Ten Things A Writer Should Know
You’re On Your Own For Publicity
Unless you’re one of the top income producing writers for a publishing house, you’re going to need to do your own publicity. The days where publishers devoted time and money to promoting each author are over. Don’t despair. The good news is there are more ways than ever to get word out about each book you write and about who you are as an author. The best news is if you’re doing this as a self-published author, you can keep your books visible for a long, long time.
Beware The Cheap Route
Many writers are on a budget. There are ways to keep to a tight budget, but getting a lower priced ISBN (some places even offer free ISBNs) is not the place to count pennies. Many self-publishing authors think they’re getting a deal, when they are in reality entering the first stages of what can become a major headache. Even that may be putting it mildly. Your ISBN (which stands for International Standard Book Number, just in case you didn’t know) identifies the publisher of the book, among other things. If you got a “deal” on your ISBN, that publisher can go out of print; maybe they don’t relay orders to you because you have someone else printing your book and they don’t stand to make any money, so you’re not of value to them; or they provided you a special package opportunity and you decided to not purchase that package; the list of possibilities goes on, and none of them end in a way that would make you happy. Don’t think you’re so darn smart if you purchase a single ISBN either. The issuing agency reserves a block of numbers for single ISBN purchasers that is, in essence, a red flag to bookstores that says “one-book self-published author” and many won’t purchase from you. The answer? Either purchase a block of ISBNs (after establishing yourself as a licensed publisher in your state, as you’ll need proof of that when signing up for your ISBNs) or find a reputable publisher who will sell you an ISBN.
You Don’t Own The Artwork
. . . unless you’ve paid for it. If the cover of your book is being designed by a traditional publisher, they own that artwork. If that publisher goes out of business, or your book goes out of print with them and you want to get your rights back, you have a small chance of getting your content rights returned, but slim to no chance of getting rights to the artwork. Perhaps you’ve gone the self-publishing route–have you gotten a release of the artwork from the artist? You want a release of ALL rights to the art. If you don’t have them, your cover art could show up under a different title. A bit confusing to the reader, wouldn’t you say? And if an artist uses artwork (or maybe you use artwork, if you are a creative sort) from iStock Photo or one of the many photo sites, if full rights to that artwork aren’t purchased, you could end up with a look-alike book.
Your Book Is Dead . . . And Your Writing Career Might Be Too
Traditional publishers give your book a short window of opportunity. If your tome isn’t selling well within a few short months (generally three to six months), it’s a goner as far as they’re concerned. Little does it matter that they didn’t promote, or that the latest blockbuster took all their attention. Your book will be forever marked as “the book that didn’t sell.” And I do mean forever, for the ISBN number is, among other things, a way for future publishers to see how well your work sold. Let’s say publisher A didn’t sell your book, didn’t even make an effort. You have a new book to sell, so having learned your lesson with publisher A, you try to sell a new book to publisher B. When publisher B takes a look at your sales’ figures for the first book, they see sales were dismal. Since they’re in the business of making money from their authors, they politely decline to take you on. Unless you’re a major celebrity or have a ton of money to throw in the direction of publicists and promoters, you’re history. The exceptions to this are rare. You CAN do something to influence sales if you have a strong writing platform (more about this later) and you hustle your own publicity. That’s the smart thing to do if you’re going with a traditional publisher–in fact, many of them insist on you doing so, or they won’t take you on. Now if you’re self-published, your book is only dead when you call it quits. You do have to promote, promote, and promote some more, never giving up if you want to keep making money from your book. Once you establish yourself as a writer and have multiple books, this does get easier. The bottom line is this: if you want your books to sell well, whether going with a traditional publisher or publishing on your own, be prepared to roll up you sleeves and start sharing with others why they want to read what you’ve written.
You Wait On Your Money
It’s not unusual that a traditional publisher will take up to a year to pay out royalties. With changes in the industry, this can be negotiated by an agent, but don’t count on getting paid in less than six months. After all, publishers need to allow bookstores time to return any unsold books, so they aren’t sending you a check and then taking a loss. (They do hold back reserves to take this into account.) Even if you’re self-publishing, it’s generally 60 days before you get a check for eBooks. For printed books, if you’re distributed through one of the major distributors, they allow time for returns, just as publishers do. There are lots of variables on payment times, so you’ll want to be savvy and learn payment times up front.
About That Advance
You did know you have to earn out your advance before you’ll earn royalties, right? Yep. Some publishers even have contracts that require you to pay back any amounts not earned. A good literary agent can usually do away with that clause, but it’s still something to be aware of when negotiating. Something else to know: seven out of ten authors never earn out their advance. That’s why it’s so important that regardless of how you publish, you know how to promote your book and keep your work visible.
Editing Is Essential
The days of publishers being willing to accept unedited work are pretty much over. I say pretty much, because if you’re Steven King or, say, Clancy, they’d be willing to hire an editor to devote time to getting your manuscript whipped into shape. For the rest of us, it’s important to know this step can’t be skipped. That does not mean your best friend with a degree in English is a satisfactory editor, nor is your professor, or your book group. If you want your book to stand out (in a good way!), you need to have it edited by a professional book editor. This is the number one area where you can’t skimp. Don’t have the money for a book editor? Either save up, or see my tips on crowdfunding, but whatever you do, make sure your book is in tip-top shape.
Where The Real Money Comes In
The ways to make money from books have changed considerably over the years. Now there are opportunities to make money from your writing efforts that can far exceed the income from simply selling books on Amazon or through bookstores. If you want serious income from your books, consider other methods of increasing your profit: back-of-the-room sales at speaking engagements; non-traditional sales outlets such as hospital gift shops or to non-profits; shared revenue sales; selling through social media; and much more. Some authors even give their books away in order to make money from higher-end products. Used this way, a book is really a calling card so people grow to learn about and trust you so they will purchase your more expensive packages. Life coaches, for example, often do this. They provide a book that might cost them $4 to produce as a way to sell the potential client into a $4000 program. When it comes to making a living as an author, your creativity can’t stop when you’re finished writing.
You Need A Platform
No matter the route you take, traditional, self-publishing, or something in between, you need a platform. What is a platform? People who will buy your books, promote your books, or both. With the rise of social marketing, many authors count Facebook, Linked In, Pinterest, or any place where they can accrue followers as the first place they will market their work. What kind of numbers are we looking at to count as a platform? Publishers will often tell you they want you to have a following of 10,000 or more. If you’re going that route, build up your platform as you write so you’ll be ready. If self-publishing, there are other routes and the numbers don’t need to be nearly that high. Not that you don’t want to continue to build your base, you do, because you want to sell this book and other books until you’re knockin’ at heaven’s gate. Try selling the same book to the same group over and over again and you may get to heaven’s gate fast. Fortunately for the self-published author, there are many ways to expand visibility that don’t test patience. Just be prepared to work at creating visibility on a regular basis.
When Will My Book Be In Print?
Writers who sign contracts with traditional publishers often aren’t aware of the time that will elapse before they have a book in hand. That amount of time is rarely less than a year–and that’s assuming the book has been fully edited and any editing changes have been done. If you’re self-publishing, it still takes time to get a book listed with distributors in order to have the book available in bookstores, libraries, and other locations. Don’t make the assumption that by self-publishing everything happens instantly, either (eBooks being an exception, though you should still plan for editing time and production of cover art). A wise plan of action for self-publishers is to allow a minimum of six months after the book is written before you promise it’s available, especially if you want to get your book reviewed, or if you want to enter it into contests for a shot at greater visibility before it’s available to the public.