Learn about creating your author platform from Anne Hill

My friend Anne is holding a workshop on Sunday, September 22, 2013 from 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM (PDT) in San Francisco. I cannot think of a better person to learn from. If you are writing a book or have written a book, you should be thinking about creating your “author platform.”

Anne Hill

Anne Hill

Anne is an author and coach and wonderful person whom you’ll enjoy. Go to the workshop!

It’s coming! Get ready!

Click on the picture for the whole story….

The publishing war is over; self-publishing wins

I’ll start from the conclusion. Here’s why you should ONLY self-publish, and not seek a publisher:

  • publish #01

    You get to market MUCH more quickly by self-publishing (days or weeks versus a year or more)

  • You keep your intellectual property; you can reprint, translate, sell movie rights, go to multiple distributors without limitation
  • You keep 70% or more of the book’s selling price, versus 14.7% or less with a publisher (including for the ebook version)
  • You are in control of everything from design to editing to production to distribution

In the past, before the Web and print-on-demand technology, authors were at the mercy of publishers. That’s when the “rules of engagement” were established by the publishers, and they remain today as they were then: The publisher controls everything about the relationship, if the author signs the standard agreement. That means a production schedule that commonly stretches out 15-18 months from receipt of manuscript; a royalty rate that is nominally as high as 15%, but due to hidden costs, is more like 10% (payable six or more months after it is earned); total transfer of ownership of intellectual property to the publisher (meaning that if the publisher decides not to reprint the book after the first printing, the author must negotiate to re-acquire the rights to it); and other onerous strictures.

The author was ostensibly relieved of all responsibility for editing, design, production, distribution, and marketing of the book. Unfortunately, the author usually learned that she was actually stuck with marketing the book, and all the costs thereof–at the paltry royalty rate specified in the standard contract.

In recent years, an author could not even submit a manuscript to a publisher; he had to find an agent who would agree to undertake on his behalf, for 20% or more of the deal. And finding an agent was no simpler than finding a publisher had been in earlier times. A common question posed to the author: “Do you have a platform?” Meaning, do you have a coterie of loyal fans who are likely to buy your book? If not, your chances of finding an agent or a publisher were small.

Today, the author has been emancipated in the age of self-publishing. She is no longer in bondage to the system of publishers and agents. She can have her manuscript edited herself, get a cover designed to her liking, and take them to CreateSpace.com or Lulu.com, set her sale price–and have the book available for purchase within a week of submitting the manuscript and cover. At no fee for the service; production costs are taken out of the sales price for each book, and the balance sent to the author. Monthly.

These publishers take no ownership of the content. The author is free to submit it to multiple such services.

Moreover, both they and others offer a service to convert the book to the most popular ebook formats. Since the production cost on an ebook is virtually zero, it is reasonable that the authors receive 70% or more of the sales price of their books, and they do. If the ebook is published by, say, John Wiley and Sons, the author gets 14.7%.

Well, what about editing? It is true that the leading publishers employ competent editors. But so can an author–and at a lower rate by far, with the expectation of far faster turnaround.

And marketing? Most authors seeking to be published by one of the “Big Six” do not realize that the big marketing bucks are reserved for the “sure bets”–books by celebrities and already-popular authors. All the other books on the publisher’s list get very little in the way of marketing dollars. And if they do not sell in significant numbers–thousands–in the first three months after their debut, they will not be reprinted.

A client asked me the other day about the “cachet” of being published by a well-known publisher. Certainly there is something to that. But let me ask you, prospective published author: What value does it actually have for you? Will it establish you higher in the firmament of author/experts? Will it get you more clients? I doubt it.

The big publishers are not foolish, and they employ very smart people. But the traditional publishing world is stuck in an antiquated paradigm, and has not found a way out.

If you are an author, save yourself grief: Do not invest your energies in petitioning agents and publishers. Recognize that your book represents a business, of which you are the ceo. Act accordingly. Self-publish.

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Ebooks: Your key to profits and recognition

Nobody outside of Amazon knows how many Kindles have been sold, but the number is in the double-digit millions. Add to that the number of Kindle apps, free for iPhone, iPad, PC, Mac, and Android; the number of Barnes and Noble Nooks; the number of other electronic book readers; and without even getting to the number of people who can read/print a pdf–basically, every person with access to a computer–you have a market for ebooks that defies quantification.

And here’s the deal: Your cost to produce an ebook version of your manuscript, once you’ve written it, is at most $150–and that includes getting into the Kindle market on Amazon, as well as into other ebook markets, like the iBookstore. With NO marginal cost per copy.

So if you want books to be part of your marketing plan, you would be foolish not to include ebooks.

Are there lots of people who still want hard copy? Yes, there are. Meet their needs and desires through print-on-demand services. But you can optimize your ebook’s price based on what the market will bear, without having to take any production or fulfillment costs into consideration. Your marketing plan, and those who read it, will love that.

Sell your ebook for $.99 for volume. Sell it for $19.99 based on value. Design your marketing plan such that you can experiment, testing different prices. The different ebook formats may sell at different rates for you. Try different things.

There are several ebook formats, but for $150 or less, you can have your manuscript in all of them–and available in their associated bookstores.

You could even offer your ebook through the Clickbank Marketplace, a site for affiliate marketers, where it can find active affiliate marketers who are seeking great products to promote to their lists. You can turn it into a free bonus, a giveaway to get people onto YOUR list, so that you can sell them other products and services. Again, that can be an asset to your marketing plan.

What should your ebook’s topic be? Use tools like Wordtracker.com to discover keywords that have 500 or more searches per day–and not much competition. Then write your ebook to match what your chosen market wants.

The secret to a successful book

There are more books being published now than ever before. UNESCO (via Wikipedia) says:

  1. United States (2009) 288,355 (“new titles and editions”) [3]
  2. United Kingdom (2005) 206,000 [2]
  3. China (2007) 136,226 [4]
  4. Russian Federation (2008) 123,336 [5]
  5. Germany (2009) 93,124 (new titles) [6]
  6. Spain (2008) 86,300 [7]
  7. India (2004) 82,537 (21,370 in Hindi and 18,752 in English[8][9]
  8. Japan (2009) 78,555 [10]
  9. France (2010) 67,278 [11] (63,690 new titles)
  10. Iran (2010) 65,000 [12][13]

How many of these sell more than 50 copies? I haven’t found exact figures, but my guess is that the percentage is below 10.

Why? And how can you get your book into the 10%?

“Why” is the secret: Most authors write from their own need or desire to do so. They have a vague idea about who will buy their book or want to read it. But they are focused on their message.

That is a mistake. A HUGE mistake.

If you want your book to be read by more than your mom and your close friends, you must view the book as a product, and its publication as a business. Even if you plan to give it away for free.

So the first question you must answer is: Who is the audience for my book? Who will want to read it? And you must study that audience and refine your understanding of who is in it, so that you can be sure that your book is something they will want.

(Notice that I said “want,” not “need.” People buy what they want, what they desire. Their desire may or may not stem from need.)

Does this sound backwards? Shouldn’t you focus first on your message? Not if you want to reach an audience.

You must first pick your audience. Define it narrowly, as narrowly as possible–age, gender, family situation, profession, and so on. If you address the wants of a highly targeted group of people, those who share some of their attributes will also be interested. But if you attempt to address everyone, your content will not attract anyone.

Who is your audience? Dentists who have just opened a practice? Stay-home moms with 2-3 kids under 10? Harried executives in large corporations who have been at it for 10 to 12 years, and are thinking about entrepreneurship? Owners of Golden Retrievers? Once you define your audience, you can figure out what problem your book should address. You’ll know what title will capture their interest. And you’ll know where to find your readers, and how to help them find you.

What are your thoughts about audience? Please comment.

Seth Godin: The single biggest change in book publishing

Seth Godin is amazing, and you should follow his Domino Project. In this brief article, he summarizes a key point about publishing books that is overlooked by most authors and many publishers. Go there and read the whole thing.

The single biggest change in book publishing is this:

The industry was built around finding readers for its writers.
And new technologies and business models now mean that the most successful publishers and authors find writers for their readers instead.

Go here to read the whole short piece.


Can this new publishing model work?

Unglue.it is not even in beta yet, but it is raising a lot of eyebrows: Can you use a pledge campaign to raise money to induce a copyright owner to put their publication into the public domain? The owner gives up future royalties in exchange for a one-time payment, raised from a crowd of interested people in small amounts. (Compare Kickstarter.com)  It’s an intriguing thought, and I will be very interested to see if it flies. Here’s a brief video in which Unglue.it founder Eric Hellman is interviewed by my friend David Weinberger.

Paper vs. ebook

It’s not really a dichotomy; you can, and probably should, have both. Thanks to print-on-demand machinery, you can get your book out there for very little money (consider Lulu.com if you can handle terrible customer support; otherwise my favorite is Booklocker.com). And you can simultaneously publish your work as an ebook, getting it formatted for the different readers, as well as offering it for computer reading.

A paper book can be a “big business card,” as Dona Kozik puts it; it’s a physical presence in your prospect’s hands, and then in their home or office, that constantly reminds them of you. It’s authoritative, and establishes you as an author–hence, an authority.

An ebook has very low production costs and is almost free to distribute. If you sell it, it’s almost pure profit; if you employ it as a bonus or giveaway, your marginal cost per copy is essentially zero.

One poorly exploited aspect of ebooks: Media richness. Your ebook can contain color, audio, video, and links–all of which are expensive, impossible, or cumbersome to put in a paper book. Yet they are easy and inexpensive to have in an ebook.

But why invest the additional work? Here are some reasons:

  • Reach readers with different learning styles
  • Rich more media-jaded younger readers
  • Enable a reader to reach you with a single click
  • Build a broader-bandwidth relationship with your reader
Why not?
  • Good media can be expensive or difficult to produce
  • The results may not be worth the investment
  • Your audience doesn’t respond well to media
Writing a book is something you need to do, to establish yourself as an expert. But having a media-rich ebook is something that may or may not enhance your business. Don’t decide by default; think about it and do what makes sense.

2010: The Year Self-Publishing Became Respectable

A powerful piece on the PBS site; worth reading.

After the book

Read this from Bob Stein, of the Institute for the Future of the Book:

the future of the appPost date 08.02.2010, 10:37 AM

posted by bob stein

Assuming that whatever replaces the book in the futurist landscape to come will not be called “a book,” people often ask me why I named our group The Institute for the Future of the Book. My answer has consistently been a variant of the following: while it’s true that whatever replaces the book as a crucial mechanism for moving ideas around time and space is not likely to be called “a book,” since we don’t have that word yet, “book” works better than “institute for the future of discourse” or “institute for thinking about what comes after the book.” I end my answer by suggesting that one day we’ll realize that a word describing a new-fangled object, or perhaps a word referring to a range of behaviors has come to signify the dominant media form which has in fact supplanted the book.

I’ve always assumed that day would be years or even decades off. But recently, while listening to the Flux Quartet play Morton Feldman’s First Quartet on a gently swaying barge in the east river, i suddenly recognized our first candidate — “app.” It’s not the pretty or expressive word I was hoping for, but it feels right.

The aha moment went like this . . . . while zoning in and out of the Feldman piece I started to think about the iPad that I’d been using for the past six weeks — not only for most of my reading, but for playing expressive games like my current favorite, SoundDrop, answering email, surfing the web, watching videos, and listening to music. The iPad has become the center of my media universe, much more than my computer, iPod, or iPhone have ever been. My text used to come in an object we called a book; movies came on tapes, laserdisc, and DVDs, music on records and CDs and games on cartridges and CDs. Now they are all appearing as apps of one sort or another on my iPad.

The distinction between media types was a lot more important during the analog era of the mid-twentieth cenury. In 1950 no one would confuse a novel with a movie or a song with a TV show. But today we have e-books with video sequences, and movies published with extensive text-based supplements. Is Lady Gaga a music star or video star? More

What do you think? And if you’re in the neighborhood on September 13, come to my Meetup here in Mountain View, CA, to discuss it.

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