I am seeing a trend among the authors that I have talked with over the last eighteen months. Self-publishing has gone from an interesting option to a preferred alternative. There is nothing new about self-publishing being a part of the conversation. For the last ten years, bringing your own book into the world has gotten easier, faster, and in most situations, is now seen as legitimate for authors.
Technology writer Kevin Maney makes a keen observation that applies here. He says industries always move toward fidelity or toward convenience. With fidelity, companies strive to create high resolution experiences which the customer values for its experience, exclusivity, and prestige. With convenience, businesses make it easy to purchase focused product offerings with near ubiquitous availability.
Book publishing is full of examples. You could look at print books versus ebooks and audiobooks. You could examine buyers’ preference for indie booksellers versus Amazon.com. And we are seeing the fidelity versus convenience paradigm play out with authors making choices between the convenience of self-publishing and the fidelity of traditional publishing.
Kindle Direct Publishing, Leanpub, and Ingram Spark are just a few examples of product offerings that have made self-publishing accessible and inexpensive to authors. The ability to take a Word document and import it to create an ePub file has made it possible for anyone willing to write the words to publish their book. Not only does the book exist after working with these services, but it is connected to mechanisms that let readers purchase the book. The streamlining of that entire value chain solves multiple problems for the author trying to get their book published and into readers hands. It is so easy there is no reason for your book not to exist in the world.
I get all the benefits of self-publishing. I have self-published several books myself. I have helped others self-publish their books. There are good reasons to take advantage of those tools.
I also want to suggest that book publishing more accurately exists on a Maney spectrum with, on one end, all the work being done by the author with the support of self-publishing products to signing a traditional deal and partnering with an established publisher on the other end. In the broad middle is a variety of options for engaging parties who can help get your book published.
If you are reading this post, my guess is that there is real potential for the book you are working on. And yes, KDP or Ingram or Leanpub would give you broad reach and a certain kind of scale for your book. Before you choose the fast, easy, convenient way to publish your book, I want you to consider the value of scale.
Three Reasons For Scale
What would happen if you engaged a group of people to bring the book to the masses?
I am talking about selling tens or hundreds of thousands of copies of your book. To do that you are going to need help with making, marketing, selling and distributing your book. With the right skills, these are all things an author can do, but at some point, the limitation of time keeps you from all the tasks of writing marketing copy, cold calling prospects, and packing boxes for shipments. Authors early in their careers often often don’t even know the questions to ask or the skills they need to scale their book.
Here is what scale does.
1. Scale changes the number of people involved (duh), and that creates opportunity.
I tell authors there are nine “sells” you have to get through with your book starting with getting a literary agent to represent you all the way through to getting a reader to buy your book. In between there are editors, editorial boards, marketing and publicity, salespeople, buyers and booksellers. With each successful sell in that arc, you are getting more people on board with your book and you are adding to the number of people who might be further enlisted to make your book successful.
An author that works with Bard Press adds the scale of:
- A structural editor, a copyeditor, two proofreaders, a dozen early readers, a layout designer, an illustrator, an indexer, an ebook programmer, and a script editor to better adapt the project for the audiobook format, and an audio editor. All of these experts create a better product in all the formats “readers” want the book in.
- 45 salespeople from our distributor selling to independent bookstores, big box retailers, online retailers, education wholesalers, libraries, airport stores, gift shops, subscription box providers, and specialty retailers. There is an international sales team that does the same in Europe, Asia, Australia, and other regions all over the world.
- A literary rights agency selling translation rights to markets all over the world. For business, Asian markets like Japan, Korea, and China are very important. India is important. Europe can be a good market with a big enough book to sell Russian, Polish, German, and French.
- An outside publicity team that will be pitching you to national newspapers and magazines, radio and TV, podcasts, newsletters, blogs and special events. The objective is to book interviews and speaking gigs and place bylined pieces and Q&A’s.
- Consideration for the best time to launch the book—what’s the best time of the year for the category of your book, what’s the best time versus when other books traditionally get published, and what other calendar events can be leveraged for the title’s visibility. All of these are kinds of scaling by using other cultural touchpoints to give your book more momentum.
- If you combine all of those with your other efforts, you can use the bestseller lists to give your book more status. Some readers pay attention. Journalists pay attention. With momentum, retailers pay attention and your book gets more consideration for promotions in the following months.
All of these groups have deep experience in their field. Many have privileged and trusted connections with their clients and communities. An individual author would find it difficult to get promotional placement in a store or interview in national media. All of this effort creates awareness and opportunities for you and your book.
This is that thick middle of opportunity on the Maney spectrum where authors can add resources to improve their book and its reach.
2. Scale sharpens the communication
As you scale with more people, the communications regarding the book need to get clearer and more focused. Those nine layers of people in the chain of book publishing play a game of telephone as each tells the next about your book. There is too much potential for the pitch to shift and weaken.
This is where the work on the positioning of the book becomes critical. Your enlisted supporters and hired guns need to know where the book fits among the hundreds (or thousands) they have seen come before it.
“This is the best book for __________.”
Filling in that blank is the most important work you can do to build a message that has the momentum to travel.
We are working on a leadership book right now at Bard Press and our primary focus is answering that question. Thousands of leadership books have been published. What framing can we offer to make it clear that it is different from everything else they have read? Or in what circumstances this book would be helpful?
This effort will inform everything from what is written on the first page of the book to what the PR pitch will be to journalists and producers to what headlines we’ll test in online advertising campaigns. Most importantly, it will create a common message for everyone to use as we scale the book.
3. Successful scaling creates social proof
In the beginning, the people who are going to buy and read your book are going to fall into two categories—people who know you and people who acutely feel the problem your book addresses. These are both relatively small groups of people. The people in your sphere of influence are likely to number in the thousands. The early adopters always searching the market for a better solution are also a small group.
Both groups are “small” in comparison to the millions-strong majority who read non-fiction books. The trouble is that this vast group is going to only read one book this year. The other problem is that they choose their one book based on what everyone else is reading. Bestseller lists, number of Amazon reviews, number of views on their TED talk are all signals. Social proof is everything to the vast majority and scale provides those signals.
When we talk about The ONE Thing, we say:
- 2.3 million copies sold
- Translated into 40 languages
- 9,900+ Amazon reviews
- 575 Bestseller List Appearances
Each of those gives the prospective reader more confidence that after hearing about the book that they are reading what everyone else is reading.
Now, when you launch the book, you won’t have the big claims that you can offer those prospective readers. Your job is to fully engage your audience and the audience for the book. No stone unturned as you launch.
As you get the small wins, you share them and keep building. Your book is not a static object. Show people how the book’s content solves the problems they are experiencing today. Connect it to what is going on in the world right now. And keep updating and scaling the story for the next prospective reader.