The Not-so-Sexy Side of Book Publishing

People think what I do is glamorous and super cool – publishing.  When I was a recruiter we used to use “Publishing” as a headline to attract talent for our open positions that were basically secretarial jobs or filing clerks. There used to be editors and publishers who were almost like celebrities in the New York scene.  Books were launched with parties at trendy venues, lucrative deals were made at Book Expo, and everyone was looking to discover the next Salinger, Hemingway, Roth, Asimov, Morisson, Kerouac, or any other writer you admire.  Sounds like fun, right?

What I’ve said so far is what the audience sees.  Most people in the industry don’t expose the magic by showing you what happens backstage.  It’s not all that interesting, but these things must be done to publish professionally and competitively.

In the indie publishing world, I see repeats of wasted opportunities and misinformation about how things work that can be cleared up by remembering a few details and rules.  As a publicist, and, now, a publisher, I’m going to wear both of my hats and dish the dirt on what you need to know.

Publishing Tips

  1. Format: Proper formatting is a very basic aspect of putting a book together.  When I was an editorial assistant we called it front and back matter.  I don’t know if that’s what the managing editors are calling it these days, but it still works for me.  These are the pages at the front of the printed book including a title page; copyright page; dedication; acknowledgments; author’s note; and predetermined blank pages.   The title page and copyright page are mandatory, while the others will or won’t be added depending on the author.  My advice is to look at books from traditional publishers to see what they are doing with their pages and copy the format.
  2. Identification: There are identifiers your book needs.  Without them, it doesn’t exist in the market and can’t be sold.  They are ISBNs, bar codes, and a Library of Congress number.  Most everyone seems to know how to get the first two, but the latter is still often missing.  I was taught that it is necessary, especially if you want libraries to find, recognize, and shelve your title.  Check out this site for information on how to get your number(s).
  3. Accessibility: If you choose to publish exclusively with Kindle Direct, independent bookstores, and probably the chain stores as well will not know about your book, nor will they want to stock it.  When you sign up with Amazon’s publisher only, your sales channels are those that Amazon covers.  To have your book recognized in the trade market, you need to upload it with a national wholesaler such as Ingram, which is now the only wholesaler that distributes to independent stores.  You can also try to solicit wholesale orders through your website, but that still won’t give you the credibility you need with the trade market.  I recommend doing all of the above.
  4. Credibility: Bookstores and publications will look to see if your book is listed in Ingram’s database.  I’ve had conversations with editors at publications who will look up the book and if they don’t see it in Ingram they won’t cover it.  Why?  Because some bad apples in the indie publishing world convinced these people to review books that never made it to publication.  The quote I’ve heard is, “I’ve been burned before”.

Book Marketing and Publicity

Regarding promoting a book, there are two major issues I keep coming across.

  1. You have to consider timing.  I won’t belabor the point here because I’ve said it many times before.  If you have written a novel or memoir, you will need three to five months ahead of your publication date to send out review copies and allow for publications and bloggers to read and schedule reviews of your book.  For a prescriptive non-fiction title that has “news you can use” there is a bit more flexibility, especially if it is tied into your career or field of expertise.
  2. Printed review copies are necessary.  In indie publishing, we often use the finished book as a review copy and have it stickered or printed in a way that indicates it is a preliminary version.  The publication date is printed on the book or sticker so that it is clear when it will be for sale.  You can register with Net Galley, offer a watermarked pdf, -mobi file or ebook, but 90% of the reviewing public wants a hard copy.  I know it’s an added expense but you will be better off in the long term doing it the correct way.

For more resources and information I recommend the Independent Book Publishers Association website.  It’s not that expensive for a membership, which will give you full access.  Also, I suggest visiting Jane Friedman’s website.  She is a veteran in the industry, a professor, editor, and a published writer.

“Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.”
― Mark Twain

 

 

Book Expo 2018: What’s Trending for Independent Publishers

Javits Conference Center, where Book Expo 2018 took place!

A few weeks ago, I attended Book Expo 2018 in New York City.  It was my first visit in two years, having missed the Chicago show of 2017, and I was struck by the size and quiet on the floor.  The Expo may not have the same value as it used to for traditional, mainstream publishing. However, in the continuously emerging indie publishing industry there is a lot to see and learn.  Here are some of the things I brought back to share with the indie world—authors, publishers, and those who serve them.

1.BISC Book Expo 2018 Bar Codes:  I recently heard from some book professionals that it was imperative to have a price in the bar code on the back of a book.  I took the question to the highest authority on the subject at the BISG (Book Industry Study Group).  His answer was that the bar code is the identifier for the book, generated off of the ISBN and nothing else should be displayed in or on it. He mentioned that there is discussion in the industry about not putting prices on books at all.  What other product comes with a price engraved on itself?

2Independent Publishers Group Logo Book Expo 2018Distribution:  POD (Print-on-Demand) is used by many businesses in the indie publishing world, but this method often makes distribution to brick-and-mortar stores difficult to achieve.  I spoke with several different distributors at Book Expo 2018, including IngramSpark (a POD distributor) to find out how an indie publisher might be able to work with them.  In general, distributors are looking for publishers who release at least ten titles per year.  While there are exceptions to every rule, the increase in small publishers has encouraged companies to be more efficient and choosy about which ones they represent.  A few distributors to mention are: NBN; Consortium; Independent Publishers Group; and Baker and Taylor.

3. Fulfillment Options: Many indie publishing companies are selling books through multiple channels.  IngramSpark/POD is one channel, but you can also order copies in quantity and set them up for fulfillment by a third party.  One of these is Amazon Advantage.  The shopping cart on your site can link to your Amazon Advantage account, which allows you to have copies stored at an Amazon warehouse.  Customers will click the “buy” link on your site and Amazon will fulfill the order behind the scenes. You can still sell on Amazon through the POD channel, and also set up an Advantage account to sell direct.  Amazon Advantage also allows you to utilize many advertising opportunities that can help move copies.

Check back in the coming weeks as I go through my notes from Book Expo 2018 and bring you more insight into what’s going on in the indie publishing world!

Publish, Release, Launch: Some of The What and When of Book Publishing

james pattersonI will let you in on a secret: no one, not even the big publishers, know exactly when to publish a book.  Yes, there are some givens, like making sure you are able to get into holiday and other promotions like Christmas, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, etc. Then there are books by authors that consumers are trained to buy in a certain month based on its availability.  I’m talking about Michael Connelly, James Patterson, and others who write at least one book per year.

I should also mention the reason a book is usually published on a certain date is because of marketing and publicity reasons.  We try to get books out there when they will be featured most prominently and when the media are interested in what the titles and authors have to say. 

For self-published authors I recommend that they publish the book as soon as it is ready.  I call this a “soft publication.”   Your “media date” or “hard publication” can be  whenever you think the stars are going to align with media coverage and the success of your marketing—or when you think you can sell the most books!

I’m going to try to break down what the norms are in terms of publication months, but first I need to address some lingo that is tossed around and needs to be clarified.

Publication: This means that your book is on the market and available for sale via any and all distribution channels.

Release: This usually means the date that books are shipped from a distribution center to online and retail stores.  However, I’ve seen it used interchangeably with “publication” but for some people it means something different.  I’m not saying you are wrong for using the word, but knowing that there are other meanings out there might help clear up some confusion.

Launch: This term is a pet peeve of mine, because using this word implies there is some kind of event attached to the publication of your book.  If you are a celebrity or famous person and/or your book has breaking news that is going to dictate an entire news cycle, then perhaps “launch” is a good word to use.  But I caution people about calling publication a launch, because I think there are inherent expectations associated with using the word that can potentially be cause for disappointment.  

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Having said all of this, here are some monthly breakdowns that I have generally experienced as the accepted publication patterns:

January (Or “New Year, New You”)

Self-help; diet; inspirational; business—if you fit into this category, this is what the media are generally interested in, and it’s what consumers are thinking about.

February 

Self-help associated with relationships; debut authors; business; fiction—if you are a debut author, this month is not as full of new titles and there may be more promotion and media opportunities for you as a result.

March

Debut authors; mysteries; fiction

April

Women’s fiction

May

Beach reads; women’s fiction; biographies; books on mountain climbing

June

More beach reads; women’s fiction; biographies or other non-fiction that will appeal to male readers on vacation or for Father’s Day

July

Quieter month better for debut authors; more of what you saw in June

August

Debut authors; education related titles; narrative non-fiction by lesser known writers

September

Public affairs and politics; serial authors in fiction and non-fiction; cooking; highly publicized titles by debut authors

October

More politics; cooking; big non-fiction titles by well-known personalities and writers; higher end photography books; art books

November

Photography; art; gift books; big names; and anything else you can think of that will sell in the current budget year

December

Good month for lesser known authors.  A variety of books are published including late comers for Christmas or those titles that people want to get a jump on for January

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You may notice that the categories are not always dictated firmly in one month or another—this is what I mean about the secret.  In the end what everyone wants to do is get the book out there at the best possible moment.  But you need to consider what you can control and what you can’t.  After you make your best educated decision, you have to go with it and plan as if it will be the biggest “launch” you’ve ever seen! 😉