I've been publishing books for several decades and I've been so lucky to be doing so at a time when the industry is changing quickly. It's hard to imagine that ebooks have only been around for 15 years, and as a result, the number of books published every year is growing exponentially as new digital publishing tools continue to emerge.
I've compiled my top ten insider insights into book publishing today. Most of the new authors I work with don't know what they don't know. And because things have changed so quickly, much conventional publishing information is outdated. I hope these unwritten rules help you succeed!
1. Books belong to readers.
Publishing means "to make public." When you write a book and publish it, it no longer belongs to you. It belongs to the reader. Successful books are written with readers in mind. They entertain, educate, or inspire. Not every book written should be published. Sometimes the act of writing a book is personal. Writing a book can bring self-discovery, record a personal history, or provide a chance to explore creativity. The logical next step after writing a book isn't always to publish.
Tip: Get early readers. If you are considering publishing your book, share your idea or manuscript with your ideal readers and get their honest opinions before you invest time and money in a publishing project.
2. Genre matters.
Avid readers, publishers, booksellers, and reviewers understand the kinds of books they read, and they will always compare your book to books they've read before. Is your book: Fiction or Non-Fiction? Romance, Thriller, or Sci-Fi? A Children's Picture Book or Early Reader? Memoir or How-To? Inspirational or Reference? Something else?
Tip: Become an avid reader of your genre and learn its rules. What is the standard book length, format, common organization, and story tropes (if fiction)? Strive to be creative within the bounds of your core genre.
3. Word count matters.
The average non-fiction book or novel is between 50,000 and 75,000 words, with notable exceptions (see rule number two about heeding genre conventions). When a book is longer than typical, it is more expensive to edit and print, and may require higher pricing or lower profits.
Tip: Write for quality rather than quantity. It's okay to publish something in a shorter-than-usual length, especially an ebook, but avoid too-long books.
4. Understand your costs.
Common costs for publishing include hiring an editor, a formatter and a cover designer. You might pay for marketing promotions and advertising, but you should never pay a fee to a literary agent or a book publisher before there are sales. It's free to publish with StreetLib, and we take only take a percentage of sales for the services we provide to deliver your book and metadata to retailers.
Tip: If you are self-publishing, do your research. Check websites like WriterBeware and Alli, the Alliance of Independent Authors if you're not sure about a publishing service.
5. You work for the publisher, not the other way around.
If you have a traditional publishing deal, the publisher has offered you a contract because they believe your book will earn money for their company and it fits their publishing vision. Publishers exist because of readers (see rule one), not writers. When you approach a publisher, they are less interested in great writing or finding new talent than they are in acquiring a book that will know they can sell to their customers.
Tip: If you seek traditional publication, research the company. Look at its best-selling books and authors. Tailor your proposal/manuscript to meet their apparent publishing objectives.
6. Print publishing is overrated.
In recent years, there has been a lot of talk about the "return of print," and print-on-demand publishing, but industry statistics show the market for ebooks and audiobooks is growing faster than print and has a larger global audience. Ebooks and audiobooks are more accessible to more people because they don't have geographic boundaries, they are cheaper to publish, faster to market, require no inventory or shipping, and are accessible to the homebound, visually impaired, and those with learning disabilities.
Tip: Consider a digital-first publishing strategy. If you are planning to print your book, don't overlook ebooks and audiobooks.
7. Authors are responsible for marketing.
Twenty years ago, most people found books in bookstore or through book reviews. In those days you needed a publisher or publicist to reach these outlets. Today, these sources account for less than 10% of sales. Over 80% of sales today happen online, direct-to-reader. Because the book-buying decision is made by the reader rather than a gatekeeper, authors must build their own audiences. Authors can use social media, email newsletters, online and offline communities, and paid promotions.
Tip: Develop a personal marketing strategy for book based on your goals and abilities.
8. Readers buy lots of books.
Only half of Americans buy more than one book every year, but those buy books buy them by the totebag! This means other authors and books similar to yours are your friends and not your enemies. Avid romance readers are always on the lookout for new series similar to books they love, and non-fiction readers who are diving into a topic typically buy many books to learn a new skill or explore a personal interest.
Tip: Become a literary citizen. Cooperate with other authors rather than compete. Readers trust authors to recommend books they will love, so you can create effective marketing content around books similar to yours and help other authors.
9. Distribute wide.
Make sure your book is available everywhere readers might look for it. Although Amazon is the world's largest online book marketplace, it is also the most crowded. The competition is intense and success often requires promotional spending. I often tell authors that the worst place to sell a book is a bookstore (even though competitive authors are our friends!) The best place to sell a book is where your reader wants to buy it!
Tip: Publish with StreetLib.
10. Publish often.
Authors who "break out" or make it big, often do so with their third or fourth book. Life teaches us we learn and grow through practice. Too many authors think they'll write "the one book they have in them," but you'll learn more about yourself as a writer and publisher the more times you repeat the process. You'll get better and hone your craft.
Tip: Write. Once you've gone through the work of building your audience and setting up your marketing practice, you will profit more if you publish more books. Consider writing a series, or even acting as a publisher for another writer.