There are three primary tasks a writer must undertake to get her work into the hands of readers: writing, publishing, and marketing.
Out of those three, I respectfully submit, publishing is by far the easiest.
Writing a book is hard, and writing a good book is even harder – at least from the perspective of the inexperienced writer. Most people who think about writing a book never start one. Most people who start one never finish it. And most people who finish a book never polish it to the point where it’s ready for prime-time and/or never get it out the door for one reason or another.
To write a good book, you have to put in the time in terms of reading with intent, learning about the craft, gaining mastery of the tools at your disposal, and putting all that into practice with book after book (some of which may never see the light of day). It’s usually a long process and it’s understandable that there’s a high level of attrition.
Marketing can be tough. Most writers don’t come from business or marketing backgrounds, and creative types aren’t generally renowned for taking to those disciplines naturally. It also doesn’t help that many of the traditional methods for marketing print books are largely ineffective at selling e-books (publicists, press releases, newspaper interviews, radio spots, television interviews, book signings), and that what is actually effective at selling e-books can often be counterintuitive, or at least swim against that traditional approach (heavy discounts, giving away lots of free copies, building up buzz after release instead of prior to publication, using media to make social connections rather than broadcasting a message).
Part of the difference in marketing approaches is down to there being thousands and thousands of points-of-sale for print books, and pretty much four or five for e-books. And part of the difference is down to the formats themselves and the often different paths to discovery. For example, it requires a huge investment, key relationships built up over time, and the printing, storing, and distribution of thousands upon thousands of print books to be visible to customers across Barnes & Noble’s store network, but a basic, low-cost digital marketing campaign can make your e-book visible on Amazon.
When you add together lack of experience or natural aptitude with mixed messages about what’s effective, you can see why many writers find the prospect of marketing daunting.
But publishing is easy – in relative terms at least. It’s much, much harder if you take the traditional path, where all sorts of (often arbitrary) factors will decide whether you get published at all. However, that’s no longer the only path.
While publishing hasn’t quite yet become a button, the act of self-publishing a book in the digital world involves a relatively straightforward checklist of steps. That’s not to say that, for example, editing or cover design is trivial (they aren’t), or that those disciplines don’t add huge value to a book (they do), but that’s not expertise the self-publishing writer has to master. She can hire in help as needed.
But this isn’t the message that’s getting out to newbies. A mystique has attached itself to the publishing process. Newbies are told that publishing is hard, that it requires skills limited to the most rabidly entrepreneurial types – despite the hordes of writers from all sorts of backgrounds that are self-publishing. And they are told it’s expensive – despite the huge numbers of self-publishers that have released professional looking books on a limited budget.
The Wrong Kind of Help
This is why so many newbies get suckered. Because if they think that publishing is hard or that publishing is expensive then they will seek out a third party to handle that part of the process. Which could result in:
- Signing with a large publisher for a small advance, resulting in no nationwide bookstore distribution, little marketing, poor sales, and little or no royalties.
- Doing a deal with a small publisher which struggles to get their books into stores, and which doesn’t have the time or money to invest in digital marketing.
- Handing over rights to an agent-publisher with a poor track record.
- Spending a lot of money on “publishing consultants” who don’t know what they’re doing.
- Engaging a “self-publishing service company” – and these run the spectrum of mediocre to awful vanity presses like Author Solutions.
Before anyone gets too excited, I’m not saying that all small presses are bad, or that signing a deal with a large publisher is always the wrong decision, or even that all agent-publishers are terrible.
I’m saying that when a newbie has been convinced that self-publishing is hard or expensive the chances of them falling into the clutches of a third party which will result in a poor outcome increase exponentially. Because they’ll take any kind of deal, or sign up with any fly-by-night outfit, or engage one of the vanity presses masquerading as a self-publishing company.
So we need to get the message out. Yes, writing is hard, but these third parties will give you no help there. And yes, marketing can be tricky, but that’s probably going to fall on you no matter what path you choose.
Publishing, on the other hand, is easy.
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My South American historical adventure – A Storm Hits Valparaiso – has been reduced to 99c (save $4!) on Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. Today is the last day of the promotion, so if you are interested in checking it out, grab it while it’s cheap.
Apologies for not letting you know about the deal sooner, I’m packing and preparing to move house and things are a little manic. I’m moving to Prague next week, and blogging will be patchy until I get all set up on the other side.