& 'Don't's for Self-Publishers - Part Five
by Julie Duffy
DO: Be businesslike...
...The image of the writer as one who lives on the edge of society, outside its rules, an amusing oddball, will not serve you well once you make the transition from writer to publisher. When dealing with bookstores and reviewers and anyone else who will promote your book, you are no longer talking with people who are in this for the love of the written word. They might have been once, but now this is what they do from 9-6 or longer.
To work well with book industry professionals, you must be impeccably professional yourself. Make sure your letters are on clean letterhead, that you meet deadlines, that you are organized and know what you want and, most importantly do not waste their time. Be punctual, polite, and professional.
You are a publisher now, not an artiste...
DON'T: Expect to produce a best-seller.
It is extremely difficult to produce a best-seller. Part of this is due to the way the best-seller lists are organized (it is arcane and looks slightly fishy when you look closely enough at the process).
If it was easy, why are there several 'how to produce a best-seller' sessions on the subject at every year's Book Expo America - an event attended by the major publishers as well as a few indies?
The most common mistake I hear from new authors the prediction that their book will be a best-seller. What they really mean is 'this book is good and a lot of people will enjoy it'. Not the same thing as becoming a best-seller.
Most first novels (from major publishers) are printed in runs of 5000. Most do not make a profit. Publishers count on a few big names, like Clancy, Grisham and King, to make enough money to cover the new, interesting books they try out each year.
So, if books with the clout of Simon & Schuster behind them do not sell 5,000 copies, a self-publishing author needs to be realistic. Your book probably won't sell 100,000 copies.
It is important to know this because you need to budget accordingly. Don't spend $3,000 on your cover design or taking out ads in Publisher's Weekly. When investing in your book, be realistic about how much money you should put in and how much you are likely to make back.
Having said all that, one of the benefits of self-publishing is that you can give your book's promotional plan the personal attention it would not receive at a large publishing house. It is entirely possible that you will sell 5,000 copies faster than you could have, published by Penguin. You may even go on to sell 10,000 or 100,000 copies. And if you are selling that many copies, you may find the big publishers come knocking.
But even if they do, don't expect a best-seller. Try to do all you can to get this book into as many hands as possible. That way, a lot of people will get to enjoy the book. Which is, let's face it, more important to most writers, than being on a bestseller list.
DO: Allow yourself to be happy when you reach your personal milestones...
Some of the lessons in this series have seemed, on the surface, a bit discouraging: don't expect to sell more than 20 copies at a booksigning; don't expect a best-seller. They are not meant to discourage, but to free you.
When you wrote your book you probably weren't thinking about selling thousands of copies. You were concerned with writing the best book you could. When you are published, however, everyone from your neighbor to the TV anchor interviewing you will ask 'how many books have you sold', as if this was the only measure of success. You find yourself obsessing on how many copies have sold, even if your initial aim was simply to produce a book you could give to your grandchildren. You find yourself apologetically admitting that you have 'only' sold 100 copies. Well, if your original audience was meant to be 5 grandchildren, then you have sold 20 times as many copies as you thought you would. Show me a major publisher who can claim those stats. Plus, if you are publishing with a print on-demand service, you may be in the black after selling only 100 copies. Show me a major publisher whose books are as profitable so quickly.
It is important to remember your goals, when assessing your success. Selling 10,000 copies is not the only way to be successful. Set your own personal milestones. Throw a party when you hold your book in your hands for the first time. Celebrate when you are invited to talk to the local women's auxiliary. Buy yourself flowers when you sell 1,000 copies.
Always keep sight of your personal goals. Don't allow other people's questions about how many copies you have sold, or whether you're being picked up by Random House, to spoil your pleasure at meeting the more modest goals you may have set.
Celebrate every time you reach one of your own personal milestones.
DON'T: Get discouraged if sales are slow...
The beauty of being self-published is that your book will be available as long as you say it is. (If you are using digital on-demand publishing, this is even more practical than if you are self-publishing traditionally.)
In the world of traditional publishing a book has to make a big splash in the first few months or it will be dropped by the publisher's publicist, it will be returned by bookstores, and it will not receive a second printing.
When publishing your own book, you are in charge of the publicity. You know if there is a special date every year when your book becomes especially relevant, and you can focus on that (Valentine's Day, or New Year etc.). You can set up alternate ways for readers to get hold of the book (directly from you or through online bookstores) that beat the short shelf-life of the bookstore book.
You can promote your book anywhere you go, any time you feel like it, because you are in charge.
* * *
Now isn't it about time you stopped reading, and got out and published that book?
Go to Part I
Go to Part 2
Go to Part 3
Go to Part 4
Duffy (www.julieduffy.com) is the former
Director of Author Services at Xlibris. She is a
freelance writer and has been published in newspapers and
magaizines including the Writer's Digest special issue
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