The Adirondack Center for Writing recently shared a link on their Facebook page to a Bookbaby blog entry titled, “From book to book launch: how to successfully self-publish your book.” There are 17 steps posted, each with links, most of which lead to something you need to do and describing how Bookbaby can provide each service. It’s an effective practice, offering free information of varying value and linking it to paid services.
As general guidelines go, the Bookbaby list is OK, but it’s important for aspiring authors to know that while some of the items apply to most books, the formula in its entirety applies to only certain genres. If you’re not writing for certain audiences, some of it is bad advice.
As you click through the links associated with each of the 17 steps, a theme develops: giveaways. Give books away to potential online reviewers, actual book critics (if you can find any), newspaper reporters, family, friends, Twitter and Facebook contacts, local libraries, and owners of bookstores. The giveaways are printed copies, not digital versions. According to the list of steps, that covers the majority of the first 100 copies you’ll have printed and handed out before your launch date.
Here’s an alternative opinion: the bulk of those should be reclassified as throwaways. Worse than that, many of the recipients—family, friends, Twitter and Facebook contacts, and libraries—represent the initial sales that get you going, boosting your confidence and incentive by confirming that folks will pay to read what you wrote.
Yes, we all give books away, perhaps to Mom and Dad and some strong supporters, but it’s also important to sell early on, to establish momentum and build a following.
In the vast majority of cases, freebies to newspapers or widely read media commentators are the only options with real potential. But the traditional practice of sending 50 copies to newspapers in hopes of being reviewed? Good luck with that in today’s world. Newsprint’s struggles are reflected in reduced page count, smaller print, self-editing, and fewer issues.
The important conclusion: space is at a premium like it has never been before. Your book, now just one among millions, is not the news story it once was. Three reviews would be above average, and don’t be shocked if you are asked to pay. Apparently it’s part of the new reality.
Here are four things to be aware of when considering the giveaway promotional plan:
1. The average self-published book sells between 100 and 250 copies.
2. The cost per printed book for such a small run might be $8 to $12 per copy.
3. That price will rise if your book file is not print-ready.
4. The truth: virtually no self-prepared file is print-ready.
Item #4 is critical: if your file is not well edited for spelling, grammar, and punctuation, it is a virtual death sentence for your book no matter how good the story is. If you doubt that, name a book that reviewers said was badly in need of copyediting but still went on to great success. (Hint: don’t waste your time looking.)
Giving away 100 copies might seem like a bad idea when the average book reaches an audience of 100 to 250. The freebies also represent an investment: ordering 100 copies of your 202-page book from Bookbaby will cost $766.
And make no mistake about it: each copy you order for free distribution represents either a gift or a gamble.
There is already plenty of gambling in the self-publishing process, which casts doubt on the wisdom of staking a book’s success on one’s ability to entice, trick, or beg readers to indulge. The marketing concept is simple: give away a few chapters or even the first book in a series, and if all the necessary components are in place, word-of-mouth and reader reviews might cause your book to catch on and sell in a big way.
And yes, it does work … sometimes, but without those components—an interesting or compelling story that is well written and well edited—you’ve almost certainly wasted your time and money.
And by it working “sometimes,” I mean seldom. You’ll hear of some successes, but not of the overwhelming multitude of failures. Yet many publishers focus on those rare success stories to entice author hopefuls, knowing that nearly 100% of them cannot prepare the proper files without considerable cost.
It’s a practice not unlike the NYS Lottery motto: “Hey, you never know,” except that publishers win for having sold you services in the effort. That’s because they do know. They’re not lying: they’re just not telling you everything they know.
It’s a twist on the old principle, “Let the buyer beware.” They know what you’ll be facing, and they know the failure rate. But hey, it’s a free country, and people can follow their dreams.
In business, I’ve dealt with just that situation many times, and here’s my standard opening mantra: “It’s very hard to sell books, and the failure rate is quite high.” But it can be done.
I do encourage people to pursue their dreams, but with an awareness of the costs and the difficulties, as well as the great rewards. Each author has their own definition of success. For some, it’s sharing a wide audience. For others, it might be public attention, or earning profits. Each situation is different. If financial costs and profit are not primary considerations, the pressures are reduced and the pleasures are multiplied.
But if you have to rely on myriad tricks, gifts, and virtual bribes to promote and sell your book, best of luck. Perhaps consider an alternative: if you believe in the value of what you write, try selling it as such. Focus on its good points: why it’s worth reading, why it was worth writing, and what compelled you to pursue the subject.
Unlike random hope attached to freebies, that attracts fans who will remember you. When they purchase your book, they’re investing in you because of those things. And that’s something you can build on.
Photo by John Warren.