3. Learn something about how the entire publishing and bookselling business works

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I’ve said it before, in the Talk I gave at the Calgary Public Library, and I’ll keep repeating myself until writers and authors begin to listen: To successfully publish a book, whether it’s self-published or traditionally published, you all MUST learn something about how the entire publishing and bookselling business works!

You do not need to actually work within that side of the business … although that would help you immensely. But you do need to understand everything that happens to get the book that’s in your head into the hands of a reader. You need to know how traditional publishers make decisions of what they will publish, and why; all the steps necessary that they go through in order to produce a great book; how that great book is then sold to distributors (there are different distributors, depending upon the type of book you’ve written and the market you expect to sell to) and booksellers (both bricks and mortar and online, both indie and chain); how the promotion and marketing and publicity are handled and how effective (or not) it is, and how readers actually find you and that great book you’ve written and are now trying to sell.

All the same above also goes for eBooks. That should go without saying, because when I say “books” I mean both print and eBooks. They are all one and the same, just a different format.

Plus, you need to know and understand how books are sold to libraries. It’s quite different from selling to bookstores. And understand where libraries can fit into your promotion of yourself as an author. (Currently, eBooks and libraries are a contentious issue, because publishers have decided to treat their sale to libraries as though they were the same as print books. Please read this excellent Op/Ed piece in the Haliburton Echo written by Jenn Watt that best explains the problem. eBooks also need to be “distributed” to libraries with Digital Rights Management embedded and that is done for them through an eBook wholesaler. Overdrive lists all my eBooks and is responsible for telling librarians which books are available in their system [although, I’m not really sure how much “telling” is actually going on]. I haven’t sold many eBooks to libraries, but I have always held the belief that library sales are not meant to be revenue generators so much as a means of finding new readers. That can be the subject of another blog post, however.)

So please do yourselves and your books a big favour and LEARN SOMETHING ABOUT THE PUBLISHING BUSINESS before heading out to publish your own book. And, most especially, before complaining about lack of sales of that book or lack of return on the investment you’ve made in writing and publishing (self or traditional) that book. You may actually discover ways that will enable you to step into the process in a more effective way that helps you to find new readers.

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4 responses

  1. Thank you Susan for sharing this vital information.

  2. Interesting article. I’m learning the hard way! My first publishers were great at guiding me through the process but not so good on the marketing side. The second publishers were better at publicising (I think-early days yet) but left me months without updates.
    I’m now seriously considering the Indie route but still so much to learn. For me the writing is the easy bit, getting known ‘out there’ is the difficulty. Thanks for the guidance. 😀

    1. I’m happy that you found this helpful, Voinks! We’ve always said that the hardest part of writing a book is in promoting and selling it. You may be interested in this other guest post 5-part series I wrote for Chris the Story Reading Ape on Marketing Yourself and Your Work.

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