I'm just back from the Independent Author Conference in Philadelphia. Here are some of my thoughts from the trip in this solo show: People don't buy books, publishing wide is more than just retail, tips for being a better publisher, strategy is what you DON'T do, plus, learn what you need for your stage of the author journey. (And yes, I am a distant relative of William Penn. Here's me by his memorial!)
In the introduction, I mention a podcast interview on Building Books with Mike Shatzkin about the development of publishing and how business models are changing; the Also-Bought Apocalypse from David Gaughran; and ‘Love of books unites us,' as booksellers save the closure of Abe Books in some markets [Guardian].
Plus, the world's first AI news anchor [Guardian], and I mention The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future by Kevin Kelly, AI Super-Powers: China, Silicon Valley and the New World Order by Kai-fu Lee, and This is Marketing: You Can't be Seen Until You Learn to See by Seth Godin.
- Learn strategies that are working for Amazon Ads right now. Free webinar with Mark Dawson. Thurs 15 Nov at 3pm US Eastern / 8pm UK. Click here to register.
This show is sponsored by my own multimedia courses for authors, and I have a new mini-course/lecture out now: Content Marketing for Fiction.
Do you want to build an asset that makes income for the long-term over and above your book sales? Do you want to sell more fiction but aren't so keen on the paid ads approach? Do you want to use your creativity in your marketing? Click here to learn more about this course and my other courses on How to Write a Novel, How to Write Non-Fiction, and Creative Freedom.
Joanna Penn (yes, it's me!) is an award-nominated, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of thrillers under J.F.Penn and also writes non-fiction for authors. She’s also a podcaster and an award-winning creative entrepreneur. Her site, TheCreativePenn.com has been voted in the Top 100 sites for writers by Writer's Digest.
- People don't buy books. They buy entertainment, inspiration, or information.
- Publishing wide is more than just the online stores
- How to be a better publisher – making the most of what you already have
- Strategy is choosing what you DON'T do, as well as what you do
- Learn what you need for the stage of the journey you're at – or you will get overwhelmed
5 Tips For Successful Publishing And Book Marketing
I’ve just got back from Philadelphia where I was speaking at the Independent Author’s Conference, run by BookBaby.
I also visited the Mutter Museum – one of the most famous anatomy museums in the world – and the reason I actually accepted the speaking event as I have wanted to go for years. If you’re into anatomy, it’s an incredible place. They also had a skeleton with the same disease I used in Valley of Dry Bones, which was cool – and if you’ve read Desecration, you know I love all that stuff.
A few things sparked for me during the conference sessions and also just being away and having time to think.
Tip: if you are struggling to focus or prioritize, then take some time out to think, rather than do.
Here are some of my thoughts.
(1) People don’t buy ‘books.’ They buy entertainment, information or inspiration.
They buy escape to another world on their commute to a job they don’t like.
They buy a way to change their life.
They buy an answer to a problem.
When you write, you are deep within yourself – as it should be. You are the artist. You are the creator.
But when you publish, you need to switch your head to that of the reader. We get a little obsessed with genres and keywords and formats and minutiae about the book. But we need to think more about the reader experience.
Why do they want to read?
To escape on an adventure.
To change their life and discover a new way of making a living.
To learn how to become a better parent, or manage money, or learn a skill – or more about themselves.
This is what you need to consider when you’re doing your back blurb and your ad copy – and generally your marketing head.
Why does someone really want your book?
When are they reading?
The rise of audiobooks and podcast listening has a lot to do with when people want to consume content. Everyone is busy and so listening while at the gym or doing chores or while driving to work means that people can learn/escape/be inspired while doing other things.
How can you position your book so that it answers what the reader really wants in a format that enables them to consume it?
(2) Publishing wide is more than just the online stores
I first heard of Brian Jud back when I started out in self-publishing in 2008. He talked about special sales, about selling in bulk to non-retail markets – and finally, I heard him speak at the BookBaby conference.
Indie authors are often obsessed with rankings and sales to readers through the big platforms e.g. Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Apple, Audible etc. Publishers are mainly focused on selling to bookstores. Special sales is all about thinking outside those over-saturated markets.
- Sell your book about pet care to pet stores, or to a dog food manufacturer to give away as lead generation for their business
- Sell your book on leadership direct to the military
- Sell your book about productivity in business to C-suite executives to give away to their employees
- Sell your book about getting a new job to universities, libraries, and prisons
- Sell your book on divorce to attorneys – as discussed with Honoree Corder in podcast episode 231
- Sell your novel with a theme of bullying to schools – as discussed with Dave Hendrickson in podcast episode 377
These kinds of bulk sales can generate significant revenue – but you will have to leave your ego at the door.
These sales won’t give you rankings or bestseller lists or screenprints next to famous authors, but you could make an entire year’s income from one print run. I find this business model fascinating, and it’s certainly something to consider if you have an appropriate book.
You can find out more in Brian’s book, How to Make Real Money Selling Books: A Complete Guide to the Book Publisher’s World of Special Sales.
(3) How to be a better publisher
The conference was all about publishing, as BookBaby provides premium publishing services to authors who don't want to do everything themselves. Some of the talks and exhibitors made me think about whether I am being a good publisher for my own books.
I think I do a decent job, but there is certainly more to do.
I'm 10 years into this journey, so I need to refresh my backlist. I'm slowly updating back matter and also putting my backlist into Large Print and Hardback editions.
These give me more streams of income from each book, plus they look great for comparison pricing against ebooks and audiobooks, as well as enabling me to advertise directly to print with Amazon Ads.
I'm also refreshing metadata for print. The Ingram Spark distribution system provides discoverability in many ways through databases that also pick up on keywords, so I’m making sure all my fields are optimized.
I also need to sort out my direct digital sales as I have been growing this area in the last few months and would like to continue to grow it in 2019. I’ve been using SELZ for direct ebook sales for the last 4 years but I have excluded EU sales because of digital VAT. I was hoping they would sort out a solution, but they haven’t, so I am going to move to PayHip who do have a solution for EU VAT.
I’ve been selling direct for 10 years now.
I started out with e-junkie.com and then moved to SELZ, and now I see a better solution, so it's time to move. It’s important to consider how tools improve and change and then switch if you need to.
In the same way, I was with Aweber for years for my email list management and then moved to ConvertKit last year as a new solution offering much easier setup, management and I love them. [Tutorial here on how to set up your email list with ConvertKit.]
(4) Strategy is choosing what you DON’T do, as much as what you DO
There were a lot of sessions on various book marketing tactics at the conference, and the attendees went home with a massive list of what they could do to market their books.
Of course, there are myriad books, courses, blogs, and podcasts as well as events telling you what you should do. I’m responsible for a lot of that myself!
But as with Brian Jud’s talk above, you have to choose what you DON’T do, as well as what you do. You have to learn to say ‘no’ as well as say ‘yes’ or you will go mad!
I’ve started to keep a ‘not to do’ list to try and help myself with this, because I am guilty of doing too much and jumping on whatever interests me next.
Speaking is a good example for me. For the first time in 10 years, I have no speaking events booked. BookBaby was the final one and that has been booked for a while. I have said no to so many things – I was tempted by a Caribbean cruise – but in the end, speaking has to go in my ‘not to do’ list at least for 2019.
2019 is my year of no professional speaking.
A year of fiction and content marketing for fiction – and wider travel as I have spent a lot of time in the US in the last few years. I’m excited to have just booked a cycle trip across Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam for a year’s time – so healthy writer back in training!
(5) Learn what you need for your stage on the journey
My closing keynote was on How to Make a Living with your Writing, but the majority of the authors in the room were still working on their first book.
Many of them wanted to know how they should publish and market it and make money from the book before it even exists.
There is no simple answer to those questions – because if you haven’t finished a book, you haven’t got anything to publish or market. You may also learn a lot about yourself as you write it, and discover what works for you in terms of marketing.
You may also never finish that book.
Most writers who start books never finish them. Of course, you’re different. You’ll follow through. But don’t obsess about publishing or marketing until your book is in the hands of an editor and becoming something more than unfinished words on a page.
I’ve written before about the Arc of the Indie Author in Business for Authors: How to be an Author Entrepreneur. Basically, there are stages of the journey and different challenges and things to overcome at each stage.
- Stage 1: “I want to write a book.” Challenges include learning craft, writing and finishing your book.
- Stage 2: “I am a new author.” Challenges include mindset issues and learning marketing, and also publishing if you go indie.
- Stage 3: “I am an established author.” Challenges include time management and making a decision whether you want to go full-time + marketing + mindset issues
- Stage 4: “I am the CEO of my creative business.” Challenges here are learning business skills, working with freelancers and VAs, time management.
I hope you've found some of these ideas useful. Please do leave a question or comment below and join the conversation.
Happy publishing and book marketing!