(This is a guest post by Mark’s good friend and author, Charles Burke.)
Self-publishing’s back and it’s gained new respectability.
Back in 1440, when Johannes Gutenberg and his two partners developed their moveable type printing press, it was all self publishing. There were no big publishing houses then. Absolutely anyone who had something to say could publish their own works – provided they had money to pay for the printing.
But then a few specialty publishing houses began appearing… and a few more… until they were everywhere and a whole new industry had settled into place. The advantage they offered authors was efficient, widespread distribution, and it was this advantage that gradually gave them a lock on the market.
But fast-forward to the present day, and suddenly we find ourselves with virtually free access to the Internet and blogs and digital publishing and online bookstores and independent websites. And all this has utterly changed the landscape for writers everywhere. Never has it been easier – or cheaper – to reach readers.
It’s back… Finally
So, although self-publishing has been away for a while, it’s back now, and it’s healthier than it’s been for the past three hundred years.
But what does this mean for you and me? Simply this: if you’re a writer with something to say, the Internet gives you the ability to research your topic more thoroughly, to dig deeper into specialized sources, and to write more authoritatively than you ever could back in the dark ages of – say – 1980, when all you had was your neighborhood library (and I used to spend a LOT of time in my local library).
In addition, digital publishing tools make it possible to lay out and format sophisticated documents that were simply unthinkable on your old Underwood typewriter. And using these same digital tools, you can now take your document all the way through to PDF or Kindle ebooks… or even to produce paperback books in lots as small as a single copy, and to do it cheaply with POD (Print On Demand) technology.
Amazon, B&N, Smashwords and a fast-growing list of other online bookstores are all eager to distribute your books to the reading public, so self publishing now makes more sense than ever before.
And here’s more good news: the online distributors play nicer than the old-line “real” publishers. You receive higher royalties (much higher), more active promotion, no 12-to-18-month wait to see your book come out, and no charge-backs against the royalties you earn. There’s more, but this is a good start.
How To Take Advantage
So what’s your first move? If you’re thinking, “First I gotta write a book,” that would be a mistake. If you want your book to be a success, you’ll need to take a couple of important steps before you dive into the writing.
Step 1 – Find out What Readers in Your Market Are Buying Right Now
Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, this step is the same. But “fiction” or “non-fiction” are pretty broad categories, so let’s narrow it down. Is the public stampeding for science fiction this year, or horror, or young adult adventures, or quirky, comical romances?
Are they snapping up self-help books, weight-loss systems, meditation guides or how-to-build-a-log-cabin books?
If you’re going to spend several months turning out 50,000 or 100,000 words, we can assume you’d like to sell as many copies of your book as possible. So pay very careful attention to what people want.
We’ve all seen businesses that open, sit nearly empty for a year or two, then close. That business was somebody’s dream. They put money, sweat and time into it, but it failed. And often, it was because they mis-identified their customers (or didn’t even bother). They were in the wrong location, or had the wrong mix of products, or gave poor service, or didn’t market to the correct segment of the public.
Fact is, if you or I just jump up and write a book, without knowing in advance who’ll want to read it, then we’re doing the same thing.
Step 2 – Make Sure Your Idea Will Support a Series of Books
Your books are your products. If your readers like your first effort, they’re going to want more. In your own reading experience, when you discover a great new writer, don’t you check for more titles by the same author? I know I do. And as sure as the sun rises, your readers will too.
In a way, you and I, as writers, are like Hollywood actors. We’re all in the entertainment business. If an actor goes to Hollywood, gets a role in a movie, does a fabulous job, and then disappears, everyone who saw that movie will wonder “whatever happened to what’s-her-name.” But not for long. Soon they’ll move on to someone else with staying power.
So it’s crucial that you sit down and map out at least six, eight, or even more related titles. This gives you tremendous leverage in the marketplace. Want to check this out? Go Google “Kindle bestselling author.” You’ll come up with names like Karen McQuestion, Amanda Hocking, John Locke, J.A. Konrath and Jon F. Merz. Read their stories. You’ll not only learn a lot from them, you’ll also realize very quickly how vital it is to have multiple titles in place.
Of course, the big publicity goes to fiction writers, but non-fiction writers are finding wide open doors as well.
One friend of mine, a motivation and self-help writer, currently has about a dozen titles on Amazon’s Kindle book list, all of which are selling very steadily. Each of these books is short – 20,000 to 25,000 words – and sharply targeted to a single, tightly focused niche. By the end of this year I expect he’ll have more than 25 e-books, all selling well, and providing him a good, solid income. All because he decided to take responsibility for his own future and self publish his own books.
And you can do the same.
In the second article in this series, Charles will give us specifics on exactly how to research a market and nail down the best, most tightly targeted segment of readers for your books.
Then, in his third and final article, he will show us how to take a single book idea and expand it out into a strong, healthy series to supercharge your visibility and lift yourself up out of the great mass of writers milling around in anonymity.