Avoid Author Traps

tool theme for publishingpioneer

Always sympathetic towards unpublished authors, a cottage industry grows to be of assistance. Along with legitimate providers, there are those who prey on the uneducated—and few new authors have a background in publishing. These innocents become easy to convince that print-on-demand or instant promotional offers are good business decisions. Myths abound. E-mails fly. Always, the book appearing on store shelves is the goal, which feels like winning a marathon.

Artists are the easiest people to seduce by offers because we love what we do. We know the road is rough with competition, so we have to reach for deep conviction to keep going. In doing this, we also set ourselves up for those who know how to appeal to our dreams. With a background in design production, I can quickly decipher the small print in most offers. But on the sales/distribution side, my butt is as soft and diaper-clad as the best and brightest authors.

What looks on the surface like good “planning” can drive your economic buggy into publishing quicksand. If there is a solid road below, I aim to find it!

Here are some tips for publishing protections that I have learned along the way and offer to help you avoid some expensive lessons:

tools of the trade Get promises in writing. Make them concrete. If a distributor or store or representative is going to sell your book, make goals with them tangible. Ask them to commit to an action plan to reach the goals. The rose-colored glasses of getting into a major bookstore chain is only the first step of a process, not the end. Some of the chains require making connections with each of them individually which is very difficult for a single author to do. Better to find the right buyers and become friendly with them.

tools of the trade Get connections. Gaining store-space is a full time job. It includes cultivating the acquisition buyer. If you become friends, your book is in. Or, if you have a lot of money, have your book placed face-out on the shelf. Merchandising is an art in itself so getting that coveted face-out position can make a huge difference in sales.

tools of the trade Don’t depend on speaking income. When I released three previous books (1991, 1995, 2001), I had more invitations to speak than I could even answer! Making $500 minimum per presentation, I made two out of town presentations a month. Now, the majority of honoraria are gone due to the poor economy. Groups will “let you sell your book.” I track 25% sales in these engagements, which still means the speech is free. Naturally I accept fewer. (The best deal in the last few months was the annual dinner for EWI where they pre-bought 60 books for the attendees.)

tools of the trade Adjust methodology. Selling online and selling through brick and mortar are as different as a zebra and a gazelle. On the surface, many similar rules seem to apply. Peel back the wallpaper and you find a canvas wall versus a brick one. Online sales is actually becoming more important than the in-store sales. Social media tools and Amazon make the experience of selling books go from local to international.

tools of the trade Cultivate alternative sales venue besides bookstores. I’ve done well in several flower shops point-of-purchase displays because Women who Win at Work uses a flower motif and is under $20. But my publisher will not explore national florist exposure. This is a good idea, though currently unsupported by the traditional channels. If it is a single store at a time, it becomes too time consuming for only one or two sales per day. But if a chain can carry the book as a premium, that would accelerate the win/win possibilities.

tools of the trade The future is in e-publishing. This isn’t news—but I write this blog mainly for entrepreneurs and executives. The former is more cyber-savvy than the latter. Most are too busy to spend time exploring online. So I have to approach e-publishing more from a back seat—not the best position for driving a car! I have to build the audience habits in addition to giving them ideas they can use! E-publishing is no short of a revolution in possibilities!

tools of the trade Write from strengths rather than from interests. The old saying goes: if you want to learn a subject, teach it. This works great in learning but not in making a living. I want to know the secrets of the women I admire, so Women who Win at Work seeks to learn and to share. Digital Design Business Practices, on the other hand, expressed twenty years of operating a successful creative business. Which do you think has sold more? In the both cases, I write about what I know and combine that with interviews from those who know more.

tools of the trade Social media and Second Life are new universes. Being into control, my preferred social media is Linked In. There, I like to know whom I’m talking to. Second Life is the next frontier. If you would like to meet there, please let me know!Unfortunately, there is too much for one person to master it all. Choosing and committing to a specific direction takes time to choose the right path. Experimentation and investigation are ongoing.

tools of the trade  Co-promotion doubles resources. In co-promoting with Gail McMeekin, we enrich each other through the readers we share, contributions, and help. Gail’s books, if you haven’t read any, are some of the best on creativity. Two can always accomplish more than one! It can also help exposure in a different part of the country, as Gail is on the east coast and I am in Chicago.

tools of the trade Connect with educators. My relationship with the University of Chicago and Northwestern, so far, top my inspiring moments of the past season. Unfortunately, my alma mater has not responded to my offers—which makes me wonder why I have success with high-profile major institutions, but not where I received my BFA, which is a lesser known school. Frustrating. It makes me wish I had attended a different school. (I hope that mine will find use for my talents in the future.) But your alma mater can be your best friend. And, like me, you can also make great new friends!

Every author has a list of complaints about selling. I hope not just to vent (which is better for me than for you), but to share alternatives I’ve discovered: when the going gets tough, the tough get creative.
Looking for new ideas every day, stay tuned!

Liane Sebastian, illustrator, designer, writer, and publishing pioneer

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