I recently met with Mary and Karen who are helping authors bring their book to market from their business outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico where I also live. We met at a restaurant called “The Hollar” in the 1800’s mining town/now rehabilitated artist community called Madrid (artists in the 1960s decided to put the emphasis on the first syllable to distinguish from the pronunciation of Madrid, Spain). We munched on fried okra and green chilies discussing many topics related to the opportunities now available to self-publishing authors. I casually mentioned that something authors need to realize is that their book has a longer life than they realize. Karen immediately gave me a high five and said “yes!”
What a (Traditional) Publisher Does
What I meant by that is that most self-publishers who are just getting started typically don’t really know the publishing business at all. They rightfully focus on the writing of their book and understand little about how to bring the book to market, how to capture readers, how to price their book, and how to get distribution. What they learn, sometimes quickly but more often painfully slow, is that the writing part is fairly easy compared to the publishing part.
Traditional publishers bring books to market very strategically by thinking about how best to place and rank their authors and titles in their seasonal catalogs that are usually created and presented twice each year. For titles falling into the Spring catalog, the editing, cover design, marketing plan and overall budget for each title would have been completed in the prior summer and early Fall. The Fall catalog titles would be ready in the prior winter and Spring. There are many decisions that publishers make, including how to position each title against others appearing in the same season as well as competitor titles from other publishers. Publishing dates, pricing, print runs, and publicity are key decisions that loom large. Publishers invest staff and financial resources, often in the tens of thousands of dollars so you can understand why it is a gamble for a publisher to take on a new author where reader demand is entirely unknown.
Switching Your Writing Cap to Your Publisher Hat
By contrast, many first-time authors are just so relieved to have finished writing that they rush all that goes into the actual publishing of the work. But this is exactly the time for you to take a breath and do your homework before your next move. Something you should definitely budget for is an editor, preferably one specializing in the subject matter of your book. This can cost several hundred to several thousand dollars depending on the length and complexity. A good place to start in your search for a good editor is through the Editorial Freelancers Association. BookWorks members will find professional editors among our Service Provider members.
Next, you’ll need to format your book for print, as an eBook, or as I recommend, for both. Generally, you’ll need either a book designer to help with this or find a way to format your work. I highly recommend Koehler Studios, 1106 Design, and Joel Friedlander’s Book Designer Templates. I also point people to my fellow BookWorks contributing expert Carla King’s Book Formatting for Self-Publishers guide as a good place to start when deciding what to do about the design of your book. To get your copy go to http://www.ingramspark.com/lp/book-formatting-guide. For those with limited resources, I suggest that you spend as little as possible on designing your interior and invest wisely by focusing on the number one marketing tool for your book—the cover.
Gaining distribution is fairly painless and inexpensive if you go the print on demand (POD) route through a program like IngramSpark which offers POD along with distribution. Publishing an eBook can be just as painless through Kindle. However, know that only making your book available to online stores virtually eliminates brick and mortar bookstores and libraries as sales channels. As a first-time author with only one book, be aware that if you print copies you will have a much harder time finding a distributor for that inventory. It’s not impossible (as I wrote about previously) but it is more difficult and will create somewhat of a headache for you.
So it takes time for an author to be their own publisher if they want to do it right. Where the traditional publishers have 12-18 months to establish their writer as “insightful” before they move on to the next “insightful” author, it may make take the indie author 3-5-10 years to reach that status. The point here is that your first book may not enjoy success until the launch of your third or fifth book. Make smart decisions and spend your resources wisely by learning all you can about the publishing business. Books continue on well past the life of the author, so take the time to create a work that will live for generations.
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