Two weeks ago, Craig Mod launched a campaign to publish his new book Kissa by Kissa. I think it is safe to call it a niche book. The book is about walking, pizza toast, and Japanese cafes. It cost $95. He was only selling 1000 copies. And you could only buy it through his retro-fitted Shopify page that was coded to let him run the launch as a crowdfunding campaign with award levels and progress bar charts. Of course, I bought one.
I am describing everything in the past tense, because he sold out the print run in 48 hours and the rest of the award levels over the next five days, raising over $100,000. For people who think about publishing books, Craig is a good case study.
The first thing I tell people who want to publish their own books is “Do you want to become a publisher? Are you ready to do all the things a publisher does to put a book out in to the world?” Self-publishing “lets” you make all of the decisions and it “lets” you do all of the work. Craig has been detailed in his newsletter, the search for a printer in Japan who could also help with the fulfillment of these short print runs. He needed to work through how to ship books around the world during a pandemic. He hired craftspeople like a copyeditor, a photo editor, and an illustrator. He’s been back and forth from the printer for paper tests and shipment planning. On his launch day, he was featured on audience perfect sites like kottke.org and Daring Fireball. Craig did all of it.
We often describe a book as published or self-published and that really creates a false construct for what happens with most books. Publishing really takes place along a continuum of complete responsibility as author-publisher to an author “hiring” a publisher. Today, “hiring” a publisher comes in a variety of configurations of people and processes to help get your book into the market.
At Bard, we feel like we are a good balance on the spectrum from self-publishing to commercial publishing. We want to work with authors to collaborate on the big decisions like title, cover art and marketing. On the Bard Press side, we can bring our expertise in producing books with a cadre of skilled editors and designers. You also get our systems for day-to-day logistics with national and international distribution. And capabilities to sell foreign subsidiary rights. And produce the audiobook. And…well, I think you get the idea 🙂
As you think about publishing, think about where your strengths are and where you want to be involved with your book. Let that inform the kind of publishing you want to do. I don’t know any author who doesn’t involve someone, even if it is just the printer to produce their books. Craig clearly loves all the pieces of making a beautiful book and still he involved a set of people to make it even better.
There is another thing that self-publishing lets you do—know who your customers are. Now, that condition is not automatic. Many people run to Amazon to self-publish their books for the ubiquity of their marketplace. I totally get it. The trouble is that the retailer does little to help with the discovery of your book. And they take 30%. And you’ll never know who bought your book. That is a rough set of conditions for the self-publisher.
Platforms like Kickstarter, Gumroad and Shopify let you create products and campaigns. These platforms also give you the opportunity to see the customer and what they bought. This gives you the opportunity to build a relationship and possibly create even more things that they might enjoy. And these platform fees are 3%-10%, which gives you a nice opportunity to improve your margins.
Again in our case study. Craig has an audience that he has built over several years through great writing about design, books, tech, travel and more. He started a membership program last year, that he recently renamed Special Projects, to gather that audience and create more sustainable income flow for the creation of projects just like this. Craig says he wants to do a couple of books like this every year. These creator platforms are going to work better with an established audience. Using his Craigstarter system, he has built a way to focus that interest and engage readers through selling his products.
How could another author mimic that? Well, every author, independent of their place on the publishing continuum, needs a system to collect orders ahead of a launch. Pre-orders are key to early success. Why not create a system to take those orders yourself? Alone, the ability to track how well you are converting sales from clients and prospects is worth the effort. What is the additional value of connecting with new customers who come to you through the launch of your book? If you have an effective order taking system, that becomes a valuable asset to you and your publishing partner. Imagine having a big bag of orders that you could bring to retailers. And I am not talking about an author buying books to inflate sales. I am talking about an organized sales strategy with orders that could be fulfilled by retail partners. At Bard, we are very organized about pre-orders before a book launches.
And this all circles back to that first question—how involved do you want to be? Building an ecommerce capability might sound like a lot of work. To others, it might sound like fun. For Craig, the crowdfunding module also became a story point in his marketing campaign that resonated with his core audience of readers.
No matter how you decide to publish your book, think about the team that you need and what you can do to best engage the readers who will love your book.