X

Successful Self-Publishing Tips With Steven Spatz From BookBaby

    Categories: Publishing Options

It's a big week in self-publishing as we race into 2018, and today's show is packed with tips and info on how you can make the most of your indie experience!

In the introduction, I go through:

  • Apple is getting back into the ebook fight with Amazon with a revamp of iBooks to Books with audiobooks [Bloomberg]
  • Google has launched audiobooks with Play and focusing on in-home devices for reading them [Google Blog]
  • Walmart has struck a deal with (Rakuten) Kobo, which will see co-branded Walmart/Kobo ereading devices, ebooks and audiobooks through the Walmart website and stores [The Verge]
  • Barnes & Noble have relaunched NookPress as Barnes and Noble Press, combining their ebook and print self-publishing platforms [BusinessWire]
  • The new Author Earnings report findings – and my reaction to it. Plus, why Dean Wesley Smith thinks there is an issue with data privacy and Passive Guy's take on terms & services, plus why the figures are not really “Author

    Check out my YouTube channel

    Earnings” since most long-term authors make a less-significant % of their income on Amazon, plus it is only Amazon US sales. Dean reports Amazon as 15-30% of his income, and it was around 20% of mine in 2017.

  • The long-running Self-Publishing Podcast is rebranding as the Story Studio podcast, as Johnny, Sean and Dave feel like they have outgrown the name – and I think that reflects the industry as a whole these days. Perhaps we are just publishing now 🙂

I also give a personal update. I finished the first draft of my first screenplay, an adaptation of Map of Shadows. It's been so much fun and I'm going on a course in March when I'll work on it. In the meantime, on with the next thriller, ARKANE #10, and a new book and course on How to Write Non-Fiction.

I also mention the revamp of my channel, Youtube.com/thecreativepenn, where you can now find writing tips on Tuesdays and business/marketing/money/publishing tips on Thursdays.

Today's show is sponsored by Draft2Digital, where you can get free ebook formatting, free distribution to multiple stores, and a host of other benefits. Get your free Author Marketing Guide at www.draft2digital.com/penn

Steven Spatz is the President of BookBaby.com which provides self-publishing services and book distribution for independent authors.

You can get 10% off BookBaby services at: www.TheCreativePenn.com/bookbaby. [I'm an affiliate because I believe the services are good value and they are a Partner Member of the Alliance of Independent Authors.]

You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher or watch the video here, read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.

Show Notes

  • On changes in the reputation of self-publishing
  • Survey findings about successful indie authors and their marketing
  • Best practices from other industries that indie authors can learn from
  • The future of print sales
  • How BookBaby differs from IngramSpark or Create Space

You can find Steven Spatz at BookBaby.com and on Twitter @BookBaby

You can get 10% off BookBaby services at: www.TheCreativePenn.com/bookbaby. [I'm an affiliate because I believe the services are good value and they are a Partner Member of the Alliance of Independent Authors.]

Transcript of Interview with Steven Spatz

Joanna: Hi everyone. I am Joanna Penn from thecreativepenn.com and today I'm here with Steven Spatz. Hi, Steven.

Steven: Good morning. How are you, Joanna?

Joanna: I'm good. It's great to have you on the show. Just a little introduction.

Steven is the President of bookbaby.com which provides self-publishing services and book distribution for independent authors. Today we're talking about the survey that BookBaby did on the habits of top-earning indie authors and a whole lot more.

Steven, tell us a bit more about you and your background in publishing and working with creatives and authors.

Steven: Great. Well, thank you. Again, thank you for having me. And I enjoy telling a little bit about BookBaby, about what we do.

Now with BookBaby I've come back full circle from where I started in life. I was a journalist, as a matter of fact, or as we call it in the States a fake news provider to some quarters.

But I started out with the real love of writing and a real appreciation for communicating the written word to the masses. I stayed in the newspaper industry for a few years and then I went into our family business which was direct marketing of food and fruit products, as a matter of fact.

And so I did a lot of catalog writing. Obviously, it wasn't the same as the kind of creative writing. It was business writing. And that's where my careers would have evolved too.

We sold that business and I went to work for some fantastic Fortune 500 companies like Mattel and Hasbro and I really learned a lot about customer service and excellence of the brand there.

And then I joined a company in Southern New Jersey, just outside of Philadelphia, and they were working with independent musicians and I was ready for kind of a different change to my career. And our parent company has worked with indie musicians for 70 years and really understands the needs of these creative folks.

When we launched the brand out in our Portland office, BookBaby being the writing part of that, I was immediately very interested.

I had my nose over the fence and got involved with our marketing and then eventually, as the brand grew and needed a leader, I put my hand up and I've been having a great time.

Now I have a staff of about 50 people here in Philadelphia. We're growing but we just moved into brand new quarters in our building. We've been expanding so rapidly so it's been a joyous ride and being able to work with hundreds of authors every single week with their passions and their dreams, it's very rewarding.

And our employees, they come to work knowing they're really helping these authors live out their dreams.

Joanna: Fantastic. We're going to circle back to the music side and your marketing background.

You mentioned the growth and it's so interesting how things have changed in the last 10 years. The Kindle launched just over 10 years. Obviously, BookBaby does print books as well as eBooks and other things. But you're connected with a lot of people in the publishing industry because of what you're doing.

How has the reputation of self-publishing changed? That change has sped up recently but how has it changed?

Steven: It really has. Thank God, we're a long ways from the world of vanity press and all of the associated things with that that concept.

Being involved with a music business as we've been, indie musicians have this edge to them, this rebellious streak to them. And we're finding that independent authors are now starting to accept that, that red badge of courage as it were, saying, “You know what? Yeah, I'm an indie author and I'm proud.”

Now you mentioned about the Kindle. It certainly was a milestone, no question about it. But the reason we're sitting here talking to each other across the Atlantic is because of the self-publishing revolution I think came about because of the technology revolution. Certainly, the Kindle was one part of that but also smartphones and social media and this Skype that we're on.

I think if Kindle was one milestone, another huge milestone was the advent of digital printing which made print-on-demand a true reality so that, yes, you can have your eBooks within range for independent authors, but now for the first time, really, all the digital printing equipment of which we have several pieces here in our own facility make it so that authors can have access to tremendous products.

So, really, it didn't just happen in a vacuum. You know, we are all benefitting I think from all of the joys and travails of technology, whatever it does bring.

I'm from a small town in Oregon and I could be sitting there writing my book and have every bit of advantage as somebody who's sitting in the concrete canyons of London or Manhattan. It really has brought the world to a place where independent authors can feel like they're a big part of it.

Joanna: You mentioned how indie musicians were the forerunners in this, and indie film is pretty trendy.

Is there going to come a point where indie authors are as trendy as indie musicians and indie filmmakers?

Steven: Well, we certainly hope so. In fact, we're banking on this.

Finally, people can choose to publish themselves. They don't have to wait for an editor to select them or a publicist or a publisher. They really get to choose themselves to be out there and that's just a tremendously rewarding thing and it's rewarding for us to be able to help that happen for our authors.

Joanna: No, I'm with you. I think we're trendy already.

Steven: Exactly.

Joanna: Let's talk about the survey. It's unsurprising that successful authors do more marketing. That's not breaking news. But the types of marketing were interesting to me.

What were some of the findings about successful authors around marketing?

Steven: So a little bit of background first. We sent this survey out at the beginning of 2017. We set out to get the widest possible response levels. So we've got almost 8,000 either aspiring or published authors.

Most of them were published, to give us their opinions. And some of the most important findings were when we compared groups of successful authors, we kind of classify that to mean they've made over $5,000 on their last book versus, let's just say, not so successful. They really have not made a lot of money.

Some of the findings were very obvious. Obviously, perspiration was important. Yes, inspiration is important to an author but when it comes to the marketing, perspiration.

We saw that these successful authors, they tried a lot of things. They dabbled in Twitter and then they just stayed with that. No, they tried many things all the way from having their signing events to doing email marketing to having their own web pages.

One of the things that I think that our authors, all authors, unfortunately, independent authors, overlook is the importance of the presale and what they can do and set themselves up for.

We deal with a lot of first-time authors here and I think if we were able to pull them now, what was the most surprising thing about their book publishing experience? The time. The time it takes to really do this right. BookBaby does not offer rush services and that's for a reason. We will not rush a book out there. We will tell people, “No, your book is not going to make it for Christmas,” and they're calling on November 23rd.

We make a point of making sure that they understand the kind of timelines. And so to do a real quality presale they've got to have all their ducks in a row. They have to have their book finished on time. They have to establish them on the retail sides. They've got to get the word out and, yes, it takes a lot of time and planning.

But, oh, my gosh, it is worth it, you know. Aside from a few proven winners out there which I think are BookBub and things like that, getting great reviews doing a successful presale is just so important.

And I think our most successful authors either knew that going out or it was their second or third book and they learned from the experience. There is that saying, “Haste makes waste,” and it can't be more true in the self-publishing world.

Joanna: I think you're right there and it is surprising how long things take. I like doing presales because you can just get you ducks in a row and you can go get everything working. And often you want to fix stuff and change stuff and you could do that with a preorder.

Steven: Yes.

Joanna: You have this background in direct marketing for companies like Mattel and Hasbro, which are huge, and also you mentioned working in food and fruit marketing on your family business.

I love this because firstly books are not a commodity when you're the author. They are special but at the end of the day with apples, for examples, there are a lot of different types of apples. But somebody wants an apple or they want a thriller author. So, essentially, we're trying to stand out in a crowded field.

What are some of the best practices that some of these other industries are using that might be useful for authors?

Steven: Well, it's funny, you're talking about apples and pears. My family and our partner, we had over 1,500 acres of pears and apple orchards in southern Oregon and how do you market a pear that you could walk into your local supermarket and get that for a $1.69 a pound or you could buy a lovely incredible box of hand wrapped and hand selected and carefully packaged fruit for a whole lot more?

You had to extol the value. You had to impress upon your customers or, for authors, the readers, the value of what you have to offer.

What I really learned through the Mattels and the Hasbros and even our own family business is the professionalism that comes when you are packaging up, as it were, your product. And, yes, we sometimes have to refer to books as products.

We know it's an emotional type of product for the author but at the same time you're dealing with a very crowded marketplace and you need to make sure that your cover is exquisite. The basics that we have talked about, you have talked about for many years now, about what an author needs. Professionalism certainly is important in that presentation.

Do no harm to your brand is something that we talked about a lot at Mattel and Hasbro for GI Joe and Barbie. How does that translate to an author?

If you have a Twitter feed or a website, keep it to your book. Keep it to professionalism, if that's important to you.

Now, if you're a political writer and you're writing political books, obviously, you should be commenting on politics perhaps in your Twitter feed. But I don't. I don't write political books. I keep my Twitter feed about self-publishing and about things that interest me.

It's important to not harm your brand. Make sure the brand integrity is there.

And then, finally, really, life is all about customer service, right? Do right by your customers. For Mattel and Hasbro, I was delivering great products at great prices. For my family fruit business, I was delivering Christmas gifts on time. Most of our business was during the holidays. So a lot of pressure for us to deliver those Christmas gifts on time.

For authors, it's really writing a great book, of course. That would be a given, hopefully, but also having metadata, having descriptions about your book that really tell about your book, having reviews that are genuine and honest, not trying to bypass or trick the system.

You need to make sure that your readers and your customers are happy, unless you're only planning to do one book and that's it. If you have intentions to further your writing career, you're gonna want your customers, your readers to want to come back for more and that's what we encourage at BookBaby.

Joanna: I think you're right there about the fruits. Selling fruit, as you say it's this personal farm with this family and a dad and a son and the story behind the product is also important.

For authors it's about, as you say, curating your brand but also sharing personal things. I know it's hard for some authors but putting your face out there so that people know you're a real person rather than hiding behind an avatar can make the difference between someone being willing to spend that extra dollar or extra 50 cents on your product instead of some other product.

Steven: So true. The personality that you can add to that, to bring a little sass, maybe it's a little snark. It could be different for that type of book. And maybe it's more endearing or enriching if you're a children's book author.

You have to think about how you are portraying yourself, how are you presenting yourself out there in these marketing vehicles that you choose, from Twitter to Facebook to other type of social presence to things that you put on your own personal website.

Joanna: And then also kind of circling back to, you mentioned that doing one book. Successful authors don't have just one book and I was thinking about Barbie again. So when we say Barbie, there is not actually one Barbie, right?

Steven: Oh, no.

Joanna: There are loads and loads and loads of Barbies. Every little girl or little boy in this non-gendered world, can find the Barbie or Ken or whatever that fits them and what they want.

I know that successful authors have more than one book.

What else did you find about authors taking their writing careers seriously? What are of hallmarks of longevity?

Steven: So what we're trying to impress upon our authors is that the release of a book is not an event. It's the beginning of an adventure.

I don't want to use the analogy that you're birthing a child but there are a lot of similarities here. It's not going to end after a certain point. After six months or so you're not gonna just forget them and put them in the corner.

It's really the start of a lifelong adventure. And BookBaby as a partner here, we do impress upon them that we're going to be around forever. We're going to be sending you checks for a long, long time.

And to think of your book in that way. It's not just a one-time only event unless you're writing something incredibly topical that really is going to fizzle out. Most of the books that we do have a long, long shelf life.

But you're right, we also encourage them to invest in their books either with our experts or go out and find your great cover designer, find your own editor. People are now realizing that they're retired high school teacher is not a great book editor. Their sister-in-law who doodles horses on notes is not a great cover designer. You need professionals out there.

And thank God, again, for the Internet, it's within reach. You can find these tremendous experts thanks to the reach of the World Wide Web.

We hope to encourage the professionalism of our authors. I think it lifts up the entire self-publishing industry if they're indistinguishable. In our music side, we have this unwritten motto is we make the little guy look big and it really carries over in the book business so that when they're ready to go out to the market place, they have everything lined up, a beautifully edited book, a great cover design, a formatted book.

Hopefully both print and eBook because we believe in authors should follow the marketing dictum which make it easy for their customers to consume their product. If they don't like eBooks, make sure you have print books or vice versa. And audiobooks, of course, is something that we're interested in that we may be expanding out into that. But, obviously, it's something now greatly within reach of independent authors and we're sort of exploring that on their behalf as well.

Joanna: I definitely agree with all that and it's interesting because, of course, in the early days of self-publishing and eBooks you could chock up a book with a not very good cover.

Steven: Chock up is a very operative word.

Joanna: Even if the book was a quality book, you could still just put an amateur cover and still make sales. And, as you say, that's really changed and what you'll see in the bestseller list.

In a way, I don't like the idea that we are indistinguishable from traditional publishing but in the same way from the reader perspective, we have to be indistinguishable because you don't want them to make a decision based on, “Oh, that's not good enough.” You want them to go, “Oh, both of these are great. Which one shall I pick?” So I think that's really important.

I want to go more into print because we're talking, at the beginning of 2018, and there are troubling reports from Barnes & Noble in the U.S. about the viability of stores and the high street in the UK is under threat. I went for a walk earlier in Bath where I live and there are so many shops that are now empty on the high street in a very touristy town where people do come to shop.

I'm interested in your thoughts about if there are going to be more online sales of print, and how will that impact authors and what should they be doing?

Steven: We've been sadly watching the situation with Barnes and Noble. They're a great partner of ours. We've sold a lot of books through them. People are able to have events.

We are crossing our fingers and hoping they find a way to kind of differentiate themselves. I hope that the story in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania can be different from the story in Chicago in some ways. Maybe there's more local interest and so we're hoping they do find a way to hang on.

You mentioned print. Print is something which has been in our background. We've been printing items for musicians now for 40 years here in our plant. And, as I said earlier, the advent of the digital printer, the HP10000s that we have here, the HP7800 that we have here, have made this kind of beautiful product finally available to authors.

We took a long time to devise our print-on-demand program because what we were hearing from the marketplace is there were complaints about the quality of some of the providers. There were complaints about that they couldn't get hardcover books or they couldn't get colored books. So we wanted to make this a very inclusive program and the only way we could do that is if we did it ourselves.

We do all of our own print-on-demand work right here in our factory in outside of Pennsylvania. In fact, we're knocking out some walls and adding some more capacity because we were running very short in capacity. Last Christmas we anticipated that.

We think that authors have a great future in print-on-demand. They need to have high-quality books. They need to make sure that book number 5 is the same as book number 5,005 and, again, with digital printing, you can ensure that with the profiles that you build in.

We wanted to get a wider range of offering different trim sizes and different color options and things like that and make that accessible. Print is now a major part of our business and, as I said, we encourage authors to do both because there are just some customers who are not going to buy an eBook. They just don't want to do that. And so we need to make that product available to them and that's been a huge investment for our company, but we think it's worthwhile.

I can walk now 150 feet from my new office and walk out and see what kind of books are coming out and we're able to control the quality here and this is what self-published authors need, that kind of quality outlet.

Joanna: I only write books that have text at the moment. And those haven't really been an issue with most of the providers. I'm very happy with CreateSpace and IngramSpark for some of that stuff and we're gonna come back to how BookBaby is different to those services.

Steven: Great.

Joanna: But I see the response of traditional publishing to print-on-demand is we're going to put out some really nice hardback, embossed, all these lovely things on their print covers. There's some really nice covers coming out right now.

The other problem that indies have is children's books, photo books, color and print-heavy image books like history books with photos or whatever.

Do you see print-on-demand getting even better so these things become cheaper? Because, at the moment, they can be done but they could be pretty expensive.

Steven: That's right. Printing costs are coming down. It'll take a while to feel a big effect. Some published authors are not going to get rich on offering print-on-demand when it goes to Amazon.

Now, when they go to their own websites through BookBaby, we do pay a 50% royalty on our print-on-demand books. Our rates, when you take BookBaby through Amazon, through Barnes & Noble and things like that, we pay approximately the same rate as print-on-demand through those.

We strongly encourage authors, as they build their own brand, to bring their customers to where they want to transact and they can make a lot more money by selling it through their own websites and having this partnership with us because that I think are royalty rates because there are fewer middlemen. We are the printers, literally. So we make a little bit of profit on that. We make a little bit of profit here and there. But, you know, there isn't a big retailer taking a large chunk of it.

That's what we hope will be the future for print-on-demand that authors would send it through their own outlets and reap more the rewards that way.

Joanna: That's interesting because that's obviously what a lot of musicians do, is they sell direct and they do events. BookBaby grew out of CD Baby which was bought by I think the parent company that you've talked about.

Steven: Yes.

Joanna: Books do follow the music industry.

Since you moved over for music, what trends do you see in music that are likely coming into books?

Steven: You're right. Publishing is following a lot of the same script that we have watched in music. Music is farther down the path. It's a much more mature marketplace. It's very established although, yes, there are new things popping up every day, new streaming services, new licensing opportunities, sync licensing and things like that which we've gotten into.

Musicians are finding different ways to monetize their books. We hope that authors can realize some of those things. I think it's easier for say a nonfiction author to turn their book into a webinar, into a serialization, into magazine articles. They can parse that content a lot easier than say a fiction author. I would say the playing field may be a little bit uneven between fiction and nonfiction.

What we're seeing in the publishing space and a parallel in the music space is there were a lot of startups that came out, thought they had a great product, were the shining darlings of the industry media for a while and then they sort of fizzled out because they didn't have a sustained model and they really didn't offer the kind of value to customers of what they need.

Unfortunately, I have to put Pronoun in that category. I think they offered great promise but where they could take it from there I sort of wondered about it. But I thought it was a great service for authors at the time.

I see another encouraging sign which is sort of related, which are paywalls. Back, many years ago, or not that long ago I guess people thought, “Well, I can get my news for free. Where am I going to pay the New York Times for getting access to their news?”

I think now in this age, especially in the last year or so, we valued information, quality information. And the music industry, a lot of that music has gone to zero. You can pay zero on the free versions of things like that.

The publishing industry hasn't gone there and I see a nice trend going the other way that people are paying for quality information. My local newspaper, the Philadelphia Inquirer, they didn't have a paywall and it's going just great and they're able to sustain and finance great journalism.

I guess the other trend would be that, again, musicians have always been entrepreneurial in their thinking. They've always been out there. They always know that had to have some side hustles here and there. They have to have their merch tables. They make no bones about the fact that it's a business.

I think authors are really getting that same kind of mindset. And either they're monetizing it in the way that I suggest or they know that they need to really understand the business behind publishing. We answer a lot of calls every day talking about those sorts of topics now. So I see that as a rise in the professionalism and the expectations, frankly, of authors rising up in par with our musicians on that side of our business.

Joanna: I don't know if I agree with you entirely on this paywall thing or at least I think it's complicated because I also subscribe to newspapers with paywalls, so “The Guardian” and the “Financial Times” in the UK, which gives me the left and the right perspective.

Steven: Good for you.

Joanna: But what's interesting I think with the subscription model and the paywall is, for example, Amazon's Kindle Unlimited which is a subscription paywall model where you can read all you like within the Kindle Unlimited space.

Also, Audible with audiobooks, I'm a subscriber on Audible. I'm sure many listeners actually are because they kind of dominate these subscription audio service.

You've got that too and then on music there's Spotify and other ones like that. Even YouTube now I think has some of that.

The streaming versus paywall I think seems to be a real dichotomy and there aren't many publishers. Kobo has Kobo Plus but there's not many publishers. Barnes & Noble are basically opted out now of the eBook space.

And, of course, there's been some big artists who've said, “Well, I'm not putting my books or my music on these streaming services,” and then have changed their minds. I think Taylor Swift is the big one. Was that on Apple Music or…I can't remember.

I think streaming and subscriptions may be an issue with eBooks.

What do you think about that, reflecting on the music industry?

Steven: Well, I guess my happiness in the paywalls being accepted I think come from my journalistic roots and it's nice to see poor starving journalists being able to be paid somewhat. There are some differences in the mediums.

Music is something that you can sample very quickly. It's for two or three minutes long, and you're probably going to hear that same song 50 times over. Are you going to read a book 50 times? Probably not. So inherent with the actual medium, there are some different challenges.

We've seen some subscription services. Hoopla is doing very well for us. We're actually having a lot of success. Our authors are getting a lot of reads on that service. Scribd, you know, those sorts of things, they're not really catching on as much I think.

They try to build themselves as the Netflix of books, whatever that means. But I don't know if that sort of subscription service is going to ultimately be something for independent authors outside of, obviously, the hugely successful Kindle Unlimited. So there may be limited other opportunities I think for self-published authors in that way.

Joanna: Interesting times indeed.

Steven: Indeed.

Joanna: Now the reason I wanted to interview you is partly due to the fact that BookBaby is a partner member of the Alliance of Independent Authors.

Steven: Yes.

Joanna: Which means it has been vetted as a good service for authors, and I've got to say this, sorry, but at the time of recording in January 2018, because as you say, things change, you know. I know BookBaby has been around a long time but…

Steven: We promise to pay our dues, don't worry.

Joanna: But there were lots of service providers for authors and, of course, you mentioned Pronoun which arrived and then disappeared. And there were other services that have arrived and disappeared. But of some of the bigger ones, BookBaby is one of those, has stuck around for a number of years.

So people understand, how is BookBaby different to IngramSpark & CreateSpace?

Steven: Well, first, I want to sing the praises of those companies. There are a lot of great providers in this space. We're friends and allies with them. We actually refer people to some of these services. If our services aren't right for them, we're not gonna take their money.

If they need a low-cost eBook service, we talk to them about Smashwords and Draft2Digital. This marketplace is too big for us to want to be greedy and try to get everyone. There's plenty of room for everyone in the space. So I have only really good things to say about people like Blurb and Lulu and CreateSpace and Kindle Direct.

What's different about BookBaby? Well, we think in this very digital world there's a place for analog, and analog is people. One of the hallmarks of our music business has been, we are musicians talking to musicians. When they're getting their music done either through physical CDs or things like that which they used to do and still do to some extent, but also on the digital space.

So what we have with BookBaby is we recruit authors so they can talk to authors. I would say two-thirds of the people that I see outside of my new office here probably are have either published a book or in the process of publishing a book. They really know and understand this. Our training is long and excruciating at times before I can put people on the phones but I want them to be real experts.

Our model here is we want to be that, and I'll use that tech word, “full stack,” if you will. When we started BookBaby it was only eBooks going to Apple, of all things. That's how we started.

Now, our goal is to offer really everything that a self-published author can want or need. Now, if they want to use some other cover designer or they have their own, that's great. We don't lock them up into extensive packages or things like that and force them to do things. They can pick and choose off our menu.

What we offer to them is convenience. They can come to us and have everything done. We do attract a fair share of people who have it on their bucket list, to do that one book before their time is gone here.

But what we're seeing now is a lot of very professional and ambitious writers who say, “Look, I want to have time to write and I want to have time to market because that's just as important as the writing now. So I want you to take care of all the rest.”

We do editing for them. We do cover design for them. We do formatting for them. We give them proofs. They're in full control of the project all the way along. We don't own anything.

We're a service company. We're a distributor. We're not a publisher. We don't own your rights. We help you get into the retail marketplace. We give you your own portal to sell direct to fans.

But if you're going to ask me what's different about BookBaby, again, it's people. We have people calling us for the last five years. “I'm this close to getting my book done,” or, you know, “Oh, I'm this close to getting my book done.”

We encourage them and nourish them and our customer service folks are here from nine to five every day and we dispense a ton of free advice or on the blog on the website. We really do have that personal touch.

We think publishing is a people business and it makes it more rewarding for us to hear firsthand these stories. It's not a chatbot or just a cold email.

No, we're hearing them talk about the stories of how their book is doing and, no, we're not going to read every book. I don't want to put that out there that we're going to read every book but we will give a lot of good advice and hope they take it.

Joanna: One of the reasons I wanted to talk to you is because I'm generally an advocate of the DIY process but what's happened is more and more people email me and just say, “I don't want to do everything myself. I would really like some help and I want someone to phone.”

And it's so interesting because, of course, most of these services now is set up so there is no human, and it's very hard to speak to a human within the KDP or the CreateSpace ecosystem.

Steven: It is.

Joanna: It's mostly an email service to various people. So I think that this is a really interesting thing for people.

As you say, new authors who might be uncomfortable or not want to do all of that and also more developed authors who want more of a partner, I guess. And I like the selling direct print thing which I know Ingram are getting more into with Aerio. I think this is so interesting the fact that we can become more like bookstore owners with print as well. So that's really cool.

Just to circle back on are there any other sort of personality types or author types who you think might fit well with BookBaby? For example, I don't know if you still have this service, but I have referred people who were previously published who only have a print copy of their book, who want it scanned. I believe you have a scanning service.

If they don't have a Word copy of their book, you can take a print book and scan it. Do you still do that?

Steven: That's right. We have companies that we recommend. We're thinking of starting to do that ourselves.

We seem to have a record as a company of saying, “We try something out, we watch other people do it and say, ‘You know what? We can probably do that better.'” So we're actually considering taking that in-house but, yes, we recommend.

There are two or three providers here in the U.S. who do a very nice job of getting that. Now, the output is not a 100% perfect.

Joanna: No.

Steven: It's really incumbent upon the author to go through that carefully and make sure because it's not foolproof. But it can get about 99.9% there in some of the best cases.

But in terms of the personality, we deal with authors of all kinds of genres, you know, from kid's book. We do a ton of kid's book, a lot of cookbooks, tons of fiction. Spiritual books seems to be a large niche for us.

We have people who have traditionally published who have come back to us. We have people who have started with BookBaby and gone on to traditional publishing. We have one, Carl-Johan, he wrote the book “The Rabbit That Wants You to Go To Sleep.”

Joanna: Yes.

Steven: The number one bestseller in many years. He started with us as an eBook and, sure enough he had great success doing that, signed a seven-figure advance with a major publisher. But, lo and behold, this spring we're doing his next book. He wants to come back to self-publishing.

Joanna: Wow, that's amazing.

Steven: It is great. He had a great experience with us and we're thrilled to be working with him. I think we do give people some encouragement. We really empower them.

They can use us for as much or as little as they need. And if they need to go elsewhere, we tearfully wave them goodbye. But, as I say, they own all the rights. We never own any of the book. We're just here as a service provider and sometimes a cheerleader.

Joanna: That's great. And every author needs that. So where can people find BookBaby online if they want to check out all the services?

Steven: That's very easy. It's bookbaby.com, B-O-O-K-B-A-B-Y.com, just how it sounds. And I'm actually gonna be over on your side of the pond in April at the London Book Fair.

Joanna: Fantastic.

Steven: So looking forward to perhaps seeing you there and seeing folks in the UK and meeting you there.

Joanna: Great. Well, it was lovely to meet you, Steven. Thank you for your time.

Steven: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

You can get 10% off BookBaby services at: www.TheCreativePenn.com/bookbaby. [I'm an affiliate because I believe the services are good value and they are a Partner Member of the Alliance of Independent Authors.]

Joanna Penn:

View Comments

  • A very helpful post. A lot of authors are intimidated by the whole self publishing thing. I have no budget to pay for services like BookBaby, but it can be potentially great for people with a bit of spare money, little time, and the desire to have someone help along the way.

    Also, the staying true to your brand and not straying, that's a great point. I often have to breathe deeply and remind myself that my Twitter is for book stuff, not political debates, though I do see things that incense me. After the past election in the US, about 90% of the authors on my Facebook feed jumped on the Trump hate bandwagon, which was very off-putting. I unfollowed people for that reason, because that's just not the point of my being on social media.

  • I'm in the same boat as Hannah - limited budget so I'm not paying for things I can do myself, or which I can get done for a small royalty cut as with D2D. I can see Bookbaby being useful for someone with a large amount of cash behind them, or people who just want one book to hold in their hand/

    Also applying the 'don't be dependent on one' logic I have my doubts about the one stop shop approach for cover design, editing, formatting etc ... where I am paying as with Editing I'd rather hire a person and have a 1-1 professional relationship.

    I'm also not sold on the "sell from your own website" thing - that's clearly a good idea for someone like you, but for most of us the traffic to our websites isn't big enough to justify it - people on amazon are in a style to buy books, so it makes sense to hunt where the game is, not set up a hide in your living room and wait for the game to come to you. (metaphor - i know hunting isn't PC these days)

    All in all interesting interview, but not one for me. Looking forward to next week though as i'm currently weighing the whole convertkit vs mailchimp thing

  • Just listened to the podcast whilst cutting the grass (33 Degrees C, outside).

    As always a lot of great information.

    It's actually not much cooler inside so stood at the computer with an industrial type fan blowing.

    Hot Sunny days are not a writers friend :)

  • Listening to the show while stroking and admiring my new arrival. First paperback novel arrived yesterday and I can't stop picking it up and looking at it. Many thanks for all the help, advice and encouragement in your podcast over the last year. I wouldn't have made it without you.
    All the best
    Christine (AKA Alice Rosewell) - in Bristol