Line between traditional, indie publishing nearly gone: The Fussy Librarian

Jeffrey Bruner, founder of The Fussy Librarian
Jeffrey Bruner, founder of The Fussy Librarian

Today’s indie authors can punch above their weight and take on traditionally published authors, says The Fussy Librarian founder Jeffrey Bruner.

The Fussy Librarian, based in Des Moines, Iowa, sends daily book recommendations to readers based on their preferences.

“The line between ‘industry’ authors and ‘self-published’ authors has just about vanished,” Bruner, a former journalist for Gannett, tells me. “An author can hire a cover designer and copy editor and produce a book that looks and reads just as well as anything by the big publishers.”

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The marketing budget possessed by big publishers might not be as big an advantage as authors think when deciding between indie and traditional publishing, he says.

“The marketing budget of the big publishers usually goes to only a handful of titles — the superstars like James Patterson, John Grisham, etc.,” says Bruner. “Everyone else is getting the crumbs.”

It’s a sentiment also voiced by Guy Kawasaki, the former chief evangelist of Apple, who wrote a book on indie publishing.

“The fact is that they only do [extensive marketing] if you are Hillary Clinton or you’re David Beckham,” Kawasaki said last year. “They don’t do it for the other 10,000 authors every year because frankly they can’t call the New York Times 10,000 times every year.”

Bruner says that indie authors can do a lot with a little. “Self-published authors don’t need to have a huge marketing budget — just enough to create what Kevin Kelly calls 1,000 true fans. Once you have established that base, they will provide the word of mouth to boost you to 50,000, 100,000, 500,000, etc. But the book has to come first and it’s got to be great.”

He points to many tools available to indie authors today, including Rafflecopter for giveaways, MailChimp for mailing list management and PayPal for e-commerce.

“I’m not saying it would have been impossible to self-publish a bestseller 15 years ago, but it’s a lot easier now.”

Meet The Fussy Librarian

The Fussy Librarian
The Fussy Librarian connects indie authors with discerning readers.

The Fussy Librarian seeks to help readers find well-written books, regardless of how they were published.

“We want to be your personal librarian, the person you can turn to when you want to read a good book,” says Bruner. “We’re like a matchmaker for readers.”

The company knows it must court authors if it wants to provide a valuable service to readers.

“Our business doesn’t exist without readers, so they have to be our primary focus … but you’re also not going to last long unless you provide great customer service for authors, too,” says Bruner.

While the Fussy Librarian is not the only game in town for book recommendations on the Web, the company tries to differentiate itself by providing more personalized recommendations to readers, he says.

“A lot of services send you a list of books. We email you a list of books that match your taste in reading.”

The Fussy Librarian breaks down book promotions into emails based on 40 genres, more than competitor BookBub, and also provides content filters for readers who don’t want to see books with profanity or sexual content, he says.

The company has tried to entice authors with competitive pricing offers. Authors pay a fee per genre, but get discounts when they promote books in more than one genre. Also, the Fussy Librarian doesn’t charge extra to promote box sets.

“Our company is privately owned, so we don’t have venture capitalists demanding a return on their investment,” says Bruner. “And we know that most authors aren’t rich, so we try to keep our prices as low as possible. The cost of living is low in Des Moines, so we don’t need to keep much for ourselves.”

How many readers see a promotion varies by the chosen genre, with anywhere from 25,000 for cookbooks to 95,000 for contemporary romance fiction, says Bruner. Readers see anywhere from three to 20 books in each email, depending on their preferences, he says.

With only one full-time and one part-time employee, the Fussy Librarian cannot read every book submitted to the site. To ensure a base-line level of quality, the website requires that books have at least 10 Amazon.com customer reviews with an average score of 4.0. If it’s a new release, the author must have a previously published book with 50 reviews on Amazon averaging 4.0.

Before starting The Fussy Librarian in 2013, Bruner worked as wire chief for Gannett’s national wire desk.

“Like a lot of people in journalism, I decided I needed a Plan B,” he explains. “I worked at the Des Moines Register and its owner, Gannett, started layoffs in 2005 whenever it decided the bottom line needed boosting. After surviving seven or eight rounds, I got tired of waking up each morning wondering if I would still have a job. I also calculated that, when adjusting for inflation, I was actually making less than when I was hired in 2000.”

At first, Bruner kept his day job at Gannett and worked on his new venture at night. Then, in October 2014, he submitted his resignation and made Fussy Librarian his full-time job.

“My only regret is I didn’t do it five years earlier,” he says.

Bruner says the service continues to evolve, with new features on the way. “We’re working on two major projects — one for readers, one for authors — over the next six months. We think they will both be innovations in the book marketing industry, so I’m reluctant to spill too many details, but they both hold tremendous potential and we’re really excited about them.”

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