The Business of Publishing
Posted on 10/07/2022 Evan Swensen
What exactly does it mean to be a published author? Besides the fact that your work is finally in print and your college alumni have asked to interview you for their newsletter, it also means fame and fortune, right?
Well, maybe not on the level of J. K. Rowling, but at the very least, you can expect a call from Oprah, right? I hate to be the one to break it to you, but you’re probably not even on her radar screen. The truth about publishing is stranger than fiction, and the truth is that getting published is only half the battle. The other half is to keep your reality check in balance so it doesn’t bounce.
While publishing is all about creative expression, it’s also about business, and those business-savvy authors will succeed in the end. Now you don’t have to be an MBA to be a keen business person; you have to understand that your choices about your book’s future should be based on strategies that will enhance sales, not just drain your pocketbook. So, how do you do this?
First, take a long, hard look at your reader.
As you embark on or continue your campaign, ask yourself a few tough questions. First, what’s your ultimate goal for this book? If it’s to give away at family reunions, that’s great! But then you’ll probably want to nix any marketing. If your book is an arm of your business and you have speaking engagements lined up through the end of the year. You probably don’t need to spend a lot on marketing since most of your sales will come from your speaking engagements (i.e., back-of-the-room sales). On the other hand, if you wrote this book to grow your business or leverage your credibility, you will probably want to dial into your industry through enhanced media exposure.
For fiction authors, this area becomes a little tricky. First, you need to determine your long-term goals. By long-term, I mean: do you want to stay in this business, or was this book just “something you wanted to do.” If it’s a hobby, treat it as such, but if this is going to be your career, then you need to continually keep your message out there through venues such as author events, talks, signings, print, and broadcast media.
Make sure the choices you make, make sense for your book and aren’t just made because you’ve always dreamt of being on Oprah. We’ve known authors lured into inappropriate marketing plans by big, flashy names and promises of stardom, wasting thousands of valuable marketing dollars and heading in a direction that wasn’t right for them. However, if you’re serious about your work, ready to let go of your muse and face the task with some business savvy, you’re prepared to publish. Below are some guidelines that will help further your success!
1) Reader profile: create one of these at the beginning of your marketing campaign and keep refining it as you move through the process. Refine and redefine who and where your audience is and how to reach them.
2) Time commitment: determine what you can and can’t reasonably do. For example, if you have a full-time job, it probably doesn’t make a lot of sense to commit yourself to forty hours of marketing a week unless your boss is on vacation.
3) Investment: how much are you willing to invest in your future? Are you willing to invest money without seeing much in return, knowing that you are building a foundation, or do you want to see immediate monetary results? Most authors don’t see a return on their investment for a year or more. Are you committed enough to yourself or your project to keep this investment going?
4) Reality check: what’s realistic for your industry? Are you latching onto a fad or something with more longevity? Are you getting into a brand-new market that will require lots of reader education? Or are you trying to go mainstream with a non-mainstream topic? While this is an admirable goal, it can be like swimming upstream.
5) Budget: while we encourage authors to invest in their future, we’ve also seen a few people go into heavy debt, quit their jobs, and even sell their homes to promote their books. While that kind of dedication is certainly admirable, remember that although you have the potential to make a great deal of money, it’s not going to be overnight. The lure here is, of course, that “If I stick with it, this next sale will make me famous.” Well, maybe or maybe not. If you’ve been plugging away for a while without significant success, get a professional to give you some honest, constructive feedback about your plan, market, and book. It might be that a poorly designed cover is why you’re not making sales or a topic that’s fallen off the public’s radar screen. In the meantime, as you’re waiting to hit the big time, you’ll still need a place to sleep, and Uncle Vinnie’s couch will get old quickly.
6) Burnout: we hear this term often, even to the point of being overused. What we’re talking about here is author burnout. We’ve found that the average author only markets their book for ninety days. That means ninety days of day and night marketing, radio interviews at 3 AM, and a book signing every weekend. On day ninety-one, they are so tired, discouraged, and broke that they quit. You can avoid this by giving yourself realistic goals and a realistic timeframe to complete them.
There’s nothing in the world like seeing your book in print. If approached realistically, objectively, and with sound business sense, it can be one of the most exciting times in your life.