The Power of Experience: Lessons learned in 10 years of publishing
December 10, 2018
The first book that I published was a small pocketbook of fiction called [untitled]. A group of fellow students got together with the humble idea of creating an avenue for new and emerging writers to find a voice because, as would-be writers ourselves, we were finding it hard to get published.
While humble, we had big ideas of where this little publication would take us. We planned on getting it out into the big, bad world and take it over! And it would be a beautiful product using recycled paper, soy inks etc.
There is value in naiveté because if you know how hard something will be, you may not venture out. That first issue was paid for on my credit card and cost twice as much to produce as it needed to be. To top it off, we couldn’t agree on the name of the product, so we called it [untitled], rather apt in hindsight. While the people working on this product has changed over the years, the mission is still the same: to tell good stories.
Fast forward almost 10 years and we are working on issue eight of [untitled]. It’s only a small part of what we’ve been doing these past 10 years and boy have we come a long way. As a hybrid publisher, Busybird Publishing, helps people to self-publish while producing its own products. This week, we clocked up our 300th self-published title, which must mean that we know what we’re doing? You can’t possibly have this much experience and not learn a great deal. This milestone had me reflecting on what I have learned over these past 10 years:
Make the product as good as you can
It’s easy to publish a book and much cheaper than you might think. Because of this, everyone seems to be doing it. Unfortunately, not everyone does it well. To make a good product you must invest in professional help when it comes to editing and book design. This is especially important if your book is a marketing tool for your business. There is nothing more embarrassing than publishing a book that looks cheap and is full of errors.
Treat each book like a business
Like anything, you need to have a budget and work out what your Return on Investment (ROI) is. It’s all very well to want a gorgeous looking book with special paper and embossed lettering but if it costs so much to produce that you need a second mortgage, it will just end up as a horror story (pun intended). Do your homework, talk to professionals and think about the project as a big picture. From there, you can work backwards and make a plan that works for you and your life.
If your book is a passion project and not something you plan on making money from, that’s fine but still work to a budget because it can blow out very easily.
No one can predict a bestseller
I’m VERY passionate about this because there are people out there promising to make authors into bestsellers. This is not possible. If it were, Penguin and Allen & Unwin and all the big publishers would be doing it. The fact is that only about 3% of a publishers list will become a bestseller, just like only a small percent of people are millionaires. It’s a fact of life. It’s also becoming common knowledge that Amazon bestsellers are not true bestsellers because you can gain this title by selling only a handful of books if you place it in an obscure category. For the record, bricks and mortar bookstores really hate Amazon bestsellers for this reason and will most likely not stock it.
Tell the story you want to tell
There is the temptation to publish a book based on what is in vogue. To a certain degree this is useful when it comes to marketing but if the topic isn’t your thing it can be really hard to write. This comes across as really inauthentic and the reader will see right through it. Why tell people what you think they want to know? This is the chance for the writer to tell their unique story.
A book is not a book unless people know it exists
When you’re writing a book, you might think that it’s really hard, then publishing harder still. But the toughest part of the whole book journey is the marketing of it, especially now that it’s so much easier to write and publish a book. This goes back to my advice about looking at the book from a business perspective. Look at the project as a big picture first, then work backwards. This way you can make a plan and be much more successful with it. That plan MUST include how you will market the book once its published.
Publishing is fun and very rewarding
For me, even after 300 books (plus 35 of our own titles), this process never gets old. Every part of the book journey is fun, and we’ve seen so many people learn and grow through the process. When a new box of books arrives from the printer, we’ll open it up, flick through the book (possibly smell it – real readers will get this) and tell the author they’re here. When they pick up their books, there’ll often be tears of joy and we will have made a long-time friend (you can’t go through this process without that happening). From there we’ll watch with parental joy and pride as that book goes out into the world with its newly expanded wings.
There is still plenty to learn about this publishing caper. Every day brings something new. We attend publishing conferences and keep up-to-date with a fast-changing industry. This keeps everything fresh and exciting. I can’t wait to work on the next 300!