I am trying to decide whether to traditionally publish or self-publish my memoir. As I have done more research into these two paths, I’ve discovered that a book is just one part of a serious business operation.
In the traditional publishing model, I would try to get an agent by sending out query letters describing the book, its target market, and how I would help to market it. If I am lucky enough to get signed by an agent, he/she then pitches the book to publishers. Many publishers will not accept a book proposal unless it comes through an agent.
If I am lucky enough to get a contract from a publisher, it will be another year before the book can be found on bookstore shelves. During this year, editors and book designers take your manuscript and turn it into a compelling physical product, complete with pretty packaging (aka the cover). The publisher then distributes your book and negotiates rights for international sales on your behalf.
Given that the publisher takes on all other aspects of the business outside of creating the prototype (the manuscript), you receive a small advance plus 15% royalties on the book you may have spent years agonizing over. The publisher, agent, and distributor all get their take as well.
If you don’t like this arrangement, you may want to self-publish your book instead. Self-publishers typically make 60-70% royalties on their book, in exchange for taking on all the other business activities.
The first step is to register a business name and buy a group of ISBNs – the unique identifying number assigned to each book, which can only be purchased in batches of 20, 100, or more. The self-publisher then needs to design the book’s cover and interior layout, and decide which print-on-demand provider to use to produce the book. Print-on-demand allows publishers to print one book at a time for just a few dollars per book. We no longer need to do large print runs, paying heavy costs for production and storage.
CreateSpace, owned by Amazon – the largest on-line book retailer in the world, and Lightning Source, owned by Ingram – the largest physical book distributor in the world, are the two heavyweight print-on-demand companies. There are pros and cons on the distribution side to choosing either one of these companies to print your book, and many authors are starting to use both – CreateSpace for books sold through Amazon, and Lightning Source for books sold in bookstores around the world.
Once you have production and distribution figured out, you have to solve the challenge of discoverability. There are thousands of self-published authors today, how will people find your book? The most important step is to develop your personal brand and build your author platform through a blog, an e-mail subscription list, a Facebook page, Twitter, etc.
I’m starting to do that and in only two months of blogging, I’ve had 3,000 page views and 110 likes on my Facebook page – a good start. Once my book is published, I need to move into doing more PR through newspaper articles, press releases, launch parties, and a Kickstarter campaign to raise both money and awareness. I’ll also need to attend conferences and trade shows to get the word out in the independent author community.
One of my closest friends from business school – Kaneisha Grayson – is far along this path already. The Kickstarter campaign for her book Be Your Own Boyfriend, launches tomorrow, and I’ll interview her about her journey for next week’s post!