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.


  1. Interesting and thoughtful and mostly positive approach. The only thing I would take serious issue with is the £500.00 advertising budget.
    That kind of money will just disappear into an agencies petty cash. It certainly will do nothing to see your book or to bolster your brand. Think of something else to do with the money.
    For example, you could get yourself a couple of weekends in Venice with cash like that.
    You will meet different and new people, achieve a degree of relaxation and perhaps end up with a couple of fine scenes for future novels.
    If you insist on spending this £500.00 on the project I would suggest you use it to publish more copies to give away to potential reviewers.
    Great project, though, and I'll follow it with interest and be in the forefront of those who wish you well with it.

  2. Not an easy task, Bill - spend the money on some sturdy shoes and email everyone you have ever known. I will email some other suggestions.

  3. Hi, John. Yep, £500 is nothing. I don't even know what I would spend it on but I thought maybe some judiciously placed classified ads, that sort of thing. But on reflection I prefer your idea. I'll e-mail you when I get to Venice and tell you about all the interesting people I'm meeting.

    Funny you should say that about the shoes, Minx. The first business I ever started I used to say that my company car was my shoes. This time round I'll certainly be using e-mail to spread the word.

  4. I went to a seminar about how to get your book into bookshops at Soc of Authors recently run by this lot.

    I think I gave the handout to Minxy. If she doesn't have it I can email you some notes I made at the time. Let me know if this would be useful.

    Alternatively spend the £500 throwing a party for us all. You know the kind of thing we like!

  5. Got the handout here, Bill, I will email it along as soon as I have kicked the scanner into life.

    Party sounds good, you could even call it a launch!

  6. Get Keef to snort it...

  7. Congratulations Pundy & all the best.





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