Wednesday, September 26, 2007

On becoming a publisher

Now that I'm about to take the plunge into the world of self-publishing with my novel A Half Life of One I feel like a tiny child standing at the foot of a huge cliff wondering how I'm ever going to climb to the top.

First off, I guess, I have to look at the world in a whole different way. Instead of writing books my main purpose in life for the next few months will be all about selling books. And that requires a whole different skills set.

I already know that the average self-pubbed novel sells no more than forty or so copies in its lifetime. So if I set myself the extravagant target of offloading, say, one hundred copies of my masterpiece on the unsuspecting public I need some sort of strategy to achieve my goal. In fact I need a Marketing Plan. Before I can compose that I need to develop my thoughts somewhat on the structure of the market and how best I can attack it. Just like any traditional publisher in fact.

Here's my initial thoughts on the challenge:

First of all I need to look at how the supply chain of the publishing industry works. In my case, it seems to me, there are three main routes to market:

1 Direct online selling via my website
2 Indirect online selling via Amazon
3 Indirect selling via Bookshops

In addition there might be some subsidiary routes to market, for example:

a Direct sales to Reading Groups
b Selling Book Tokens
c Via trade and magazine advertising

It seems to me that main routes (1) and (2) require the oxygen of publicity to make them work. This might be generated in various ways such as:

i Book reviews from key opinion formers. This is a pretty fundamental first step, it seems to me, upon which the rest of my marketing strategy depends. These people exist in outlets such as blogs, newspapers and trade (financial? entrepreneurial?) magazines. Let's say I set myself the target of getting 10 reviews over the next three months. And let's say too that most of them will be favourable (maybe a big assumption).

ii Carefully targeted Press Releases built round the story of the book leading to interviews or plugs for the book.

iii Paid advertising. I need to set a Sales and Marketing budget here just like any proper publisher. Ignoring the cost of the free copies I will give away let's say £500 for now. This will wipe out any profit I'll make on sales but that's not the point. The point is to sell as many copies as possible and thus build up a platform - my brand - for future leverage when my next book comes out. In other words I'm investing in my brand - me, the writer.

iv Word of mouth. I don't know exactly how this will work but I am aware that this is what drives real success in books and music and films, especially online. I need to get a buzz going in the media, including the blogosphere. I have some ideas about how I'll do this but this area definitely needs a lot more development work.

Finally, there's route 3 - selling via Bookshops. This is a very tough nut indeed for a self-pubber to crack. Hopefully, some authoritative reviews, a brilliant AI sheet sent out as a mailshot, some favourable publicity and the odd kind-hearted bookseller or two will get me into a few of the nation's independent bookshops. Oh, that and a no-quibble sale or return policy and a generous discount to help ease open the door.

Well, that's the plan so far. It should be fun even if (as I suspect) I sell no copies at all. In any event I'll let you know how I get on and I'll undertake to publish the Sales Figures on a regular basis.

Incidentally, if anyone out there has any experience of going down the self-publishing route I'd be delighted to hear from you about the joys and pitfalls that no doubt await me.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Any dream will do

I've spent most of my adult life trying to get published by a traditional publisher. That's four finished novels and over forty years of rejection slips. Anyone in their right mind would have given up years ago. They can't all be wrong, can they?

Well, maybe they can. Fortunately, the internet threw me a lifeline. I "published" A Half Life of One over on my sister blog more than a year ago. Enough people read it and told me they liked it to allow me to think that maybe the book wasn't quite as bad as traditional agents and publishers seemed to think.

And so I abandoned my old dream and decided to self-publish. It wasn't an easy decision. I'm not used to failure. It wasn't until I finally realised that writing is all about readers and not about my own self-glorification that I could bring myself to accept the truth of my situation.

Once I decided to self-publish the rest was easy. I contacted Gavin Pugh of Gav's Studio and he basically did the rest with a minimum of input from me. Designed the cover, set the layout, got the ISBN number, organised the printer, etc etc. All with the minimum of fuss and the maximum of helpful suggestions. I think he knew I was hurting going down this route but he was very gentle with me. Thanks, Gav, you've been brilliant.

The book will come out in a couple of weeks time. I'll be sending signed copies to everyone who has asked for one - including a number of anonymous readers round the globe. Then it's on to the marketing phase - sending out review copies, seeking publicity etc. All the stuff that a traditional publisher would do, and maybe a bit more. I'm really excited by the challenge of elbowing my way into a crowded market place. I'll let you know how it goes.

Here's the front and back cover to give you a little taster. Hope you like it.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Dancing in the dark

I took the first few tentative steps back to some kind of a life today.

I wrote another chapter of Mummy's Boy. Just a short, first draft. Nothing much. I know it's not very good but at least it's something I can work on. And I've broken the logjam. Let's hope the river flows in spate, at least for a while. Actually, even a trickle will do.

We can't live without water after all.

It's 10.30 and Bruce is on the iPod singing "Dancing in the Dark". I know just what he means. I'm not dancing, I'm shuffling. But at least I'm moving.