In the days when traditional publishing industry was king, authors had it relatively easy: basically, they wrote a book, and afterwards they’d do a few interviews, arranged by the publisher, to get the word out. For everything else, there were entire teams of experts working their magic.
However, as an indie author, you don’t have that luxury. Instead, you’re responsible for just about every aspect of getting your book written, published, distributed, and marketed—or at least you’re responsible for the decisions on approach. Can you learn from the publishing industry, though?
To get the low-down on publishing industry secrets every indie author should know, we spoke to publishing consultant David Morris on The Empowered Author Podcast. You can listen to the episode here or read on for our take on the conversation.
David has been working in publishing for over twenty-five years. He’s the founder of Hyponymous Author and Publisher Consulting and former VP and publisher of Zondervan, a Christian publishing company that forms part of HarperCollins, where he worked for seven years. However, he cut his publishing teeth and spent seventeen years at Guideposts, which publishes an inspirational magazine and books. Find David on Twitter @DavidRMorris.
Digital Revolution Upended Publishing
According to David, the digital revolution reshaped everything, from retail distribution to how publishing happens, to how books get created, and to marketing the books. One of the biggest changes has been the way publishers could rely on bookstores as a marketing mechanism. They could partner with a bookstore and the store would help sell the books and help create access to consumers: to book buyers and to readers. People would go to the bookstore in the mall and browse, often buying books they hadn’t planned on buying or stumbling upon new authors. However, because the bookstore in the mall is fast becoming a thing of the past, publishers have had to find other ways to attract an audience.
Getting the word out on a book has changed too. As David says, “It used to be that if you got your book on a major national network show, you could move a lot of books. I can think of a radio show that used to move 20,000 books.” Nowadays, there’s much more choice in terms of media too: in addition to radio and TV networks, we have satellite radio, cable TV, Spotify, podcasts, and the like, all competing for our attention. While some may call it noise, David prefers to call it choice: there are many more possibilities for reaching your audience.
Hit-Driven Not Author Development
Another big change in the industry has been that traditional publishers have become more hit-driven. They’re not as interested anymore in giving a voice to new authors. While this may sound like a bad thing, David thinks that it actually provides a great opportunity: as an author, you can strike out on your own and better control the revenue stream from your book: you can find your audience and really dial into them, which is something traditional publishers typically don’t do.
Finding Your Audience
So how do you find the right target audience: that highly engaged reader who’s just going to love your content? David thinks a lot of it is learning about who you are and sort of experimenting with describing yourself and putting yourself out there: whether it’s through articles or speaking engagements. When you find people gravitating to you, they will also help you to find who you are. As you discover how people respond to you and describe you, you can build on that and fine-tune it.
Continuous Self-Education is Key
David says that continuous self-education about your category is very important. To start, you need to know what else is out there, who the competition is. Going to a physical bookstore will be very helpful because these stores have a way of aggregating books together that you don’t necessarily see when you’re online. At the store, make a note of the other authors who have published books similar to yours. Then do the following:
- Look them up online and see how they describe themselves.
- Check their social media and see who their followers are, because this will give you an idea of who their audience is.
- See how they’re positioning themselves and what kind of messages they’re sending through their social media.
Another trick is to look up authors you like and see who they are following on social media. This might lead you to interesting influencers, for example.
David admits that it can be a bit of a hit and miss but after a while, you’ll have a fund of knowledge of the books and authors in your area. You can then go back and tweak, for instance, your cover, your book description on Amazon, your website and your social media presence to help you grow awareness of your book and grow an audience around the content you offer.
Generalist Rather Than Specialist
These days, every author should try to become a generalist and learn as many disciplines about publishing as they can, according to David. Even authors who have been established with a publishing house for a long time realize that the publisher can’t do everything for you. Being an author is something that you need to take seriously. It is very important to be a well-rounded writer/marketer/businessperson when it comes to being an author. As David says, “Your book is part of your message. It’s part of who you are.”
For David, the biggest takeaways for indie authors are to keep building your platform and find the right group for you, and to find some really good resources that you enjoy digging into. Read and research and learn as much as you can about social media and website promotion and email lists and other forms of marketing. Then, consistently keep at it.
What Do You Think?
What else has changed in publishing that you think indie authors can capitalize on? Be aware of? Learn to do differently? Let us know in comments below.