Monday, September 11, 2017

Four Myths and Realities of Self-Publishing

Over the past several years, the publishing industry has changed radically, and it continues to do so. Unfortunately, bookstores are scaling back their inventory or going out of business. There are only six large houses left, and writers’ contracts are becoming less and less attractive.

As a result, many well-known writers, including J. K. Rowling and Steven King, have put e-book versions of their work up on the Internet themselves. In addition, some, like Rowling, have started their own companies, thereby cutting the agents and publishers out of the loop. Should unknown writers do the same?  

Why might a writer choose to produce their own books? There may be many reasons, such as

1) the book appeals to a niche market (and bigger houses look for ones that appeal to a wide market).

2) the writer feels that there is a built-in audience that he or she can reach and can therefore make money without selling through a major publisher.

3) the book is too short to appeal to large houses (it may be only 30-100 pages, for example).

4) writers are responsible for marketing their books, anyway, so they might as well keep control of pricing and receive all the profit.

Traditionally, whether large or small press, if all goes ideally, a writer submits a query to an agent or editor and he or she responded favorably and asks to see the manuscript. A contract is issued and the book begins the editorial process. With a large company, a year or two later, the book is published. This lengthy process is far from ideal for many writers, especially those with time-critical information.

So, if a writer chooses to self-publish, what challenges will be faced?

Let’s consider the four main myths and realities that apply to both print books and e-books:

1.          Myth or Reality? Self-publishing any book is worthwhile.
While it is technically true that anyone can publish anything these days, especially on the Internet, this is a myth when it comes to something that is salable and will develop a positive reputation for the author. If you value what your readers think of you, self-publish only books that are well-written and have quality content—the same level that a New York house would produce.

Consider your professional image. It is fatal to your career to put out a book that lacks compelling content, exhibits poor typesetting, has an amateurishly designed cover, and is full of grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors. You will be hard-pressed to turn this negative reputation around, even if your writing improves over time.

For physical books, sales of which are on the rise, Bookscan reported that for the first quarter of 2017, adult nonfiction comprised 42.3% of the market, adult fiction 25.2% (this includes Young Adult fiction, since 80% of Y/A books are read by people over 25), juvenile/children’s fiction and nonfiction 7%, and “other,” such as calendars, audio, and journals 25.5%.

For e-books, adult fiction is 80% of the market (and most of those books are romance and bought by females), adult nonfiction is 20%, and juvenile books are 1%, but this latter is bound to increase as time goes on. Some reference and children’s titles are difficult to make into e-books because of the complex page formatting and illustrations. This may change as the technology improves.

If your book is nonfiction, remember the first rule of marketing: Find a need and fill it.
After publishing 10 books through traditional publishers, I had an idea for a book that was needed in the college market—a user-friendly edition of a required style manual for formatting research papers. The educational houses offered only a token advance and virtually no royalties. They felt I should be happy with the fact that my book would be out. I knew there were new students every semester who would need it ¾that there would be an evergreen market¾so I decided to start my own publishing company.

So far The World’s Easiest Guide to Using the APA has sold over 75,000 copies to college bookstores, college and public libraries, and students. My other title for college students is The World’s Easiest Guide to Using the MLA. Ideal nonfiction books are those that can have a long product lifespan by being updated as new editions. For example, The World’s Easiest Guide to Using the APA is now going into its sixth edition and The World’s Easiest Guide to Using the MLA is going into its second edition. My company has since expanded not only my own list but has also taken on other authors.

Another example is best-selling author Amanda Hocking, who started self-publishing her young-adult romance novels as e-books in April of 2010. By March of 2011, she had sold over a million copies of nine books and averaged 9,000 sales a day. She has earned millions to date and is now with St. Martin’s Press.

You CAN be successful self-publishing your book if you put in the effort. The caveat is to do so only with books that:
         are high quality.
         are in demand.
         have been professionally edited and proofread.
         have a professional page layout and cover.
         include an ISBN and Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN), and Library of Congress Publication Data (so your book can be sold to libraries)

There is another element, however, a critical one. Your book must be marketed properly. Marketing is a topic in itself and requires a lot of research and study. A terrific resource is 1001 Ways to Market Your Book by John Kremer (Kindle Edition, $7.97).   
2.  Myth or Reality? Self-publishing is the same as vanity press.
Self-publishing is definitely not the same thing as vanity press. Vanity presses charge hundreds or thousands of dollars and will print anything you send them—as is. You will get a pile of books that you then don’t know what to do with. The vanity press generally has control of the cover design and the page layout.

When you self-publish, you retain control. You have the book typeset and the cover designed. While this process will definitely require money if you don’t know how to do them yourself, it will be very inexpensive if you use someone listed on a site like www.fiverr.com. The person may be located out of the country, but, as a result, he or she will work for a low fee.

Once your book is typeset and the cover has been designed, you can upload it onto CreateSpace, which is Amazon’s self-publishing platform. Small presses also use this service. This has tremendous advantages in that your book will have its own page on Amazon. In addition, the books are print-on-demand (POD). This means that as someone orders one, Createspace will print it and ship it out. They will also track your sales and send you a check each month for any copies sold.

While you won’t have a box loads of books to deal with or have to turn your house into a fulfillment center, you will still have to market your work so that people know it’s available.

You can also create e-books through Amazon’s Kindle programs. These, in addition to audio versions, can be listed on your Amazon page. Your work should be in at least these three formats (print, e-book, and audio) in order to reach all audiences.
3.  Myth or Reality? Books can be sold only through bookstores.
Myth! There are significant costs to traditional houses associated with printing and storing books. Once the publisher has inventory in the distributor’s warehouse, they sell copies to wholesalers who ship to bookstores.

Books are easily damaged in this process, and those are returned. Titles may sit on the bookstore shelves for only 2-3 months, after which they are shipped back to the publisher and may soon go out of print.

If you have a subject that can constantly sell, though, why should your book die an early death? Why not self-publish it and if it’s nonfiction, update it every few years to take advantage of the recurring market?

Because of returns, wholesalers refuse to deal directly with authors, and most bookstores won’t, either. In addition, wholesalers and distributors expect a 45-55% discount, and bookstores expect at least a 30% discount.

An alternative to the printing and storing costs is POD, but bookstores usually won’t take POD books, because there is no place to return them. The same discount schedule applies. It seems clear that all books eventually will be printed POD, because the old model of printing and shipping is inefficient and expensive and also destructive to the books themselves.
Instead, forget the major bookstore chains.

1001 Ways to Market Your Books explains exactly that. Not one of Kremer’s suggestions is a bookstore. In fact, bookstores are the WORST place to sell books for the reasons already mentioned. “Special Sales” is the term used for types of sales outside the traditional bookstore channels. Also check out Brian Jud’s book, Beyond the Bookstore: How to Sell More Books Profitably to Non-Bookstore Markets (ISBN: 978-1-59429-002-2, $10.00). He discusses all aspects of Special Sales. While it has a 2003 copyright date, the information is still relevant.

Another downside if you self-publish without setting yourself up as a small press is that your book may not be reviewed in major publications like Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, and Publishers’ Weekly. The author cannot submit books to most of these publications. There is a specific process involved with getting reviews. This is another area for major study.
4.  Myth or Reality? If you build it, they will come.
While this philosophy worked well for novice Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella in attracting Shoeless Joe Jackson and the outcast members of 1919 Chicago White Sox, it works only for famous authors with a large fan base. In that case, it’s easy to get the media to report that a new book is available. This scenario does not apply to new or unknown writers, so this is definitely a myth. You can have your work on Amazon and other online bookstores, but who will see it?

The Internet is the best place to market any product. If you plan to self-publish, you must build a platform—an online community. Ideally, this is in place BEFORE your book comes out. Amanda Hocking had a terrific fan base before she self-published hers. A platform includes the following:
  • Website
  • Blog
  • Social media (such as Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Linked In; pick the one(s) where your audience hangs out)
  • Article marketing
  • Videos
Post comments on the blogs of people in your target market and “friend” them on your social media accounts. Keep your profiles professional and don’t allow anyone to post to your accounts who isn’t a colleague or potential colleague. That is, don’t post party photos or family photos and don’t allow others to, either. Put samples of your work on your website for others to read. When your book comes out, you will have a nice audience to which to market it.

Traditional publishers, editors, and agents expect you to have a platform and will look for it. If you can build a track record with your sales, you can approach these channels from a much stronger position; however, if your Internet presence is negative or amateurish, though, you are almost guaranteed a rejection slip. No matter how you publish, you need a positive online presence.
The Bottom Line
If you feel that in spite of the challenges involved with self-publishing that you want to pursue this avenue, you may find it to be very lucrative if you do it right. Let’s review the steps:

  1. Establish a positive online presence.
  2. Learn everything you can about self-publishing.
  3. Self-publish only quality work.
  4. Sell outside the traditional bookstore channels.
Good luck and have fun!


Thursday, August 24, 2017

Book Review: Lost Girls

Last night, 16-year-old Rachel went to bed listening to music and worrying about her geometry test. She wakes up in a ditch, bloody and bruised, and can’t remember what happened to her. When she is reunited with her family, she discovers she has been missing for two weeks. The police tell Rachel that other girls have gone missing, too, but she is the only one to return home.

To make matters worse, she learns an entire year has passed but she has no memory of it. She is now 17. She is shocked to see that her room is a goth haven and all her clothes are black. This is not the person she remembers herself being.

Technically a Young Adult novel, this debut book by Merrie Destefano is suspenseful enough to keep adults riveted as Rachel sets out to discover what happened to her during that missing year. The more she investigates, the more her memories return.

Destefano kept me on the edge of my seat as Rachel’s investigations lead her into the dark and seedy side of life. While what she discovers could get her killed, she ignores her fear and continues to push forward.

Despite the excellent writing, plotline, and spine-tingling suspense, Lost Girls suffers from a problem that seems to plague most indie books: the lack of a professional edit. Its numerous grammar and punctuation errors and repetitious words detract from its quality. Still, if readers can overlook these issues, they will be in for an exciting read.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Book Review: The Wrong Child

What do you do when you take your eleven-year-old to the doctor only to discover that she is not your biological child?

This is the dilemma facing Abbie Bernard, and she wrestles with the idea of contacting the other family. Once she decides that she has to know her birth daughter, Abbie’s fate is sealed.

USA Today best-selling author and writing teacher Patricia Kay explores the complexity of family dynamics and the stress that results when such a tragic discovery is made.

While the plot kept me turning the pages, a major flaw exists at the end: There is no character arc on the part of the person who had the most problems dealing with this situation. The character changes from being completely oppositional to totally accepting without explanation. Because it seemed that an entire chunk of chapters was missing, this spoiled what is otherwise an engrossing plot.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Book Review: The Game You Played

The Game You Played is the debut novel of author Anni Taylor. Phoebe Baskos, a young wife, mother, and former actress, turns her attention away from her two-year-old son for just a moment at an inner-city playground. When she looks back, Tommy is gone. After an exhaustive search, the authorities presume he was kidnapped.

Then, six months later, Phoebe and her husband Luke begin receiving rhymed messages about Tommy and suspect they are from the kidnapper. Set in Sydney, Australia, near the author’s home, this psychological thriller takes readers on a roller-coaster ride as Phoebe searches for the truth behind her son’s disappearance.  Who took Tommy? And why?

This gripping novel has complex characters and spine-tingling suspense. Told from two viewpoints, Phoebe’s and Luke’s, the story kept me on the edge of my seat as one person, then another, was a possible suspect in the crime.

Taylor gets deep into Phoebe’s and Luke’s psyches and motivation. While the issues of mental illness and substance abuse play important roles, the plot was not predictable and kept me guessing.

The book should have been given one more edit to catch nitpicker grammar and missing punctuation errors, however. The problem is not one of British English versus American English. I lived in England for three years and am familiar with the differences between the two forms of the language. Perhaps it’s my editor’s eye. These errors concern missing punctuation and words and use of lower-case letters that should be capitals and vice-versa.

I hasten to add that these problems don’t detract from what is otherwise a very powerful page-turner. I look forward to reading—and reviewing—Taylor’s second novel, The Six.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Books Don't Matter, Authors Do: How to Attract the Media

Most writers want publicity for their books. Getting on TV is one of the dreams for accomplishing this, but many believe that being on a national TV show is beyond their reach. According to Emmy-nominated television producer and New York Times best-selling publisher, Jacquie Jordan, this is a totally realistic goal if the proper process is followed.

Jordan spoke at the May meeting of the Publishers Association of Los Angeles. She stated that one of the mistakes that writers make is waiting until their books are published before pursuing the media when the reality is that the producers need a six-month lead time.

Another mistake is pitching the book when they should be pitching themselves. Major publishers also make this mistake, she said, which leaves their authors out of the TV show promotional loop.


She made these 5 major points to cover for a quality pitch:

1.    What is your story?
TV producers want the author’s story. What is going on in the news that relates to that? The story-telling aspect should be multi-dimensional and everlasting and should fit several areas. Develop 5-6 speaking points.

2.    Develop a hook around your expertise
·         Current events
Perhaps your book has to do with a foreign country or a situation that is currently taking place.

·         Holidays
If you have written a book that has to do with relationships, think about pitching a topic for a show that will air around Valentine’s Day.

·         Anniversaries
A book with a military setting or about the military, for example, would be perfect for a topic around Veterans’ Day or Pearl Harbor Day.

·         Birthdays
Interesting tidbits about an historical figure would be a great pitch for a booking around this person’s birthday.

·         Celebrities
Maybe your book is about safety, and a recent celebrity suffered from a robbery or other crime. A pitch on safety tips to avoid these issues would work well.

Perhaps your book is about the celebrity him- or herself. Pitch interesting facts that people don’t already know.

3.    Develop a solid platform.
This includes:

            ·         Website
·         Blog
·         Social media accounts

All three must have a uniform look. Include any media coverage of you or your work in all your social media and on your website. Jordan cited the example of one author who got 500 Twitter followers from one radio show.

One important point, she says, is that any material that is dated in content should be removed since relevancy is very important.

4.    Have a professional headshot taken
This should be used on all your media and in your media kit.

5.    Be prepared for several interview styles.
There are several types of interviews:

·         Sit-down Interview
This type is live or live-to-tape. No one will edit what you say. You must be on your toes!

·         Reality-Show Style
The interview is conducted in your home.

·         Demo Segment
Objects are used to illustrate points.

·         Satellite Interview
You can’t see the person or people who are interviewing you. You are looking at a wall. You have to be good at this so that it isn’t obvious.

·         Skype Style
This is usually done as a pre-interview. Most producers won’t put you on the air until they know you are able to deliver what you promised. People have lost interviews based on not looking at the camera but at themselves instead.
While self-published books are often difficult to get on TV because the works are not vetted, indie authors can get around this by promoting themselves as subject-matter experts with stories that are relevant to the show. Then they can mention the book.

Jordan stated that authors should do three things when on TV:
1.    Come to the show hair-and-make-up- ready.

This not only saves time, but some shows don’t offer these services. The author should not be caught short.

           2.   
Bring two outfits
The outfit you have on may not be suitable for TV. Bring two changes of clothes.
3.    Hire a video monitoring service
The author must pay to get the show recorded so that he/she has it forever. Otherwise, the link that he/she receives for the show will be to the show site only. 
 
 
In order to build momentum, Jordan advised authors to say yes to all media large or small. The content narrative has changed since the election. Producers know what answers they want. Authors should be chockful of ideas so the producers are impressed and will call you back.

Radio producers will ask for 20 questions. TV producers at the national level do not usually ask for any.

While it is possible for authors to get on national TV, it does take effort. The opportunity will not be handed to them. Jordan said they must follow the rule of 10%: 100 pitches for every 10 bookings. Authors should start with local markets and make a demo tape to use with larger ones.

Authors should send their book with their pitch to producers via FedEx, then call to see if it was received. If not, they should send it again and keep sending it until it gets noticed.

Be tenacious. Perseverance pays off!


Jordan has written a book called Get On TV!: The Insider’s Guide to Pitching  the Producers and Promoting Yourself. (ISBN: 978-1-4002-0591-0, print edition, $15.99), which provides all the details for pitching to the media. A Kindle edition is also available for $9.99.