September 19, 2014

Six Confounding Bits of Misinformation

Welcome to the Coach’s Corner! This issue’s column is for those of you who have goals of commercial success with your self-published book. If yours is a “friends and family” project, you might find some of this helpful, too.

To be successful your book has to be exceptional. With the explosive expansion of self publishing options, it’s easier than ever to publish anything and fail miserably with it. And, with the growing number of so-called “self publishing companies” and writers who use them, there is misinformation that we hear with increasing frequency.

There will always be sales folks who play hard and fast with publishing conventions. If they tell you what you want to hear, it’s much easier to get more of your money. Some of these assertions are downright foolish. Some of them can result in a wholly impotent book. Here are six of the most confounding statements inquiring authors share.

“Editorial” is not as important as it once was. An exceptional book will be editorially superior. This is rarely something that can be achieved by oneself. Editing is a profession for a reason; it’s a very complicated and rule-based discipline. Before you can experiment with some radical, rebellious style that you’re sure will win over reviewers and readers alike, you must be proficient with the basics. The Chicago Manual of Style is the publishing standard for most fiction and nonfiction books that are to be marketed to niches within the general public. Other style guides might be more appropriate for other kinds of publication, such as academic textbooks. A professional editor can advise you as to the most appropriate style guide for your book.

Who needs Design? Your words will win readers over! The front cover still makes the first impression. The back cover’s text provides the second impression. You have seconds to catch someone’s eye and cause them to read that book description before … “Ooh! Shiny!” … POOF! They’re gone. If they open the book and find pages that look like a word processing document, it’s over before it’s begun. A haphazard interior design will be harder on the eyes with every passing page.

It’s got to be flashy and embossed and foiled with gilded pages to compete. Despite what you might have read in the Times a couple weeks ago, glitz is for heirloom, special editions that fans, aficionados, and collectors will appreciate on their shelves for decades. Because most of your book sales will occur without your customer seeing your book live, your book probably doesn’t need costly bells and whistles. They cost a lot, too. For the majority of readers who will still curl up with a book this winter season, those who savor the weight of a book and the feel of its pages, will value any quality product that’s properly edited, is nicely designed, sturdy in the hand … and doesn’t glow. Which brings us to …

E-Books. It’s all about the e-books. One of the best things about any printed book is that it’s tangible. Revenue from printed books still makes up the vast majority of traditional book sales.

The push-back on e-books has already begun. Traditionally-published books and their e-book counterparts still go through rigorous editorial and design processes before anything’s printed or posted. (See “Editorial” above.) E-Publishing might just be the get-rich-quick scheme of the decade. Obviously, every 99¢ e-book listed with Amazon can’t be a winning lottery ticket. Pubflushing remains rampant and P.T. Barnum’s disciples are betting customers won’t grouse too much about their 99¢ e-book purchase that wasn’t worth the virtual paper it wasn’t printed on. Caveat emptor (“may the buyer beware”) has never been more important. An abysmal printed edition will yield an equally disappointing e-book.

What marketing? If you publish, they will come! Anyone who’s run a business knows that marketing is vital to their success. If you’re not outreaching to your readers, they’re not going to find you. Marketing is one of the ongoing steps to ramping up your success. If you have an exceptional book, you can benefit from positive word of mouth, too.

Positive word of mouth doesn’t matter. This is wrong is so many ways. Positive word of mouth has never been more important. Think of the products you buy and services you hire—restaurants, babysitters, movies, lawn care, and anything you’re buying for the first time. In most cases, referrals and recommendations probably play an important part in your buying decisions. Every element of your book product affects whether or not your first customers will introduce it to the next. In the current economic climate and with the glut of book products that you’ll compete with out there, making your book an exceptional product is the best way to help it rise above the poorly printed flotsam and digital jetsam that clutters the market.

The bright side and good news is simply this: if you’ve committed to publish an exceptional book, you’ll be better equipped than 99 percent or so of those who buy into the false statements above. You can have a significant advantage over your competition in the marketplace. Be exceptional. Publish exceptional books.

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