Thinking about self-publishing? Here are some tips that will help improve your chances of commercial success
Yet now 100,000 seems nothing at all. Recent statistics show that China, USA and the UK, which sit at the top of the publishing world in terms of quantity, are publishing between them almost a million titles per year. Although many take pride in such numbers there are those who, like 20 years ago, do not see this growth for the better. As one industry insider commented, ‘It is either a sign of cultural vitality or publishing suicide. It is utter madness to publish so many books when the average person reads between one and five books a year’. Nonetheless the presses continue to roll and new ebooks are uploaded every day.
So, if you are contemplating self-publishing your book – whatever the genre, whatever the format – you are up against some big numbers and, just to make it tougher, the statistics quoted above exclude many or most of the books that are self-published as these are unrecorded by the data monitors.
Like most authors you hope your book will be both a critical and commercial success. Unless you are writing purely for your own pleasure and satisfaction, or perhaps for a small group of family, friends and like-minded individuals, you want your voice to be heard by many. But how do you rise above the crowd and distinguish yourself from the thousands of other writers all clamouring for recognition?
Publishing is a high-risk business in a very crowded market place and, unfortunately, commercial success remains elusive for many. However our experience at PPS enables us to provide some tips that can improve your chances of success. Sadly we cannot provide any guarantee that you will breakthrough into the ranks of the bestsellers but the ideas below might help you towards your objective.
Improving your chances
Commercial and critical success for a new writer depends ultimately upon discoverability – ensuring that readers, critics, reviewers and the media in general realise your book is available. This gives potential customers the opportunity to look, consider, review and then make the all-important buying decision.
However discoverability alone is not enough. If your book is poorly written or badly produced it might be discovered but not bought. These barriers to success must be removed or diminished and much of this can be done early in the writing process.
In this article I want to highlight some of these barriers and show how they can be overcome. Then, in the next blog, I will concentrate upon achieving discoverability and the importance of marketing and promotion.
So, what are barriers to success? What might diminish your chances of getting good reviews and of having your book purchased by the reading public? At PPS we have seen many but there are a few that are consistently encountered and can really prevent you achieving your writing ambitions.
1. Your audience
Who is going to read your book? We have encountered many good writers who have failed to consider their audience before starting to write which, in the worst examples, is like solving a problem you never had. You are making a huge commitment and devoting a lot of time and effort to write your book but, before starting, it is incredibly helpful to think about the likely reader. So research your potential market and ask yourself questions like:
· Who are you writing for?
· What are their expectations?
· What is appropriate for them in terms of language, style and length?
· Why will they buy your book – what is your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)?
Wide reading of books in your chosen genre/market sector will provide many clues and give a useful insight into what is popular and the style of writing that is used. It might highlight possible gaps that you can exploit. Ask yourself:
· Can you offer a new twist or a new angle?
· How can you differentiate yourself and still appeal?
The more questions you can devise, and answer, the better, as this research will provide you with a clear view of where and how you can best focus your effort. In this aspect writing for commercial success is no different from any business enterprise. You need to know as much as possible about your prospective buyers and provide them what they actually want, rather than make assumptions based on what you think they might like.
Once you are able to explain clearly and simply what you are going to do and why, this barrier to success is easily lifted.
2. Good writing
It maybe stating the screamingly obvious but fundamental to success is an ability to write well. For some this is a natural gift but for most it requires application, devotion and practice. It is essential that, no matter how good a writer you consider yourself to be, you get a wide range of other people to read what you write and provide honest feedback. Be prepared to adapt or change your style accordingly. There are many individuals and organisations that offer appraisals, writing schools and courses. These can help. You can also approach a reputable publishing services company like PPS for honest advice and opinion.
Defining what is good writing is subjective and we all have opinions, likes and dislikes. There are badly written books out there that have achieved success despite the author’s limited capabilities but this is usually down to good promotion. Poor writing will, in the majority of cases, engender bad reviews that will discourage sales and diminish your reputation. Of course a good editor can help and we shall come to that shortly.
If and when you are confident that your writing is of good quality and you have sought and acknowledged feedback then think about getting published.
3. Subject matter
No matter who your audience may be you need to ensure that your subject matter is appropriate and of the highest quality. Your objective is to differentiate your book from the other 1,000 titles that will publish worldwide today. If you are writing fiction ask yourself:
· Is the story appropriate for your audience?
· Does the narrative flow logically?
· Is your characterisation credible?
You will think of many more such questions, all of which should seek to test the quality of the work and thus its chance of success.
Similarly, if you are writing non-fiction, you need to demonstrate mastery of your subject. Consider questions such as:
· Is your research sufficient?
· Have you uncovered new evidence or opinion?
· How are you going to handle a controversial aspect of your findings?
· Can you provide sufficient referencing and source citation?
The quest is for quality. Our experience shows it is essential that your book meets the expectations of your audience and, ideally, brings in new people, interested and intrigued by the story you have to tell.
For a self-publishing writer this is the big one. You have written your book and naturally are excited to get it into the market place but to ensure any chance of commercial success you must get your book edited.
So often we see this stage overlooked or undertaken by the authors themselves or their best friend. Of course this can help but there is no substitute for having your book edited professionally. This will ensure that it is correctly structured, understandable, logical and all spelling, grammar and punctuation are correct. A good editor ensures that your work conforms to normal publishing conventions. By all means be unconventional but the risk of non-acceptance by readers and influencers alike will be high.
Although most readers have no knowledge of editing they can tell instinctively when a book is poorly edited. Whether the problem is with the overall structure and lucidity or, at a more fundamental level, with the spelling, grammar and punctuation, readers know and will not persevere. In fact a book that has been edited well with a conventional layout will hardly register with most readers, as it is implicitly what they expect. It is the unusual, the wrong, that is noticed.
This will mean expense but if you are committed to commercial success then editing is the single most important factor. You have already put in all the hard work researching and writing your book so it is worth making sure you can be suitably proud of the end product.
Numerous freelance editors with appropriate experience can help self-publishing authors and of course at PPS we advise and can offer the benefit of our editorial services.
Numerous studies have shown that the book cover is a key influencer in the reader’s buying decision. This applies particularly to fiction titles but even for non-fiction the cover can make the difference. It is all about convincing a potential buyer to pick your book up and look inside.
The design of the book’s interior is equally important, if not as noticeable as the cover, and here a good editor or publisher will help. Choosing an attractive font, considering page layout, adequate indexing and, for ebooks, formatting all enhance the reader’s experience. As with editing a poorly designed interior will frustrate or deter many potential readers. Your objective is to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable read, free of any distractions due to poor layout or typography.
There are many freelance graphic designers with specific book cover experience and most good editors are able to advise on the internal design. PPS can manage this process or help you find a good designer.
These are five key barriers to success. There are others but these are the most typical and they can all be removed, often without too much effort, and thus improve your chances of selling your book. However, to move from a quality product to discoverability, you must now consider the impact of marketing and promotion on your chances of success. I will discuss this in the next post.