Earlier this year, I participated in a panel on indie publishing at the Los Angeles Public Library. It was part of Indie Author Day, which was sponsored by IBPA and SELF-e, a collaboration between Library Journal and BiblioBoard. The SELF-e program is a new endeavor designed to introduce notable self-published e-books to library patrons who are looking to discover something new. I always enjoy participating on panels. It’s fun to exchange ideas with other panelists and with the audience. Ask anyone who’s attended an indie publishing event and they’ll tell you: There’s an amazing feeling of camaraderie during these programs that you just don’t get when you attend a big NYC-based book conference. It’s as if everyone at indie publishing events understands that a rising tide lifts all ships. Attending them helps me appreciate the degree to which we’re on our publishing journeys as companions rather than competitors. It’s very empowering. Mitchell Davis, founder of CreateSpace and CBO of BiblioBoard, moderated my panel. Maggie Marr, a successful self-published author with 12 books to her credit and a growing base of loyal fans, sat beside me as fellow panelist. The three of us talked about many things over the course of an hour under the headline “A Crash Course in Indie Publishing.” Indie Author Day at the Los Angeles Public Library. Pictured on stage from left to right: Mitchell Davis, Angela Bole, and Maggie Marr. One of the most interesting conversations centered on the gaps we see between authors’ expectations about the self-publishing business and the reality they experience once they get started. Here are some takeaways:
The Job of a Publisher Is Fundamentally Different from the Job of an Author
One of the biggest mistakes an indie author can make is not flipping the switch in the brain that shifts self-perception from author to publisher. An author’s job is to create content. Authors shouldn't think about distribution, business models, or marketing plans while deep in the creative process. They should write. A publisher’s job is to process an author’s content professionally in order to get it into the minds and hearts of readers. Regardless of how much the publishing landscape has shifted, the essential job of a publisher remains the same: nurturing authors and attracting readers. This has nothing to do with writing—good writing being assumed—and everything to do with editing, design, distribution, and marketing. It doesn’t matter whether you take on these publishing tasks yourself or hire someone to do them for you. The hard work necessary to bring a good book to market effectively is the same no matter what. And these tasks are the publisher’s responsibility.
Publishing a Book Is Not the Same as Crossing a Finish Line
About a year ago, I attended a San Diego Writers & Publishers meeting where a member of the group used the familiar metaphor about how publishing a book is like having a baby. That person originally thought the job was done when she pulled the publication trigger, but she was wrong. In many ways, the work of a publisher just begins when the on-sale date occurs. You can expect to continue making investments of time, money, and passion for years to come.
The Book Is Not Your Calling Card
You may think your book is your calling card, and for you as an author, it arguably is. For you as a publisher, however, your calling card is your marketing plan. A great marketing plan is your key to the publishing castle. You won’t get far in this business without a thoughtful understanding of your market and of how you’re going to reach it. When you apply for distribution, distributors will certainly want to know what your book is about (in three sentences or less!). But the key questions they’ll have are “What’s your marketing plan?” “What’s the author’s platform?” “How many copies do you anticipate selling in the first six months and how do you intend to get these sales?” You should have a strong website in place with an active author presence and the ability to collect leads. You should be ready to show the strength of the author’s previous books’ sales (or of sales of comparable books) and the expected results of already booked media coverage, book tours, and other promotion. In other words, there’s more to a marketing plan than a commitment to daily tweeting and Facebook posts.
You're in a Community of Professionals
Overall, the US publishing industry released 2.59 billion books in 2013, according to bookstats.org. Competing in an ocean this large clearly requires that you bring your professional “A” game each and every day. Readers are discerning, and they don’t have time for unprofessionally produced work. This is why I’m so pleased that there are programs like Indie Author Day where indie publishers and those who support them can gather face to face to discuss what professionalism in publishing looks like. It’s especially interesting that the conclusion we always seem to walk away with is this: Whether you sign on with a publisher or publish yourself, the steps in the publishing process don’t differ much. Your job as a publisher is to bring content to readers through every channel available to you. It’s an art and a discipline; one I’m excited to share with so many accomplished IBPA members.