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Writing & Publishing / Advice / What Every Independent Publisher Must
What Every Independent Publisher Must Know
Are the book reviewers "talking trash" [with respect to not wanting to review self-published
books] No, not in my opinion.
The main problem is that self-published books get no third-party endorsement before the books
hit the street. (And I don't mean blurbs.) The two missing roles in self-publishing are publisher and
publicist. Of course, the authors can do the publishing and much of the publicizing of the book.
But those two roles are the book reviewers' filters. Like it or not, some authors do publish books
that no regular publisher (large or small) or publicist would touch in a million years. Those are the
books that end up, inappropriately, on the book reviewers' desks and described in glowing terms,
by the authors, in the reviewers' email inboxes.
I think the crux of the Salon article is in this quote: "It's a real problem because more books are
coming at us," Yardley says. "They haven't passed any test. And the question is, 'Do you have
enough time to filter through all these?' The answer is no ... As to receiving all these books, it
stopped being Christmas every day a long, long time ago. It's a pain in the ass."
They are not intentionally discriminating against anyone. They simply don't have the ***time***
to filter through them. They need to have a standard, and based on their ***experience,***
they're finding they can reject self-published books because self-published books are more likely
to be of low quality.
When I was in Human Resources at a TV/radio station, we used to receive hundreds of resumes
for TV production jobs. The job may not have required a college degree, but we filtered
applicants who didn't have one. There was no time to review that many applicants to see which
were the best. Our filtering standard was a college degree, even though I'm sure there were
brilliant people in the non-degree group. But if the applicant had a degree in Broadcasting/TV
Production, we knew they had at least invested time and money to enter their chosen career field,
and they were serious. A non-degree applicant may have had the same seriousness, but there was
no way we could easily or quickly verify that.
In the case of the book reviewers, the "college degree" standard is that it was accepted by a
regular publishing house. Only one pair of eyes (belonging to the author/publisher) has looked at
the independently published book. Unlike the listmember's self-published book, which he says is
"professionally edited and designed throughout," (and I'm sure it's beautiful!), a great many
self-published books are not professionally edited and designed.
Many small publishers do not invest the time and money it takes to become a serious player in the
publishing world, and that hurts every small publisher.
The other problem is that authors often do not play the role of the publicist well enough to send
their books to appropriate review outlets. Here is another important part of the article:
"Yardley says that the relationship between publicity and marketing departments, and reviewers
and book editors -- with whom critics like Yardley have regular contact -- is a useful business
relationship that acts as a sort of test, or "a sieve, a filter, to the process" of selecting which books
to cover. With self-publishing, the only test the book has to pass is whether its author's check
"Book editors complain that authors often ignore the fact that their books are completely
inappropriate for the publications that they inundate with requests for reviews. 'Not a day goes by
without an e-mail from self-published authors,' says Minzesheimer. Overall, he sympathizes with
the authors. 'It must be such a frustrating thing, which books we pitch is so arbitrary and hard to
figure out.' But, like most book review editors, he says that pitches straight from a book's author
tend to turn him off to the book, no matter who publishes it. 'I always think if I'm hearing directly
from the author, it's not a good sign.'
We can complain all we want about what book reviewers are saying, but the reality is that the
ease of self-publishing has both helped us and hurt us.
So now what do we do? Complaining to the media adn book reviewers won't do it, because what
IS is. Instead, I think every new independent publisher should follow certain standards, and they
include the following:
1. ASK, "DOES THE WORLD NEED THIS BOOK?"
Every single self-published author should think long and hard before publishing a book . Write
your marketing plan before you print your book, and if possible, before you write your book.
Who is your target audience? Who is your competition? Which media will want to know about
your book? Find out what types of books are most difficult to market. For example, children's
books, personal essays, family stories, poetry and any fiction are very difficult. Not impossible,
but very difficult.
Of course, writing a book is a magical, mystical, artistic endeavor to many, and how could you
ever think about the details of marketing a book when that book is just ITCHING to get out of
you? Book publishing is a business. The competition is incredible. You must think like a
businessperson. You need to let go of the dream of "I want to write a book" and think only, "I
want to SELL the book that I want to write." When you start to do that, you'll start thinking like
the big publishers and create a better product. (And I know, I know, the big guys produce a lot of
garbage, too, but self-publishers who think ***only*** of "following their dreams" and to heck
with real business issues, produce more of it. The big guys can afford to produce a bit of garbage.
We small guys can't.)
Make sure that you can make a profit, too, when you include your marketing costs. Simple, I
know, but many people don't do it. You may end up deciding to spend your money on a nice
Hawaiian vacation, and you'll be coming out ahead of the game.
2. HIRE A PROFESSIONAL EDITOR.
Every single self-published book should be professionally edited. I consider myself a nit-picker (or
is it nitpicker?) of punctuation, spelling, and grammar, but I know that I'm not good enough to
edit my own books. As Dan Rather once wrote, "Everyone needs an editor." Writers should not
edit their own work. Other eyes must see the words and interpret them.
3. HIRE A PROFESSIONAL BOOK COVER DESIGNER.
Every single self-published book should have a professional book cover developed by a graphic
designer who is experienced with book covers. Again, you need to check out the cover
competition. You may think that you have an artistic eye and that you can create a book cover,
but you can't. I designed my book covers on paper, and I had a professional graphic designer
create the files and put the final touches on them. It made all the difference. Despite my love of art
and PhotoShop (and my artistic eye), there is no way I could have made my covers look as
professional as they did.
4. HIRE A PUBLICIST.
Every self-publisher should recognize that marketing and PR is something they can't always do
themselves -- or do as well as it should be done. There are fun parts and difficult parts of
publishing. The fun part is "giving birth" to your pretty-faced, multi-paged baby that you show off
to friends and relatives. You created it. How wonderful!
The most difficult part, the part that some authors don't even budget for, is marketing that baby,
and that part lasts a lot longer. Do you have the skills and resources to do what a publicist does?
Do you have a media list? Good ones cost several thousand dollars just to license for a year. Can
you write a press release that will attract the attention of the media? Can you rewrite that press
release to target specific types of media outlets? A description of your book often won't cut it. Do
you have the abilities to create different media angles from the topic of your book? Do you have
access to the editorial calendars of magazines and other print resources so you can provide them
with what they need when they need it? Do you know what you need in your online press kit? Do
you know how to give a good interview? A publicist helps you with this and much more.
Disclosure -- yes, I do book publicity. I've also self-published two books, and a lot of
self-published books have crossed my desk in the past several years.
Instead of criticizing the media/book reviewers for their honest opinions, I think we need to look
into our own industry and do what we can do to improve the quality of self-published books so
that everyone can succeed.
If anyone has any more (or different) standards or ideas for improving quality across the board, I'd
like to read your opinions.
Copyright 2002 Lorilyn Bailey
James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
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Oregon, WI 53575-1129
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