Artisanal Publishing vs Self-Publishing

My last blog spotlighted 2016 predictions from some of the publishing industry’s top thought leaders.  That round-up of experts featured Joel Friedlander, Dana Lynn Smith, David Leonhardt, David Bricker, Ricardo Fayet, Joanna Penn, Chris Well, Alexander Greenwood and Mark Coker.  Their insights and prognostications are illuminating for both novice and veteran writers. As a follow-up,… [Read More]

My last blog spotlighted 2016 predictions from some of the publishing industry’s top thought leaders.  That round-up of experts featured Joel Friedlander, Dana Lynn Smith, David Leonhardt, David Bricker, Ricardo Fayet, Joanna Penn, Chris Well, Alexander Greenwood and Mark Coker.  Their insights and prognostications are illuminating for both novice and veteran writers.

As a follow-up, over the next several months, I will be covering some of the innovations and industry enhancements they forecasted, in an effort to drill down on topics of consequence for self-publishers in the coming year.

An ‘Artisanal’ By Any Other Name?

Artisanal Publishing vs Self-Publishing

Alexander Greenwood

Author Alexander Greenwood pointed to the emergence of the ‘artisanal author’ as a differentiator in distinguishing the self-publishers of the past from those who are at the forefront of the movement in 2016:

“I think we will see the beginning of dominance in the indie market by artisanal authors. By artisanal, I mean serious authors who write good books employing professional editors and cover designers, marketed in a more professional way. I think better quality eBooks and POD offerings will start to crowd out the schlocky, obviously thrown-together stuff. Consumers have had enough of junk, and the market will reflect that,” predicts Greenwood.

"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet" is a frequently referenced quote from William Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet.  Uttered by Juliet, her intent was to underscore that Romeo’s worth should not be assessed by his name, even though he was a member of the Capulet’s rival's house of Montague.  This reference is often used to imply that a name does not affect what something really is.

In the case of the word “artisanal” there is a distinction that can be made between it and the term self-publisher – specifically by those who invested in vanity presses at the turn of the century.  These were folks who were more concerned about getting their name into print than honing their craft and elevating their work with an attention to detail.

The term "vanity press" itself kind of says it all.  By today’s standards, it is a pejorative term used to imply an emphasis on ego versus professionalism.  With vanity publishing the author secures a third party to simply print a book as-is, without any type of a screening process.Artisanal Publishing vs Self-Publishing

Today’s artisanal authors want to present themselves in the best possible light, not only so they can compete with the works of traditional publishers, but also so they can raise the bar for the self-publishing field at large.

Artisanal is derived from the Medieval term “artisan” which applies to any product made by hand.  From a marketing and advertising perspective, it can apply to everything from cuisine to home-brewed beers –when one’s craft is raised to the level of artistry.

The Kawasaki Method

Artisanal Publishing vs Self-PublishingFor early self-publishers, Guy Kawasaki’s APE: Author- Publisher – Entrepreneur – How to Publish (co-written with Shawn Welch) quickly became the seminal resource book for any DIY (do-it-yourself) writer.

Similar to Greenwood’s description, “artisanal publishing” for Guy is a comprehensive process for producing and distributing books.  It goes far beyond a brain-dump experience of simply getting the printed word to the digital page.  The artisanal author is one who goes the extra nine yards to score in all aspects of the book’s creative development.

Artisanal Publishing vs Self-Publishing

Guy Kawasaki

Kawasaki’s method for artisanal publishing encourages writers who truly love their craft to control every aspect of the process from start to finish.

Down through the centuries, the imprint of a legacy publisher was the gold standard, the Good Housekeeping seal of approval and the quality control for books all rolled into one.  If your work was accepted by one of the Top Five publishers, you passed the test and were content to rest on your laurels, while the publishing house designed, edited, promoted and distributed your work

New technology however shifted that paradigm in the 21st Century. Now, according to Forbes‘ contributor Kathy Caprino, “the proxy of quality is how your books fare in terms of reviews and ratings” on iBook, Kindle, Smashwords and other self-publishing platforms.”  In essence, the artisanal writer is the ruler of his or her own destiny.  But also, the onus of all the work now falls squarely on his or her shoulders.

Kawasaki notes that when readers contemplate buying your eBook today, they pay less attention to the publisher.  They look instead at the ratings and reviews received from the audience.  Why?  Because now your critiques are consumer-generated.  Your new stamp of approval comes from the end-user, no longer from an intermediary.

Over the course of the last decade, Kawasaki’s foresight has proven to be invaluable: “Artisanal publishing features writers who love their craft, and who control every aspect of the process from beginning to end.  In this new approach, writers are no longer at the mercy of large, traditional publishers, and readers will have more books to read.”

Are you an Artisanal Publisher?

Or are you just a self-publisher?  Do you care enough to take every precaution to present your book in the best light?  Or are you satisfied just to have your name attached to the work?  Yes, there are additional costs involved when you take the artisanal route, because you will need to seek out a professional editor, book-designer and or marketing team to get it to that next level — particularly if you lack those inherent skills.  If you’re working with a smaller budget, you need to start learning as much as you can about writing, producing and marketing your book.  This way you will be able to understand what to expect from the professionals you hire to help you.

So why not take advantage of this golden opportunity?  If today’s self-publishing opportunity is the best thing that’s happened to writers in quite a while, don’t we owe it to ourselves to stop calling ourselves simply self-publishers, and instead start proudly distinguishing ourselves as artisanal publishers?

Readers & Writers: I look forward to your feedback, comments and critiques, and please use as your resource to learn more about preparing, publishing and promoting self-published books. My blogs appear bi-weekly on the 1st and 3rd Fridays of each month.

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12 thoughts on “Artisanal Publishing vs Self-Publishing”

  1. Ron–glad my earlier interview comments were something which you could go more in-depth on. Guy is on to something!

    1. Profile photo of Ron Callari Ron Callari says:

      Alex, thanks for bringing this topic to light — it’s an important distinction — and I think our readers will appreciate the insight.

  2. I wince at the idea of yet a new name for it when all you are talking about is what everyone in publishing has been talking about–present your work as professionally as possible including putting thought into the writing process itself. It’s called being as professional as possible within your means. I don’t know if we need a new term for it. People are already confused about Indie books. Just be professional.

    1. Profile photo of Ron Callari Ron Callari says:

      Virginia, thank you for your feedback – but my attempt today to further elaborate on the thoughts of Alex Greenwood and Guy Kawasaki had the same intent as your comment. Basically it was to underscore the need for professionalism. Artisanal is not a new term, as I noted in my post. It’s been around for quite some time. Applying it as a descriptor for self-publishers is however new, but very apropos. And while you as a professional writer know the importance of having to raise the bar in the self-publishing space, some others new to the field see the ease of entry as a quick stepping stone without the need for filters or cross-checks. And this applies to readers as well who may think less of a self-published work due to these preconceived perceptions. In these cases, using the term artisanal helps elevate the discipline in the mind’s eye, so it can be compared on an equal playing field with books published by traditional authors.

  3. Odin Wallace says:

    My interpretation of Artisanal Publishing is an autodidact personal approach to the publishing process. An approach of an artistic endeavor where the creator takes on the project of writing the text, choosing the typography, layout and design of the book. Taking responsibility for all of the creative process from the cover to the media for distribution. A self-publisher manages the same aspects but tends to outsource greater portions of the project.

    1. Profile photo of Ron Callari Ron Callari says:

      Odin, you’re right on target – that’s for the elaboration of the key points.

  4. Do we really need another label, especially one that the public will never understand nor use? NO!

  5. Aha, a new term enters the lexicon! There are quite a few of us who have self-published with a professional degree of care. Thanks for finding a term for us.

    One of your commenters asked whether we need it, especially whether it will make a blind bit of difference to the public. I agree it probably won’t. But it might help within the self-publishing world, so that those who want to publish well can see which processes make a difference.

    My own background? I used to run a publisher’s editorial department; I ghostwrote bestselling novels; I mentored other writers, including award winners. Now I put everything I’ve learned into producing my own books – and relishing the control to do it well. Hello!

    1. Profile photo of Ron Callari Ron Callari says:

      Thanks Roz for your input particularly in highlighting how this term points to the “professional degree of care” that is needed in the self-publishing space today. Much success in your future literary career.

  6. Diane Tibert says:

    I agree with Virginia. We don’t need yet another term out there. I am a publisher and I am an author. My publishing company publishes my books. I look after every aspect of the publishing process and do what I can to present my books in the best light. I will never call myself an artisanal author or artisanal publisher because I am an author and a publisher, and those two terms have served many people well throughout the centuries.

    As for readers caring less about the publisher of the book: News Flash: they never cared in the first place. I’ve surveyed many readers, and they couldn’t name the publishing company of the book they just read or of their favourite books.

    Only self-published authors who think they are setting themselves aloft by using the pompous ‘artisanal’ tag will use it. That includes writers who don’t approach their work professionally. So you’ll have the same quagmire.

    By the way, I believe the term is misused. When I think of an artisan creating a book, I think of one actually creating the book with their hands. Not hiring CreateSpace to print it for them. Gaspereau Press in Nova Scotia is a true artisanal press.

    1. Profile photo of Ron Callari Ron Callari says:

      Diane, your counterpoint arguments were very insightful and to some extent I agree with many of your points, except for the differences in perception regarding the legitimacy of legacy publishers vs self-publishers. While this is a perception that is beginning to wane, it still exists to a large extent in whether or not readers will buy one book versus another. And in regards to the term ‘artisan’ pertaining to that which is “made by hand,” does not an artisan chef use 3rd-party ingredients, utensils and appliances he purchases from others? Similarly using the tools available to indie authors today have expanded so much – and proven to be so successful in many regards – it would be foolhardy not to take advantage. Otherwise, you’d be dismissing platforms such as Kindle, iBooks and Smashwords as well.

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