You have written a book, or you are writing a book, or you are thinking of writing a book. Great! There are now more options than ever before for getting your book published and getting it out to the reading masses.
For most people who are just entering the world of publishing, they picture the process working something like this:
- Write a book
- Give it to a publisher
- Collect royalties
While these steps do happen at various points of the publishing process, this list leaves out a myriad of steps which will determine whether a book will become a success or not. Simply following these three steps and expecting them to work would be a lot like these steps in becoming a stock broker:
- Go to college
- Become a stockbroker
- Make lots of money
As you can see, there is something missing here. If becoming a successful published author or stockbroker was really this easy, everybody would do it. But, they don’t. The reason: it isn’t this easy, and there is much more to it than following these three oversimplified basic steps.
When you publish a book, you aren’t simply putting your story or information into book form and innocently standing by while every bookstore in America eagerly stocks their shelves with it. You are actually starting a business. The business is your writing career, the book is your product, and YOU are the brand name.
A good example of this is James Patterson. In 2010, one out of every seven books sold in the United States was written or co-authored by James Patterson, and his books raked in an estimated $70 million. James Patterson is virtually an industry unto himself, and he runs his writing enterprise as if it is an industry. He is in the writing business, with an emphasis on the word business. He is an active participant in the way his books are packaged, marketed, promoted and sold.
Authors are creative, and they view themselves as artists, not business people and certainly not salesmen. After all, they reason, it is their job to write the books, and it is their publisher’s job to sell the books. Ten or twenty years ago, this was largely true. It seemed as though all an author had to do was write their book, do a book signing or two and let their publisher take care of the rest. That definitely does not reflect the publishing industry as it works today.
Over the past decade or so, the publishing industry began to change. Instead of purchasing books primarily at bookstores, readers bought increasing quantities of their books online from web sites like Amazon.com. Ebooks became more popular. Authors who saw their work rejected by the large New York City publishing companies turned to other options, such as self-publishing their print books or selling their own ebooks online. In response, publishers and bookstores depended more upon marketing bestsellers by known, celebrity, name-brand authors. However, most books don’t become bestsellers, and most books under this system don’t break even on the publisher’s investment. Bookstores (and some publishers) slow to adapt to changes in the industry went out of business. The days of large publishing companies “taking a chance” and offering big advances to new, unknown and unproven authors and sending them out on nationwide book tours by-and-large became a thing of the past.
It is now easier to publish a book than it ever has been before. Roughly ten years ago, there were about 200,000 new book titles published in the U.S. each year. As of 2010, there are now roughly 3 million new book titles published in the U.S. each year, when self-published titles are taken into account. That’s good news for a beginning author because it increases the odds they will get their books published somewhere, somehow, even if they do it themselves. It also means that authors must take a highly active role in promoting and selling their books.
There are naysayers in the industry who are clinging to the way publishing use to work, the way that it’s listed in the three simple steps above. They are also out of step with how the industry works today, and left wondering why their book isn’t the success they thought it would be. The answer is they are not working their book as if it is their business. They are steadfastly holding on to the idea that once they write the book their job is largely done, and that just doesn’t cut it in today’s bookselling climate.
Publishing is one of the only industries I know of in which someone who decides to get into the business believes with all their heart and soul that once they are done creating and producing a product their involvement is over, and that somehow, some way, their product will just get “out there” and “somebody” will buy it. No product is sold this way, including books. Yes, there are others involved...publishers, distributors, wholesalers and retailers, but that doesn't mean your involvement in making your product a success comes to a screeching halt. Can you imagine Steve Jobs, in the early days of Apple, building the first Mac and then handing it off to someone else and saying, "Well, there you go. Good luck."?
During a book presentation trip to New York, one of my co-workers had the opportunity to meet with a very successful book publicist who works with many bestselling authors in the U.S. The publicist was asked “if there was just one thing you wanted authors to know, what is it?”
“That’s easy,” she replied. “I wish they knew that it is not the bookstore’s job or the publicist’s job or the publisher’s job to sell books. It’s the author’s job.”
This publicist wasn’t insinuating that authors should go out and sell their books door-to-door or from the trunk of their car on a street corner. What she meant was that authors must be involved in the promotion and publicity for their book (product). They have to connect with readers (customers). They have to make readers (customers) aware that they (the brand), and their books, exist. That’s how every other successful business makes it, and it’s how successful authors make it today.
The first step toward becoming a successful author is realizing that your book is your business. It is a business venture, and you must operate as if you are starting a brand new business from scratch. You’ve got to keep track of profits, losses, taxes, work hours, and develop a strategy for reaching and selling to your customers…your readers. How much time, work and money are you willing to invest into making your new business venture a success? Certainly, your book wasn’t written overnight, and making your book a sales success won’t happen overnight, either. It takes time, patience, persistence and hard work.
That probably sounds daunting. Remember the earlier example of the three simple steps to becoming a stockbroker? If it was easy, everybody would do it. If it was easy, every author would be a successful author. Every author would have a bestselling book. Every author would see their book sitting on a shelf in every retail store in the country. It is estimated that fifty percent of all new business that are started will fail within two years. The success rate of new books is even lower.
However, we’re not planning to fail because we’re not failing to plan. Now that you know that the risks and challenges of entering the publishing industry are every bit as challenging as starting a new business, you can begin working on your plan to make your book the success it should be. If you have worked hard on creating a great product, then of course you want it to be read, and sold. If you have a publisher, you aren’t alone, but you also don’t want to give the entire responsibility for your book’s success to somebody else, either. You want to have a hand in making your book a success because it is your business. It is your product. It is your creativity that made that book happen. You are the CEO, CFO and Chief Marketing Officer for your new business venture…your book.
Coming up next: Day 2 – Identifying Your Target Audience