Of course a publisher doesn’t want most of its books to fail, or even breakeven. While the overwhelming objective is to make money, they might also want to build a reputation in a particular genre, or be trying to build up a portfolio that they hope gives them leverage (in distribution, manufacturing, retailing, etc.). But reputation building and heft aside, the goal remains income.
That isn’t necessarily the case for self-publishers
It is no secret that eBook and print-on-demand technologies, coupled with the growing reach of online bookstores, enable self-publishers to bypass the gatekeeping traditional publisher. But is that justification enough to charge ahead with any publishing project? I don’t think so and I think many self-publishers would be wise to put on their “publisher’s hat” when planning a book project.
Self-publishers, take this 5 question quiz
Here are five questions I suggest you ask yourself as early in the process as possible.
1. What books are competitive with my book? Every book has competition even if it is sections of several books that compete with the whole of your book. Once you have that list you want to ask yourself what can I learn from them? and how can I make mine better?
2. How many people do I know that will be interested in my book? Ouch. Many new self-publishers don’t consider this question until their book is live in the store. I assume they feel that it’s Amazon’s job to tell shoppers to buy their book. The operative words are …do I know… These are people who will buy your book, or help you spread the word, but you need to reach them. Mailing lists, Goodreads goup memberships and social media connections are three ways to measure your personal reach. There are many more. If not, that’s what advertising is for.
3. Are the categories, or category, for my book profitable? In other words, how well do books in my chosen category sell? This is a bit trickier because it will take a little digging and guesstimating. Here are two simple proxies for determining popularity, which translates to sales:
- Find the category for your book on Amazon and look at the sales rank of the best sellers. The lower the number, the higher the volume of sales.
- A second interesting exercise to see what sells is to look at the popular tags for Goodreads Giveaways found here. (This is also a good source for SEO keywords.)
I’m not saying you shouldn’t publish a book if the sales prospects are poor. But at a minimum, knowing this information will help you manage your expectations and design a better marketing program.
4. A publisher would ask if a book is the right book for their imprint. The self-publisher asks the question slightly differently: Is this book congruent with how I’m known publically or professionally? This is especially critical for non-fiction writers. That’s not to say that an accountant can’t publish a photography book, but marketing it is going to be a challenge if the accountant isn't also known as a photographer.
5. What are the different ways I can sell the book? There is nothing wrong with assuming all your sales will come from online bookstores. But your odds of success increase, sometimes exponentially, if you have other sales channels you can tap. Among those are selling direct to readers from your website, event sales, special market sales or sales to schools and libraries.
What if revenue and unit sales are not your goal?
There are many reasons for publishing a book and income is just one. Other reasons include to build authority or reputation, for posterity, to influence people or make a difference, or simply because you enjoy writing. My point is that regardless of your goal, you can improve your odds of reaching it if you think like a publisher.
Are you ready to take the next step? I help authors and businesses create and manage their own imprint as self-publishers.