Digital or electronic publishing (Epublishing) is burning hot right now. The eBook growth curve is the traditional “hockey-stick graph from data collected by the International Digital Publishing Forum. The price of the Kindle reader from Amazon is falling and eBooks will account for 10% of Amazon’s total business in 2012. Amazon reported revenue ahead of Wall Street projections in the middle of the Recession.
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The proof of the growing eBook market is in the amount of junk and spam clogging up the electronic book publishing catalogs. The only other spam that out draws “How to write an eBook in a week to promote your business!” is “How to use SEO and Social Media to make your business a money machine while you sleep!” Free money on the Internet!
There has never been a better time to self-publish a digital book. Traditional publishing and book agents are dying breeds, as are the big-box bookstores like Borders (RIP), and who knows about B&N? Maybe they really are like Eastman Kodak? All that is required to participate is pick a hot topic, write the book, and self-publish it on one or all of the eBook catalogs. If only the process allowed more than one shot to make a quality product that people will judge as good enough to buy for a fair price.
The gatekeepers are going missing from the old publishing world. That is actually a problem for new digital authors. All those editors, artists, marketers, and publicists guarding the walls of the print era were not going to risk their careers on an author or a book that was not strong enough to be profitable. They filtered for quality. Not that a celebrity tell-all that was fluff did not get published, or a half-baked knock off of a best seller was not rushed into market. That is business. The old-school publishing industry did a job to keep the level of quality high for the written word, as imperfect a job as humans do. Now, somebody else has to do that filtering, shaping, editing, fixing, and promoting to keep the new books as good as the old books.
When the freedom to “go Indie” and publish a new work directly becomes possible to individuals, so does lower quality. (Like “go naked” lures to the fantasy of a risqué beach outing – but just how good do most people really look naked?)
More and more 99-Cent junk is popping up on the electronic catalogs. There is good stuff there and some authors are just under pricing their work because they believe that low price, like Wal*Mart, will make their books sell enough copies to make them some money. Wal*Mart makes money by focusing on low price because it is a huge company with decades of experience, thousands of good employees, and deep financial pockets, however. The huge retailer creates markets and sells cheap because they built the very buying behaviors that they tap into, and they back it up with a well developed international supply chain that they control with an iron hand.
In the new digital publishing market there are also tons of throwaway books and content-farm reprints jammed next to wandering, content free business books based on nothing more than parroting other’s opinions. Those are next to a hash of formula derived books hoping to be the next Twilight or 50 Shades of Grey that litter the eBook landscape. Differentiating quality books in that environment is more of a challenge that it ever was with publisher controlled books and markets.
If authors have killed themselves to write a book, struggled every day to finish it, drove family and friends crazy by disappearing to “write,” and leapt up in the middle of the night to write something to not forget, they want their book to be a quality book and to be recognized as such. Authors do not give up so much to be buried in obscurity without a fight. What does that fight look like, anyway?
There are reasons all those publishing people of 1999 did what they did, and now the eBook disintermediation of publishers has moved that responsibility down the food chain. The hard work is just starting when the writer writes “The End” on the last page and feels so good about finishing “the book.”
No matter if a book is a business book, a non-fiction book, or a wild flight of fantasy, if it does not have a story to bind the reader with, to bind them all, it is not worth publishing. Name any book that stands the test of time. It was the story that tied it together and made it endure. Stories are the way that humans remember.
The story begins with the first “Once upon a time” and ends with “They lived happily ever after.” The writer, any writer, is following in the footsteps of the first humans who sat around the fire and told the tale of yesterday, today, and tomorrow to all the others listening.
Characters tell the story; they become the story and spin the memories in the minds of readers. The characters can be people, animals, imaginary creatures, machines, concepts, historical events, or things yet to be. They are tormented, they live and die, they succeed and fail, they struggle, and they are imperfect and perfect at the same time. The sex, violence, history, concepts, ideas, love, and hate in the book are told by the characters. When the characters are forgotten, the book is forgotten.
If the author controls characters and makes them do things like puppets, or leads the reader to predictable conclusions, the book is not good enough yet.
No author can edit their own work, and the best writers have the best editors. The editor is the other face of the muse that made the book happen in the first place. Editors tell writers what to re-write, and re-write, and re-write. There are three kinds of editors and a quality book needs them all.
- Content Editors:They who look at concepts, flow, information content, and structure of the book.
- Grammar Nazi’s:You know them. You have met them. They are in your nightmares of 8th Grade!
- Proof Readers: They catch everything the others missed and soften the rigid Grammar Nazi demands to give back some of the author’s twisted words.
These editors may be two or three different people. If they are good they will not try to change the creator’s style and force them to write in a particular way – too much. They also may be the first person to tell an author that they have to go back and start over because they cannot write the book for them, and there is too much to fix. If they are the good ones they will give the rejected writer advice and references to help them start over, and encourage them to come back when they are ready again.
After all that editing then the book has to beta tested on readers. This is hard because the writer wants to be done after all the rewrites, edits, and work. Beta testing matters because the testers are the book’s target readers and will help position the book to sell to people like themselves. Remember, many in the eBook paradigm have skipped the experienced publisher to position the book themselves. They may not have the publishers experience to focus the book on a particular reader demographic.
Yes, the friends, family, and fools that have helped writers for all the months, maybe years, to realize the book are part of the beta test and still needed, again. That is why they get thanked so much in the dedication and acknowledgements in the book. The author knows just how much they have helped make the book happen.
Yes, Virginia, don’t believe the old adage of the simple-minded: “people judge books by the cover” all the time. To be confused with the supposed words of William Randolph Hearst: “Give me a magazine cover with a beautiful girl, a dog, or a baby on it, and I’ll give you a magazine that SELLS.”
Put a crappy cover on good work, or have an amateur make the cover with desktop paint software, and tell the people who see the cover that the book is amateur too.
You get what you pay for. Good artists cost money and are hard to find. Just like good writers.
Some things a promoter of a new book needs to know about a press release are how to do it, whom to send it to, how much should it cost, and how to write it in the form that media readers expect. Anybody can do a press release, but it has a format and needs to have links to publications, businesses, events that the readers connect back to. Those have to be ready at the time of the release. Media pros check things when they see a press release and a few should take some action about the book when they read the release.
Part of promotion is testing the title on other people to understand the genre of the book and who it appeals to, writing the marketing prose in the book trailer and catalog listing, and creating other media to go along with the book – like handouts, posters, mailings, and ad copy.
A professional public relations person or marketer can make a marketing and promotion plan for a book from their experience. If the author not one of those people professionally, then maybe they need to hire one. The author will need to spend time on research, interviewing, and meeting with professionals who are good at promotion to develop the book marketing plan themselves.
Books do not sell themselves, and eBook catalogs like Amazon, iBooks, or Barnes & Noble are not going to market a book for an unknown, even a little bit.
Books have to be advertised. Social media is a good way to start that and an author needs to become a social media maven as part of the promoting and selling process. There are seminars, workshops, and classes in it and a teacher is the best way to get started for an author. Then the book promoter can expect to spend about six months practicing it to get traction in building up a following on the various social media platforms.
Beyond social media there is purchased advertising. The cheapest are press releases, Facebook, and Linkedin. There is also Boing Boing and many other web outlets to consider buying ad space on. But, like any business, before buying advertising a plan is the first step. The book marketing plan should include how much the writer wants to spend on what advertising outlet for the book as a start.
Part of advertising is also having known bloggers, professionals, experts, and celebrities with an established platform, like a radio show or blog, read and review your book. The book promoter should identify these professionals and start cultivating relationships with them before the book comes out, so that they can be asked to review the book when the time comes.
A blog, web page, or Facebook Fan Page is part of social media advertising as a given. Making these for the writer is standard, and the book itself will need its own web presence when it is released, so that potential readers and fans can find it as an entity.
The “Book Tour” used to be where the author sat on hard folding chairs behind folding tables with stacks of the book on it, spoke to local radio shows, spoke at bookstore lectures, appeared on local TV shows, ate at Denny’s, and slept on broken cement slabs at Motel 6 with bright parking lot lights shining through the drapes. A little like water boarding. Previously, the book tour was arranged by the publisher, and it was one of the ways an author made some money. The author could hype sales and most of all, sell their own copies of the book and pocket the profits. If you publish your own book you will have to arrange for and finance your own version of the book tour, large or small, local or national.
An ISBN number, copyright, and possibly a Library of Congress catalog number for your book are part of being able to publish on any electronic catalog. ISBN numbers are sold in blocks and the others can be purchased individually for each book.
The author must own the rights for any graphics, data, photographs, cover art, or copied text used in the book. The writer will have to secure written releases for that copyrighted material to use it. The last thing a book needs is a lawsuit by someone claiming the author used a copyright without permission for financial gain.
Overseas laws are different than in the United States. Copyrights, libel, and pornography laws are different. Foreign sales are important to any book and the legal environment for books published outside the US should be considered before it is published there.
If a book contains any advice, in particular medical or behavior changes, it requires the proper disclaimers in the front of the book and warnings that are recognized as industry standard in the book. Books that recommend behavior changes, like diets and exercise routines, should be written carefully and have legal disclaimers to protect the author. Publishers used these methods to protect their businesses when they published books of the similar types in olden times.
Think of the eight suggestions above as the “Noble Eightfold Path” of the quality of a book. They are not everything to make a book a quality creation that sells well by any means, but a set of behaviors that the writers and promoters of new books may consider. Even when dinosaurs roamed the earth and publishers took a literary work and sold it, careful authors would have had to make sure themselves that all these things were being done. The good publishers would not touch a work if they did not think that they could accomplish these things with it and train the author to do some of it, and still make money from it.
Your Book is a Start-up Company
If a writer has the money and time to write a good book, pay editors, hire marketers, and buy advertising, then that is what they need to do to have a quality book and a chance of success with it.
A new literary producer with less money may have to do what Silicon Valley and every other center of creativity and innovation have always done. They will need to give away part of their book to the people who will help them, so that both make money from the book.
Bill Gates became the richest man on earth by giving away 75% of Microsoft. Madonna made $96MM one year when she was at the top of her game. The story about it at the time was that it represented 6% of the money that her talent created that year. Madonna gave away 94% of herself to be successful.
If the writer has worked so hard to pen a quality book and is professional about selling it, there will be people who will take the risk with them to succeed, for a piece of it.