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What Indie Authors Need to Know about Decentralized Publishing

Novelist Jay Antani lays out how platforms like SingularDTV can create opportunities for independent writers, novelists, and poets.

Photo via Philip Tomassi.

by Jay Antani

Five years ago, I was at a crossroads. I’d finished my debut novel, a coming-of-age story set in Wisconsin and India in the late ’80s. It had no zombies or vampires, no drugs, no sex. Instead, it was a quiet story about culture shock, loneliness, and the immigrant identity. In short, it wasn’t an easy sell. A fair number of agents and editors, as intrigued as they were by the manuscript, said as much. One agent told me she loved the book, but it was too “mid-list” and, therefore, not worth the time and energy to rep it. I thanked her for her candor.

I knew in my heart the book had a readership. I knew because of the feedback I’d gotten from beta readers, from the commercial success of India-themed fiction and of YA fiction, in general. I knew it wouldn’t capture Suzanne Collins or John Green levels of attention, but there was a market for it. I just had to tap into it.

In 2013, self-publishing was already a viable alternative publishing model. The editorial and distribution services were there, as were the online marketing and promotional opportunities. There were reviewers and prizes dedicated to the best in indie publishing. The infrastructure seemed in place, and, for an author entrepreneurial enough, “going indie” seemed to offer potential for success. It also offered total control of pricing, production and release schedules, intellectual property rights, and much higher royalty rates (70% to 90% for ebook sales). After months of reflection and research, I jumped off the traditional publishing bandwagon and struck out on my own. I’ve never regretted it.

My book, “The Leaving of Things,” won a couple of indie prizes, got placed in coveted, well-curated promotions, and, in all, enjoyed steady-to-excellent sales and reviews until it was noticed and picked up by an imprint of Amazon Publishing less than a year later. It was a reminder that not only is it just possible to circumvent the old intermediaries of the publishing industry, but that it may be the ideal way for many stories to be told. Flash-forward to 2018, where the digital infrastructure is even better poised to accommodate the independent author…

A Democratized Landscape

The internet has leveled the playing field for professional artists. For more than a decade, musicians and filmmakers have taken advantage of new DIY technologies, fundraising platforms (like Patreon, GoFundMe and Kickstarter), and distribution channels (from Youtube to Netflix) to get their works seen and heard. More recently, many filmmakers and musicians have parlayed this ethos to the blockchain with platforms like SingularDTV to engage with fans, finance projects, and build their careers. The time could also be ripe for writers to take the plunge.

Authors have been under the thumb of an antiquated industry. The old line of thinking — that authors need the endorsement of agents and editors to feel worthy and legitimate — keeps the business afloat, but it also keeps its most essential components — the creators — locked in a vicious cycle of piddling royalties, little to no marketing help, and the surrendering of copyrights.

In the literary world, only traditionally published books get distribution in chain bookstores and libraries, get reviewed in the mainstream press, and are allowed into major literary competitions. Add to the above drawbacks the agonizingly long publication wait times (often authors wait years before a book sees the light of a bookshelf), no control over pricing and, in many cases, over cover design or editorial decisions, and you’re left with a losing proposition for most authors.

Thankfully, the rise of self-publishing technology and infrastructure removed a lot of the above obstacles for millions of new and established authors. One of the guiding principles behind independent publishing was to remove the gatekeepers — that is, the agents and editors, as well as the contracts that throttled royalties and rights management.

Services like CreateSpace, Lulu, Smashwords and IngramSpark made it possible for millions of writers, from beginners all the way up to seasoned authors, to sell digital and print-on-demand editions of their works entirely, while retaining their rights and reaping a greater percentage of royalties. Blockchain publishing promises to take all those principles and advantages to a whole new level.

SingularDTV’s Kim Jackson discusses blockchain and entertainment at SXSW.

The Tokenized Author

With tokenomics and smart contracts, authors are no longer beholden to distributors or financial institutions. This means exploring an entirely new paradigm for getting your projects funded and then sharing your content with your readers.

You could crowdfund your book project in the traditional manner, i.e. through Patreon, Kickstarter or GoFundMe. But this route doesn’t incentivize potential supporters with long-term rewards. Your supporters might get a free signed copy of your book, a mention in the acknowledgements, or even a character named after them, but that’s as far as it goes. But by tokenizing your next writing project, you can conceivably raise funds to help you meet all the major costs of bringing your manuscript to market.

Through Tokit, many filmmakers and musicians have successfully tokenized their projects by launching campaigns that covered everything from production through marketing. Here’s how the new paradigm might work: An author could launch a Tokit campaign to fund the entire editorial development of his or her manuscript, i.e. from final draft completion, story editing, copyediting and proofreading. Cover design, formatting, website design, even hiring a publicist and marketing costs could all be figured into the author’s campaign goal. Supporters would then purchase tokens toward the campaign, sharing the journey with the author and unshackled by the intermediaries of the legacy publishing industry.

Upon successful completion of the campaign, you as the author could offer your manuscript available as a download to your token holders in exchange of tokens on SingularDTV’s peer to peer content distribution platform. The transaction on SingularDTV would be instant, so no waiting around for months for the royalty check to arrive!

Entrepreneurship + Tokenomics = A New Dawn for Authors

None of the above eliminates two non-negotiable imperatives: One, an exquisitely workshopped, edited and fine-tuned manuscript — there are no shortcuts to quality — and, two, an entrepreneurial spirit. Once you’ve accomplished step one, you can unleash your inner entrepreneur. Your author website, social media engagement, and marketing outreach will all play vital roles in driving traffic to your pages on SingularDTV and elsewhere.

Here’s how I see this mix of plucky entrepreneurship and tokenization playing out for independent authors, and an overview of how to make it work when you are your own industry: From your website to your Tokit page and your social media accounts, your platform will be the focal point for your release. To build awareness and anticipation, use your platform to announce your Tokit campaign weeks or months before launch. Thinking months in advance, indie authors have announced giveaways, calls for reviewers, and launch parties to promote the release of their books. As a blockchain author, you could hit the ground prior to even starting your book to bring attention to your project, begin the fundraising journey, and keep supporters up to speed on your progress.

One essential part of your platform is your author website, where you’ll house links to your SingularDTV or Tokit pages and to all your digital retailers. On your site, you can embed your podcast (if you have one), list your speaking and signing engagements, your book trailer (more on this below), Q&As, interviews, and anything relating to awareness-building for your book. Cross-link everything on your official site to your product/author page on SingularDTV as well as your social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Goodreads, etc.). This gives your potential supporters and readers multiple avenues for engaging with you and your work.

Like musicians and filmmakers, many authors are embracing book trailers. A cinematic trailer can do wonders to intrigue and delight your current and potential fans. A smart, cleverly edited trailer builds anticipation and stokes curiosity. Embed your trailer everywhere you’re promoting your work, including on YouTube. And as a blockchain author promoting his/her book, a Reddit AMA is in the cards. Millions are members of the r/iAMA community so it’s the ideal forum to introduce yourself and engage.

Getting reviews and interviews, participating in competitions and panels, giveaways on Goodreads, ad boosts on Facebook, etc. — all these will prime potential readers and are crucial steps if your Tokit campaign is going to succeed. Then again, all of the above would be just as important no matter how you chose to publish.

Bringing it Back to Blockchain

Blockchain technology has signaled a new dawn for artists — whether you’re Gramatik, Khushnuda Shukurova, Liga de Artistas, or a new crop of authors eager to join this technological revolution. Compared with filmmaking and music, publishing culture has been tentative in adapting to new technologies and new business models. But there’s no reason why new and established authors can’t ride the wave of change that blockchain and cryptocurrency are currently sweeping over the old guard. Speaking of the old guard, it may be possible that Amazon and other major retailers will (sooner rather than later) incorporate cryptocurrency and the blockchain model, and that’s bound to make to make authors’ lives easier as they seek to consolidate SingularDTV and non-SingularDTV revenues.

The advantage of blockchain publishing — and of tokenizing your work — is the sheer freedom and control it offers. There are no gatekeepers to muzzle your voice and no “waiting in line” for a publisher to put you on their release schedule. Blockchain’s smart contracts allow you to transact directly with buyers while protecting your copyright. With its unique model of fundraising, tokenization as a strategy leaps out in front of other forms of crowdfunding and self-publishing by offering all parties a transparent and rewarding means of engagement. More freedom, complete rights control, greater revenues, zero gatekeepers, and, most of all, a culture of value and reward vis-à-vis your supporters are on the horizon: speaking as a writer, it sounds pretty good to me.

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SingularDTV is laying the foundation for a decentralized entertainment industry.