Presently pretty much anyone can write and publish a book in any number of formats. But if you want to make money from your book, then its like any other commercial product – you need to check out some market research and work how your book is going to appeal to a specific and identified market and how you are going to reach and sell it to them – unless you get Fifty Shades of Lucky.
If you aren’t that bothered by money and want to sell to friends and family and a few people who want to hear you – that’s all well and good. In this respect, self-publishing is the best thing since Gutenberg and is part of the democraticisation of knowledge and a lovely way to share. More than usually, self-published books don’t sell more than 100-150 copies.
There are many marketing strategies. For example, one of my writing clients is a successful astrologer with a pre-existent customer list. He marketed only signed, hardback copies at £40 a copy to people who think he is brilliant (he is). He makes up for limited sales with ‘value added’ books. Another client is a stand-up comedian who takes his book to gigs and sells them there, making consistent and regular sales himself. He is also getting his self-published book to mainstream publishers in the hope that they might pick it up.
With diminishing returns in the traditional publishing industry it can seem impossible to get the attention of a publisher who will market your book for you. Some people self-publish books for this promotional purpose only. After all, there is no better way for you to show belief in your book than to publish it yourself. Books and ebooks are a brilliant way to build client lists and if you are offering ‘sell throughs’ such as courses or consultation – they can earn you customers for a decade or more.
Some of the more advanced publishers are realising the potential and adding a ‘self-publishing’ arm to their traditional publishing houses so that they can see, and pick up on, self-published books that take off through the hard work of the author or his agent – or even virally. This is a pretty risk-free method for them to pick the winners.
Many traditional publishers will only talk to you through a literary agent. Finding one of these can be just as hard as finding a mainstream publisher. They seem to want proof that you are already turning over large amounts of money through writing. After all, they want to know they are going to get their 15% of something before taking you on.
So many people turn to blogging and tweeting, which is really an extension of the same problem – not clearly identifying an audience and a market to begin with and writing for them. You still have to find your audience in these media. Unless you have something so sensationally unusual to say that it goes viral, or somehow you hit a lucky ‘zeitgeist’ nerve, you will be lucky to get many sales at all without a marketing strategy built into the book from the outset.
Key word research on the internet might get you some sales, based on what people are searching for online. For example I found that ‘make a greenhouse’ was a term quite regularly searched for online and created a site that went straight into the top ten for this. I have been making a greenhouse a year for three years now and am no closer to finishing my book on it! But soon… Amazon rule book sales online but they squeeze everything out of your profit margin – perhaps with the exception of Kindle. Kindle books now outsell paperbacks on Amazon and may well be a first choice form self publishers who fit into their prescribed ‘niches’ (categories).
One of my clients has a book based on her story of divorce which I believe, potentially has an audience. There are certainly many women out there questioning quite why they are in the relationship / marriage they are in. Yet without a large ‘women’s magazine’ marketing budget – how do you contact ‘women who are unhappy with their relationship’? It isn’t a cohesive, identifiable and easily contactable ‘group’ of people. If you set up Facebook groups for such things, people quickly cotton on the fact that they are being sold too. Social networking and selling are not easy bed-mates either from what I can see. So even if you identify a need, something that many people hold in common, it may not be a financially feasible book without that elusive marketing budget, or a very clever strategy.
The rewards of writing though, are far more than just financial. For me personally – nothing beats ‘being in the zone’ on a piece of writing, its just so exciting. I love getting a first proof and seeing all that hard work, bound up in a beautiful ribbon (I make the covers too). The books you make grow with you – a couple of mine are into their third editions with improvements and developments in the field. Finding bits of your own writing from years ago is so revealing, its like seeing a map of your mind in print!