Half of the reason I went to hear Brian Felsen give a 2 1/2-hour program on June 9, sponsored by BAIPA (Bay Area Independent Publishing Association), was to hear what additional magic he was going to unravel about this out-of-the-woodwork e-publishing phenomenon. Just months back who had heard of BookBaby? Now, who hasn’t? It’s the world’s largest ebook distributor for Indies, like us. (Oh yes, it’s also CDBaby’s kid cousin, and Felsen runs both.)
Brian’s a short dynamo who plowed through too much jet lag and too little air conditioning (like none) to make us laugh, make huge sense about the tumultuous open publishing happening, and to drive home the fact that the big houses either didn’t believe the digital deluge or were too ossified to either get on top or jump out of the way.
I don’t want to spend our time outlining what BookBaby can do for you. Please go to their website and particularly look at “About Us” and the Q-A section. In short, they offer the full monty of services, and it seems economically wiser to let them do some of the gnarlier deeds than to waste your editorial skills doing stuff, then undoing and doing it again, like trying to get Word to look civil in mobi or epub.
I’d much rather zero in on the most important points that Felsen made, and let the services sell themselves—or not.
1. Why self-publish? Because the old ship is sinking, the publishers are consolidating (without you), and it’s time for a radical readjustment.
2. 95% of today’s published books flop.
3. The big houses really want monster books, not what you are offering. To get the monster books they are jettisoning their mid-tail authors. And since you must do your own marketing anyway, with or with big-house “support,” why take 10% of the list price (worse yet, net) when doing it yourself you can keep a third or a half? (If you niche publish, and pretest, think 40-50% every time–my how-to link here.)
4. The big houses do have virtues: marketing and editorial support, exceptional physical distribution and store contacts, they are the king of certain genres, and being published by them makes it easier to get higher-paying speaking gigs.
5. Then why do it yourself? The speed and time to market, you can dominate the smaller niches, you already bring your own platform, you get a bigger cut of the profit pie, and it’s not either-or. Do both. (Aren’t most of us still printing bound versions and letting others publish our ebooks?)
6. With POD (print on demand) producing good-looking books in small quantities overnight, long gone are the opener runs of 2,500 books costing $5-6,000. They look as good as the bookstore books and can go from the press to the conference breakout room to your bank in a week.
7. Ingram’s royalty payment for ebooks is poor.
8. Covers are very important: “success leaves clues.” Make your ebook text 12-point, 14-18 point for chapter titles. Create them in Word or PDF. Keep your book in free-flow page format, a dynamic layout. The fixed format (locked) only works for children’s photo books, and not well there.
9. It now costs you a basic $99 or a premium $199 to use BookBaby, but soon it will be $99 for distribution and another $50 for set-up.
10. To survive as a self-publisher you must involve social and multimedia: website, online retail stores, blogs, speaking, YouTube. Soon you will have video and audio in the books too.
11. Marketing involves product (content and cover), pricing, placement (in ebook order, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Sony, and Apple), and promotion (from your website: Twitter, Facebook, and a blog, plus Google. Also, sales direct to the reader, the metadata registered, and the basic SEO steps and lead words employed). Finally, to survive you must define your USP (unique selling proposal) and have a clear and compelling idea.
12. Identify your followers, use Stumbleupon.com, network with your heroes, ask your readers what they need to know, and help them.
13. Don’t avoid or overlook email: that’s where you get the best response. Do a newsletter, broadcast, directly engage your followers.
14. “It’s your scared duty to articulate.” Add to the conversation, express your unique voice. The time has never been better for writers because the old gatekeepers are folding. Anybody can get in, anybody can be in print.
15. Sell what you can—editions, a series, guest articles—and make money from other sources from your singular idea(s).
16. Pay attention to your time use. DIY (doing it yourself) can be very dumb: farm out what others do better and faster. Let others do the technical stuff. You write.
17. Nobody’s going to steal your words. Piracy isn’t the problem, it’s anonymity. Nobody knows who you are or that your book exists because it wasn’t shown, marketed, and sold.