Anyone seriously thinking about self-publishing a book, needs to read Seth Godin's Blog.
So I am looking through the computer at my local Borders Books the other night and what do I find but a book written by me and due to be published in January 2006 by Degree Press. Yikes! Apparently they picked it up from Bowker. It makes it all feel very real.
Now I just have to finish writing the book...
It's not that I have been procrastinating. Well, maybe a little of that, but, as loyal readers may recall, early in the year I was asked to co-author Bear's Guide to Earning Degrees by Distance Learning (Ten Speed Press, 2005). Originally written by Dr. John Bear, this will be its 16th edition and is considered the "bible" of distance learning. So, for someone who writes college and high school guides, this is a big deal. When Mariah Bear, John's daughter, asked me to come on board, I could not refuse.
By the way, I am also the author of Bears' Guide to Earning High School Diplomas Nontraditionally (2003) and co-author of Bears' Guide to the Best Education Degrees by Distance Learning (2001).
And, yes, amazingly as it seems, Trinity Technologies has not produced a working website yet. As the frustration mounts, I get closer and closer to canceling the contract.
Now, this does not mean that they haven't produced a website. The problem is two-fold:
The sad part is that the rest of the website thus designed works well. Works well, but utterly useless.
Owen Linderholm is writer/editor of the popular food blog, Tomatilla! and the publisher at Press for Change Publishing. Below he reveals what worked and, honestly, what didn't work in establishing his own publishing company.
1. What can you tell us about Press for Change Publishing?
Press for Change Publishing is a brand-new publishing company that I set up at the start of 2005 with the express goal of publishing Digital Dish: Five Seasons of the Freshest Recipes and Writing from Food Blogs Around the World and, if successful, following that up with other books that fit into the blog author content niche. If that area can be made successful, then we will branch out into other kinds of publishing as well.
Digital Dish, our first book, contains the work of 24 different authors who all maintain blogs about food and cooking and who come from all over the world. The book contains some of the most original writing about this topic that you will likely encounter. The authors are not afraid to take risks and fail. They originally wrote this material purely out of their passion for it.
When I saw the level of quality of the writing in this area, I realized that these authors would never ever get the change to be published by a conventional book publishing company, but I thought there was an opportunity there to succeed.
This book (and future books we publish) is intended mostly to be sold online either directly or via avenues like Amazon.com. While it is available in bookstores, we prefer customers to buy directly from us. We make use of the authors' existing online presence to help sell the books and also the fact that they already have established audiences.
2. Can you give us an idea of the process you went through in publishing this book?
Publishing the book was both easier and harder than I expected. I have a background in magazine publishing and have been a writer and editor for years so that wasn't a problem. I decided to dot all the I's and cross all the T's, so I asked all the authors to sign a contract that was clear and fair and as generous as I could make it. I am paying a much higher than normal royalties (20%) and asked for only two things: the right to use the material in book form and the exclusive right to use it in a food compilation of several authors. Obviously with blog material, the content has been published online already.
The process of getting all 24 authors happy with and ready to sign the contract took a couple of months. That surprised me, and a few of the people who declined to take part declined because of concern about the contract.
The second big area of struggle was layout. It took a lot of work to get the book copy to look the way I wanted it.
To summarize, first I invited participation from about 40 food bloggers. Then I got contracts signed eventually by 24. I got five submissions from each participant and then used the best material in the book. I went through several layout and design iterations to get the internal part of the book to where I liked it. I used an external designer to design the cover. Robin of Take Flight Graphics was superb and did a great job.
I also read and followed the advice in Dan Poynter's book, the Ross's book, and Fern Reiss' books. I got a block of ISBN numbers, filed information with Bowker, got a bar code, had galleys printed, and sent them for pre-publication review.
I got ten quotes from printers and then followed up with the best two further, picked a printer, and eventually sent off all the files.
Incidentally, I thoroughly indexed the book myself. It is indexed by weblog, by recipe and article title, and by main ingredient. I messed the index up the first time through, but fortunately caught it in the proof from the printer and since the index is all on a small number of consecutive pages, I was able to fix the error in time.
I made business plans and operational plans. I kept all the authors informed by periodic newsletters (I sent eight out prior to publication). One of my goals was to reward authors better than most publishers do. I am a writer myself and felt strongly about this. So they were kept informed, are getting a 20% royalty, and get credit for sales referrals.
I went to a LOT of trouble to set up an online site with payment by Paypal and has worked like a charm.
Individual copy fulfillment is by USPS priority ONLY or by Global Priority for overseas orders since about half the authors are overseas I expected and am getting a substantial number of overseas orders.
We held a two-day launch event. Day One was at the Berkley Farmers Market with tastings and readings, and was very well received (and we did get a press mention), but did not result in many sales. Day Two was at the Lafayette bookstore, a local independent that is small but energetic. It was well attended and resulted in decent sales. All four of the local authors attended both events and have been enthusiastic endorsers of the book.
Even without yet having sent out post-publication review copies, we already have one really enthusiastic review in the Trentonian in New Jersey.
Next step is more promotion, bookstore visits, and sending out lots of review copies.
3. Do you anticipate publishing other books?
If I can do better than break even on this book, I will be publishing a successor covering the next five seasons and this time I have a lost of over 300 quality food blogs to invite to take part. That's how much this area has grown!
And if that does as well, then I will slowly branch out into other areas. I would eventually like to have a small fiction imprint specializing in the kind of fiction that big publishing houses don't want to take chances with. Alongside that would be a non-fiction imprint that specialized in clearly defined titles that have a good chance of success being sold directly.
Yes, I am still struggling with getting this website built. Contrary to assurances, it is clear that Trinity Technologies has never set up PayPal's Website Payments Pro. Yes, I know it's new and this is why I specified being able to build that into the shopping cart.
Also, after struggling to finally get the home page to an acceptable level, it was shown to me last night in "final" version and it has serious problems with the graphics. There's a shadowing effect on the logo, font sizes have changed, and it just doesn't look good. So we are back to the drawing board. My guess is that I will have the home page re-built next year.
However, the back-end is really quite good. We walked through that last night and it does more than I could imagine. It's quite intuitive and easy to use. This part they have done well.
Cathi Stevenson of Book Cover Express has designed a quite good cover. Similar enough to what is on the market to be in the same food group, but different enough that the choice of colors and design will make it stand out. In addition to creating a quality design, her prices are very competitive. Total cost for the cover (front, back, spine) will only be $600. Highly recommended!
Davida Breier is the sales and marketing manager for Biblio Distribution. As such, she offers valuable information on how and why someone should seek a distributor. Well worth the read.
1. Can you give us a general introduction to book distribution?
A master distributor acts as your sales force and fulfillment center. Many people confuse distributors and wholesalers and the two terms are often used interchangeably. To explain the differences, wholesalers generally sell to retail customers, are non-exclusive, and do not offer a sales force. Distributors act as the publisher's warehouse and fulfillment center, sell to both retail and wholesale accounts, and offer an active sales force.
By working with a distributor, small publishers gain access to wholesalers like Ingram who generally won't work with small presses directly. They also gain access to a warehouse for fulfillment and credit and collections team. They also have a sales force and our reps sell to major retailers and wholesalers, as well as independent stores, ideally leaving the publisher with more time to focus on marketing and developing new books.
2. Tell us about Biblio.
Biblio Distribution, Inc., is the sister company of National Book Network, Inc., (NBN). Biblio was formed in early 2001 as Ingram began to only work with publishers with more than 10 titles. We focus on small publishers and new publishers who want to sell in the trade market.
3. What can a small publisher do to convince Biblio to distribute for them?
Show us that it is a partnership that will work. Overall, we are looking for publishers who not only want access to the trade market, but that understand that market and have great books to sell. For example, some publishers that come to us may understand that market and how to reach consumers, but the books aren't necessarily right for it. The books may do better with special sales or a library distributor. We also see marketing plans from publishers that only detail potential sales via seminars or direct mail, none of which impacts a retail bookstore. Ideally, the partnership works when the distributor makes the books available to booksellers and the publisher sends consumers into stores or online to buy the book. If everything goes as hoped, we meet halfway in the bookstore.
4. What mistakes do you see publishers make in distribution?
Not learning enough about the industry prior to publication. Not allowing enough lead time for reviews or availability. Generating media and advertising before securing distribution - there is nothing worse than actually getting some great media hits and having your book unavailable to consumers. Assuming that because the publisher knows his or her industry, that he or she can simply apply that knowledge across the board - the book industry is a quirky industry.
5. When should small publishers consider using a distributor?
When they are ready to enter the trade market or if they are already there, when they are ready to turn over some of the control to a distributor so they can focus on marketing and/or new publications.
What? No idea what a Vidlit might be? This is the coolest thing to ever happen to book promotion. As described on the Vidlit website, "Vidlit was designed to celebrate storytelling in a new and entertaining way." It takes wonderful books and creates wonderful cinematic stories. I caution you that once you've seen one, you will want to watch them all.
M.J., in yet another example of both her heart and her marketing genius, is working to get blogs to link to her Vidlit. For everyone who does, $5 will be donated to Reading is Fundamental.
Never let it be said that the SmallPress Blog doesn't support young readers: The Halo Effect.
If you think that the SmallPress Blog is looking rather odd these days, Typepad is having a problem with its upgrade. It's causing Amazon thumbnails to move closer to each other and for paragraphs to move closer to each other. I am hopeful that they will resolve this issue soon.
Ever wondered how you could meet the chief architect behind the cultural phenomenon that is the SmallPress Blog? Plan early because I will be attending BookExpo America in Washington, D.C. The date is May 18-21, 2006.
What is BookExpo America? It is the largest book publishing event in the United States. Next year it is being held at the Washington Convention Center.
While I will have at least one book on display at the PMA booth, I'm going there to learn more about this business. If I can work it out, I'd also like to go to PMA University (which precedes it).
So, if you feel the need to buy me a drink and/or buy me lunch, you'd better sign up now. Spaces are filling fast!