Self-publishing educators tell you how to sell your book, but very few bother to ask if that’s a worthwhile pursuit. Tacking marketing on as the de facto second phase of writing a book places many worthy artists’ resources in jeopardy. How much time, money and energy should you put into marketing your book? The answer is found in an honest evaluation of where your work lies on the spectrum between art and business.
John is a landscape painter. He has painted for decades, cultivating the skills to complement his talent. He works as a restaurant manager but he’s passionate about his art and maintains a studio in his garage. He has sold several paintings, had some gallery shows, and dreams of gaining enough stature as an artist to quit the food service business and devote himself to painting. After all, he paints at least as well as famous artists who make good money.
Wilma runs a vinyl sign shop out of her own garage. She creates graphics on a computer, exports the files to her vinyl cutter and applies them to shop windows and hanging banners. She studied design and takes her typography seriously, choosing appropriate typefaces and kerning the letters more carefully than her competitors do. Sometimes, she gets tired of doing commercial work; she wishes she could spend more time painting for fun but she’s grateful not to be working in a cubicle.
John is a fine artist. Wilma is a commercial artist. For our purposes, they represent the fiction and the nonfiction writer respectively.
NITIAL CAPITALS have historical roots in the early days of book design; their use predates the printing press and the invention of moveable type. Today’s initial caps are not as fancy as those carefully rendered in gold leaf in ancient scriptoriums, but their association with classic book design remains strong. Initial Capital letters are often referred to generically as “drop caps” though a drop capital is actually a specific style of Initial Cap.
Some modernists discourage the use of initial caps, citing a host of typographical problems, but “Once upon a time” just wouldn’t be the same without a great big letter “O” at the beginning. Though not appropriate for every book, initial caps announce the beginning of a chapter with classical style. They suggest that the text you are about to read transcends mere data; this is literature.
Illuminated letter P in the 1407 AD Latin Bible on display in Malmesbury Abbey, Wiltshire, England
This post examines different styles of initial caps and discusses the challenges of transitioning smoothly from large initial characters to the much smaller characters of body text. Digital tools and shortcuts make it easy to create initial caps but the easy way isn’t always the best way. Serious publishers understand the subtle differences between good typography and great typography. Many thanks to author and typographer Dick Margulis for editing and fact-checking.
Indie publishers are everywhere and so are indie bookstores, but apart from their names, the two have little in common. “Independence” is a feelgood concept, but it’s often presented without any reference to that which a publisher or bookstore is independent from. Therein lies the difference. Does “independent” really mean anything in today’s publishing world?
Independent publishers are independent from the Big Six publishing establishment, but not being affiliated with six entities isn’t much of a distinction. For publishers, independence comes with a price. After writing, indie publishers must work independently with editors, designers and printers. They must make their own arrangements with distributors of print and ebooks. Perhaps most importantly, they must independently assess whether books they have a great personal stake in are viable products. Indie publishing isn’t better or worse than traditional publishing. There’s much to be said for having someone else push your manuscript down the long road to bookstores and there’s much to be said for cutting out the middleman and keeping creative control over your work.
Indie publishers generally sell books to niche audiences in lower volumes. They usually offer one or just a handful of books. Unlike big publishers, they aren’t able to circulate and promote hundreds of books until they find a blockbuster that pays for all the ones that don’t sell, but they are often positioned to make a profit with very low sales volumes.
The notion of real publishing as opposed to self-publishing and the stigma surrounding it is obsolete. I have no objections to traditional publishers but every one of them started off as a “self-publisher” with a first book. I have pretty much stopped referring to myself as a “self-publisher.” I produce and market books like anyone else in the business.
Real Publishing vs. Vanity Publishing: Self-publishing is often confused with so-called “vanity publishing.” If you pay someone like XLibris or iUniverse to publish you, you are not a publisher—and neither is the company that claims to be your publisher. Vanity presses take zero risk on your book. They make money producing it and they take a piece of the cover price as a royalty, double-dipping at your expense. If your so-called publisher has not made an investment in your work, they are not a real publisher. Real publishers invest in books, pay royalties when there are profits and incur losses when sales don’t match projections.
Many authors start down the publishing road believing that printing books is the same as printing money, only to be disappointed by low returns and the amount of work involved. This guest article by novelist, poet and songwriter Richard Geller responds to advice offered by marketing luminary Seth Godin who suggests indie publishers should lower their expectations. Geller proposes different ways to measure success. Printing books is not the same as printing money, but for creative writers, printing books may give rise to something of even greater value. Changing expectations and lowering them are two different things.
In his insightful blog, Seth Godin offers two separate lists of marketing tips for writers. I want to reflect a bit on what he has in the number-one position on each list; they’re closely related:
On the other hand, a book gives you leverage to spread an idea and a brand far and wide. There’s a worldview that’s quite common that says that people who write books know what they are talking about and that a book confers some sort of authority. (2006)
Any comparison of the number of books published versus the number of authors making useful amounts of money at it is damn sobering stuff. Seth Godin certainly has his facts straight. The odds are definitely against you achieving anything that resembles business success.
I have, however, a question about lowering our expectations. Does the unlikelihood of ever realizing material success or fame from your writing mean you should lower your expectations? Or should you, instead, adopt different sets of expectations—aligned with marketplace realities—that are high nonetheless?
Discussion forums are a powerful medium for promoting your book, your art or your business. Facebook, LinkedIn and other communities are a major source of traffic for blogs and websites, but whether you post directly or embed links in responses to others’ posts, make good forum etiquette a priority. There are important rules to play the forum game by. Break the rules too many times and you’ll lose your community.
I posted a link to one of my blog articles on a discussion group’s board. Though I generally get positive, relevant responses, one reply went something like this:
Response:Why not post a profile on [my site]? This is a free site for writers, poets, photographers and artists. You can advertise and sell your work for free. Make sure you include a link to your site so others can learn even more about you and purchase your work. Please help us spread the word in your vast network of connections, it will inevitably be one more piece of the pie to maximize your exposure.
My Reply: Did you even read the article? It’s considered good practice to participate in a posted discussion rather than change its topic. It smells like canned lunch meat in here.
Though I create eBooks and write about them extensively, I’m a classic bibliophile who loves to feel the subtle emboss of letters stamped on paper with metal type. I was rummaging through the garage and came across an old copy of The Progressive Road to Reading Book 2 by Georgine Burchill, William Ettinger and Edgar Dubs Shimer. Published in 1909 and reprinted in 1920, it was probably my father’s elementary school reading book. (See it on Google Books here.) It has me reflecting on what is undoubtedly the greatest achievement in publishing.
When I gave the book to my six-year old daughter, she was drawn to it immediately. It’s different from her other books. The paper is yellowed. The inked letters are not so perfect as the digitally printed ones in her paperback library. It’s filled with beautiful, engraved images printed with a color overlay. Some of the spelling conventions like “to-day” and “to-night” and “to-morrow” are clearly outdated. The line breaks in the type are strange.* It’s charming.
Here is the first of a series of occasional posts that explore the contributions of great typographers and typography books to the book designer’s art. Designers, writers and publishers will benefit from Beatrice Warde’s eloquent perspectives on the craft of typography, the power of type and the importance of the printed word.
“The Crystal Goblet” was an essay included in Beatrice Warde’s book of the same name—The Crystal Goblet: 16 Essays on Typography.
Beatrice Warde – Excerpt from a Lecture to the British Typographers’ Guild
Imagine that you have before you a flagon of wine. You may choose your own favorite vintage for this imaginary demonstration, so that it be a deep shimmering crimson in color. You have two goblets before you. One is of solid gold, wrought in the most exquisite patterns. The other is of crystal-clear glass, thin as a bubble, and as transparent. Pour and drink; and according to your choice of goblet, I shall know whether or not you are a connoisseur of wine. For if you have no feelings about wine one way or the other, you will want the sensation of drinking the stuff out of a vessel that may have cost thousands of pounds; but if you are a member of that vanishing tribe, the amateurs of fine vintages, you will choose the crystal, because everything about it is calculated to reveal rather than to hide the beautiful thing which it was meant to contain. Continue reading →
I recently responded to an article on Publishing Perspectives by Andrew Pantoja that innocently advises self-publishers about sources for cheap book covers. It is technically easy to create your own cover; therein lies the problem. It’s also easy to sew your own parachute. I have seen successful covers made by amateurs but I’ve seen plenty of authors proudly displaying horrible design abortions.
Why hire a pianist for a wedding when you can get a digital piano cheaper? This same flawed logic is often embraced by do-it-yourself cover designers. It substitutes obtaining a tool for solving a problem. It’s even more embarrassing when the purchaser of the piano can’t hear the difference; a guaranteed room-clearer.
Graphic Design is not about making something “pretty” or even finding something you personally “like.” Design is a craft practiced by professionals who not only understand how to use their tools, but how to choose and mix typefaces, combine colors, achieve tension and balance, and avoid cliches. Graphic design uses text and images to solve a problem or achieve a goal. As with dentistry, there’s much to be said for working with a professional. Continue reading →
Comment: I see self-publishing as vanity publishing. There’s a reason there’s a traditional route; it really does sift out the crap. I may not be a published author, but I’ll be damned before I chuck in the towel to push out my writing through self publishing. I did not spend years honing my craft, get myself into all sorts of tight corners just to get my stories, and lose all those late night hours redrafting just so my work can get lost in the crowd.
My Response: I’m a proud self-publisher. Self-publishing is, by definition, not vanity publishing. I own all my own rights and my own ISBN numbers. My press is a legal entity. I also got myself into all sorts of scrapes to get my stories and I spend hours honing my craft every day, seven days a week. It’s 5:30AM as I finish this. I challenge any traditional press to exceed the quality of the work I produce.
Traditional presses do indeed filter out some crap, but to assume everything not vetted by a Big Six publisher is crap is the literary equivalent of racial prejudice. Major marketing vehicles like the New York Times Book Review serve only the upper crust of the publishing world, defining by exclusion who “the crowd” is. Continue reading →