You might have seen three quotes on the front page of this website that seem counterintuitive to promoting myself as a publishing consultant. These are directed at people who are interested in self-publishing. The first one, from NPR’s On the Media, basically says that most books sell abysmally. The second, from a great article in the NY Times, seems assuring, saying that the work that I do is something my customers can do themselves. The third quote, from The Atlantic, suggests that writers need to be handy with social media—ugh—but that ultimately the book itself is the thing that has to be good.
Why would I showcase such intimidating ideas, so front and center? Because they’re all important ideas, and with transparency in mind, it’s important to me that potential clients understand them. So let’s look at each of them.
First: books sell abysmally
Selling books is hard, it’s true, and from the start your expectations should be grounded in the harsh reality that, after friends and family buy their copies of a book, not many more people will.
Of course, this isn’t always true, and there are strategies for maximizing potential. Many self-publishing clients go on to see financial returns on their book. For the most part, these writers put significant effort and resources into promoting their book, or they already have a large built in audience and a plan in place. It doesn’t happen by itself.
Second: you can do it yourself!
The tools I use, like InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, and so on, are moderately user friendly, if you’re comfortable with computers. There’s a learning curve, certainly, but there is also TONS of help available, in the form of Youtube videos and blog posts. They’re also expensive tools, but if you plan to put out more than one book, it’s probably cheaper to buy and keep using them than to hire someone like GBD.
That said, like the sign in your mechanic’s garage, you can end up paying more if you try to do it yourself and don’t understand some important things. For a personal example, the books I made when I started out cost way more to print than they needed to, because I didn’t have a good set of print vendors. (I’ll probably share stories like that on this blog from time to time.)
Third: social media is good, but not better than a good book
Social media is a crucial tool for anyone who wants to get the word about anything. And I’m not just talking about Facebook and Twitter, or Instagram. There are tons of apps and platforms like them, and then there are things like email and blogging that are often overlooked as social media tools.
It’s easy to be overwhelmed by all this, but there are a few key things to remember. Here, I’ll list them:
- You can’t fake interest. If you’re naturally interested in the kinds of interactions you can have online, whether it’s through a Tumblr account, or blogging on Medium, or sending personal emails with Tiny Letter, great! You’ve probably had a lot of rewarding exchanges with likeminded people, had your ideas challenged and enriched, and derived a lot of value from it. However, if you’re not organically interested, trying to harness a particular social media platform might come to seem like drudgery. If you think about it that way, you probably won’t see the results, and eventually, you’ll just stop. But don’t dwell on that! Read this next point …
- … because there are so many different platforms, you don’t have to obsess about not being interested in the big ones. Try a lot of them! Think about how you like to communicate in real life, and spend some time researching media that work that way. A lot of people don’t like all the commenting that happens on Facebook, but they love the opportunity to write snappy witticisms on Twitter.
- There’s no wrong way to use social media. If you love taking pictures with your phone and just want to save the best ones as your personal archive to Instagram, or you want to snag photos to your Pinterest board to plan your dream vacation, but you don’t care if anyone besides you ever sees them, that’s cool too!
But the other side of this coin is that being great at social media doesn’t mean anything if your book isn’t ready for prime time. The number of books being published every year has increased dramatically in the last decade. The argument against self-publishing is pretty clear: how many of the 300,000 books published in the USA every year are good? In an attention economy, this is a genuine problem—and certainly not just for self-published books.
How far are you willing to go to make your books good, to give them the best chance for success? I’m here to help, so drop me a line.