Publishing Books is a Business
The most successful authors are those who understand that publishing books is a business. Consider the following tips, especially if you’re publishing independently. Understand that the harder you work at each of these things, the more successful each of your books will be.
Find your niche.
Falling into the fad trap is easy, especially for authors new to the publishing scene. The downside of writing whatever is selling well right now is that by the time you’ve got a solid, polished draft, everyone’s moving onto the new best thing ever. Instead of trying to fit into a niche, write what you want to write and figure out where it belongs later.
I’ve heard many authors say they’d prefer not to pigeonhole their books into a specific genre. I get it. I really do. This is your baby. It’s special. Books like yours simply don’t exist. But there is at least one excellent reason why it’s a good idea to make the extra effort and properly categorize your book.
Many authors receive one and two star reviews because of improperly categorized books.
Think about this from the perspective of a reader. When you shop for books, you narrow down your choices according to preference. An improperly categorized book might turn up in the search results where it doesn’t belong. Now, that could work out just fine. Maybe the reader buys it, reads it, and likes it. Maybe it’s not at all what they expected and that’s a good thing, or maybe it’s not. Maybe they’re disappointed. Maybe they leave a one or two star review as a result. Are you willing to take that risk?
Part of finding your niche is identifying each book’s genre so you know how to categorize accordingly.
Just like readers search sites like Amazon for books to buy, some of them join book clubs or Facebook groups where they discuss certain types of books. Some of them are open to having the author publish promo posts in the group.
If you write Fantasy, you wouldn’t necessarily post in an Erotica group. Unless, of course, that Fantasy book also contains a solid erotic thread. Posting promo posts in the wrong group (not your niche) will cause alienation of a whole group of readers, and possibly even some publishing industry professionals you didn’t even know were watching. It’s spam.
So just as you need to know your genre, you need to learn who your readers are. This isn’t so you can write for them, you have to write for you. Get to know your readers so you can communicate with them, if they’re open to that. You might be surprised to learn just how many of them are. Find groups online and in person (it’s hard, but possible) and get to know the readers of your genre, your niche.
Those publishing industry professionals I mentioned? If you’re a writer, chances are pretty good you’re also a reader. That’s true for a good many of us. So keep in mind that many of the readers you encounter in your publishing endeavors are also writers. Some of them are editors. Still others are publishers or librarians or literary agents.
Just like readers prefer to read certain genres, you’ll meet professionals who work in specific niches. Some editors specialize in YA books, for example. One major benefit of following (on social media) professionals in your genre is that they tend to keep up with the most current news relevant to that genre or target reader age range. They also tend to know others in your niche to whom they might introduce you. You can’t open the door to an opportunity if you don’t know it’s there. Finding your niche can help you find and open those doors.
Create a flexible publishing plan.
Writing a book is the easy part. Editing it is another relatively easy step in your path to publication. The actual process of publishing a book is easy too. It’s only a matter of uploading a file and a cover to your preferred outlet and clicking a button, right? Well, that’s true, but that’s only scratching the surface. It’s doing the bare minimum and hoping for the best. There’s a way to ensure greater success, and the harder you work at creating and implementing a publishing plan, the more successful each book will be.
The actual production process of publishing a book consists of writing the book, editing it, designing a cover for it, and formatting it. Each of those steps consists of processes that depend on the individual performing them. This is why you need a flexible publishing plan, or a checklist with an estimated time line at the very least. You can wing it, of course, but if you know when your book is coming out, you can start telling people about it. And the sooner you do that, the better.
Publication itself is easy. You just upload the book and cover file and you’re done. Right? Well, okay … yes. But no. Consider, first, where you’re going to publish. You need to know this so you can be familiar with your chosen outlet’s submission guidelines before you upload your files. You need to know if there are restrictions on what you can post in their system, and if there are restrictions you’re agreeing to by publishing in their system. Amazon’s KDP Select, for example, requires exclusivity, meaning you’re not allowed to publish that same work anywhere else but with Amazon. That’s definitely something you need to know well before you have that final draft in your hands. This is where that flexible publishing plan comes in handy. Make a list of your preferred outlets, and a sub-list of each outlet’s rules. Plan your publication around that.
You’ve been to a birthday party, right? Why did you go to that party? Why did anyone attend? How did anyone even know about it? Because someone marketed it. Yes they did.
Billy’s mom bought two stacks of Power Rangers invites and painstakingly filled out the date/time/RSVP information on each one. Then she sent half to school with Billy and mailed out the other half. Because if she didn’t let people know they were having the party, no one would have showed up. Billy’s mom may have even e-mailed a few relatives or called a few friends to let them know.
Let’s go crazy with this metaphor and say she printed posters and (with permission) put them up at the local grocer’s or post office’s public announcement board. I bet she even took out a small ad in the local paper too! She totally seems the type. Her marketing plan, part of that flexible publishing plan I mentioned, lists each of those steps and gives approximate time lines for when each item needs to be executed. Your book marketing efforts need the same kind of planning.
Pay attention to the industry news.
Even if you think the emails Amazon or Smashwords send you are junk mail, you need to at least browse the topics. You might be surprised just how many of those updates pertain to you or your work. Companies like Amazon make business decisions based on what works best for them. As a businessperson—and if you’re publishing books, you’re a businessperson—you need to understand these decisions at least well enough to know how they’ll impact you. This goes for traditionally published authors too; don’t rely solely on your publisher to make all of your decisions for you.
Whether you’ve made a plan as I suggested or you’re just winging it, when you decide where and when you’ll publish your book, you need to make an informed decision. Reading the FAQs is a great way to learn about the nuances of a system. However, new changes to a system may not necessarily be contained therein. If you’re only using one outlet, Amazon, for example, then consider signing up for an account and to receive their newsletter well in advance of your first book release. Read the e-mails they send you and keep abreast of changes to their policies. The Kindle Unlimited updates and “pay per page” fiasco, for example, are things that might affect your initial decision on where to publish.
Change of Heart
If you do have a change of heart, you still need to know how to back out, which is where reading those FAQs and policies and email updates come in handy. Just as there are rules to publishing a book for each outlet, there are right and wrong ways to make changes. With KDP, for example, if you’re using the pre-order feature, you must have the final copy of your book uploaded at least 10 days before publication. I have no idea what would happen if you’d change your mind at the last minute and decide not to publish with them. I do know that failure to comply with their rules results in consequences you may not want to have to deal with. It’s easier to change your mind before making changes is a problem. Keeping up with industry news helps you make those decisions in plenty of time to execute them without repercussions.
The matter of KDP Select gets its own section because Amazon is constantly making changes to their policies. Whether you decide to publish with Amazon at all, much less exclusively, keeping abreast of these changes still benefits you. Understanding all of your options is important when making publishing decisions. Knowing why you choose the path you choose will help you stay on it. So even if you only read the news so you can nod and think, “Yep, that’s why I don’t do KDP Select,” you’re consciously reinforcing a decision you’ve already made. Think of it as an affirmation of faith in yourself and your path. Sometimes, when you’re running a business, you need that.
Explore your options as an author.
The publishing industry is a vast landscape filled with hundreds of thousands of people all aiming for the same goal: selling books successfully and efficiently. Your options aren’t just black and white anymore. There’s much more to this publishing biz than just traditional or independent, or even the grey area of hybrids. A full spectrum of choices is available to authors. Explore your options, and try out a few different ones. Below are just a few I’ve researched and am involved with on some level, but there are so many more I don’t even know about.
Booktrope is a publishing company that works on a team-based, royalty-split system. You may apply as an author, editor, proofreader, cover designer, book manager, or project manager. Each author’s book that’s accepted into Booktrope is then given a project page where the author will build his or her team. No one pays any fees up front, but no one gets paid up front either. Only after the book is completed and published are the team members paid, and each receives a percentage of the book’s royalties according to an agreement reached with the author from the beginning. This is a great option for authors who just can’t afford to hire a professional editor or book cover designer.
I’m a bit less familiar with Book Garage. Technically, it won’t be open for another 11 days (from the date of publication of this article), so I’m a bit early to the party. But basically what they do is allow people to sign up as readers, authors, or freelancers. They do not publish your book for you. They help you find legitimate freelancers (editors, book cover designers, etc.) and readers. Anyone who has ever gotten burned with a bad edit will know just how valuable that is, and we already know how badly we need readers. What’s really great, though, is that readers can get into the system and find you too! I was lucky enough to get in touch with one of Book Garage’s creators for a Q&A, posted at LinkedIn. Whether you’re a reader, writer, or freelancer, there are questions and answers for all three.
My newest obsession is Inkshares. I LOVE the premise. Basically, you share an idea or a draft of your story with a community of readers. The point is to see if there’s interest. If you can build interest for your book using Inkshares, then you know it will sell well when you publish it. But they take that a step further by offering the option to gather pre-orders. If you get a certain amount of pre-orders in a set period of time, they’ll publish your book! They provide you with an editor, cover designer, and marketing. What’s even better is that they have something called collections, which are basically Inkshares Anthologies. See what I mean about exploring your options? Do I even need to get into the benefits?
Treat publishing as a business, and plan accordingly. Do the research for your niche, find your readers and potential partners who can help ensure your book’s success. Understand that others will be doing the same and that, unlike a business, this isn’t a competition. One of the most important things you will learn as an author is that your chances of success grow exponentially when you work with others, not against them. We’re all in the same boat. Welcome aboard.