I always knew that the book world was a tough one, but it is one that I’ve immersed myself in since I was a girl. I loved escaping into a good book. I always knew that I was going to be a writer. I didn’t know what kind of writer, but I knew that this was the industry I belonged in. I couldn’t even fathom doing anything else.
But when you’re a writer, you’re not just a writer. You’re a marketer. You’re an accountant. You’re an administrative assistant. You’re a web developer. And with the rise of new technology, what these jobs entail changes almost every year. The kicker is that you cannot take courses about these subjects. At least, not courses that will fully prepare you for the workforce. Businesses are advancing so rapidly that you need to stay with the times, take risks, and learn on the job, or you will risk becoming outdated and irrelevant.
I already kind of knew this about the book industry, and the new economy in general—the one that didn’t so much recover from the recession, as it did completely transform and reinvent itself. But it didn’t fully hit home until I stood side-by-side with an author friend while he looked for a publisher for his first novel, then looked into ways to market it, and then searched for a distributor. Getting your book out there into the world and into the hands of readers is a long (and exciting!) process. It definitely isn’t the same process it was ten years ago. Or five. Or one.
Here’s what his experience has taught me so far:
1) Whether you find a publishing company or decide to be your own publisher, the same rules apply.
Finding a publisher makes some things easier on the author. You don’t have to layout your book. You don’t have to design the cover. You don’t have to get an ISBN and worry about getting into online stores like Amazon. Most publishers will take care of these things for you. Basically, aside from writing the content, you don’t have to stress over the compilation of the book. In exchange, you relinquish a greater percentage of the profits than you would if you had self-published.
Weigh the pros and cons before deciding which publishing method is right for you. Do not feel set on going through a publisher just to avoid any “self-publishing stigma.” Self-publishing is swiftly gaining popularity, and many self-published books go on to become bestsellers. Frankly, I think self-publishing is the way of the future, as even more and more traditional publishing companies are starting to offer different packages for authors depending on how involved they want the publishing company to be. With the onus to make the book succeed less on the publisher and more on the author, it’s just a different playing field altogether than it was a generation ago.
That being said, whether you go through a publishing company or publish your own book, you will still have to consider how to market the book and whether you want to sell in-store, online, or both.
2) You are your own marketing team.
According to 111Publishing’s Savvy Book Writers blog (which is an absolutely amazing resource for writers), 95% of authors have to do their own marketing, even if they secure a deal with a major publisher.
The exception to this rule? Celebrities.
Basically, if you aren’t already famous, you have a choice between doing your own marketing or hiring a marketing company. Some publishers know of book promoters that they can recommend to you, but it’s up to you whether or not you want to use their services. Either way, you’d better get comfortable with social media and building an online presence.
3) Bookstores won’t touch print-on-demand books.
Getting a physical copy of your book on a shelf at Indigo should be no problem, right? You can just pre-order 50 copies and ask the manager if they wouldn’t mind stocking a couple for you.
Wrong. If you’ve published a book on a print-on-demand (POD) basis, it’s unlikely that any bookstore will go near it, particularly big chains. Stores don’t want to risk stocking books that won’t sell. This is because bookstores demand all the authors they carry to be secured with the Booksellers Return Program, so that the books the store buys can be refunded (and destroyed) if they do not sell—kind of an archaic procedure. The Booksellers Return Program is acquired through your distributor, or your publisher who has distribution connections.
Even with the Booksellers Return Program, individual bookstores (including chain locations) may turn your book away, or at least ask you to sign a consignment agreement entailing that the store does not have to pay for the books unless and until they are sold. Author Stephanie Chandler offers a free consignment agreement for authors interested in approaching bookstores, which in her experience can be successful at indie bookstores, even without a distributor.
4) Finding a distributor will be your biggest challenge.
This is something you probably haven’t even thought about. If your book is POD, you can try to make your own distribution contacts, although generally speaking distributors want books that have already sold well online (books that gross $500,000 to $1,000,000 in sales per year). If you’ve got a new book and you aren’t yet a millionaire, you can try distribution groups that specialize in distributing books from smaller publishers, but you’ll still need a high sales number. Once you’ve sold thousands of copies of your book online, don’t be afraid to phone up a distributor and ask them if they’re interested in your book. This brings me to my final point.
5) You can’t be afraid to make a pitch.
All authors need to get used to making pitches. You will have to pitch to publishers, then reviewers, bookstore owners, and finally, even after your book has sold incredibly well, you will have to pitch to distributors. Who knows? You may even have to pitch to film agents. You will need to get comfortable talking about your book.
I spoke on the phone with a distributor the other day and he told me that there are exceptions to every rule. Want to get into major retailers without a distributor? Pitch to the Director of Vendor Relations, and they may take a risk on you if your book seems compelling.
It’s a tough industry, but it’s also a kind one.