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

 

 

Please follow and like us:

Amazon Books? Four reasons why booksellers can remain calm

Amazon Books
From my visit at the Amazon Books location at the The Shops at Columbus Circle.

It is ironic, and for some it may seem odd, that in the midst of decades of brick-and-mortar bookstores closing their doors, a hugely successful e-tailer like Amazon would decide to venture into the concrete bookstore business with Amazon Books.  Or is it?

I have seen the demise of Borders/Waldenbooks, Joseph Beth Booksellers, and the rise and fall of Barnes & Noble stores; the feuds between the independents and the chains when wonderful stores like BookPeople in Austin, TX thought they were doomed; when Costco and other giant stores started selling large quantities of bestsellers at deep discounts, perhaps underselling the competition; and the power of e-commerce, with Amazon presiding over the field.  Every change in the book business makes the publishing community anxious. Clearly, with some businesses succeeding and others failing, there is a need to be able to roll with the punches.  But perhaps if we take a wide angle view of things we might be able to hold onto a few constants that will create paths of opportunity and assure people that although some things look different, the basic precepts of the marketplace and sales still prevail.

  1. Brick-and-mortar bookstores are not dying.  Yes, chains like Borders are long gone and Barnes & Noble may not be able to support a store every ten miles, but independents are going strong.  According to this article on Quartz, between 2009 and 2015 the number of independent bookstores increased by 35%.
  2. E-book sales are falling flat.  Many sources have been reporting that e-books are falling out of their previous favor.  Let’s face it, devices may be convenient but they have their issues.  Batteries lose their charge and if you don’t have an active WiFi connection you can’t download a new book whenever you want one.  And, if you are reading for content, it’s very difficult to highlight sections and go back to them in the same manner as you would mark or dog-ear a page you need to reference later.
  3. Selling in person is better than selling online.  I attribute this principle to the increase in the success of independents over the past several years.   Real readers, who actually support the majority of the book business front and back list, like to be able to browse and get recommendations for books.  They also like to hang out with other like-minded individuals.  The innovations in indie stores that now offer seating, coffee, parties, and more, have brought customers in and kept this business sector alive.
  4. Amazon Books, while competing in bookstore form, is not doing things like everyone else.  Amazon became a huge success online, and it makes sense that it would not try to duplicate what others have already done on the ground.  Why should it?  I recently visited one of their Amazon Books stores, and it was not like most of the ones I frequent. As a reader, I probably wouldn’t shop there on a regular basis.  The main reason was that there was a smaller number of titles available.  For indie presses and authors this was a benefit because the inventory was a more curated list that covered the usual suspects but also featured books from unknown publishers.  And, because curating titles meant that additional shelf space was available, the books were primarily face out, which can be a boon for publishers without a lot of marketing dollars to spend.  I could also forgo the other products that the store had for sale, like coffee makers and gadgets.  These things diluted the atmosphere and were a distraction.

I got the distinct impression that the Amazon Books location was trying to market to Millennials, which is a big “buzz” word for everyone in any industry these days.  The funny thing is that I meet a lot of younger people who fit this bill, and the ones I know who are real readers prefer the same traditional bookstores I’ve loved forever.  Maybe rather than believing we need to rethink everything we’ve ever known in this business because of change, we should try to anticipate, adapt, and remind people of the core elements of books and buying books that many people share.  It might eliminate some of the hysteria so we can all get back to business (and reading of course).

Have you been to an Amazon Books? Tell us your thoughts on Twitter.

Please follow and like us: