as Godin has beendoing for years. Your "do both" recommendation is the right one for most authors unless they have been "doing both" as long and as well as Godin. The fact that Godin has attracted so much attention (including mine) with his announcement is testimony to his status as a "bankable" name with a widely read online column. Traditional media including traditional publishing played a big role in creating the position for Godin that he now enjoys. Anybody who aspires to his success should study how it really came about.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      This is a great comment. Authors do have to take responsibility for their own marketing, regardless of whether they go the traditional route or some other.

  • http://www.deegospelpr.com Dee Stewart


    I hear this chatter a lot from some writers: the lack of support by publishers, compensation, marketing, etc. However, the numbers aren't there to quit print publishing. Moreover, until the industry decides on a universal digital book format that can be transferred across platforms.

    Milk, I invite you to participate in DigiBookWorld Roundtable in the future when you're not being Superman.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Dee. It seems like I am going to do that.

  • Liz

    I agree. There's an additional snag that you haven't mentioned here, and that's also the problem of reputaion/authenticity. For a author who's already achieved mass recognition so his name can easily be googled or referenced self publishign via a blog or epub is fine.
    But if your a no-name as yet unpublished, unheard of author, putting your stuff on the internet is almost a sure way to make sure it WON'T get discovered. Any whack job, uninteresting, or just plain BAD author can put their work up on the internet. It's a great tool for learning, and improving, by posting your work to an isolated group of readers who have the intelligence and interest in providing you with useful feedback. (The classic Beta writing system)
    But I can tell you as a reader, when it comes to reading, I don't go trolling the internet, or the 'free' section of the epubs. I look for reviews, specifically reviews from people I know, or other published authors I enjoy. Some of them aren't very famous, but all of them can be found on Amazon, and researched there.
    Frankly I see publishers as a useful gatekeeper. Yes, some good works never see the light of day, but for the most part, recognized publishers keep unpolished and uninteresting bad books from getting the same consideration as books that someone has actually edited, rewritten, improved and polished in order to become published.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1587933340 Rick Mulholland

    If Seth Godin feels that he doesn't need a traditional publisher, then more power to him! He has the pulse of his audience, and knows what he can or can’t do. While it seems risky, I envision Mr. Godin to be able to make his books more affordable and probably release new titles more often.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Absolutely. He’s also wicked smart. He will do the right thing for his own purposes. However, I was really addressing the authors who don’t have his platform or direct-to-reader relationships and attempt to do what he is doing.

      • Kent King

        Mike…thank you for taking the time to actually respond to the readers of this blog. I appreciate thiat. What Seth does as an established author is really up to him. The rest of this dialogue however, has really focused on the dilemma currently facing the print publishing industry.

        I read 4 separate Wall Street Journal stories today relating that Barnes and Noble had a 10% decline in print book sales this last quarter and a 250% increase in e-book sales. Amazon recently reported that their e-book sales have passed hardcover sales for the first time.

        Because of my current position, I can report that our own public schools are on the cusp of going digital for study materials (replacing print textbooks), especially with the gaming programs designed to educate elementary kids. The days of print textbooks are coming to an end. It’s a digital age for tomorrow’s readers and instructors. It’s not a matter of if…simply when.

        As a sidebar, in India, the government has developed an inexpensive electronic think pad (similar in size to Apple's I-pad) for $35.00 (that's not a misprint) for third world countries and their school populations. It surfs the internet, sends and receives e-mails and has a simple word processor; no hard drive, but a thumb-drive for memory storage. We’ll embrace this as we adopted cell phones and texting.

        I understand the desire to bypass the traditional publishing route as I’m in my early 60’s and really can’t afford to wait for the traditional three year submit to store shelf. I’ve completed two Christian speculative (hate that term) fiction novels and attempted in 1995 to get any Christian publisher to look at the first one. No bites. Started on the other and then quit until an editor urged me to finish it in 2009. I attended the ACFW conference and found an acquisitions editor from Zondervan who wanted the manuscript to the fantasy novel (yeah, I can write). I sent it and then 30 days later, he left Zondervan and moved on to another opportunity. No one else at the publishing house was interested. I understand.

        Money is not my motivation, but my genre and tales seek out the one lost sheep while the traditional Christian publishers are motivated to serve the ninety-nine. I’m not accusing anyone as it is a business and I have no problems with that reality. But I am caught…and there are many other hopeful authors who are hoping and waiting and submitting, frustrated with the barriers and process. Close to finishing my third book (sequel to the fantasy), my viable route in the changing publishing industry is self-publishing and printing. I have an extensive platform to market to and feel that if I don’t move now…well, you can finish the rest of the story.

        Thanks again Mike.

        • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

          If you want to self-publish, go for it. I had 25 publishers turn down my first book, and pretty much gave up myself.

          With regard to print vs. eBook, I am “format-agnostic.” We make about the same margin either way. At Thomas Nelson we are committed to delivering our content in the form our customers prefer. I have written extensively on this, so I don’t repeat myself here, except to say, I think the lion’s share of publishing will eventually go digital. I accept—and even embrace—that reality.

          Best to you.

  • http://robertcollings.com Robert Collings

    Michael – I totally agree. Seth will do incredibly well. Is this a model other authors should follow? Many already do. Is this a model for the ‘future of publishing’? For some it will be.

    Most publishing peeps dislike me saying that books are like music (for clarity, I’m talking about the business of books). It is interesting to note that much was made of Radiohead and Trent Reznor taking an indie route, yet most artists have not been able to replicate the success. The reasons are simple and obvious.

    Nonetheless, those authors who choose an indie path are in a much better position than those who choose to sit around hoping an agent and/or publisher will pick up their work. More power to all.

  • http://jbrucecarden.com Bruce Carden

    I have written and published a book myself. For me, as hard as it was to go through the process of publishing it, it was well worth it for me. If what I have written gets in the hands of just one reader, and it helps them in some way, then all the work and cost involved with publishing will be well worth it. I don't write with money in mind, I write with what I can do in mind. If that ever changes I will probably quit writing and turn off my website.

  • Bob Mayer

    Ultimately, you'd be out of a job if everyone did what he did. So let's cut to the chase. Especially since you have a vanity arm of your company. You're a dying breed and holding on to what you have tooth and nail. By the way please don't send one of your editors to spam my blog the way you did last time I posted. Pretty tacky and cheap.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Maybe. Regardless, I think we’re doing our best to adapt to a changing environment. I have learned a tremendous amount from Seth and given his books to scores of authors—and will continue to do so.

  • http://twitter.com/TesTeq TesTeq

    If you want to be one of the "most authors" don't follow Seth Godin's advice. If you want to be a successful author in the Internet age build a direct relationship with your readers. Sending your masterpiece to the publisher will not work anymore!

  • Matthew W

    As far as the post-by-post-then-gather type of books not being suitable for some genres: I'm not sure that this is true for fiction. At the very least, it hasn't always been true, and it's possible that no one has actually done it in a widely-read blog at this point. But this is >the< way some books were written, such as the Sherlock Holmes books and Dumas' "The Count of Monte Cristo."

  • http://www.cyndysalzmann.com Cyndy

    Disagree. Strongly. An author with a platform (or decent readership for novelists) can do much better financially with ebooks and POD availability than signing with a traditional publisher. I've done both — and can't see reverting to the "old school" paradigm of traditional publishing. Plus – as a Christian author, this gives me the freedom to follow my heart and write to my audience. Exciting times for authors… : )

    Take a peek at what novelist Joe Konrath has done if you are not convinced. http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I don’t doubt the financial aspect. It just comes down to what you want to do with your time. I could have been the contractor on my house and saved a lot of money, but it wasn’t a good use of my time. I don’t think it is for most authors either. But, we are living through a time of great experimentation, where you can try these various options and see for yourself. If it works for you, then by all means do it.

      • http://www.cyndysalzmann.com Cyndy

        Actually, by connecting with my audience directly, I make more money — and can spend more time on writing. Granted, this may not be feasible with an author who doesn't have a platform or established fan base. The nitty-gritty of publishing a book (design, editing, etc.) is easy to learn — or authors can hire a "coach" to shepherd them through the process.

  • http://www.studentministry.org Tim Schmoyer

    I have a book coming out with YS/Zondervan this spring (supposed to be working on the edits right now, actually), which is my first experience in being published. However, a couple years ago I released a free ebook through my blog and it’s been viewed 155,000+ times. I’m not sure how much it takes to distribute and sell that many copies of a printed book, but I’m guessing it takes a pretty substantial effort combined with really solid content.

    Personally, I’m attracted to Seth’s thoughts and may experiment with my next book idea the way he suggests since I was already thinking along those lines anyway before he came out and articulated it. I have most of my audience on my site already similarly to Seth, so it might work. The main advantage of publishing for me is the potential to reach a new audience who aren’t online.

  • http://www.studentministry.org Tim Schmoyer

    Hmm, not sure what happened to my last comment. Guess I'll try again, but shorter this time.

    I'm going through my first experience with publishing right now with my book that comes out through YS/Zondervan in the spring. My first ebook experience was a couple years ago and it's been viewed and downloaded over 155,000 times. I'm not sure what it takes to get a printed book to circulate like that, but I'm guessing it's a combination between good marketing and solid content. Hopefully I have good content, but I didn't spend a dime on marketing.

    I think I'm somewhat in the same boat as Seth with most of my audience is on my blog already. In fact, I was thinking some of the exact same things Seth is before he came out and articulated them so well. My next book will probably go back to the ebook format again.

    The main advantage of publishing for me is the potential to reach a new audience that's currently not connected with my site, and it's also provides a mental checkmark of credibility that people now assign to the rest of my content.

  • terripatrick

    I'm fascinated! Seth is certainly in a position to write directly to his readers. He knows who they are and his readership will continue to grow. I also feel your points are all very valid and good sense for the majority of new authors today.

    However, even the new author needs to take a look at their target audience and the potential venue their readers will use, to read books today and in the future. This is something authors need to consider when making publication choices. Who are my readers and what format will they choose?

    What's the demographics of my potential readership? Do they tote ereaders now? Avid readers are and it has created a huge impact on the publishing industry. Bookstores didn't realize how many of their sales were made to avid readers, who now tote some form of an ereader. These avid readers really aren't concerned with being found. They are happily reading in a more convenient manner, with a greater selection than ever before – these are happy readers. They don't follow the trends of the publishing world. Authors and professionals in publishing world – do.

    There is value added in the publishing chain between author and reader, but Seth has clarified the primary goal. Readers. Without them, not even writers have a job. Publishers need to consider that point.

  • terripatrick

    QUESTION for Micheal! So, in what format do you read books?

    You're the twitter and technology advocate and have a platform of leadership.

    You read lots of books. What's your format of choice – hardcover, trade, paperback or E?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      It’s a toss-up. I am still reading in all formats. However, I have been reading primarily on the iPad recently. I am getting an Amazon Kindle 3 today, so I’m sure I will be using that for a while. (It’s part of my job to be conversant with all these formats.)

  • http://www.almasimanagingstress.blogspot.com/ Miriam Kinai

    It is apt for one to read the signs of the times, understand them and then act on them. The signs for one author may dictate that he act by remaining on his original path. The signs for another author may indicate that it is time to move on. Therefore, let each author read their signs (purpose for writing, platform, problems, portfolios) and act accordingly.

  • maxgrace

    Let me toss a little conflict into the mix (isn't that what makes writing interesting?). Respectfully. Couldn't each of your four arguments apply equally to the other side?

    1. Most authors can't get directly to their readers. True. But does traditional publishing change that? Aren't most mid-level authors lost in the marketing shuffle anyway? They're still not getting directly to their readers even after they've been traditionally published, because marketing resources are deployed to the big name authors.

    2. Much content doesn't lend itself to alternative forms of distribution. Most books are published in multiple formats anyway, so alternative forms of distribution automatically come into play. Besides, hasn't serialization given us great detective novels? What about best selling author Sig Siglar, who gives his stuff away online first?

    3. Most authors still need to monetize their content. Are today's advances for first-time and mid-level authors growing or shrinking? I've heard they're shrinking, and the odds of even getting an advance make it a longshot. For most authors, it will be a monetary toss-up, especially after they've invested their advance in marketing.

    4. Most authors aren't prepared to set up an alternative publishing infrastructure. This is true. But most authors aren't prepared to set up the marketing infrastructure traditional publishers expect of them, either. Going w/a traditional publisher does not exempt an author from scrambling to excel at the part of the business that isn't writing.

    Authors are like salmon swimming upstream. Of the hordes who start, only a handful makes it. This is as a should be, I think; much writing isn't worth reading. Publishers filter out the good from the bad, and make it great. However the industry might look in 10 years, I hope that there will be a vibrant Christian voice speaking into the church and culture at large through the well-considered words of Christ-centered people.

    Bill Giovannetti
    How to Keep Your Inner Mess from Trashing Your Outer World (Monarch/Kregel 2009). http://www.InnerMess.com

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt


      Great questions.

      1. No, traditional publishing does not enable authors to get directly to their readers. However, it does allow them to get to them indirectly (via distributors, retailers, etc.) So if they give up that and can’t get to them on their own, they lose any ability to reach them. (Understand that my argument is not either/or, it’s both/and.) I think smart publishers and authors should both be engaging readers directly.

      2. Yes, serialization can work. Again, I am arguing both/and. Why limit yourself to one format. Publish via blog first, if that works, then collect it all and publish as a traditional book.

      3. I can’t speak for the industry. I would say advances for the mid-list authors have remained about the same. The real issue, however, is not that advance but the ongoing royalties. I would counsel authors to monetize their content the way that yields them the most money in the end.

      4. It’s one thing to set up a marketing infrastructure, and every author needs to do that, regardless of the path they take. It’s quite another thing to set up all the OTHER infrastructure you must set up to self-publish or just distribute your content via the Web.

      Thanks for your great comments.

    • http://www.cyndysalzmann.com Cyndy

      Exactly. Excellent points, Bill.

  • jeffemmersonmyautobiography

    I DISagree totally!

    KEEP creative rights
    NEVER go out of print
    KEEP more of the profits!

    We can do BETTER on our own!!


    – Jeff Emmerson http://jeffemmersonmymemoir.wordpress.com/

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      “We can do better on our own.” I think it is difficult to find one solution that fits everyone. But again, I ask, “Why not both?”

  • Duke Dillard

    Given your position, Michael, it would be strange if you thought Seth's step was a good one for all writers. You would be out of a job.
    Regardless, books like The Shack show that if one has a message that touches people, our current connected world will get that message out. He had to start his own company. But it all started online. He sent some e-mails which were forwarded and so forth.
    You say 1 million books were published last year. How many of those were worth reading? My guess is that the vast majority of those will end up in someone's garage sale having been barely read.
    Yes, there are probably a few contexts that are helped by publishers, but it is very few and this will be proved in a few years when most publishers are out of business or have radically changed how they do business.
    Good on you that Seth pointed to you as being ahead of your publishing fellows. May God give you wisdom and insight to help continue to get His message out to as many as possible.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      No question that I have a biased view.

      I think it is difficult to make any argument based on The Shack. It is truly a one-in-a-million example. But even there, the big growth in sales didn’t happen until Hachette picked it up and exposed it to a bigger audience.

      I definitely think publishers will have to change to stay in business. There will be winners and losers, no doubt. I can’t speak for other publishers, but we are changing as fast as we can. We think this all presents enormous opportunities to those who do.

      Thanks for your comment.

  • http://lovedoesntletgo.blogspot.com Israel Sánchez

    As many have commented already, those two things shouldn't be mutually exclusive. Although I'm young, I love the idea of seeing my work published in a book format. Now, I write a blog, which thanks to God has gained some modest but loyal popularity. But one day soon, I pray and believe I shall see those posts in a book format. The best of both worlds.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/fglaysher Frederick Glaysher

    An interesting post. It seems to me many conventional publishers are desperately attempting to move their monopolies to the Internet. But it's too late. Here's what any author on the planet can now do, whether ebooks or printed books:

    Earthrise Press® eBooks – Available Worldwide
    a post-gutenberg publisher – non-drm http://books.fglaysher.com/

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    For further details, see
    Publishing in the Post-Gutenberg Age http://www.fglaysher.com/Post_Gutenberg_Publishin

    The Mission of Earthrise Press http://www.fglaysher.com/mission_of%20earthrise_p

    Cut the publishers… Time for publishing to change. Here's how… Tell your friends…

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  • http://bozo.typepad.com/munro_gentleman_adventure/ Michael Clark

    'heroes' is spelt with the extra e….
    I wonder what would happen to an aspirinh author who had a spelling mistake in his first line when he submitted a ms to Thomas nNelson

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks for catching that. I have made the change.

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  • http://bozo.typepad.com/munro_gentleman_adventure/ Michael Clark

    glad you changed the spelling of heroes… no need to thank me

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  • http://www.bloggingbistro.com Laura Christianson

    I'm a Seth Godin groupie, too. I recall reading in one of his books that he hasn't always marketed his books directly to his readers, and he hasn't always had the massive audience he now enjoys. He started out as a "nobody," too, and worked very hard to build his fan base.

    Seth's writing has encouraged me to set my fears aside and try new things and new ways of doing old things.

  • Omar Elbaga

    I’m sort of with Michael on this one to a degree.

    I’m a huge advocate of independent media distribution but I cannot deny that many people who also claim that traditional publishing is a dying breed are also in their own cloud so to speak.

    Lets be HONEST here, go ask your friends and parents what they watched last night; it was most likely a TV show off of traditional tv programming not a web original. i.e. Real housewives, Jersey Shore, whatever.

    One of the biggest dilemmas many have failed to address is DISCOVERY. You can distribute but can you get discovered by the right audience and how long will it take you to do so.

    Traditional outlets still have the spending money to reach audiences and impose discovery.

    New media has a long battle years to come.

  • http://www.wilsonwritings.com Alex Wilson

    You hit it with your last line, 'why not do both?' That epublishing is coming on like a freight train is indisputable but there are still 'dead tree' books being printed and likely always will be. With the contraction of the retail outlets and the disadvantageous economics of print books vs ebooks, there will be diminishing opportunities for print publishing. It makes sense to have your feet in both bodies of water.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1196633451 John Michael Hileman

    As one who has spent far too long screaming in the desert like John the Baptist, I have to wholeheartedly agree. As a writer, it is an imperative to do both. Publishers are not the end all, but they certainly help to break down many of the most intimidating barriers authors will face.

    John Hileman

  • http://www.gospelhall.org Youth Group Leader

    If the message is so good that it can be given away, then success should come automatically. I quit putting ads on my church / sunday school teacher's website. Why make an extra $6 per month while polluting the look of the page?

  • http://www.revtrev.com revtrev

    I'm not saying anyone can be Seth Godin, but I'm so glad we live in a world where some guy with a song and a video camera can get 700,000 views on YouTube.

    Publishing is going the same way. It's not for everyone. Not everyone has all the expertise you need. But I know how to outsource it all and get it in print and well circulated online. It's the marketing where most will fall short.

    Should most authors emulate Seth Godin? I suggest the majority will…and be more successful than publishing traditionally.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      With regard to YouTube, yep, I think it’s a great thing. But for every video that goes viral, there are thousands that languish in obscurity. I agree that the marketing is the primary challenge.

      Will most authors follow Seth’s lead? Time will tell.

  • http://www.ipadebookstore.com.au ipadebookstore

    Hey I just launched a new website – be kind and check it out! http://www.ipadebookstore.com.au/

    ps this site is great I've saved as a favourite for future reference. – Great job!

  • Terrific Tom

    I’m surprised you haven’t heard of smashwords.com. It is an indie e-publisher that will publish your ebook for free and has one of the smallest commission rates I’ve seen anywhere. Like 15%!

    But the big news is they have a program called “meatgrinder” that will format your book for just about every major ebook portal, again, for FREE. And that includes iBook, amazon, B&N, Sony and Kobo. Quite a number of their fiction author are now making OVER $100,000 a year selling just ebooks and some of those are selling for less $4.00 a download.

    And it’s ALL DRM-free.

    Check it out.

  • Anonymous

    Of course, one should do BOTH! Trouble is, agents and publishers don’t always take note and you’re forced to self-publish…Here’s to hoping that the daring self-pubbed authors will survive the onrush of ONE MILLION books published/year!

  • http://www.forward-living.com W. Mark Thompson

    It appears to be 2 years out from this post. I am curious about your opinion now on these points. I can see for the most part 2-4 still being true. But what about #1. Now more than ever it seems that someone building a platform would have a direct route to their readers. What’s your take (even on the other points)?

    Note: I understand that’s a “whole post” answer. So I understand any brevity.  :)

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Yes, I agree. Author who are building a platform do have access to their readers. But the reality is that a small percentage of authors are building a platform. Most of those who have still have small platforms and need the leverage a publisher offers. Thanks.

  • Anonymous

    Seth is a master of marketing, this is most likely why others would fail trying to follow his lead.
    My Mac is Running Slow