NAIWE Experts Linda and Jim Salisbury are the authors of Smart Self-Publishing: An author’s guide to producing a marketable book, 3rd edition. Be sure to join us for an Expert Teleclass on August 19. Watch the NAIWE NewsWire Blog or the Facebook Events Page for more details!
If you’re thinking of self-publishing a book, memorize these words:
Be smart. Do the book right!
This is the message Tabby House has been preaching for almost twenty years at seminars, with our clients, and in all three editions of our book Smart Self-Publishing: An author’s guide to producing a marketable book. Applying these words means the difference between having a credible, marketable product, and one that reeks of amateurism. We believe that it’s important to understand and conform to book-trade standards even if you just plan to submit your manuscript to a rights-buying publisher or are considering self-publishing. You want a product that you can be proud of when it’s in the hands of potential readers or buyers.
The publishing scene has changed dramatically in the past twenty years. Many writers still hope that if they obtain an agent, they will be picked up by a major publishing house. Rarely does that happen. That’s one reason that writers who are serious about seeing their books in print, turn to self-publishing. Self-publishing need not be a “dirty word,” if it is done right, which is our focus. Self-publishing means that writers will not only write, but will market and sell their products.
Yes, books are products. So first take off your writer hat and put on your publisher hat.
We’ve seen many interesting books doomed to failure because the author / publisher didn’t do the book right, and yet, he or she may have spent substantial sums in the process. Writers using Web publishers typically end up with nonprofessional products.
Doing the book right for retail sales includes: proper editing (using recommended dictionaries and stylebooks), book typesetting, professional cover design, and the use of credentials. Your finished book should not be discernible as self-published, which unfortunately, many are despite the cost of production.
Smart Editing and Proofing
We recommend using the most current edition of Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary to check spellings, compound words, meanings and hyphenation, plus The Chicago Manual of Style. The stylebook tells you when words should be italicized, abbreviated or spelled out, for example, and how to set up a book properly.
It’s important to use the latest edition of the dictionary and stylebook because rules change. Make sure that anyone proofreading or editing your book is also using the same references.
Don’t date yourself, appear to be guessing or use Web or newspaper style when working on your book! Here’s an example we see all the time. “Web site” is properly two words, with “Web” capitalized for book style. Many writers (and editors) assume that it’s spelled “website” because they have not opened their Webster’s or they have seen it spelled that way in other publications or on Web sites. Similarly, “online” is one word and e-mail is hyphenated. What happens on the Web, stays on the Web, but what happens in book editing should reflect proper style and use of dictionary and stylebooks.
You cannot properly typeset your book using a word-processing program. You’ll need to have access to one of the page-making programs, such as Adobe’s Pagemaker or InDesign (PC), or QuarkExpress (MAC), to adjust leading (the space between the lines), and to apply the headers and page numbers appropriately. You will also need to use Postscript rather than True Type fonts (part of word-processing programs).
Unfortunately, traditional typesetting rules are increasingly ignored by large publishing houses. You, as a small publisher, can still do your book right, if you know the rules. You will also quickly show your publishing ignorance if you have two spaces after punctuation between sentences or use bold face type or all caps for emphasis.
You will need to establish yourself as a publisher by first applying for your ISBNs through R.R. Bowker; applying for inclusion in the Library of Congress’s PCN program and getting your LOC Control Number (all before you go to press), and a bar code with the embedded price and ISBN for the back cover. Do not use your own name as your publishing imprint. Obtain your credentials before the book is printed. Believe it or not, we’ve seen verso (copyright) pages with this statement: “Library of Congress Number applied for.” We also recommend that the price be clearly visible. People are more likely to purchase a book if they see the price rather than have to ask about it. And, in order to have retail sales, the barcode must be printed on the back cover.
A word about scams: Scam artists are out there. Some may be well-meaning, but others are just after your money. You need to make sure that the people you hire to edit, for example, indeed are familiar with professional book style, and are willing to work on a per-page, or per-project basis. If you agree to an hourly rate, you may lose control of the total cost of your project. Submit a few sample pages for a potential editor’s review, talk with him or her, and then negotiate a fair price, but one that will be capped for your benefit. The same is true for illustrations or cover design. Get a “per” price and find out what is included in that. Also make sure you have a work-for-hire agreement with the artist.
We have been told time and again that a book submitted to Tabby House for book-packaging has been “edited.” Rarely has the “editor” checked to see if compound words are hyphenated; are one word or two, or has checked facts. One autobiography “edited” by a librarian for a blind woman was riddled with misspellings of the names of cities around the world and of foreign terms, and the foreign words were not italicized on first reference. We could not let it go to press in that sad fashion nor could we tell her she had been scammed because the “editor” was a friend. Instead, we fixed it.
Marketing decisions should be made early, before you commit money to any aspect of the production. Think of marketing as being like a clothesline from which decisions about your book will hang.
First, identify who will be the readers and who will be the buyers of your book. If you are writing a children’s picture book, for example, typically your buyers are doting adult relatives who are attracted to a clever title about potty training, or such, with cute bunnies on the cover. The book will be a gift to be read to, or with, a child. The text must be age-appropriate, grammar and punctuation must be correct. We’ve seen sweet picture books (finished) with poor grammar and bad punctuation. Who wants to be responsible for a book that inadvertently teaches kids something wrong?
Or perhaps you have written a book about what men can do to help their wives around the house. Chances are the buyer is female, and the reader (or recipient of the gift) is male. The content and title will attract the buyer, but your decisions about the cover, such as color (avoid pink or lavender) must appeal to the male reader.
A professionally designed cover is essential to the retail market and is part of your marketing strategy. Covers sell books. Front, back, and spine. It only takes a few seconds for buyers to select or reject a book, and they often base their decisions on the cover. The cover must fit the book’s genre and have a contemporary style for that genre. Visit your bookstores to see what current sci-fi or romance, business, biography or fiction covers look like so that yours will be mainstream. Avoid Aunt Emma’s free amateur art and spring for a professional cover designer. It’s worth the investment if you are serious about retail sales.
The title and the subtitle must define the book. Obscurity, coupled with an unknown author’s name, a mystifying title and baffling artwork, equates to lost sales.
You also need to ask yourself how you are going to reach your buyers. That is part of your initial strategy and will affect price and press run. If you plan to mostly hand sell your books through programs and tables at festivals, you will be able to make more per copy than if you sell through a bookstore, the Web, or other retail distribution where substantial discounts must be taken into consideration.
It’s important to be realistic about your market. Just because your friends and family tell you that your book is wonderful, don’t expect to get on Oprah. And, don’t feel that you’re a failure if you aren’t carried in the chain stores. You can certainly have your book available through the Internet and sell it through your own Web site, but thinking “little” or regional can mean greater success and profits than “thinking big” or national. We recommend participating in the Amazon Advantage program, linking your sales to its site so you can avoid the cost and hassle of having your own credit card capability.
Chain stores are not likely to consider an unknown author, unless you’re very lucky or put a lot of money into national marketing programs. The chains will not consider an e-book or POD book because they are inundated with them and so many are poorly prepared. Bad preparation means no proper editing, amateur typesetting, poor cover, and usually the e-printer’s ISBN applied to your book. To get into the national market and sustain sales could cost you more than $100,000 for advertising alone. Who has that money to gamble?
This is where author / publisher effort is essential. When your book is off press, you must be willing to get out there and promote your book relentlessly. No one will do it better than you. It’s a commitment you must make. If you aren’t willing to set up a table at a festival, sit on porches of convenience stores, give talks or seminars—whatever it takes—then don’t expect your book to sell. Just because it has been published doesn’t make it a winner!
Writing your book is the easy part. Producing the book properly takes time and hard work, but selling the book is a constant effort, rewarded by replenishing your bank account and by having a dwindling supply of books in your garage or storage area.
As publisher you will also need to have good inventory records, be registered with the sales tax agency in your state and you may need a county license to do business.
Develop letterhead for your publicity. Know newspaper deadlines and supply them with photos and whatever is needed for your announcement to make the paper or a its calendar.
We strongly recommend that our author / publishers become involved in regional and national organizations: Independent Book Publishers Association (formerly Publishers Marketing Association), SPAN, Publishers Association of the South, and your own regional organization, such as the Florida Publishers Association. We’ve been members of the FPA for a long time (even after we moved to Virginia), and Jim served as its president during its early years. The newsletters, seminars and networking help members become more savvy about changing market conditions, and provide tips on new sales avenues to explore.
FPA and other organizations (such as ForeWord magazine, and the Jenkins Group Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards) offer annual contests. Enter only legitimate contests (there are scams out there), and proudly display winning stickers. Stickers and awards sell books!
Seek realistic review sources. Most major newspapers subscribe to syndicated review services rather than reviewing books that are submitted to them by small presses or self-publishers. Know the rules for submission to trade publications. Some that review for the book trade want to consider books at the bound galley stage, before they are printed and released; others will review only the completed book for the public after it is in the distribution system and is available in stores. Do your homework.
There are Web review sources that can be valuable. Linda’s juvenile fiction series, for example, has been reviewed by kids through www.readerviews.com, giving her good feedback on what her target market thinks about her titles. Reader Views also reviews adult titles and has an annual literary awards contest. Linda’s also been pleased by another source of reviews for children’s books, www:thereadingtub.com.
Smart Printing and Pricing
The convenience of having a book printed and bound by your local printer can be quickly overshadowed by the cost. Most local printers do not have the capability of printing large page-count signatures (signatures are page groups divisible by eight that most books consist of), nor do they usually have bindery capability. Most local printers job out much of the work, thereby adding to the cost. It’s better to seek out a reputable book manufacturer that will do the entire project under one roof. Many book manufacturers are listed in the reference portion of Smart Self-Publishing.
If you need only a small quantity of books or have a storage problem, consider digital press. The books are more expensive on a cost-per-copy basis, but you may have a smaller initial outlay and can make corrections and reprint quickly.
If your marketing plan and budget warrants a larger press run, get prices for using an offset press. There are economies in quantities. Do the math. The fewer the books, the higher the unit cost. Your retail price needs to reflect trade discounts of up to 70 percent if you will have your book carried by a distributor or wholesaler. Get several bids from book manufacturers and printers that are experts in books.
Although Tabby House is essentially a book-packager, producing books for author / publishers around the nation, we also publish and market our own books. We must practice what we preach about doing the book right.
Linda, a former journalist, began writing a juvenile fiction series, the Bailey Fish Adventures, shortly before she retired from a newspaper career in 2004. As of summer 2008, four of the first five books had won five national awards or honors, and the series has received favorable reviews from a number of national sources (including ForeWord, the Midwest Book Review, the Reading Tub, and Reader Views). The books are orderable from Amazon.com and BN.com, and are listed with wholesalers such as Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and Follett (library sales).
We made a marketing decision to sell as many books as possible through school programs in our own region, and wherever we are traveling. As an incentive, Tabby House offers retail outlets, including bookstores that buy directly from us, a 50 percent discount, and a 40 percent discount to schools and libraries. When Linda appears at a school or other events, student buyers are offered a discount from the $8.95 retail price.
Intense promotional efforts, quality products, and reader demands for additional books has meant more than 10,000 books sold in the first three years. Two of the books have been reprinted. The seventh book will be available in time for 2009 holiday season and Linda has also written another juvenile fiction with an environmental twist that was released in 2009: Mudd Saves the Earth—Booger Glue, Cow Diapers and Other
Good Ideas. Cartoonist Joe Kohl is the illustrator.
She is especially pleased that all youngsters, boys and girls, can’t get enough of the Bailey Fish series. But it takes constant marketing and promotional efforts all year long to build and maintain readership and sales.
An amazing spin-off is the demand for T-shirts with the title of the first book: The Wild Women of Lake Anna. T-shirts are a higher profit item than the books. “I’m a Wild Woman of Lake Anna,” “My Grandma is a Wild Woman of Lake Anna,” and “My Wife is a Wild Women of Lake Anna” have been big hits locally. Tabby House also has had kids’ T-shirts printed that say “Hooked on Bailey Fish Adventures.” They are given to folks who purchase a complete set of the series.
The series has a Web site (www.baileyfishadventures.com), and Linda has a blog that she randomly adds to.
The series concept is a reminder that having more than one book in your genre helps sales and reduces the cost-per-title marketing expenses
When we wrote Smart Self-Publishing, we used tips and stories from other authors, publishers and professionals in the field (with their permission) to underscore and add to our own suggestions. This broadened our message and offered additional perspectives for what works and what doesn’t.
One of those authors was Dr. Dennis Fried, Memories of a Papillion: The Canine Guide to Living with Humans without Going Mad. Actually, he credits his Papillion, Genevieve, as the author and she “barktates” her tales quite well. Denny reports that his book has been featured or reviewed in Time magazine, the Boston Globe, Dog World magazine, among others.
We have put Denny’s name at the top of the list of self-published success stories. We have packaged three of his books and have been tickled that, through his relentless marketing efforts, more than 20,000 copies of his first book were sold. In 2008 he found an agent (David Fugate, LaunchBooks), and his first book was shopped to major publishers. Denny was offered a five figure advance from Simon and Schuster and the book was published in 2009 under its Simon Spotlight Entertainment imprint. We were delighted to see it in its new form titled Small Dog, Big Life: A Memoir.
With new technology, anyone can self-publish a book. The key to success is to commit to do the book right!
You can order Smart Self-Publishing at www.tabbyhouse.com.
Phone: (540) 895-9093